Security huddle over J&K drone sightings

Updated on Jun 30, 2021 02:28 AM IST

A little after 1.30am on Sunday, two drones carrying explosives hit the Indian Air Force (IAF) station in Jammu, leaving two personnel injured. The blast at Jammu airport, which is used for VVIP movement and armed forces’ strategic operations, took place at 1.37am, causing minor damage to the roof of a building, and the second one – weaker in intensity – was reported at 1.42am in an open area.

Security personnel stand guard outside Jammu Airforce Station. (ANI Photo)
Security personnel stand guard outside Jammu Airforce Station. (ANI Photo)
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi/jammu

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday chaired a meeting of top ministers to discuss a long pending policy on management of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones and ways to deal with emerging security challenges, said people familiar with developments.

The meeting occurred in the backdrop of twin drone attacks at an airforce station in Jammu on Sunday and another thwarted attack in the early hours of Monday. Three army teams reported drone sightings near military installations in Jammu between 1am and 4.30am on Tuesday, indicating terrorist groups could be trying to replicate Sunday’s strike.

The meeting in Delhi was attended by Union home minister Amit Shah, defence minister Rajnath Singh, civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri and national security adviser Ajit Doval. There was no official communication on what transpired at the meeting.

Singh earlier held a meeting with Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria on the National Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) traffic management policy, said one of the persons cited above.

Aspects such as airspace management, the regulatory framework for the use of drones, their utility as future delivery systems, air passages in which they can be allowed to operate and security issues were discussed at that meeting, HT has learnt.

At the meeting Modi chaired, discussions also touched on the need for a policy to deal with emerging security threats and “non-traditional” strategic challenges, news agency PTI reported.

IAF, army and navy are among the key stakeholders in UAS traffic management. Air defence units of IAF are responsible for monitoring all manned and unmanned air operations in the country’s airspace. The task of these units is to ensure all aircraft operations in the country are identified and in line with the details submitted in the flight plans.

A little after 1.30am on Sunday, two drones carrying explosives hit the Indian Air Force (IAF) station in Jammu, leaving two personnel injured. The blast at Jammu airport, which is used for VVIP movement and armed forces’ strategic operations, took place at 1.37am, causing minor damage to the roof of a building, and the second one – weaker in intensity – was reported at 1.42am in an open area.

Experts said this was the first time drones were used in an attack on a major installation in the country.

Two more drones were spotted over the military area around 11.45pm on Sunday and 2.40am on Monday, prompting soldiers to open fire at the devices which flew away.

There have been several incidents of Pakistan-based terrorists using drones in the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir to drop arms, ammunition, drugs and money to fuel terrorism in the region. But experts said Sunday’s attack represented a new security threat.

Director general of Jammu and Kashmir Police Dilbag Singh told PTI that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a terror outfit based in Pakistan, is suspected to be responsible for the attack.”In all likelihood, the unmanned aerial vehicles have flown in from across the border and returned after the operation...We are still probing the case and will extend all our findings with other security agencies,” Singh said.

On Tuesday, the first drone sighting on Tuesday was reported at 1.08am at Ratnuchak. Two hours later, military personnel at Kaluchak camp 300 metres away spotted the drone at 3.09am and finally at 4.19am, a drone was spotted near Sunjuwan, seven kilometres away. Kaluchak and Ratnuchak are smaller military stations.

“The army informed us that they spotted drones over Kaluchak, Ratnuchak and Sunjuwan early Tuesday. We are looking into it,” Jammu’s senior superintendent of police Chandan Kohli said.

Discussions on a draft policy on drones have been on for over two years. The draft policy says the integration of UAS into the National Airspace System (NAS) presents a raft of challenges, both technically and operationally. Integrating the UAS operations within the current air traffic management (ATM) systems may bring in the need to equip UAS with additional hardware on board, it adds.

The objective of the policy is to enable more types of unmanned aircraft operational scenarios, increase the ease of compliance for the unmanned aviation industry while ensuring safety and security.

The ability to identify and track a UAS flying in the Indian airspace will prove to be a very important capability while enabling high density, complex UAS operations, the draft policy states.

On March 12 this year, the Centre notified the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules that spell out the terms of usage of drones by individuals and businesses apart from laying down the ground rules for research, testing, production, and import of such vehicles.

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