Drone Threats Intensify

The Drone attacks on the air base at Jammu on June 27, clearly shows the immediate requirement of anti-drone systems to protect vital military and civil infrastructure in the country

Issue: 07-2021By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)

At around 01.40 in the morning of June 27 this year, the Indian Air Force (IAF) base in Jammu was attacked by two Drones, each dropping low intensity improvised explosive device (IED) within six minutes of each other. One of the bombs caused minor damage to the concrete roof of a building in the technical area. The second bomb exploded in an open area with no resulting damage to any asset or infrastructure. However, two personnel suffered minor injuries. The IAF base at Jammu is an important facility for helicopter and transport operations along the Western Front.

Although Unmanned Arial Vehicles, also known as Drones, have been around since the First World War, it is only recently that they have begun to make their presence felt all across the world as a serious threat to national security. While the Indian defence and security establishment has been aware of the potential of Drones, no serious steps had been taken so far by the Indian Armed Forces to deal with this emerging threat in the long term. The episode in June this year at the Jammu air base, is the first incident in the country of an attack by armed Drones and that too on a military target, something that the defence and security establishment of the nation has been concerned about for a long time.

In the episode at Jammu on June 27 this year, the police along with a team from the National Investigation Agency, an anti-terror probe agency, have been working along with personnel of the IAF to unravel the mystery behind this attack. Their aim is to find evidence to prove conclusively the involvement of the agency or the nation that planned and executed this attack. One major objective of the investigating team is to find evidence to prove that the bombs were actually delivered by Drones and that it was not a case of mere grenade attack. The possibility of a terrorist lobbing the grenades by hand is unlikely as the location of the blasts inside the air base is quite some distance from the perimeter fence and it would thus not be possible for anyone to throw grenades over such a large distance.

Two weeks after the attack by Drones, the investigating team has come across incontrovertible evidence that the attack was carried out by Pakistan with Drones made in and supplied by China. Meanwhile, the Forensic Science Laboratory has established that the IED used was a cocktail of explosive material of RDX and Nitrate. The fact that RDX is not available in India but can be sourced from Pakistan, is a clear indication of the nation behind this attack.

While the Indian Armed Forces have taken some positive steps and are moving forward with plans to acquire Drones in large numbers for offensive operations deep inside enemy territory, the problem that needs to be addressed with urgency is to create an effective system of defence against Drone attacks through the establishment of an anti-drone system not only to neutralise an attack by a single Drone, but by a large number of these platforms known as Drone Swarms. As per its Chairman, the Defence Research and Development Organisation has developed an antidrone system that has both soft kill and hard kill capabilities, but is yet to be made operational in the numbers required to cover all the areas that are under threat of attack by armed Drones.

In the wake of the June 27 Drone attack, the IAF has made plans to acquire ten counter-drone systems from companies in India or abroad. These platforms will be armed with laser directed energy weapons to thwart drone attacks and are planned to be deployed at the major air bases across the country. As per the Request for Information issued, the counterdrone system should be equipped with Global Navigation Jammer System and Radio Frequency jammers and Laser based Directed Energy Weapon. The Indian Army and the IAF are also currently in dialogue with Israeli firm ‘Smart Shooter’ for possible acquisition of an anti-drone system.

It is a well established fact that our neighbour enemy nation Pakistan has showing keen interest in Drone technology in recent years. Apart from China, Drones are reported to have been supplied to Pakistan by Turkey as well. In fact, for the last two years, Pakistan has been using Drones to supply arms and ammunition to the terrorist groups operating in Punjab as well as in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. However, the recent attack on a military target in India by Drones armed with bombs, reflects a quantum leap in the capability of the Pakistani armed forces. This should be regarded as a wakeup call not only for the Indian Armed Forces, but for the nation as well.

The attack by armed Drones at the air base in Jammu, is a clear evidence of the new threat from enemy air power and unless steps are taken to deploy anti-drone systems in adequate numbers and soon enough, vital installations both in the military and civil segments, will be vulnerable to destruction by the enemy.