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Friday, July 30, 2021

Explained: Can a drone attack be prevented?

While the Jammu attack was the first such instance in India where a drone was weaponised, the most high-profile incident in recent times involving a drone, perhaps, was the targeted bombing of two key oil facilities inside Saudi Arabia by Yemen's Houthi rebels in 2019.

Written by Leela Prasad , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: July 2, 2021 6:54:19 am
Rafael, the defence company behind Israel's famed Iron Dome missile system, has also developed something called the Drone Dome. (Source: rafael.co.il)

The need for an anti-drone system shielding critical installations in the country came under sharp focus after Sunday’s drone attack on an IAF base in Jammu, 14 km from the international border.

A security officer told The Indian Express: “At present, the only option is to shoot down the drones, but it is easier said than done as that would require sniper fire and the drone to be within range. Also, sighting drones, especially during night, is not easy.”

While the Jammu attack was the first such instance in India where a drone was weaponised, the most high-profile incident in recent times involving a drone, perhaps, was the targeted bombing of two key oil facilities inside Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in 2019.

Drones have also been increasingly used in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, by the US to carry out targeted assassinations. In 2020, Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the most powerful figure in Iran after its supreme leader, was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq. In 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also claimed he survived an assassination attempt involving drones rigged with explosives.

How to counter the drone threat

Several private defence contractors, over the years, have begun to offer off-the-shelf anti-drone tech to counter hostile Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), popularly known as drones.

Companies, predominantly based out of Israel, US, and even China, have developed anti-drone systems using existing technologies such as radars, frequency jammers, optic and thermal sensors etc.

But how do these systems stand apart?

It comes down to the range and the manner in which the threat is assessed and neutralised. Some systems simply monitor and alert the presence of a drone, while others are equipped with ballistics and even lasers.

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What are the existing anti-drone systems?

Rafael, the defence company behind Israel’s famed Iron Dome missile system, has also developed something called the Drone Dome. Like the Iron Dome, which identifies and intercepts incoming missiles, the Drone Dome detects and intercepts drones.

Besides the collection of static radars, radio frequency sensors, and cameras it uses to offer “a 360-degree coverage”, the Drone Dome is also capable of jamming the commands being sent to a hostile drone and blocking visuals, if any, that are being transmitted back to the drone operator. Its highlight, however, is the precision with which it can shoot high-powered laser beams to bring down targets.

One of the company’s promotional videos claims that it is safe for deployment in civilian areas as “the laser beam is never released unless it is 100 per cent locked onto the target”. Rafael, like most other companies, says its technology works under all-weather conditions and at night time.

US-based Fortem Technologies also operates in a similar fashion but uses an interceptor drone — aptly called the ‘DroneHunter’ — to pursue and capture hostile drones. The DroneHunter fires from its ‘NetGun’ a spider web-shaped net to capture targets midair and tow them.

Besides the regular detection and surveillance, DroneShield, an Australian publicly listed company, also offers a portable solution in the form of a drone gun that can be used to point and ‘shoot’. The company’s DroneGun Tactical and DroneGun MKIII engage in radio frequency disruption that will disrupt the hostile drone’s video feed and force it to land on the spot or return to the operator.

How much do they cost? 

Most of the leading players in the drone detection industry have not listed the prices of their products on their websites. Considering that most orders are customised based on client requirements and how many strategic sites need protecting, costs vary from hundreds of thousands of dollars to even millions.

However, a 2020 press release by China-based DJI attacking one of its corporate rivals offers an insight into how much they may cost. The company said its rival offered “a $340,000 drone detection system with a $44,000 annual maintenance fee”.

Is there an indigenous solution for India?

Yes, there is. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed an ‘Anti Drone System’ and it will be deployed this year, according to a March press release by the Ministry of Defence.

While details about the system’s capabilities remain threadbare, it has been deployed during then US President Donald Trump’s visit to India in 2020. According to news agency PTI, the system was part of the security arrangements made for the 22km-long roadshow in Ahmedabad.

The same year it was again used near the Red Fort on the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address. According to news agency ANI, the anti-drone system can detect and jam drones up to 3km and uses a laser weapon to fire at targets that are 1 to 2.5km away.

In March, CNBC-TV18 also reported that Adani Defence Systems and Technologies Ltd has demonstrated an anti-drone system to government agencies.

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