In this article, Lt Col Anil Bhat, Associate Editor, SALUTE Magazine, recounts the drone threat that has manifested in India after a drone attack on an Indian Air Force base in Jammu. Drones are now being used in large numbers by terrorists for gun running and drug smuggling and there is a clear hand of Pakistan support to such groups. The action that has been taken so far to counter the drone threat is highlighted in this article along with the progress of the investigation into the matter by the NIA.
Terrorism exported by Pakistan’s military to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) did not end with the abrogation of Article 370 (since August 05, 2019), but was adversely affected as the wide and intricate network of pro-Pakistan separatists became unavailable owing to arrests/detentions. Frustrated but desperate, Pakistan Army/Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) continued to pump in terrorists, whose attrition rate by Indian Army and security forces increased considerably as did the casualties suffered by the Pakistan army and its border rangers. It was then that the use of drones began for reconnaissance and dropping drugs.
According to government figures reported in media, there were 167 drone sightings recorded along the India-Pakistan border in 2019, and 77 in 2020. Some of these were also used for dropping/landing weapons for Pakistani/Pak-supported Kashmiri terrorists already present in J&K, or those inducted after abrogation of Article 370. One 6-rotor drone carrying weapons from Pakistan was destroyed by the Border Security Force in June 2020.
However, for the first time in over three decades of Pak-sponsored terrorism in J&K, an attack was launched by using a weaponised drone, which entered the Jammu Indian Air Force (IAF) Base at about 0100 hours on June 27, 2010. In quick succession it dropped an improvised explosive device (IED) which reportedly penetrated the roof of a building and then another which exploded in the open injuring two IAF personnel. This was the second attack on the Jammu IAF base in five years.
On June 28, a day after the Jammu IAF base attack, fresh attempts to target the Ratnuchak-Kaluchak military station in Jammu with drones were thwarted by the Army. For the fourth day in succession, drones were reportedly spotted hovering at three different places near Jammu-Miran Sahib, Kaluchak and Kunjwani.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) began investigating the case on June 29. According to an update on the investigation, sources were cited in media stating that the drones used by Pakistani-based perpetrators may be Chinese military-grade ones fitted with night vision and navigation aids. Media reports of July 12, 2021, state the investigation has revealed that the technique of a pressure fuse used in the bombs indicates the role of Pakistan army and/or ISI supported the Lashkar-e-Taiyaba in fabricating the IEDs, sources in the probe agency said.
Not only is the use of a weaponised drone on the Jammu IAF base a surprise but it is an act of war and violation of yet another ceasefire agreement by DGs, military operations of India and Pakistan, effective from midnight, 24/25 February 2021. Pakistan’s typical bizarre twist to this is that it is because of India’s Research & Analysis Wing engineering Lahore’s Johar Town incident and some more. And as they proceed with more violations of the ceasefire / more attacks against India, they will keep lying about more attacks by R&AW against Pakistan. This devious game only confirms that the Pak military/int establishment is allergic to cease fires, or feels too insecure about them lasting too long. We can keep signing peace treaties/agreements, but must also remember that no treaty so far since Independence has been honoured by Pakistan. Every peace agreement signed by Pakistan with India has been reneged upon by it. And this latest one in February will also be violated all the more so, using drones, which are safe for attackers, deniable by perpetrators and difficult to detect by radar.
Now comes the obvious question. What has India done to counter enemy drones?
Reportedly, counter-drone technology developed by (DRDO) can swiftly detect and disable or even destroy drones that pose a security threat to the country. The Print, publishing an ANI report on July 2, 2021, quoted Dr Jillelamudi Manjula, Director General, Electronics and Communication Systems (ECS), DRDO, stating that the D-4 drone system could detect close-range attacks like the one in Jammu on June 27 that injured two Army personnel. “D-4 drone system would’ve detected attack (in Jammu) as its range is over 4 kilometres. The system’s aim is to detect rogue drones that are likely to attack most vulnerable places. The system has got multiple sensors and two different counterattacks to destroy the rogue drones,” she said. For Independence Day, 2020 at the Red Fort, New Delhi, DRDO is reported to have deployed this device to counter threat of drones/unmanned aerial vehicles.
The Indian Navy was the first to order in December, 2021, Smart Shooter’s SMASH 2000 Plus fire control systems, to be installed mainly on AK-47 and AK 203 rifles. SMASH is a kind of electro-optic sight system. The Print quoted Michal Mor, the company’s CEO saying, “SMASH 2000 Plus provides an inimitable hard-kill solution against the growing threats of drones, and delivers proven ability to hit any ground or airborne targets and eliminate the threat quickly and effectively…We will be happy to keep offering the Indian Military diverse cutting-edge solutions for protection against ground and aerial threats at land, air, and sea.”
While the Indian Navy has already opted for the Israeli anti-drone Smash rifles, the Jammu attack was a wake-up call for other forces to bring in similar capabilities to guard against drone attacks. The Indian Army and Border Security Forces are also looking at getting the weapon to enhance their on-ground anti-drone capabilities.
In July it was reported that IAF ordered ten counter-drone systems. Hopefully, steps which must be taken, may have been taken. And the fact which has to be faced and factored in is that now, not only the armed forces but also police, intelligence and many other security-related as well as civil agencies/organisations need to become drone-conscious and be equipped accordingly. It involves a major concerted and sustained countrywide effort, most urgently.
This is because Chinese Communist Party-Peoples Liberation Army combo, quite frustrated about their much-failed 2020 aggression, is in overdrive to cause whatever damage in whichever way possible to India. This involves espionage, sabotage, psychological warfare/propaganda, creating crises and dissent by motivating/bribing ever-ready leftists, frustrated opposition leaders and other gullible, bio-war which is already on, cyber-war and not to forget, making good use of drones themselves and through Pakistan.