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The Drone Rules, 2021 will lead to an explosion of drone use in India. The number of unregulated but active over 6,00,000 drones in India could jump to 10-20 times that number of drones, regulated through self-certification.
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army
The armed drone attack on the IAF base in Jammu on June 27 was a wakeup call for India. According to Press Trust of India (PTI), quoting an official blueprint of central agencies, there already are over 6,00,000 unregulated ‘active’ drones, UAVs and remotely-piloted aircraft in India which are “potential threat” to vital installation, sensitive locations and specific events.
On July 15, 2021, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) released the updated 'Drone Rules, 2021' for “public consultation”. As per these “draft rules”, approvals for drones that are proposed to be abolished include; unique authorisation number, unique prototype identification number, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permit, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot license, remote pilot instructor authorisation, drone port authorisation etc.
India has to be prepared for drone threats anywhere in the country, not from across the borders alone, that too in the shortest possible timeframe
An official statement from MoCA said, "Built on a premise of trust, self-certification, and non-intrusive monitoring, The Drone Rules, 2021 will replace the UAS Rules 2021 (released on 12 March 2021)." One may assume that despite the suffix ‘draft’ and ‘public consultation’ bit, Drone Rules 2021 will be instituted with some minor tinkering, if at all. This will lead to an explosion of drone use in India. Drone corridors are planned but the number of unregulated active over 6,00,000 drones in India could jump to 10-20 times that number of drones, regulated through self-certification.
An ecstatic Smit Shah, Director, Drone Federation of India says India has decided to be leader in drone technology with this liberal drone policy which will generate 5-7 lakh jobs while India already has at least 100 drone manufacturers, at least 200 drone service providers and over 1,00,000 drone pilots. But he also says, "We need to research in counter-drone technology. Detection, identification, and neutralisation mechanism is needed for the counter-drone technology.”
One may say this liberal drone policy being instituted ‘without’ developing and putting in place adequate counter-drone measures is typical of a chaotic democracy like India where the left hand cares little what the right hand is up against. But others may argue when we already have over 6,00,000 unregulated ‘active’ drones flying around, how do 10-20 times more matter? One fact also is that when everyone runs a drone and wants to be part of the same event, in most cases the individual does not think about the security significance that can endanger human life.
Nevertheless, India has to be prepared for drone threats anywhere in the country, not from across the borders alone, that too in the shortest possible timeframe. The central agencies quoted by PTI are under the Ministry of Home Affairs, who as per the report are looking at some specific anti-drone techniques like sky fence, drone gun, ATHENA, drone catcher and Skywall 100 to intercept and immobilise suspicious and lethal remote-controlled aerial platforms. Home Minister Amit Shah stated on July 17, 2021 that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and other agencies are working on indigenous counter-drone technology, and it will be available soon, adding that all gaps in India’s border fencing will be covered by 2022. His focus was on the border with Pakistan and equipping the Border Security Force with counter-drone technology.
Based on comprehensive threat analysis we need compatible counter-drone systems that are state-of-the-art which can also be dynamically be upgraded
In December 2020, the Navy placed an order for an unspecified number of Israeli anti-drones Smash 2000 Plus systems that converts assault rifles into smart anti-drone guns. The Air Force has recently issued a request for information (RFI) to purchase quantity 10 Counter Unmanned Aircraft System (CUAS) from Indian vendors. These presumably will be under ‘Make in India’ with ‘strategic partnership’ covering part requirement of the IAF.
In selecting strategic partners, it would be prudent to choose foreign vendors already in business in India like Israel Aerospace Industries and BGI Technologies also of Israel. At the national level, counter-drone equipping requirements of the ‘Security Sector’ will need to be weighed in, including organisations like the Indian Coast Guards, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and the like.
Technology is constantly developing but based on comprehensive threat analysis we need compatible counter-drone systems that are state-of-the-art which can also be dynamically be upgraded (if the drone threat evolves further) rather than going for ‘replacement’ systems. Going for just a basic system under the ‘first step’ syndrome will be naïve and much more costly in the long run. No doubt detection, identification, and neutralisation mechanism is needed as part of counter-drone technology but advancements in drones through incorporation of better artificial intelligence (AI) can pose challenges in addition to fool-proof systems required to counter swarm drones.
One DRDO counter-drone system has been installed at the IAF base in Jammu after the armed drone attack on June 27. These will be obviously mass produced but DRDO can hardly meet the overall security requirements for which national effort will need to be optimised as we race against time. In addition to detection, tracking / acquisition, jamming and neutralisation / destruction of drones, the system we adopt must be capable of capturing and safely landing the rogue drone. This is essential for tackling drones that are equipped with lethal CBRN payloads that can cause mass damage on exploding.
It is more than likely that we may be subjected to more drone attacks. We must have adequate kamikaze drones to hit back instantaneously.
On the strategic partnership front in terms of ‘Make in India’, it may happen that the foreign partner would not agree to transfer of technology (ToT) of ‘specific’ technology - like ‘capturing an enemy drone and landing it safely’. This should NOT deter us from progressing such ‘Make in India’ projects in order to meet the urgent national security requirements. After all we did go in for the India-Russia BrahMos project without ToT.
Same goes for ‘kamikaze’ drones some of which may need to be imported in addition to production under ‘Make in India’. We cannot be defensive all the time. It is more than likely that we may be subjected to more drone attacks while we are developing and placing counter-drone systems which will take considerable period of time. We must have adequate kamikaze drones to hit back instantaneously. Recall the news in July 2019 that the US Department of Defense (DoD) was purchasing Hero-120 loitering drones (termed "kamikaze" or "killer" drones) from Israel.
Russia too has completed testing a modernised version of the newest Wolf-18 interceptor unmanned drone capable of finding and then shooting down or ramming enemy drones in a fully automatic mode. This new Wolf-18 is being showcased at Russia’s MAKS-2021 aerospace show being held in the suburban town of Zhukovsky outside Moscow from July 20-25 this year.