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Punjab CM Amarinder Singh Flagged Threat of Drone Attacks to Modi in November

After the Jammu airbase was attacked on June 27, it has now emerged that Punjab has been impressing upon the Union government to seriously consider possible attacks via drones for some time now.

New Delhi: After the Jammu airbase was attacked by explosives dropped from suspected drones on Sunday, June 27, sending security agencies into a tizzy, the Indian Express has reported that Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh had written to the prime minister in November 2020 on the sightings of drones along the international border in Punjab, and possible attacks via low-flying sub-conventional aerial platforms including UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and drones.

Soon after the news emerged from the Jammu airbase, senior security officials in the Punjab government have recalled that the Union government had already been warned of “serious implications” of delivery of weapons and contraband from Pakistan, using drone-like equipment. Singh had called on home minister Amit Shah in Delhi last year in November to discuss the same, after writing to the prime minister regarding the issue.

According to Punjab security officials, there have been about 70 to 80 sightings of drones over the last two years, and some of them were even shot down. After Singh’s letter to the prime minister, high-level meetings took place between Punjab intelligence heads, Punjab Police and the central agency of BSF (Border Security Force) last year.

In his November 21, 2020, the Punjab chief minister had talked about dropping of rifles and pistols by a Chinese-made hexagonal drone in August 2019 Hoshiarnagar, Amritsar, and similar instances reported were from Ferozepur and Tarn Taran sectors.

Representative image of a drone. Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee.

Calling for caution, the chief minister had then warned the Union government that the delivery of long-range weapons from across the border about 5 km deep into Indian territory at a “pre-designated point, through a large-sized drone was a matter of national security concern”. He had added that such incidents pose serious implications for “security of highly threatened protectees, security of public meetings/events”.

The Punjab chief minister had appealed to the prime minister to hold a high-level meeting of various “stakeholders” to examine the drone threat and “discuss and rethink strategies” regarding the installation of infrastructure such as radars that can detect the movement of these aerial platforms. The Wire has not been able to independently verify if such a meeting was held, and whether or not if the warning was acted upon.

Also read: India Needs to Be Prepared to Be Able to Ward Off Chinese Drone, Cluster Munition Attacks

“Suitable counter-measures against the use of such drones would also need to be developed, as it is now becoming clear that Pakistan is deploying such platforms to deliver contraband from across the border,” the Indian Express quoted the chief minister from his letter.

Dinkar Gupta, Punjab DGP (director general of police), also underscored that drone attacks and weapon-drops are “dynamic, continuing threat[s]”. “The sighting of drones sent from across the border is a regular feature along the Punjab border. That is why the matter was escalated to the highest levels last year. To an extent, the frequent launching of drones makes border fencing redundant,” the daily quoted him as saying.

He further added that although meetings had taken place between state and Union government agencies, including the BSF, regarding the emerging threat, counter mechanism and infrastructure plans still have to be drawn up.

‘No wreckage of drones found’ 

Meanwhile, The Hindu has reported that the National Security Guard (NSG) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which joined the probe on Monday into the attack at Jammu airbase, have not been able to find any debris of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles at the airbase where the blasts took place.

The premier investigating agencies said that they are exploring whether a local launchpad or a long-distance one was used to drive in drones. So far, no possible spot had been identified as a launchpad near the base, which is just 16 km away from the international border.

Jammu airbase drone attack

Security personnel patrol after two low-intensity explosions reported in the technical area of Jammu Air Force Station in the early hours of Sunday. One caused minor damage to the roof of a building while the other exploded in an open area. Photo: PTI.

Drones, which require an open field or a building top for achieving a flight, are frequency controlled and easily escape the traditional radar systems. They could cover up to 30-40 km of distance.

A few persons working at the base were questioned but let off later. Officials said the possibility of the drone being controlled from Indian territory could not be ruled out.

On Sunday, June 27, two explosive devices were dropped from a suspected drone on the Indian Air Force Station in Jammu. According to Indian Air Force sources, two explosions occurred at 1:37 am and 1:42 am, injuring two IAF personnel.

In the attack,  a building roof inside the IAF base was damaged, however, explosive devices missed the aircraft hangar nearby. The particular air force station is about 14-15 km from the nearest point on the international border with Pakistan.

Just a day after this attack, the Indian Air Force confirmed that it had fired at two drones stopped at Ratnuchak-Kaluchak Military area in Jammu at the midnight of June 27-28.

“Quick Reaction Teams engaged them with firing. Both the drones flew away. A major threat was averted by the alertness and proactive approach of the troops. The security forces are on high alert and a search operation is on,” The Hindu quoted IAF as saying.

Also read: Pakistani Drone Shot Down Near Gujarat Border

The use of a drone to mount a terrorist attack marks the beginning of a new security threat for the country. The threat from armed drones was discussed by the Indian security establishment for some years now.

It can also be observed that these suspected drone attacks come exactly two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met mainstream political parties of Jammu and Kashmir for the first time after the region’s special status was scrapped on August 5, 2019.

India raises the attack at the UN  

The possibility of the use of weaponised drones for terrorist activities against strategic and commercial assets calls for serious attention by the global community, India told the UN General Assembly, according to PTI.

Speaking at the ‘Global scourge of terrorism: assessment of current threats and emerging trends for the new decade’, V.S.K. Kaumudi, special secretary (internal security), ministry of home affairs, said, “Today, misuse of information and communication technology such as internet and social media for terrorist propaganda, radicalisation and recruitment of cadre; misuse of new payment methods and crowdfunding platforms for financing of terrorism; and misuse of emerging technologies for terrorist purposes have emerged as the most serious threats of terrorism and will decide the counter-terrorism paradigm going forward.”

Continuing further, he said, “Being a low-cost option and easily available, utilisation of these aerial/sub-surface platforms for sinister purposes by terrorist groups such as intelligence collection, weapon/explosives delivery and targeted attacks have become an imminent danger and challenge for security agencies worldwide.”

He appealed to the global community for collective and unified action, ensuring that those countries which provide safe havens to terrorists should be called out and held accountable.

Kaumudi told the General Assembly that continuing advancements in evolving technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, deep fakes , blockchain, dark web are fraught with the risk of being abused by terrorists. Already, cryptocurrencies, virtual assets, crowdfunding platforms are helping terror financing, owing to anonymity and un-traceability of these technologies, he said.

India has put in place an elaborate counter-terrorism and security architecture, besides introducing a series of measures in the cyber-space encapsulating counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation strategies.

(PTI inputs)