- Potent killers for both terrorists & militaries
By Jai Kumar Verma
New Delhi. 04 January 2022. Do the names Predator, Sky Guardian, Reaper and Kargu-2 ring a bell? For the uninitiated these are combat drones used by the militaries of the world. These not only disrupt militant operations but also reduce militants’ ability to control local areas. And also perform the task of killing terrorist leaders and other “high-value individuals” (HVIs) from the battlefield, which reduces terrorism. It is a fact that drone strikes have resulted in the deaths of many top terrorist leaders.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) eliminated more than 3000 terrorists including several top terrorists through the use of drones in Pakistan, as these terrorist leaders were residing in inhospitable terrains. The prominent terrorist leaders killed through drone attacks included Umar Mansour alias Umar Naray, Hakimullah Mehsud, Wali Rahman Mehsud, Mullah Nazeer, Qari Hussain, Baitullah Mehsud, Nek Muhammad Wazir etc.
Unfortunately, the sinister Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) also started using drones for dropping arms, ammunition, and literature for the use of terrorists. The ISI dropped AK 47 and M16 rifles, pistols, grenade launchers and other small arms in India to help Kashmiri terrorists.
And the enemy strength should never be miscalculated. Terrorists and insurgents take the benefit of developing technology while planning the terrorist strikes and they dodge the security forces through use of modern technology. Hence law enforcement agencies must pursue the countermeasures so that they can detain, disrupt, and destroy the terrorist networks. Nevertheless, easy access to modern technology, sophisticated weapons, cyber knowledge assists terrorists to hide themselves and carry out their nefarious activities.
Drone technology is the latest technical knowledge which is exploited by the terrorists. The drones can be used for multiple attacks more or less at the same time which would create a panic among the civilians and would upset the security agencies. There is enormous boost in the production, types, and capabilities of the drones. The cost of drones is considerably slashed and the terrorists can choose the drones as per the necessity of their terrorist attacks. The drones can also carry the weapons as per the choice of terrorists.
At present either the terrorists have to carry the weapons/material for the terrorist attack or they have to arrange it locally and in both the cases they need the support agents either for hiding or for procuring the material for the terrorist attacks. Secondly in most of the terrorist assaults the terrorist outfits need suicide bombers as the chances are remote of the return of terrorists after completion of attack. Nonetheless, few terrorists can attack several targets without losing any terrorist with the help of drones.
There were several terrorist attacks or attempted terrorist attacks in which drones were used between 2013 and 2018. Al-Qaeda planned multiple drone attacks in 2013 but Pakistan security forces halted it. In 2013 power distribution service in California was sabotaged and because of it, large part of the state was plunged in darkness. Islamic State used drones in military operations in 2014. In 2018, 13 drones assaulted Russian Tartus Naval Facility and Khmeimem Air Base in Syria. Russian Defence Ministry claimed that the attack was by autonomous drones and from the village which was about 80 KMs away. The drones used Global Positioning System (GPS) and were pre-programmed to release the munitions on Russian bases. Although the Russians claimed that there was no damage and they successfully shot down the drones. However, Free Alawites Movement took the responsibility of terrorist attack and told that they destroyed S-400 missile system.
These drones were homemade and used low technology, now the technology is considerably enhanced and became more lethal. Again, in August 2018 two explosives loaded drones made a failed attempt to assassinate Venezuelan President Maduro. According to an analysis the sale of drones would be about $ 43 billion dollars in 2024.
The terrorists use aerial drones for different kind of operations including collection of intelligence, dropping of weapons in terrorist hideouts as well as to bomb the targets, delivery of chemical weapons, just to name few.
Currently several non-state actors are also using drones and their number is increasing very fast. At present terrorist outfits in Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia are using drones for terrorist activities.
The threat of terrorism is not only increasing but it is decentralised and became unpredictable. Hence the security forces have to adopt different and modern technology to counter the threat. The security forces have to enhance their capabilities with regard to collection of intelligence and should launch reconnaissance and surveillance missions. The old conventional methods of border patrols, interception of communications and visitors, collection of intelligence through agents are still important but the security forces also need new and innovative measures to counter the rising menace of terrorism.
Drones are fitted with electro-optic, infrared and high-resolution video cameras and can take photographs of moving as well as stationary targets. Drones can be used for advance surveillance of the targets and with the help of artificial intelligence, the intelligence agencies can later use these photographs to find, recognise and identify the terrorists. The information collected through drones would help the security agencies to chalk out a detailed plan to vanquish terrorist outfits. Not only the terrorist outfits the security forces are also using drones for reconnaissance and covert operations.
Drones are used by Defence, Para Military as well as by several Central Police forces for surveillance, collection of intelligence and security of the area. As the drones are autonomous, they can be used in remote areas and can perform dangerous operations. The use of drones is increasing rapidly in businesses hence there would be technological advancement in near future. The size, sensors, energy storage, range and lifting capacity would enhance and it will make drones more effective, deadly, and disastrous. It would become more and more difficult to counteract.
The terrorists can use drones for photography and reconnaissance of the area where terrorists plan the attack. There are improvements in aerial drones however there are drones which move from subsurface (underwater) to air. At present drones from underwater to air has limited capacity but soon there would be technical advancement in this field too. Now the drones use biomimicry so they can function in deep forests and in sea without disturbing the animals or birds. These deceptive drones can be used by researchers, security forces as well as by terrorists.
As drone technology can be used by criminals and terrorists it is essential to regulate their use, although the security agencies are finding it difficult because of rapid upgrades in technology. At present efforts are made to detect drones through signals but it is difficult in densely populated areas as well as pre-programmed and automated drones.
The drones can also be detected through optical detection by using video cameras and computer systems but there would be large number of false alarms. There would also be difficulty in detection of drones in low light and adverse weather conditions.
The drones can be detected through radars but generally radars fail to distinguish between birds and small drones. Radio Frequency jamming can also be used but it is not feasible in large areas and for a long time. It is easy and cost effective to acquire drone but it is difficult to detect and destroy it.
The drones can be assembled with the help of material available in internet and they are very cost effective hence in future more and more terrorist outfits would use drones for terrorist attacks. The terrorists can spray chemicals in crowded areas through drones or they can spray just simple water mixed with some ordinary cleaning chemical and can spread a rumour that they sprayed water with dangerous chemical or biological agent of infectious disease, would create a panic in the public. The terrorists can target self-destructive objects such as gas pipelines, petrol tanks, water storage areas, power plants etc. Nonetheless the terrorists need ground infrastructure for launch and control of the drones. The cost of providing security to all these installations would be difficult as well as very expensive.
Few individuals or a small group of terrorists with a low-cost budget can sabotage a prime target from a safe distance through drone hence the security forces have to be very careful and have to chalk out a long-term strategy to handle the problem of terrorist attacks through drones. As the world has become a global village hence the major powers of the world should come together to handle the problem of use of drone by the terrorist outfits. All countries have to strengthen their intelligence network and employ more and more technical experts so that the security forces can use drone technology to exterminate terrorist outfits.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)