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Drones have become increasingly popular and accessible, offering various benefits across industries. The Indian unmanned aerial system (UAS) industry has a wide range of applications and significant potential for growth, with increasing demand for drones and supportive government policies to promote the industry. The development of this industry can not only contribute to the country’s economy but can also bring about various social benefits.
The Civil Aviation Ministry estimates that India’s drone sector will achieve a total turnover of Rs. 120-150 billion (US$ 1.63-2.04 billion) by 2026, from its current turnover of about Rs. 800 million. In addition, the government plans to attract investments of Rs. 5,000 crores in the next three years in the drone manufacturing industry and create job opportunities. The government also encourages start-ups and MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) to invest in drone technology by easing the eligible annual sales bracket at a minimum level- Rs. 2 crores for drones and Rs. 50 Lakh for drone components.
However, their potential misuse poses significant risks to national security. In the Indian context, it is crucial to evaluate and address the threats posed by drones to safeguard the country’s interests.
Drone as a Weapon
One of the primary concerns regarding drones and national security is their potential as weapons. The affordability, maneuverability, and payload capacity of drones make them attractive tools for terrorist organizations or hostile actors. Infiltration of drones carrying explosives or chemical agents could target critical infrastructure, crowded public spaces, or military installations. India’s porous borders, ongoing security challenges in some regions, and proximity to areas of geopolitical instability make it susceptible to such threats.
Surveillance and Intelligence Gathering
Drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors can gather sensitive information and conduct covert surveillance operations. This poses a significant risk to national security, as hostile entities could – and in fact already sometimes use drones to monitor military installations, border areas, or sensitive government facilities. The collected intelligence can be utilized for various purposes, including strategic planning, espionage, or facilitating terrorist activities. India’s diverse geographical landscape and large-scale military deployments necessitate heightened vigilance against such surveillance operations.
Drone-enabled cyberattacks can compromise critical infrastructure, government databases, or corporate networks, resulting in financial losses, data theft, and disruption of essential services. Drones can be employed as platforms for launching malware or conducting wireless attacks, exacerbating existing cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
Disruption of Critical Infrastructure
Drones can disrupt critical infrastructure, such as power plants, transportation networks, or communication systems. By interfering with these vital sectors, hostile actors can create chaos, and economic instability, and compromise national security. Drones can carry out cyber-attacks, electronic jamming or physical attacks to disrupt infrastructure networks. India’s growing reliance on technology and connectivity makes it imperative to fortify the nation’s critical infrastructure against potential drone-related threats.
Cross-Border Smuggling and Trafficking
Drones can be exploited for cross-border smuggling and trafficking of contraband, narcotics, or illegal weapons. India shares borders with countries that are known for these activities, making it vulnerable to such drone-enabled smuggling networks. Hostile actors can exploit the ability of drones to bypass traditional border controls, increasing the challenges law enforcement agencies face. Enhanced drone surveillance capabilities are crucial for detecting and intercepting these illegal activities to safeguard national security.
Mitigating Drone-Related Threats
To address the potential drone-related threats to India’s national security effectively, a multi-faceted approach is required. This approach should encompass robust legislation and regulatory frameworks, technological advancements, and comprehensive training for security personnel. The small size, agility, and ability to fly at low altitudes make drones difficult to detect using traditional radar systems. Implementing advanced detection technologies, such as radar systems specifically designed for drone detection, can aid in the early identification and tracking of unauthorized drone activity. We need to develop comprehensive regulations for drone operations, including registration, licensing, and flight restrictions.
Counter-Drone Technology: Invest in developing and deploying advanced counter-drone technology that can detect, track, and neutralise unauthorized or malicious drones. This technology should be integrated with existing surveillance systems to enhance situational awareness.
Public-Private Partnerships: Foster collaboration between government agencies, private companies, and research institutions to pool resources, expertise, and innovative solutions in countering drone threats. Encourage the development of indigenous drone technology to strengthen national capabilities.
Capacity Building: Enhance the capabilities of security forces and law enforcement agencies through specialized training programs that focus on drone detection, identification, and response. This includes equipping them with appropriate tools and knowledge to handle drone-related threats effectively.
Public Awareness and Vigilance: Public awareness campaigns can help educate citizens about the potential risks of drones in cross-border terrorism. Encouraging individuals to report suspicious drone activity and promoting responsible drone ownership can enhance overall security and contribute to the early detection of potential threats.
The need for a Drone Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system in India is paramount to ensure the safe and efficient integration of drones into the national airspace. As the popularity and usage of drones continue to rise, it becomes crucial to establish a robust UTM framework that can address the challenges associated with drone operations.
A UTM system provides essential infrastructure and tools for managing and monitoring drone flights, airspace access, and collision avoidance. In a country as vast and diverse as India, with a multitude of applications for drones ranging from delivery services to aerial surveys, a UTM system will enable seamless coordination between drone operators, regulatory authorities, and other stakeholders.
India must recognize the potential threats posed by drones and take proactive measures to protect its national security interests. Addressing drone-related threats requires a comprehensive approach that combines regulatory frameworks, technological advancements, and capacity building. By staying ahead of evolving threats and investing in countermeasures, India can effectively mitigate drone-related risks and safeguard its critical infrastructure, territorial integrity, and public safety.
By understanding the risks associated with drones and implementing robust safeguards, policymakers and stakeholders can strike a balance between harnessing the benefits of drone technology and protecting national security interests. By doing so, we can ensure the responsible and secure integration of drones into our society, benefiting both innovation and national security.