Drones : Challenges – UPSC GS3

Why are drones so dangerous? 
  • They are cheap and can be bought online by anyone. Checking who’s buying drones for what purpose is virtually impossible currently.
  • Anonymity is afforded to the user due to drones’ uncontrolled proliferation.
  • Drones do not require much technical expertise to use.
  • Terrorist drones can be deployed anywhere in the country, not just security/military installations. The state’s expensive weapons system or massive deployment of troops are of little use.
  • Tiny startups selling $1,000-to-$2,000 off-the-shelf technology that can be easily weaponized by terrorist groups like the Taliban.
  • High-tech unmanned vehicles can carry laser-guided munitions and Hellfire missiles.
  • 102 countries now run active military drone programmes.
Examples of Drones misuse:
  •  A US drone strike in Kabul in August 2021 that targeted terrorists instead killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children. It was a failure of military intelligence.
  • Turkey sold weaponized drones to Ethiopia, where the government is suspected of using them against rebel forces in the Tigray region in a civil war that’s killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes.
  • The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region saw Azerbaijan emerge as the winner, using Russian, Turkish, Israeli, and indigenous drones to overpower its neighbour’s less sophisticated military.
  • Detecting drones is difficult:
    • They are battery-powered, and hence relatively quiet. 
    • They can be manually controlled or programmed to fly low giving the defender very little warning time.
    • Also, detection by normal civil and military radars is difficult as their radar cross-section is very small; their small size makes visual acquisition problematic too.
  • Neutralization of drones is tough: When a drone makes an approach at night or drones are used in a swarm to saturate defences, quick response can be difficult.
  • India’s underdeveloped drone capabilities: India’s own capabilities to detect drones/UAVs have not yet developed successfully.
  • The Missile Technology Control Regime, an informal political pact among 35 members, seeks to limit the proliferation of and trade in missiles and missile technology, which covers attack drones. But there’s no enforcement mechanism. It’s not equipped to regulate armed and networked drones, which can take as many as 200 people to operate.
  • Intensify observation: There is a need for intensifying observation 24×7 to track likely places from where drones are launched.
  • Developing indigenous drone tech: India need to work seriously in operationalizing their range of UAVs and drones.
  • Supplementing indigenous tech with imports: Since R&D and manufacture of anti-drone systems are at a nascent stage in India, some numbers should be sourced through imports for certain vital areas.
  • Formation of a task force: This task force should be skilled at taking time-bound anti-drone measures.
  • Improving detection & engaging capabilities: Helicopters can be used to detect and engage UAVs. Tracking drones via optical or infra-red means or multi-sensors including sound can be done.
  • Laser-based Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) is a possible defence system against drone attacks. In India, DRDO has developed two anti-drone DEW systems. They can use powerful lasers to engage aerial targets at a distance of 2 km. However, mass production of these systems is yet to take place.
  • Anti-drone protocol: A standing operating procedure based on an anti-drone protocol should be developed.
  • Need to broaden the guidelines: Government needs to avoid the knee-jerk response of restricting drones in the domestic arena, most of which is involved in such critical civilian work as mapping land to establish ownership records, or weather drones that survey crop output, floods, and droughts.
  • Maintain a graded list: Since it is impossible to address every vital installation, a graded list be made of those to be protected including personages too as the world has been witness to assassinations through unmanned systems, including drones.
  • Involving private players: Private industry should be involved. We have plenty of young and enthusiastic IT entrepreneurs whose startups need to be supported with finance for R&D.
  • The government’s iDEX initiative must enable multiple players as there are many sub-parts in an anti-drone architecture. Expecting one or two companies to produce the system as a whole will only delay the end-product.
  • Monitoring the proliferation of drones: A mechanism to monitor the proliferation of drones and anti-drone technology needs to be instituted quickly. The policy needs to legitimize legal players and prevent the technology from landing up in wrong hands.
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