Today’s conflict situations are more and more at the sub-conventional level witnessing more and more employment of irregular forces, and consequent use of drones against such forces
Today’s conflict situations are more and more at the sub-conventional level witnessing more and more employment of irregular forces, and consequent use of drones against such forces.
HOW OLD ARE DRONES? That may be difficult to answer. But then epics like Ramayan mention the use of ‘Udan Khatolas’ and Ramayan was hardly a fairy tale with ample ground proofs it was no fiction, to include undersea photos of the Ram Setu. Whether these ‘Udan Khatolas’ were all powered or some were drones may be a matter of debate. As per records, the Australians had attacked the Italian city of Venice in 1849 with unmanned balloons loaded with explosives, launched from a ship. But the first pilotless aircraft were built during and shortly after World War I, some used as flying bombs. But coming to later times, the raid to liberate Mussolini during World War II was conducted by the raiding force using gliders. That may be perhaps the first use of drones in actual combat.
Drones in Countering Terrorism
Today’s conflict situations are more and more at the sub-conventional level witnessing more and more employment of irregular forces, and consequent use of drones against such forces. In 2014, 25 x US drone strikes in Pakistan reportedly killed between 114 and 183 individuals (including two civilians and two children) while 44 to 67 were reported injured. Interestingly in the decade 2004-14, Wikipedia describes 357 x Obama strikes and 408 x total US strikes since 2004 killing between 2,410 and 3,902 individuals (including 416 to 959 civilians and between 168 and 204 children) while injuring between 1,133 and 1,706 individuals. This shows the intensity and effectiveness of use of drones in irregular conflict situations. But while US bloggers have been talking of use of drones to knock out terrorists within US homeland, an American (US development expert Warren Weinstein) and an Italian aid worker (Giovanni Lo Porto) hostage got accidentally killed in January this year when a US drone attacked an Al Qaeda compound in Pakistan where they were being held captive for past several years. This has sparked a lot of questions about drones being used in this type of conflict situations, especially when the intelligence that underpinned the said drone strike was incomplete. But just as drones are being used for countering terror, these are also available to the terrorists. For example, where Israel is using drone strikes effectively to eliminate radicals, Hamas too reportedly has access to Iranian origin drones.
Drones in Terrorism
During 2009, an attempt was made to deliver drugs to prisoners using a drone in a UK prison guarded by a 50 feet high electric fence. In 2011, Rezwan Ferdaus, an Al Qaeda affiliate, planned to launch an attack on the Pentagon and Capitol buildings using a remote-controlled drone laden with explosives but the plot was intercepted by the FBI. In 2012, criminals piloted a $600 remote-controlled quad-copter over a Brazilian prison to deliver cell phones to the prisoners. For the past one year, the New York Police Department (NYPD) had been increasingly concerned about a potential terror attack from the air by a drone armed with a deadly weapon. But now NYPD has openly expressed concern that drones could become tools for terrorists as potential weapons; technology having advanced enough that someone could use them to carry out an air assault using chemical weapons and firearms. So, NYPD wants to develop technology which will allow them to take control of drones as well as scan the skies for them before major events, and stop potential attacks. The spurt in NYPD’s concern about drones has come about because: one, increase of drone incidents in New York City by 40 per cent in one year; two, in Germany during 2014, a drone hovered over a crowd of people when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was delivering a speech – the drone flying towards the podium and landed in front of her, three, this summer, an NYPD night patrol helicopter flying at an altitude of 800 feet above ground level was suddenly confronted by a drone and; four, most significantly the ambiguity in deducing the payload and intention of a flying drone. The NYPD is presently consulting with the military and has members of its counterterrorism, bomb squad, emergency services and aviation units working on a plan to counter weaponised drones.
In January this year, a drone crashed on the White House grounds, raising questions over how commercial and consumer drones can be used safely in the US. But there were bigger concerns in Japan in April 2015 when a drone with traces of radioactive material, a bottle with unspecified contents and mounted with a camera was found on the roof of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office in Tokyo on April 22. The 50-cm diameter drone was decorated with a symbol that warned of radioactive material. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said the incident was a wake up call to the potential dangers of drones including possible terror attacks. It may be recalled that during 1995, post the Sarin gas bombing of Tokyo subway it was found that the Aum Shinrikyo cult responsible for the attack had two remote controlled helicopters that had luckily crashed during trials. The cult otherwise had enough Sarin gas to kill one million people. Significantly, Japanese aviation laws have no restrictions for unmanned drones flying at or below 250 metres above ground except along flight routes. But now with a drone landing on the rooftop of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office, it is obvious that a review would be underway.
As per media reports, India is the world’s top drone importer after UK and France; 22.5 per cent world’s UAVs were imported by India from 1985 to 2014. Drones are being used in the country for shooting concerts and movies, filming private parties, by police organisations for surveillance and monitoring traffic, and for surveillance and intelligence gathering by armed forces. Last year, media reported that an eatery in Mumbai had delivered food items to consumers using a drone. Interestingly, while Amazon has successfully conducted test bed for delivery of items at the customer’s doorsteps, it cannot make it operational in the US unless the regulations for use of drones are revamped and promulgated. In October 2014, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had announced that till proper rules and regulations are formulated, use of drones in the country is “illegal”. But a mere announcement may not be enough. Last year, four individuals were caught filming the Ganga Arti in Varanasi using drone cameras without permission. They admitted they had already done similar filming using cam-copter for a travel channel at Allahabad, Varanasi, Shimla, Manali and Agra, and that the filming team included four foreigners. The camcopter at Varanasi was observed and so the persons could be apprehended, but at other places such filming was unhindered.
During Republic Day Parade of 2015 where President Barak Obama was to be the Chief Guest, intelligence agencies had warned that terrorists may attempt drone strikes, even using a glider. More rently post the drone landing atop ofiice of Prime Minister Abe, Delhi Police was alerted by intelligence agencies of possibility of terrorist organisations planning a similar action in the capital; intelligence inputs that groups like LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) have been planning drone attacks. Interestingly, the NDRF used drones during the recent earthquake relief in Nepal.
It is reported that for the US to come out with comprehensive regulations for use of drones it may take years. So, while DGCA indicates that rules and regulations are being formulated in this regard, we can expect a long gestation period. But the formulation of rules and regulations is one part and promulgating them the real issue. The problem is more complex if cam-copters are used at night with IR cameras, detection being difficult in hours of darkness. A terrorist organisation could use drone (s) by night to deliver chemical or radioactive payloads. Even by day, the problem can be viewed in backdrop of the weapons at Purulia which were discovered only after the airdrop had been executed, and drones come in all sizes. Then, we have multiple manufactures in India marketing drones, even as remote controlled toys for children, cam-copters for surveillance and private clubs indulging in drone flying adventure, like elsewhere in the world. Monitoring such equipment in a populous country like ours is a herculean task, and yet it must be done. It amounts to tracking the manufactured equipment, its sale and locations by incorporating the population into reporting possible misuse; institutionalizing the ‘billion eyes on ground’ concept in concert with the intelligence agencies. Compared to larger UAVs, small drones are much more difficult to detect as they need little space to take off. Over and above detection, would also be the problem of intercepting and bringing down a terror drone including the method of bringing down without activation its lethal load. Hamas has been known to be using armed drones.
India has been subjected to terrorism for almost three decades now. Global radical organisations like Al Qaeda are focusing towards South Asia. We also have both Pakistan and China engaged in proxy and irregular warfare against us. India being an open democracy with the second largest population in the world is more susceptible to mischief by our adversaries. Terrorists, especially the state sponsored ones, are looking at new methods assisted by technology to strike us. We need to focus on drone terrorism, which is already a reality.
MQ-1 Predator in flight