NEW DELHI: In perhaps the first such attack from across the border, suspected Pakistan-based terrorists on Sunday dropped bombs on an IAF station at Jammu airport using drones.
Two Air Force personnel suffered injuries in the twin drone strikes, which happened within a space of six minutes.
Jammu & Kashmir DGP Dilbag Singh later confirmed that it was a terror attack, with intel sources saying that drones were possibly launched from a location within few kilometres of the airbase.
The use of drones to attack a vital military installation has led to some concern within the security establishment.
The defence and internal security matrix of the country has been talking about threats posed by small and remote-controlled unmanned vehicles for the last two to three years.
There have been occasional incidents of Pakistan-sponsored armed drones being neutralised by the Border Security Force (BSF), the Punjab Police and other agencies along the India-Pakistan border.
Drones cannot be detected by radars deployed at border areas to monitor enemy activity, officials said, suggesting that a different radar system that can detect drones as small as a bird be installed.
Meanwhile, security agencies involved in the investigations of the Jammu drone attacks are also probing the possibility that the terrorists launched the explosives-laden quadcopters from within few kilometres of the airbase.
Going by the amount of the explosive that the basic quadcopters carried, it is possible that the drone may have been launched by the terrorists from a nearby location that could be a few kilometres or less from the airbase, sources told ANI.
The aerial distance from the Jammu airport to the international border is 14 kilometres.
Damage caused due to explosions by the drones at the Jammu airbase
‘No suitable tech yet to thwart drones’
A clutch of ministries and departments like that of home, civil aviation, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and the IAF have been working on plans and technologies to check and combat such attacks at sensitive civil airports and other facilities.
The central police think tank called the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) has also held a few multi-stakeholder national conferences on the subject to find out the most effective methods, both technology-wise and monetarily, to jam and neutralise these threats.
“We are still to get the most suitable technology to thwart armed drones along the border. The interceptions made till now has been because of the vigilance of troops on duty,” a senior BSF officer said.
He said multiple incidents of arms and drugs carrying drones and quadcopters being flown from Pakistan into the Indian side in Jammu and Punjab have been noticed in the last few years and all of them have been thwarted.
However, a senior home ministry officer said that there have been incidents when drones were used for surveillance of Indian border assets and positions. But as soon as they were spotted and reaction mounted, the floaters rushed back to base where either terrorist elements or Pakistan military soldiers could be handling the remote, the officer said.
Six lakh unregulated drones in India alone
Both the International Border and the Line of Control (LoC) region along Pakistan have had their share of such incidents which have been flagged by the Army.
Deep inside the country, the tarmac and the city-side of civil airports are vulnerable when it comes to dropping bombs or surveillance by drones.
A proper standard operating procedure (SOP) is in the making with the IAF supposed to be the first responder and the snipers of the CISF and the commando force, National Security Guard (NSG), desired to chip in case of an emergent threat.
“We need a comprehensive plan and plan of action to check the menace of drones. Every agency, be it at the borders or in cities or airports, needs to have specific responsibility along with required technology tools,” a senior officer in the security establishment said.
“The latest Jammu air force station incident has magnified the challenge,” the officer said.
A data estimation study conducted by multiple security agencies in 2019 stated that over six lakh unregulated drones, of various sizes and capacities, are present in the country and any of them can be used for launching a nefarious act by disruptive elements.
The agencies are looking at specific anti-drone techniques like sky fence, drone gun, ATHENA, drone catcher and Skywall 100 to intercept and immobilise suspicious and lethal remote-controlled aerial platforms.
How the Jammu attack unfolded
Two explosions took place around 1.40am within six minutes of each other on Sunday morning.
The first blast ripped off the roof of a single-storey building at the high security technical area of the airport manned by the IAF in Satwari on the outskirts of Jammu. The second one was on the ground, the officials said.
The drones dropped the explosive material and were either flown back across the border or to some other destination during the night, the officials said.
It was not immediately clear from where the drones had taken off and investigations were on to ascertain their flight path.
(With inputs from PTI, ANI)