Military & Aerospace

Drone Technology and Drone Warfare
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 28 Feb , 2019

New reports of January 24, 2019 have stated that a 16-year-old boy from Gujarat, Harshwardhan Sinh Zala, has invented the drone ‘EAGLE A7’ which he claims can detect and destroy landmines without any human risk. Zala was quoted saying, “This tech is not available anywhere else. It has multi-spectral land mine detection technology which can detect mines.” said Harshwardhansinh Zala, designer of EAGLE A7.

Zala has also received many offers from abroad, however, he wishes to help the Armed Forces through his tech. Naturally, there is much applause on the social media and on the net especially since the news was flashed by multiple media channels.

There is just this small problem in the above publicity; in that, this news is two-year old. New reports in February 2017 had stated that 14-year old wonder boy Harshwardhan Zala, Class 10 student of Sarvoday Vidhyamandir in Bapunagar,  has signed a Rs 5 crore  memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Gujarat Government during the ‘Vibrant Gujarat Summit’ held during January 2017 for productionizing an ‘Aerial Mine Detector-Neutralizer Drone’ designed by him. Incredibly, he commenced work on the prototype of the landmine-detecting drone only in 2016, and created a business plan too.  The inspiration struck him while watching TV and learning that large number of soldiers succumb to injuries sustained due to landmine blasts while defusing them manually.

By the time he signed the abovementioned Rs 5 cr MoU in January 2017, he had already spent Rs 5 lakh on three prototypes of the drone, with parents contributing Rs 2 lakh and State Government Rs 3 lakh. Wired to locate and destroy, the drone is equipped with infrared, RGB sensor and thermal meter along with a 21-megapixel camera with a mechanical shutter that can take high resolution pictures.

The drone is designed to send out waves that cover eight square metres while flying two feet above the surface; the waves detect land mines and communicate their location with a base station. The drone also carries a bomb weighing 50 gram that can be used to destroy the landmine.  By January 2017, he had already registered for a patent and had set up his own company ‘Aerobotics’, which he wants to make bigger than Apple Inc or even Google, Inc.

Given the above developments by January, 2017, it is a wonder why the system has not enabled Zala’s prototypes to be trial evaluated by the Armed Forces through live trials, and why production of such a drone has not happened in the two year intervening period, espeially since Zala belongs to Gujarat, which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own state? Given the right impetus by the ruling dispensation, two years should have been more than sufficient.

One possibility could be that that commercialized flight of the drone is slated to be flagged off by PM, Gujarat CM or RM just before the elections, for attracting votes. But it is the second possibility which is scary; that the MoD-DRDO nexus wants its own pound of flesh, same as MHA in the case of CAPF, before the drone is introduced into service. It is very easy leave Zala to his individual endevour, place indirect impediments and simply bind development of ‘Aerobotics’ in red tape.

It may be recalled that Dr Shantanu Bhowmik, Head Research & Projects, Department of Aerospace Engineering, Amrita University, Coimbatore who had developed a state of the art bullet resistant vest of light weight bullet proof material was left with no choice but to approach MoD through the DRDO. Zala may find himself in similar predicament.

The DRDO, whose drone development has been lagging for years and decades, would also like to catch up with Zala’s invention, patent notwithstanding, which is an old game. Many would be unaware that IBM first brought pushbutton telephones to India in concert with the DRDO but within six months, DRDO made a minor change to IBM’s patent and simply dumped IBM telephones. Unknown to the public, publicity by the governmental defence-industrial complex at times is hilarious.

For example, when  Narashima Rao was the PM, some publicity was needed. So a *roll out* ceremony of Tejas was arranged at HAL. It was a comic sight. One Tejas was brought out of the hanger with a tow-bar driven by a tractor. But the photo to be published cut out the tractor to only show the aircraft cockpit onwards. The headlines read “PM rolls out Tejas*. The version of Tejas IAF wants is still rolling.

Drones have been in use by the Army especially in Northern Command, and by police forces for surveillance elsewhere in the country. However, the use of drones for surveillance and monitoring during road move, including for defusing mines and IEDs needs to be examined, despite the long lines of communications in J&K. How this technology can be used especially in sensitive zones needs feasibility study, followed by adoption of standing operation procedures. This is a suggestion by veteran Colonel Pradeep Jaidka, which has plenty merit and the  Army and the CAPF should analyze it on priority.

Concurrent to the above, the use of drones and even animals by terrorists needs attention. On February 2019, there was news from Yemen that the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) mined a donkey with High-Explosive Fragmentation projectiles, to destroy a checkpoint of the Al-Houthi militia in Baida Province. The prodded the donkey to move towards the checkpoint but activated the explosives prematurely before the donkey could reach the check post.

It, therefore, only caused a minor commotion amongst the Houthi militants. Apparently, the AQAP were unaware how the Russians trained dogs mined with explosives and effectively used them to destroy number of tanks and armoured personnel carriers of the German army during World War II. But we seriously need to examine the use of drones by terrorists rather than being caught unawares as in the case of the Pulwama car bombing despite advance warning.

Russia’s Kalashnikov has just unveiled a tiny drone tiny drone that can  destroy remote ground targets from a distance of up to 64 km away by blowing itself up like a suicide bomber. The “high-precision attack unmanned aerial system” dubbed KUB-UAV, was also revealed at the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX) in  the United Arab Emirates. As per Kalshnikov, it is “a very accurate and most effective weapon that is very difficult to fight with using traditional air defense systems.”

In July 2017, a Russian drone carrying a thermite grenade  blew up billions of dollars worth of ammunition last month when it struck the Balakliya military base in Eastern Ukraine – 96 kms from the Russia-Ukraine border. The thermite grenade set off a series of titanic explosions in what was described as the largest explosions in recent history. Equally significant is the use of commercial drones by terrorists, particularly the ISIS in inflicting casualties against coalition and Iraqi forces. The use of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products to undertake wartime sabotage and terror attacks is a potent threat. There is enough on record cautioning India that drone attacks are around the corner.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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