Defence Forces Using Off the Shelf Chinese Drones is a Threat to National Security

Self Reliance coupled with responsible use advocacy globally is a great opportunity for India to lead the world in the future expansion of the sensitive dual use technology

Defence Industry

By Sai Pattabiram

DRONE Tech is in fact a Sensitive Dual Use Technology that has been Proliferated Across the World Largely by the Chinese in a completely irresponsible and unregulated manner presenting threats to National Security for countries across the world Given the Use of Chinese Off the Shelf Unsecure Drones by their Defence forces.

Global Drone Scenario in Detail

UAVs or drones as they are better known have been grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons in the recent past primarily being blamed for causing severe disruptions to commercial airlines’ flight schedules over the Christmas weekend at Gatwick and later at Heathrow in the UK.

Today within the drone industry, the anti-drone segment is far more active than ever before with the drone manufacturers predominantly Chinese led by DJI being on the defensive projecting a very high moral and ethical ground in relation to data security despite the actions of ZTE and Huawei being proven to be otherwise in the case of the telecom sector in the USA.

The truth and facts clearly weigh heavily against the Chinese manufacturers who hold a strangle hold on the global drone manufacturing as a consequence the shipments as shown in the bar chart:

These figures translate to a ratio of around 600:1; 600 drones for every civilian aircraft which is expected to double in three years. With such high population densities of drones it is inevitable that they would cross paths with airliners more often than they did earlier.

The current situation has been created by Chinese companies dumping this sensitive Dual Use Technology Product by the millions with questionable ethics and intent knowing fully well that regulators across the world did not have any regulatory framework in place and hence drone use in civilian airspace was questionable. The result civilian drones are populated all over the world in the millions even before the regulators could conceive a drone regulatory framework.

It is only now that the countries across the world are waking up to the fact that these predominantly Chinese drones are posing tangible threats simultaneously to:

  • Civilian Air Traffic
  • Airports
  • Strategic defence assets by way of Synthetic Aperture Data Acquisition being a strong possibility given the ZTE & Huawei Experience and the fact that defence forces are using these Commercial Off the shelf Chinese drones at Strategic Defence installations.

Use of off-the-shelf civilian drones by defence forces is best visualized by the image right:

Effective Regulation Key for Defence

We have all seen the omnipresent DJI’s consumer drones like the Phantom and Mavic flying around capturing selfies, videos and any kind of images. We have been wonderstruck at the high definition and clarity they deliver with such small cameras, the ease of transfer of data and information.

They are so user friendly that flying a drone has almost become as easy as using a point and shoot camera on a mobile phone.

Today DJI drones are practically spread across every country in the world with half a million of them estimated to be the population in India.

The threat to national security can be best explained by taking the example of Pune, a strategic city from the defence perspective in the state of Maharashtra. Pune is home to the following defence organisations:

  • The home to one of its most strategic Airbases
  • The headquarters of the Army’s Southern Command
  • It houses one of the army’s largest strategic supply depots
  • It houses three defence educational institutions
  • It houses one of the largest defence hospitals in India
  • It house ordnance factories
  • DRDO has a significant presence as well
  • Multiple other Corps, regiments, units of the army

Pune has an estimated 10,000 DJI drones which are completely Illegal without any trace or paperwork of ownership.
• The national security threat to defence installations like those in Pune or many others across India is a reality.
• Hence effective regulation and control of civilian use of the Sensitive Dual Use Technology is a critical component of national defence as well

The suggested two layered regulatory framework for civilian drones as below:

Quasi-Passive Systems:
That tracks and log the operations of registered drones and also enables Regulators to warn operators & Commandeer it in the event of Dangerous violations that pose danger to other air traffic as shown in the Image:

The Tracking Hardware Device can be integrated with DGCA’s Digital Sky to provide both live tracking of every registered Drone and Log Flight Data:

Aggressive Interventional Systems to be Installed at all Defence Installations:
The aggressive Interventional layer consists of Warning a Registered Drone user as the first step and Commandeering the Drone to either Land or Crash it remotely as well as the Option of Shooting Registered Or Rouge Drones Down in the Event of Violation of Restricted Geo Fenced Airspace such as Airports and classified No Fly Zones.

Current details of such locations in India are as below:

  • No. Airports, Airstrips, Flying Schools and Military bases: 486
  • Operational Airports : 131
  • Other Locations Notified by Either Central Or State Governments as No Fly Zones

Structuring and Monitoring Airspace along above mentioned line would be a completely unique system of Drone regulation with a huge Export Potential

Not All Drone Threats to National Security Originate from Civilians

The Easy access and availability of Off Chinese Origin Civilian Drones classified as COTSUAS (Commercial off The Shelf Unmanned Aerial Systems) by the US Department of Defence is a Carrot on offer to Defence Forces across the world to use them to resolve their requirements for UAVs for over the hill surveillance and other day to day uses Its hard to resist them at the very attractive prices on offer compared to military grade Drones

Indian Defence Forces also use them on a regular basis with periodic reports of DJI’s operated by the Indian forces being shot down by Pakistanis.

Evidence is now emerging that given the fact that every Drone has to register on DJI servers prior to use drones registered from specific locations could be a cog in the wheel for a larger Synthetic Aperture Data acquisition Network

Investigations by the US Department of Defence and several other in countries like Israel , Australia , UK etc have revealed that there are reasons to believe that COTSUAS can be used to access locational specific data

Post these Investigations US Department Of Defence have banned use of COTSUAS across all Defence and Strategic Installations.

Interestingly it might also be noted that Drone use by Civil Defence Personnel like Police , CRPF use Illegal Chinese Origin COTUAS for High Security applications like VVIP “Z Level” Security. With DGCA having banned Civilian Drones in India on 7th October 2014 it is obvious that the DJI Drone used on most of these occasions is itself illegal and its remote data acquisition capabilities as mentioned above is also suspect.

Excellent ‘Make In India in Defence’ Opportunity with Export Potential

The use of Chinese COTSUAS by the Indian Defence Forces in itself proves the requirement and need for such low cost Unmanned Aerial Systems.

For Security reasons and based on either an Investigation by India OR based on the findings of other Defence forces like the US the use of Chinese COTUAS should be discontinued and options for development of similar cost “Made in India” options should be started.

Of Course Indian UAS manufacturers will not be in a position to immediately Deliver the Quality levels of the Chinese COTSUAS but with perseverance on both sides these gaps can be filled out and the required functionality and quality can be achieved by Domestic Manufacturers when working directly with the Defence forces on timeline specific projects there by assuring the integrity of National Security related matters.

The Drone Systems developed by working closely with the Defence forces will also have many takers across the globe for their defence use specifically being of Indian Origin.

Hence “Make In India” Exports is a distinct possibility


Drones by their very nature are a sensitive Dual use technology that has the potential to proliferate deep into and across countries as demonstrated by the Chinese who used the lack of regulations to do so.

Hence Self Reliance coupled with responsible use Advocacy Globally is a great opportunity for India to lead the world in the future expansion of the sensitive Dual use Technology.

–The author is Director of Sree Sai Aerotech Innovations Pvt Ltd

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