Keeping Drones in Check

  • IASbaba
  • January 28, 2022
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Jan 26: Keeping Drones in Check- https://youtu.be/t-hKNBkPOUs 


  • GS-3: Science and Technology

Keeping Drones in Check

Context: The potential use of drones in a terrorist incident or attack against a critical infrastructure and soft targets is a growing concern for law enforcement agencies worldwide as the availability of drone technology becomes more widespread globally. 

  • Days after three people including two Indians were killed in Abu Dhabi in a drone attack claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, the UAE government has ordered to stop all flying operations of private drones and light sports aircraft in the Gulf country for a month. 
  • In the past few years there have been several cases of drones being used by terrorists for planned and attempted attacks in various parts of the world. 
  • India has also witnessed increased rogue drone activity along its Western border with Pakistan in the recent years with drones dropping weapons, ammunition and drugs.

What are drones?

Drones are “unmanned aerial vehicles” or UAV. Developed essentially as military tools to eliminate a risk without putting a pilot’s life in danger. Over the years, drones have also increasingly been used for various other objectives –

  • Emergency response: Innovations in camera technology have had a significant impact on the growing use of drones. UAVs outfitted with thermal imaging cameras have provided emergency response teams with an ideal solution for identifying victims who are difficult to spot with the naked eye.
  • Disaster relief: drones have proved useful during times of natural disaster. In the aftermath of hurricanes and earthquakes, Disaster management companies used UAVs to assess damage, locate victims, and deliver aid. And in certain circumstances, they are helping to prevent disasters altogether.
  • Healthcare: Many rural regions around the world lack access to high quality healthcare. While medical supplies can be delivered by traditional means, certain circumstances call for quick access to drugs, blood, and medical technology, commercial organisations can fulfil these needs with the help of drones.
  • Agriculture: Farmers across the world are continuously striving to reduce costs and expand yields. With the use of drones, agricultural workers are able to gather data, automate redundant processes, and improve efficiency.
  • Weather forecasting: Today, most data is collected through stationary structures or captured with geospatial imaging solutions. Drones, however, offer a versatile option that can physically follow weather patterns as they develop. Moreover to that water-based unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) are changing the way data is gathered.
  • Maritime: Inspecting ships is also an important part of the industry hence, few companies has designed an underwater drone used to inspect hulls from below.
  • Waste Management: Innovations in waste collection are still emerging, including drones that have help to clean oceans. Few companies focus on robots used to help maintain systems for wastewater management.
  • Infrastructure Development: While drones serve a useful purpose in construction planning and management, they also have the potential to be used to develop physical infrastructure.

The danger of drones and killer robots

A drone-based terror attack is quite effective: it reduces operation costs and the risk of identification for terrorists as well as can easily sneak past conventional interventions employed by security agencies. Furthermore, individuals with no affiliation to any terrorist organisations can also carry out such an attack with sufficient motivation and skills and fly under the radar.

In recent months and years, there has been increasing concern over the dangers of drones and robotics technology that can be utilized to cause harm from remote locations. 

  • The use of drones by terrorist organisations can be traced back to as early as 2013. According to a report by India Today, Al-Qaeda attempted a terror attack using multiple drones in 2013 in Pakistan without success.
  • The drone threat was felt closer to home when an IAF base in Jammu was attacked on 27 June, 2021. Two low-intensity IEDs were allegedly dropped from two drones. According to officials, this was the first time suspected Pakistan-based terrorists used UAVs in an attack.

The defence transformation has been far-reaching: over 102 countries now run active military drone programmes. It’s replaced thousands of troops on the ground with controllers behind computers located in bases far away from the air strikes they are launching. All of this is happening without any overarching regulatory regime to protect civilians and uphold humanitarian laws, or to examine the operational and tactical ramifications of this remote-control warfare.

  • 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 arguably 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.

The Way Forward

Drones have opened the door to weaponized artificial intelligence, algorithmic and robotic warfare, and loosened human control over the deployment of lethal force. Today’s armed drones are tomorrow’s killer robots; the absence of a control mechanism for a new generation of weapons of mass destruction represents a significant threat.

  • As the number of commercial and consumer drones increases worldwide, and as drones become more sophisticated in their abilities to carry potentially dangerous payloads as they fly virtually undetected through sensitive airspace, the need for deploying counter-drone measures against potentially hostile drones increases.
  • Nations should establish a multilateral process to develop standards for the design, export and use of drones, as well as stricter controls on the transfer of military technologies. 
  • Sales agreements should include civilian protection and adherence to international human rights.
  • Introduce counter-drone measures to deal with rogue flying objects and develop and use technologies to disable their navigation, interfere with their radio frequency, or even training eagles for countering small drones.

In India: D-4 drone system by DRDO could help the Army swiftly detect and destroy drones that pose a security threat to the country. The technology, developed in 2019, is capable of destroying micro-drones by jamming the command and control links (softkill) and further by damaging the hardware of the drones with lasers (hardkill).

Can you answer the following questions?

  1. Drones are not just a form of war, but a tool of unregulated intra-state political violence. Comment

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