It’s happened before… and, unfortunately, it’s happened again: People modifying drones to carry explosive charges and use the devices as weapons. This latest case (and they are thankfully very rare) happened in India, and new details are emerging.
We’ve seen consumer drones used in the past by ISIS to drop grenades. The pilot, of course, can use the app to see precisely where the payload will be dropped. And then, with the addition or a servo or other mechanism, the mini-bomb can be released. (DJI, to its credit, quickly locked down its geofencing in certain locations when it became clear its products had been used by ISIS for such flights.)
Now, details are emerging about a recent attack in India.
Air Force Base attack
On June 27, two drones approached the Jammu Air Force Base in India’s Srinigar district. According to reports, the drones deliberately crashed or dropped their payloads early in the morning within a five-minute period, blasting a hole through the roof of a building and slightly injuring two people. This report suggests some pretty potent explosive material was used. We’re quoting here from that same News18 report:
Forensic analysis has suggested that the explosive used in the attack was RDX, a widely-used military explosive, packed into what are known as shaped charges — which direct explosive energy so it can penetrate armour or concrete. Islamic State jihadists have used similar devices to attack multiple targets since 2017 — on one occasion, releasing video footage of a successful strike on an Iraqi-operated M1 Abrams battle tank.
It’s believed the devices were made to simply explode on impact, rather than being externally triggered.
It’s unclear what products were used in the attack – and whether, even, they were commercial or custom-built. But it’s not the first time drones have been used for nefarious purposes in India. Again, the News18 story provides us with details of other incidents, which clearly involved drones with a heavy-lift capacity:
In June 2020, a drone carrying an M4 carbine, as well as ammunition, crashed at Maniari in Kathua, some 250 metres from the India-Pakistan border. Then, in September 2020, a drone delivered an M4, a Kalashnikov assault rifle, 6 pistols and ammunition, to a location near Samba, some 11 kilometres from the border. A third weapons drop, involving three Kalashnikovs, two pistols, 3 grenades and ammunition was made at Gurdian, near Rajouri, in the same month.
Not surprisingly, there’s been some fallout as a result of the attack.
Srinigar bans drones
Now, the local administration has essentially banned the use of drones, with the exception of authorized work being carried out on behalf of the government. The order was issued yesterday (July 4), as reported by The Indian Express:
“…keeping in view the security situation apart from concerns of breach of privacy, nuisance and trespass, it is extremely dangerous to let unmanned aerial vehicles to wander around in the skies within the territorial jurisdiction of District Srinagar,” said the order by the Srinagar District Magistrate. “Now, therefore, in view of above, I, Mohammad Aljaz, IAS, District Magistrate, Srinager in exercise of powers vested in me by virtue of section 144 of Cr.P.C impose restrictions/ ban on the storage, sale/ possession, use and transport of drones/s kind of Unmanned aerial vehicles in the territorial jurisdiction of District Srinagar.”
Owners of drones have been asked to surrender them to local police stations.
That’s unclear. There’s plenty of speculation, and Kashmir is a region where there have long been border disputes and skirmishes involving India, Pakistan, and China. Some reports point the finger at Pakistan, while others are more cautious in assigning blame without clear evidence. To say the least, it’s complicated.
If you’re into a deeper take, India Today put together a 30-minute special on the topic of drones being used for extremist purposes in India:
We’re big proponents of #dronesforgood, so we find these kinds of stories unsettling. They harm the industry’s reputation – and undoubtedly give others with an agenda the idea of weaponizing these tools. Though thankfully rare, it’s clear these kinds of attacks will continue. Thankfully, there are highly effective drone countermeasure systems capable of detecting threats from a distance, and also being able to remotely disable these devices.
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