As drones become more compact, commercially available, and relatively cheaper, countermeasures are required to effectively deter their potential for misuse such as through drone-based terror attacks and for weapon payload delivery that can bypass conventional security measures.
One of the most lauded drone swarms have been called the 'Chaotic Rössler Mobility Model for Multi-Swarms' that is designed to control the path of ‘heterogeneous multi-swarms of aerial, ground and marine unmanned vehicles’ with a priority that hinges on expeditious discovery.
There are still inherent limitations to drones that can be used to construct countermeasures. The vulnerabilities include weather-related difficulties and limited time both in terms of flight as well as payloads. Counter Remote Controlled Model Aircraft Integrated Network System (CORIAN) utilised artificial intelligence algorithms to track each drone in swarm. In the wake of these proofs of concept, the Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) has embarked on a project to work with Indian companies to indigenously design anti-drone technology, particularly for cross-border incursions.
The Indian Government has been extremely active issuing guidelines such as Drone Regulation 3.0 and offering states such as Uttar Pradesh to emerge as manufacturing hubs. The Bureau of Indian Standards subcommittee on Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAV) standardisation has likewise been involved in conceptualisation of standards that might be a game changer for the industry. The necessity of such efforts is showcased by the employment of drones for attacks in numerous countries and conflicts and across various different terrains and climatic conditions such as in Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya, Syria, and Saudi Arabia – emphasising their versatility.
They have even been used in a high profile near-miss assassination attempt on President Nicolas. Analysts state that the first step in countering a drone offensive is to install monitoring equipment to identify and differentiate drones amidst the multitude of airborne objects. To that end, the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has utilised the D-4 drone system for this purpose which additionally has the capacity to target drones.
DRDO was also a pioneer in the conceptualisation and construction of the Nishant Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Contemporaneously, DRDO’s RF/Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) can likewise be applied as a countermeasure as it can be used in jamming of drones. Similarly, a net that is being held by an uncrewed aircraft can be utilised, for instance, Negation of Improvised Non-state Joint Aerial-threats (NINJA) equipment. Hyderabad-based Grene Robotics has developed “Indrajaal”, an indigenous drone dome that can be an effective countermeasure for limited missions.
Currently, India has been operating Mi-17V5 and Mi-17 helicopters to counter drones. The Indian armed forces have also been incorporating “anti-drone systems, smart air-launched weapons, and an advanced radar countermeasure system” as countermeasures. The DRDO has been working with “Tatas, L&T and the Adani group as transfer of technology(ToT) partners” for producing indigenously grown anti-drone systems.
There are experts who promulgate the need for countermeasures that encompass the identification of the model of the drone so that appropriate measures can be taken. This can be done with the assistance of a micro-doppler radar that is capable of distinguishing velocity variations amongst travelling objects.The sound of the rotors can be used to track the drone as well while algorithms such as Multiple Signal Classification (MUSIC) can help in the estimation of arrival and Tetrahedron acoustic arrays can aid with predicting direction of arrival.There are also the Multiple Input Single Output (MISO) Radar Systems that use one specific antenna for transmission and another four for reception. An optical camera with the advantages of infrared or thermal imaging can be used as well. There are other technologies that appear to employ an amalgamation of countermeasures. These encompass the usage of a radio jammer in tandem with jam drones that transmit radio frequencies and the Spexer anti-drone radar coupled with remote control machine gun on a Boxer armoured vehicle.
Another countermeasure is Global Positioning System (GPS) Spoofing wherein new signals are forwarded to the drone to scramble its navigation transmission with GPS satellites it uses for navigation. Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) capability likewise emit radio networks that can be used to interrupt the electronic circuits inside drones, such as the Leonidas system. A heavy-handed countermeasure is the use of Net Cannon that is “fired from the ground can be hand-held, shoulder-launched, or turret-mounted” or from another drone. High-powered counter-Uncrewed Aerial Systems (c-UAS) can use concentrated beams of light that can annihilate the electronics of a drone. Notably, a kinetic hit may also be a measure that can be undertaken; however, this action is contingent on the terrain and is most effective in open spaces. Likewise, Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) and water cannons can be used as countermeasures under very specific conditions. GPS spoofing, jamming, and EMP are currently used as countermeasures by Indian forces.
However, drones have been constructed to overcome conventional air defences by flying too slow and too low to be detected by older military radars and they escape missiles. There are also mini-and micro-drones that require tailored countermeasures such as the use of ‘plot fusion’, wherein data is collected from different resources to provide an ‘aggregated situation report.’ Furthermore, a ‘sacrificial drone’ can be utilised to intentionally hit the identified adversarial drone. Meanwhile, technology is constantly evolving, which has been demonstrated remarkably with drones that do not require radio frequency (RF) command and control links while utilising mechanical target tracking. This will require more innovation and cooperation to keep abreast of developments to be able to construct scalable countermeasures.
The Drone Federation of India (DFI) which is an industry frame for the nation’s drone industry, has contracted a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indian Army’s Army Design Bureau (ADB) intended for accelerating drone technology development and indigenization in the drone ecosystem. This cooperation will start with the implementation of ‘Him Drone-a-thon’ program that would incorporate private sector cooperation, with the drone eventually developed being employed in the Himalayas. The Indian Armed Forces have been collaborating with Mumbai-based private drone manufacturer IdeaForge to ‘source an undisclosed number of its vertical take-off and landing (VTOL)’ UAV known as ‘Switch’ that were delivered ahead of schedule. This capability development and in-depth understanding can also be later leveraged for constructing feasible countermeasures.
The countermeasures that can be developed such as anti-drone guns are akin to a Handheld/Backpack combination that can operate in different environments and are relatively simple to transport. However, the current needs of the Indian armed services include equipment that is capable of neutralizing helicopters, fixed wing UAVs, Radio Controlled UAVs and others in different categories within a specified range of Radio Frequency spectrum – coupled with an “intuitive control panel user interface which is intended to function on jamming as a countermeasure that can be controlled by operators.
India would also like renewable energy to be used to recharge the drone. Other requirements are the development of nano and micro drones, logistics/load carrying drones for high altitude areas, as well as autonomous surveillance/search and rescue drones, while prioritising equipment that insists on minimal collateral damage. To that end, plans have been summarised that consist of understanding the ground realities in each operational location, thus developing participation in the development process while prioritising testing and assessment of the drones. The Indian private sector will likely in the near future incorporate various technologies to gain a competitive edge such as artificial intelligence, artificial reality, virtual reality, the internet of things, and 3D modelling. Furthermore, an Israeli company headquartered in Hyderabad has collaborated with a Bengaluru-based drone technology venture, a cooperation that heralds a new era in the drone ecosystem in India. In tandem, ‘Drone Rules 2021’ were released by the government to catalyse a booming indigenous drone production industry. The company said the unit was the first state-of-the-art manufacturing facility of UAVs in India. India already sees the production of parts of drones referred to as Hermes 900 and Hermes 450 UAVs, mini-UAVs, the Thor which is a tactical mini-UAVs, and Sky Striker which is a tactical loitering munition.
Indian companies such as Asteria are likewise concentrating on the internal technologies and software required to operate drones. The convergence of these capabilities showcase the possibility that India is poised to focus on countermeasure equipment development in the country. Notably, the selection of countermeasures appears to depend on range, time to reload, accuracy, ease of use, organisational fit, asymmetric capability, and compliance with law and regulations. Therefore, a neutralisation chain must be established that focuses on the end result of countermeasures to be deployed where the goal is interception, then jamming, spoofing, and net interceptor drones. If the end-result is destruction of the drone then snipers, a strong electromagnetic pulse, and water cannons can be used. India can also collaborate with Russia as the nation is developing an anti-drone jamming system to specifically target MALE and HALE UAVs. [Cove Note: This statement reflects the thoughts of the author alone and does not imply endorsement of collaborating with Russia by The Cove, Australian Army, Department of Defence or the Australian Government].
Both countries already have a template for coordinating various defence equipment such as BrahMos. There are other opportunities for innovation through cooperation and partnership such as the Aero-Snare drone capture system manufactured by Drone Defence that utilises a weighted drag line that is suspended under the interceptor drone. DroneHunter can even drag away rogue drones, and a remotely operated SkyWall Auto gun can rapidly capture multiple targets in accurately delivered nets, deployed in conjunction with electronic countermeasures. Another countermeasure under consideration is the Advanced Test High Energy Asset (ATHENA) that operates via a high-energy laser beam. Conventional solutions devoid of technology such as the usage of Birds of Prey can also be undertaken.
Drones are increasingly becoming essential in counter-insurgency operations and counterterrorism operations, so much so that Al-Qaeda dispensed its own guidance for avoiding drones. Meanwhile, drones are likewise being utilised by adversaries. Therefore, countermeasures must be included across all domains. To that end, the Indian Navy has signed a contract with Bharat Electronics Limited to manufacture the Naval Anti Drone System (NADS) that ‘detect and jam micro drones and uses a laser-based kill mechanism to terminate targets’ and can be an alternative to the currently utilised Israeli-made SMASH 2000 system. Notably, countermeasures reflect the needs of the nation and the imperatives that dictate national security objectives as well as its threat perceptions. Currently, the priorities include the border areas so the countermeasures indigenously developed are likely to be made to highly specific parameters that can then provide an opening to develop more comprehensive countermeasures.
Interestingly, there is a dichotomy emerging wherein the armed services must keep going high-tech while adversaries may go low tech to beat the system.