Attack of the drones

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It was late August and the Indian security body suddenly sat up after an incident in Punjab. An anonymous caller gave the Amritsar police (in the country) an indication of a “fan-like device” that is located in a rice field in the district's Muhawa village. When a second drone was recovered in Tarn Taran district a month later, Punjab police put together a bold plan by the Pakistani-based Khalistan Zindabad Force to infiltrate weapons across the international border. Four Hexacopter drones – each about a meter wide and suitable for a payload of 4 kg – were flown with several missions to use almost 80 kg of weapons and ammunition, including AK rifles, pistols and the wrong currency. It was, as Punjab Prime Minister Amarinder Singh said in a tweet, "a new and serious dimension of Pakistan's sinister designs after the repeal of Article 370".

The incident raised concerns among the police, paramilitaries and the army. Suddenly it looked as though the Union Home Office's fancy smart fence project, which has been underway for a decade and costs thousands of crowns, could turn out to be potentially powerless as it is only designed to help intruders on it to prevent physically crossing the international border. Air raids were another ball game. The question everyone in the North and South Bloc, where the Home and Defense Ministries are, is: How exactly do you deal with rogue drones? What would it do to prevent an explosively charged drone from flying into the flight path of a passenger plane when it was most vulnerable to landing or taking off? How can you prevent Kamikaze drones from crashing into the crowd at a Kumbh Mela or flying directly into a VVIP enclosure at an important public event?

Numerous authorities, including the IAF, the Civil Aviation and Security Office (BCAS), which is subordinate to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and the Special Protection Group, which deals with the security of VIPs, are trying to counter the threat. The government is also conducting field tests with unmanned aerial vehicle systems (C-UAS), as performed by the BSF in its warehouse in Bhondsi, Haryana, last month.

The task forces set up by the Police Research and Development Bureau and the Ministry of Civil Aviation identify a list of sensitive assets that need C-UAS protection and develop a standard procedure for law enforcement agencies to determine what to do in the event of a rogue strike. The Republic Day parade in January 2018 was one of the first public events at which security forces were specially equipped with radars and anti-aircraft guns against rogue drones.

The Tarn-Taran episode was the culmination of a year of incidents in which rogue drones were distributed worldwide. Each incident demonstrated the ability of cheap off-the-shelf drones to change the way terrorists carry out attacks after the assassination of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro last August in which two explosives-laden drones were few in a military parade in Caracas Meters exploded until January of this year, when Houthi rebels used commercial quadcopters to attack a Yemeni military parade that killed six people.

It was never doubtful that drones were one of the greatest shifts in air warfare. The United States was the first to arm ordinary reconnaissance drones with missiles and use them as killing machines to hunt the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Af-Pak region. On September 14, Houthi rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen used explosives drones to attack two Saudi refineries before dawn. The devastation caused the world's largest oil producer to halve oil production. Fixed-wing drones like the Predator, which gracefully fly longer and faster, are not within the reach of non-governmental actors. For now.

The Indian security authorities are concerned about the availability of cheap quad and hexacopter mini helicopter drones that can land and take off vertically, as in Punjab. The GPS-enabled & # 39; Tarot 680 Pro & # 39; drones are manufactured by a Chinese company. Manufacturers are promoting its use as an aerial photo tool, but its capabilities make it an ideal dual-use vehicle: it can be used just as easily to deliver an explosive payload. A commercial DJI M600 Matrice drone, a more sophisticated version of the Tarot, costs around $ 5,000 and can carry a 7kg payload for more than 6km. The technology is simple and gives attackers the ability to attack anonymously and from a distance. "The exploitation of airspace with weapons has been the privilege of the state and its military," said Commodore Shiv Tewari, a former special forces officer. "Drones with commercially available low-end technology have achieved this advantage."

"Countering Rogue Drones", a report published in August by FICCI and Ernst & Young, points out the risks: "Drones are controlled via wireless connections with a typical control range of more than 2 km. This enables control from anywhere within a 13 km² area that is larger than an Indian suburb. This makes tracking a drone operator a virtually impossible task. & # 39; "Drones are small, difficult to spot and move at a speed of 20 Meters per second quite quickly. The response window from detection to creation of a counter is very limited and is only about 90 seconds, "says Tanmay Bunkar, CEO of Botlab Dynamics, a Delhi-based IIT startup.

Source: FICCI-E&Y study & # 39; Countering Rogue Drones & # 39;

How to stop them

The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation announced last year the first drone policy to regulate an industry that Goldman Sachs estimates will reach $ 100 billion by 2020. The policy, which came into effect in December 2018, requires registration of all drones and the issuance of a unique policy identification number and approval for all drones that are flown over 50 feet. Drones are prohibited near no-fly zones such as airports and sensitive military areas. Flyers must also receive permission through a mobile app in a system called "No Permission, No Takeoff, NPNT". A drone cannot start without permission. "However, terrorists are unlikely to fly a registered drone, so NPNT is of no use," says an Indian drone scientist. The FICCI E&Y report highlights the risk posed by a latent population of nearly 50,000 drones operating in India prior to the drone policy notification in August 2018.

This is where C-UAS comes in. Transparency Market Research estimates that this industry will reach a healthy $ 1.2 billion by 2025. Several Indian agencies, including state and center agencies, are working on ways to counter rogue drones, and are either developing technology in India to work with the private sector or importing it off the shelf. Israel's Iron Dome air defense system, which uses a network of missiles and radars to protect cities, is on the radar.

"Given the current threat scenario, drones and anti-drone technology are on our main agenda," said a DRDO spokesman. The Goa police have developed and deployed a system to track and identify rogue drones, especially in crowded areas using high frequency scanner technology. A full C-UAS must be able to detect, track, and intercept drones, according to FICCI-E & Y. Detecting and tracking a UAS is difficult because conventional radars are designed to detect large metal planes flying quickly, while drones are typically the radar cross-section of a large bird. The detection of a UAS requires special military high-frequency radars. The prohibition and neutralization of a UAS can only be carried out with a mixture of "hard" and "soft" killing measures (see How to beat them …).

Most of these technologies are used in the final stage of a rogue drone's trajectory over the last hundred meters when there is very little response time available. It would be difficult for a defense system to accurately identify a rogue drone's vulnerabilities and then take countermeasures. Experts like Bunkar point out that smart drone technology and counter technology escalate too quickly to implement effective responses. "There are currently almost four layers of countermeasures in drone technology, and these will continue to escalate," he says. For example, if the GPS signals that a drone uses to guide itself to the destination are disturbed, it can change frequencies or use visual references as a guide. The interference of the signal of an incoming drone does not work if the drone flies silently and is controlled in advance via previously entered data coordinates.

The problem with most of these technologies is that there really is no one size fits all. Agencies that have spent millions of rupees on imports have found restrictions on equipment. A security agency from the Union Interior Ministry in Delhi recently imported a high performance electromagnetic system (HPEM). An HPEM system zaps drones with an electromagnetic pulse, causing them to crash safely. The security forces determined that this system could not be used at airports due to the risk that HPEM poses to incoming aircraft. If installed in other crowded rooms, there is a risk that HPEM will fry the circuits of other devices nearby. Many existing countermeasures are powerless against a swarm attack – a pack of drones that fly to their targets from several directions. The next big horror, for which there are still few answers.

(With Manjeet Sehgal)

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