The cycle of a century is nearing completion, when drones first made their appearance, as targets for naval gunnery practice. They have come a long way, with the US and Israel investing in their development for surveillance and armed attack in the 1980s and 1990s. The USSR had shelved the development in favour of manned flight, and Russia is now beginning to redirect its interests, due to their efficacy and the development of their armed forces, which had suffered during Perestroika.
The use of commercial and inexpensive drones by the relatively underfunded Houthi rebels and the ISIS in Iraq, indicated the potential to cause asymmetric damage, as well as evade the sophisticated air defence systems of the USA at the Aramco facility. Is it time to retrain our trap shooters and keep the No 4 cartridges ready for the 12 Bore rifled shotguns?
Seeing the light
Much like the Wuhan virus starting its spread, and we were quite sanguine to it till it was firmly entrenched, it has taken a hole in a ceiling, caused by a small bomb dropped by an unseen drone to wake us out of our stupor. News reports indicated that the CCTV system was not focussed to look for UAV threats but was focussed against ground attacks. Well, the drones are back, and in an attack mode. The question is what next? The commercially available drone is happily supplied by China, who are the leading low-cost providers.
On a side note, even the laser pointers used for our Power Point presentations come from China, as also the ceiling fans, supplied by so called leading Indian manufacturers! Can the use of drones be banned/regulated as we do with small arms? Can only designated agencies be authorised to operate them? Serious thought is warranted by the concerned authorities for their detection and disablement.
Directed Energy Weapons
In the second edition of India’s “Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap,” released in 2018 by the Ministry of Defence, previewed for induction in the military in the late 2020s was an item, “Tactical High Energy Laser System”. In Jan, 2021, its news release said an anti-drone system was deployed for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s security as he addressed the nation for its 74th Independence Day.
The release stated that “It can bring down micro drones through either jamming of command-and-control links or by damaging the drones through laser-based Directed Energy Weapon.” It is not known as to whether this was an indigenous, partly indigenous or an imported system, as there was no clarity in the release. If indigenous, it can surely be production engineered for large scale manufacture and deployment, something not much has been seen or heard of in the recent past.
The DRDO is also known to have undertaken a project, called DURGA II (Directionally Unrestricted Ray-Gun Array), for a 100-kilowatt, lightweight directed-energy system. The status of the system is not well established in the public domain. However, what would be of interest is a handheld or automated laser system, which could track and knock out a drone at say 1500 mts.
In fact, in the early 1980s, the Indian Navy had undertaken trials of a Laser Indicated Optical Device, or LIOD system, coupled with the L70 guns for ship borne air defence. Apparently, they did not progress satisfactorily, as its induction did not take place. That’s 35 years ago! The potential of using Lasers was seen, but somehow, we did not have the working structures in place to bridge this potential.
What has caught our attention is the impact of the use of either a hand-controlled drone or a semi-autonomous drone. An inimical adversary could well supply drones to the terrorists, which use the BeiDou GPS military system, which give it an accuracy of about 10 cms, and currently being used by the Pakistan Armed Forces. What is a clear, present and unpublicised danger is the impact of the development of Artificial Intelligence or AI.
It is extensively used by way of learning algorithms, by professional investors on bourses to take instantaneous decisions, no doubt normal small time retail investors always seem to lose out! But what is of concern is their integration with weapons, to make them autonomous, and the drone deciding the destruction of a target.
The fact is that they are too alluring and compelling to possess, and it would be impractical to consider if any ban or restriction on their development and deployment would work. Whilst some progress has been made by DRDO, it’s worthwhile that we harnessed the private industry and academia too, for Research and Development.
The drones have evolved over a century, and they are increasingly being used for non-peaceful functions. Commercial drones with military GPS facilities are a potent threat for delivery of ordnance accurately on a target, without endangering the originator. The need therefore exists to look at regulation of ownership and operation within the country.
Investments are called for in the development of Directed Energy weapons and AI. Both are areas where the involvement of academia and industry can pay rich dividends. As an immediate protective measure, whether kinetic, energy directed or passive, the concerned authorities would perhaps be giving serious thought, to prevent further revengeful attacks of the drones.
About the Author
RAdm Vineet Bakhshi, an alumni of NDA, served as Commanding Officer INS Shivaji, Director General Naval Projects (Mumbai) and Chairman and Managing Director of Goa Shipyard Ltd. He can be reached at [email protected]
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')