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Pakistani fidayeen with AK-47 is passé. India must get ready for the next big threat

It would be a shame if nationalism is a substitute for not preparing for an avoidable security failure.

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The BSF this week spotted three drones along the India-Pakistan border in Punjab. This is the second time in a month that the BSF was put on alert after drone-spotting. Two other incidents of ‘drone terrorism’ in September led the Ministry of Home Affairs to issue directions to counter the threat.

The MHA, says a report in Hindustan Times, wrote to the Delhi Police and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) “ordering them to shoot at sight any “threat-possessing” drone or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) within the airport perimeter, as per the standard operating protocol (SOP)”.

And this is how the CISF, whose senior officer was quoted in the report, understood the order: “They are low-flying drones. There have been drone sightings at the Delhi airport earlier too, but we could never track down any of them as they were never captured by the radars. If a drone is about to collide with an aircraft or is spotted approaching any operational runway, our men have been authorised to shoot it down.”

‘Shoot’ with what?

Theoretically, it is possible to shoot down a small drone with an LMG/MMG firing at a high cyclic rate. But to bring down a drone of less than a metre length/width, which is flying at a speed of 40-100 kmph, will need a miracle. More so, when the standard of firing on static targets at the firing ranges barely makes the grade. Firing at cyclic rate will endanger the safety of all aircraft in the air.

Surprisingly, there is no talk on installing drone-specific radars and jammers or implementing other passive/active counter-measures.

Also read: India is using hundreds of drones to map the country in incredible detail

Not just any other threat

In my column in February this year, I had warned about the magnitude of the drone threat and India’s utter lack of preparation to deal with it.

I wrote – “It is a matter of time before terrorists use drones to launch attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, the Red Corridor and the hinterland of the country. India is virtually defenceless against drone terrorism and is doing little to gear up despite warning signals from across the world.”

Meanwhile, the drone incidents in India are piling up.

Five AK-47 rifles, four .30 Chinese pistols, 544 rounds of  ammunition and five satellite phones were smuggled from Pakistan in September using drones with a payload of 10 kg. This in all likelihood was the handiwork of the ISI and the ‘Khalistani’ terrorists.

Since then, the BSF has reported many more sightings with the latest being on the night of 21 October, when the BSF is believed to have fired at three Pakistani drones in Hussainiwala, Punjab. Knowing the ways of our police and other security agencies, much more ‘drone activity’ is likely to have gone unreported.

On 14 September, drones and possibly cruise-missiles attacked two facilities of Saudi Aramco, affecting half of its oil production or 5-6 per cent of the global oil production. Whether it was launched by Houthi rebels assisted by Iran or by Iran itself is still a matter of speculation.

Also read: Drone attackers, spy-proof radio — private players line up hi-tech wares at Army meeting

How to prepare for this threat?

The fact is that we are defenceless against the threat of ‘drone terrorism’. There are an estimated six lakh rogue or unregulated drones in India, which can be used for drone-based terrorist missions. It is a disaster waiting to happen. Our ‘very low-density military air defence’ system is effective only against large-sized drones. Despite much talk for the last three years, no modern equipment has been bought as a counter-measure.

The regulations for Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), effective since 1 December 2018, are ‘effective’ only on paper. The world-class drone ecosystem – ‘Sky Dome’— which will digitally control the movement of drones in the Indian airspace is still not in place. And with the number of drones multiplying almost every day, tracking them is a Herculean task. It may be prudent to lay down a cut-off date after which drones not meeting certain conditions will not fly. In my view, this process is likely to take three to five years.

World-class counter-drone systems that enable real-time neutralisation must be imported to cater for immediate needs. The police, down to the local thanas, and the Central Armed Police Forces responsible for securing vital installations and borders would have to be equipped on an urgent basis. Security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations would also require the equipment. The security of even the private industry needs to be looked at. Keeping in view our large requirement, indigenous production of such drone systems must be started as soon as possible.

Also read: Beyond sea and land, India’s next defence challenge is drone terrorism

Jihadi with an AK-47 is passé

With Pakistan under diplomatic pressure and the scrutiny of the Financial Action Task Force, the traditional jihadi with an AK-47 or a suicide belt is passé. Drones are the best option for future terrorist attacks. Drones not governed by international or country-specific regulations can be easily smuggled or assembled. China is not a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and is the leading manufacturer of drones.

I predict a drone-based terror attack in India in the near future. It would be a shame if we have to lean on nationalism to justify an avoidable security failure.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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  1. If our security planners think that they can outrightly go after muslims in this way and not expect serious consequences, they’re naive. No community can take this lying down. Bursting of anger in an explosive way, particularly when normal channels of complaining have been so tightly shut, is inevitable. Any army officer with more than 10 years service will tell you that. This knowledge is imparted to them formally in their mid-career courses. I’ve myself taught them these things for years in top army institutions. Sad that they themselves are being made to violate the basics that the mindset of population in insurgency prone areas must be kept pro-government. If the country plays with fire, it will have to contend with heat.

    • I agree with you Colonel, and I would add that the minority Muslim can tolerate some suppression, if it knows the regime will eventually be fair and just in others areas.
      The Kurds are suppressed in Turkey, but those who have accepted that they are an integral part of Turkey and not motivated by Kurdistan, are treated just as any other Turkish citizen, the state has ensured that Kurds have a fair representation in the police, the bureaucracy and the anti insurgency apparatus.
      Even in Rawanda after the Hutus murdered half a million Tutsis, the new Tutsi regime was sincere in carrying out a process of justice and reconciliation, every community was genuinely treated without discrimination ( after those responsible for the genocide were punished ) and today there is no great schism between the communities.
      There is an ideological motivation that drives discrimination against Muslims, this manufactured hatred happens by constant demonisation and distortion of History – and defines a philosophy that helps a political party win elections.
      This is something akin to Nazi Germany, the threat of the other was the oxygen that was manufactured to bring the majority together into a pure German Volk.
      Muslims in India and Kashmir know that their role for the BJP is to be the OTHER, – that it is in the interest of the ruling party to keep them as the bogey, the demon, it suits their particular purpose.
      Our present PM is a admirer of Savakar and Golwalker, Narendra Modi’s book Jayotipung as about how he treats these founders of the RSS ideology, as his mentors and looks towards their guidance in every decision he makes.
      Muslims only have to read the writings of Savakar and Golwalker to understand the perception of the regime to Muslims – and the BJP/RSS master plan for them as second class citizens.
      That is why insurgency in Kashmir and eventually in the rest of India is here to stay, and will eventually destroy our nation. With the RSS in power there can be only be armed Jihad.

  2. The column does not indicate a ballpark figure of how much it would cost to secure India – including high value privately owned targets – against this emerging threat.

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