Drones have emerged as effective tools of modern warfare, whether in insurgency environments or actual war . On July 31 , a US drone fired two Hell fire missiles, from a distance of 1850 Kms. to Kill Al Quaeda Chief , Ayman Al Zawahiri in Kabul . Earlier , in a similar targeted attack, on 3 January 2020, Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian major general, was killed by a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad International Airport. It means drones can pick pin-point targets and neutralise them . Note that the drones have fired their missiles from “ Stand off” distances. Some years back Yemen Houthi rebels had used Drones to attack two Saudi Oil fields .
Drones have multi faced military usages, from missiles/ rocket launchers to surveillance and transportation of weapons to carry out raids on tactical / strategic targets. They can also be used to fire “Swarm - Missiles” on concentration of troops in Assembly Areas . Drones are now shaping the profile of an emerging concept of a “non - contact “
In Indian context, danger to Indian security has increased manifold. A drone attack on Jammu Airport in the early hours of 27 June 2021 was not an isolated incident . There is a speculation that it was carried out from across the LC. While this possibility can not be ruled out but it is more likely to be the job of an internal collaborator, hiding somewhere in the Jammu - Kaluchak area .
The pay load was around 2 -3 Kg and it was a very small drone with no advanced technology to identify proper target . Its handler must have been located within two / three kms of the airport with no proper visual imaging of the flight of the drone . It was a commercial drone , either procured in India or smuggled into India as a knocked down kit and assembled in and around Jammu. The possibility of this drone coming 14 Kms at night from across the border was remote though possible .
If it was to come from across the LC/ IB , why would ISI use a small drone with a limited payload? If it wanted to revenge, allegedly R& AW orchestrated “Lahore Blast”, near Hafeez Sayeed residence, it should have used a better drone which is there in its inventory . Pakistan military had acquired Wing Loong -1 & 2 from China some years back .
The Wing Loong -1 UAV has a length of 9 meters, height of 2.7 meters and wing span of 14 meters. Its maximum flight speed is 280 km per hour, with a maximum payload of 200 kg and endurance of about 20 hours. It has been in operation since 2008.
The upgraded-version Wing Loong II UAV is 11 meters long, 4.1 meters high, with a wing span of 20.5 meters. Its maximum flight altitude reaches 9,000 meters and maximum flight speed is 370 km per hour, with a loiter time of 20 hours and maximum payload of 480kg. It has been there since 2014 and acquired by Pakistan in 2016-17.
Precisely speaking, there have been incoming indications of the use of drones by Pakistani Jihadi groups in collaboration with ISI. It was essential for the Indian think tank to properly visualise the drone- threat and put in place requisite counter measures. Though this drone attack on Jammu airport is likely to be by militant organisation JAMAAT - UL- DAWA ( JuD) but it is , no doubts, in collaboration with ISI, who might have provided map coordinates of the Jammu Airport and GPS for the purpose .
It was NO doubt a “ Rehearsal” for a bigger Drone strike in the near future and Pakistan does have WING - LOONG drone series, which Can carry a pay load of 200 to 425 kgs with endurance of 20 hours . Pakistani drones do have a deep strike capability but aided by internal collaborators within India.
Unfortunately. India had slept over this reality and it did not evolve an effective Anti- drone strategy . Our strategic thinkers are too busy aping western doctrines of land warfare, which are slowly being consigned to trash cans. Land warfare is now-a-days reduced to combatting / or sponsoring internal conflicts in a nation . This is also called WOM ( war by other means). This is the only aspect of physical contact of belligerents of two sides.
Future War is likely to be fought in invisible mode. The era of “ Brain Force and Smart Wars” is here. Time to pay attention to emergent doctrine of “No contact war” with “ Smart weapons” and “ Smart Soldiers”. Not only wars are becoming “Invisible” but BVR (beyond Visual Range) weapon systems too are screened from the view. Drones are filling this role to a large extent .
Drones as a force multiplier of “ No Contact War”, have been in use since the dawn of 21 st Century . USA , a leader of drone technology, had extensively used them in Afghanistan. Somehow Indian strategic thinkers and the government of the day, since 2000, have been sleeping over it . While China took the lead , India remained stuck with political battles . Thereafter Turkey too acquired expertise , which helped Azerbaijan defeat Armenia, in a war fought some times back.
In 2017 , there was an alleged media report of a drone spotted over Delhi Airport on 20 December . One wonders if a proper investigation was carried out and alarm bells were rung to take appropriate measures . Over the last year and a half, there have been reports of drones being used by militant groups of Pakistan to drop weapons in Pathankot- Sambha - Jammu area of India. Still, a thought was not given to chalk out an anti- drone strategy .
Drones can be as small as Bumblebees. They will be used for surveillance and conducting recce of the enemy posts . There are other kind of drones , which carry “ Swarm Munitions” or explosives and missiles . These drones can be in BVR mode.
Cyber technology plays a vital role in tackling drone threat. All drones work in an electronic domain and are guided to their target by Global Positioning System ( GPS). If these two important parameters are obstructed or interfered with , drones become useless and ineffective.
Systems available in the world to counter drones vary from Sky Fence, drone gun, ATHENA (Advanced test High Energy Asset ), Drone Catcher and Skywall 100 to intercept and immobilise suspicious and lethal remote-controlled aerial platforms. Solution to block a lethal drone is the “sky fence” system that uses a range of signal disruptors to jam the flight path and prevent them from entering their target, a sensitive installation or event venue,
A drone gun is capable of jamming the radio, global positioning system (GPS) and mobile signal between the drone and the pilot and forces the drone to ground in good time before it could wreak any damage. This is most effective against small drones being activated by internal collaborators . This weapon has an effective range of two KMs.
A drone catcher , swiftly approaches an enemy drone and grabs it by throwing a net around it. A 'skywall 100’ is the ground version of the 'drone catcher' and it works by bringing down an UAV using a parachute that is hurled through a net from 100 meters distance. ATHENA, is another weapon, it works by firing a high energy laser beam on a rogue drone resulting in its complete destruction in the air.
Anti -drone doctrine needs three pronged strategy . Firstly , early detection would ensure half the job done . Secondly , close defence of strategic and tactical assets by putting a protective shield around these assets . Thirdly , you would need an effective weapon system to neutralise / destroy intruding drone. This strategy has to be put in place not only along the borders but also along strategic assets .
Early detection needs proper surveillance system , with an overlapping web of effective radars along the IB. Satellite vigilance cover around specific routes of ingress near important assets would be mandatory . Human and technological efforts have to be meshed into each other for early detection. Problem would be presented by smaller drones , say bumblebee size. These drones could fly low by doing nap of the earth flying .
In order to detect threat early , radars and satellites should keep a vigilant eye over likely launch pads, both of militants and the military. Overlapping peep into enemy territory upto a depth of 250-300 KMs is mandatory , so as to allow to track it and neutralise it .
Though India is acquiring two to three S-400 from Russia but they may be suitable for nuclear defence of very very important strategic assets . Need is for an Israeli type of “ Iron Dome” to effectively counter conventional threat . India ought to indigenously produce its own “protective Anti -drone “ shield . If South Korea can do so , why not India ?
Anti - drone weapon system has to be based on Laser and Electronic magnetic radiations, which would destroy the electronic systems of the drones and set it in a self - destruct mode . EMP ( Electro Magnetic Pulse) guns , though bulky , but can be pre-positioned in silos along the active borders . India has the capability and KALI (Killo Ampere Laser Injector ) has proved its worth during “ Operation White Wash” on 07 April 2012 . It was KALI -1000 and now KALI-10,000, too is developed .
In the anti - drone war , danger is from militants groups using human collaborators/ sympathisers inside the country . Human intelligence system at various levels has to be made more active and vigilant . It has to be suitably dovetailed into the overall national Anti- drone strategy . More often , internal sympathisers would be responsible for smaller drone attacks or carrying out reconnaissance of the vital installations .
Internal collaborators could also be target-designators by laser or electronic beams. What is more dangerous is Militant groups acquiring smaller nuclear or Bio-devices and delivering them by Drones, say TNW ( Tactical Nuclear weapons ) weighing half a Kg or a few grams of Anthrax . (10 grams is enough to affect a medium sized population centre). Smaller drone can also be effectively used for aerial seeding of biological viruses, say of COVID -19 type.
Time has come when India must plan for effective defence against drones. In fact, it is desirable to grasp the nuances of non - use of traditional weapons and methods of war. Modern wars are designed to be NF & NR (No Fronts and No Rears). Some also refer to them as “ Designer Wars” . In the emerging form of “invisible- cum - ‘No -contact -wars”, drones are playing an important role . India has the potential and it can take a leap into this field.
Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, battle-hardened infantry veteran, renowned author, notable national security analyst and a regular contributor in several leading defence & security journals.
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)