SUNDAY’S attack at the Jammu IAF base, suspected to have been carried out by a drone carrying Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), is not the first time that these new-age machines have popped up on India’s security map.
Sources in the security establishment told The Indian Express that they have tracked several instances of drones dropping weapons, drugs and explosives in Jammu and Punjab in the past two-three years — including one just a month ago.
On May 14, the Border Security Force (BSF) detected weapons dropped by a suspected drone from Pakistan in Jammu. Following a tip-off, BSF troops conducted a search operation in the Samba sector, and recovered arms and ammunition wrapped in yellow polythene from a field. These included an AK-47 assault rifle, a pistol, a magazine round, 15 rounds for a 9 mm weapon, a wooden frame used to attach the payload to the drone and wrapping material.
However, while this consignment was recovered about 250 metres from the International Border, the IAF base targeted Sunday was about 14 km inside Indian territory. Sources said that in the past, security forces have tracked drones dropping weapons as far as 12 km inside the border.
Sources pointed out that on June 20 last year, the BSF had even shot down a drone. They said the hexacopter model was carrying arms and ammunition, and was shot down at Rathua village in Kathua district’s Hiranagar sector along the Line of Control.
According to the BSF, a patrol party from the Pansar border outpost noticed the drone flying at 150-200 ft from Pakistan towards the Indian side around 5.10 am. It fell nearly 250m on the Indian side after the BSF party fired several rounds at it.
Fitted with four batteries, a radio signal receiver and two GPS devices, the drone was 8×6.2 ft in size and weighed 18 kg. It was carrying a payload of nearly 5 kg, including a US-made M4 semi-automatic carbine, two magazines, 60 rounds and seven Chinese grenades. The payload carried the name “Ali Bhai” who, the BSF suspected, “must have been present within 1-1.5 km of the spot to receive the consignment”.
This incident occurred a few months after Punjab Police claimed to have recovered weapons dropped by Pakistani drones.
“In the past few years, we have seen an increase in the use of drones for dropping weapons and explosives. We have even seen them dropping assembled IEDs for use later. The Jammu attack is the first instance of drones being used directly for an attack. Quad-hexacopter drones can carry payloads in excess of 14-15 kg. That makes them a serious threat since so much explosives can cause extensive damage,” a security officer said.
For the past few years, officers said, the BSF has been pushing the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to procure the latest technology to disable drones — more so after the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a US drone attack in January 2020.
“Surveillance drone flights are very frequent. Sometimes, there are 10-15 sightings every day. But drones carrying loads are a grave threat. In fact, that’s the future of warfare. The assassination of Soleimani has shown that such threats are closer home than we think,” a BSF officer said.
According to security sources, India currently “does not have a proper standard operating procedure for dealing with foreign drones or any detailed guidelines for operation of domestic drones”.
“Some forces have bought drone disabling technology, but they are area-specific. We want a wall across our border that can cut radio frequency and disable GPS, the two key technologies guiding a majority of drones these days,” the officer said.
“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,” the officer said.
Sources said work is on “in full swing” to get the required technology, and equipment from within India and abroad are being tested. “However, we haven’t yet been able to test a tech that is specific to our needs,” the officer said.