The use of drones for weapon delivery has been on the rise since 2020, with India reporting 79 cases in that year, 109 in 2021 and 266 in 2022. The pattern has continued into 2023, with around 200 cases already detected so far. Amid these, the emergence of nano and micro drones and compact unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with advanced capabilities, introduce fresh security challenges.

The Civil Aviation Ministry has made major changes to the drone laws. The government has passed the Drone (Amendment) Rules, 2022 which states that a remote pilot certificate (earlier called a licence) will not be required for flying small-to-medium size drones of up to 2 kg for non-commercial purposes. To operate a drone legally, the criteria set by the Civil Aviation Ministry and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation must be adhered to.

Except in the nano/micro category for non-commercial use, all drone activities are permitted only after receiving prior approval for a flight or series of flights. As a result, monitoring the proliferation and potential misuse of nano/micro drones remains a significant challenge.

Nano drones, often resembling small toy drones, possess lethal intelligence-gathering capabilities, but their lack of artificial intelligence and machine learning limits their lethality as armed drones. However, when deployed in swarms, they can become highly dangerous without effective countermeasures. Unfortunately, there are currently no countermeasures to effectively neutralise such drone swarms.

The threat equation quickly changes in the micro drone category. Open-source research in early 2000s boosted micro drone development. These drones, made mainly from plastics and polymers, offer impressive endurance and autonomous travel capabilities. Weighing more, they become deadlier and are challenging to detect and prosecute.

Protecting against small UAV threats is a complex task that goes beyond simply stopping the drone. To enhance detection capabilities, a combination of sensors is essential. Currently, AI-driven autonomous anti-drone systems have advance features like:

EM sensors: These defence systems capitalise on the radio signals used for drone communication (uplink and downlink). Intercepting these signals through electronic surveillance helps locate the drone and its control station.

Active/passive radar: Radars are dedicated to detecting aerial tracks, but mini-drones have low radar signatures, making them challenging to identify, especially in urban areas with potential false alerts.

Infrared sensors: Thermal cameras can detect drones even in low visibility conditions and at night, locating thermal hotspots generated by the drone’s motors for identification.

Acoustic sensors: Drones that produce noise during flight can be detectable by acoustic sensors. These sensors help classify the drone based on its specific noise characteristics, making them useful in conjunction with radar systems to cover both short and long ranges.

An integrated anti-drone dome with cutting-edge sensors, radars, and AI is crucial for safeguarding critical sites and events. By investing in such defences, India can protect citizens and assets from evolving drone threats.

The writer is Founder and CEO, Grene Robotics