Sunday, June 27, 2021

Cheap Tech, Pakistan's Role: Why First-ever Drone Attack is Pivotal Point in Kashmir Terror

From one morning in November 2014, FedEx delivery vans began pulling up every few weeks outside a nondescript apartment in the Turkish city of ┼×anliurfa, nestled in the valley where humankind’s Neolithic ancestors had begun practising agriculture around 5,000 BCE. Inside the boxes were remote controls, programme pads, simulator software, antennae, camera pods, micro-turbine engines: the products born of another great technological revolution.

An hour’s drive across the border, at the Islamic State caliphate’s headquarters in Raqqa, Bangladesh-born, Glamorgan-educated computer engineer Siful Haque Sujan was waiting to weld those parts together. His creation, the IED-carrying guided drone, has since transformed the threat terrorist groups can pose.

Early on Sunday morning, two 1.5 kilogram, pressure-activated explosive devices were dropped inside an Indian Air Force’s base in Jammu by just such a drone—missing a hangar were helicopters are parked by less than a dozen metres, possibly because of errors in the Global Positioning System coordinates fed to guide the drones.

Although the Lashkar-e-Taiba has used small drones to transport arms and explosives across the Line of Control since at least 2018, this is the first time terrorists have conducted an actual attack using the technology pioneered by Sujan. Experts, Firstpost reported in 2019, have long expected it was only a matter of time before such a strike would take place. What they’re less certain about is just how the threat Sujan invented should be addressed.

Incoming small drones are hard to detect, and expensive to interdict. Perhaps more important, unlike Fidayeen suicide-squad operations from 26/11 to the Pathankot Air Force base attack and the strike on the 12 Brigade’s headquarters in Uri, they do not need Pakistani nationals to be directly used. This lowers the risk of exposure and international condemnation.

Although technological means exist to trace the drones’ route—especially if they were GPS-guided—it is entirely possible they were released by jihadists already on the Indian side of the Line of Control, adding a further layer of deniability for Pakistan.

In 2014, Sujan began sourcing drone components along with his brother Ataul Haq Sobuj and business partner Abdul Samad. The men used a network of front companies running from Pontypridd, in Wales, to Spain and the United States to purchase the components, and made payments through PayPal. Early versions of Sujan’s drones could only deliver hand-grenades, but their payload steadily increased.

The idea of using unmanned aerial platforms to deliver lethal ordnance had been around for generations. In the summer of 1849, the Austrian artillery officer Franz von Uchatius had sought to attack forces besieging Vienna using hot air balloons fitted with 15 kg. timed explosive charges. Winds, however, ruined the plan.

In 2003, the Federal Bureau of Investigations discovered Lahore-born Maryland resident Ali Asad Chandia, helped the Lashkar-e-Taiba purchase drones, night-vision equipment and wireless video-cameras for the Lashkar. Those drones, however, seem to have been intended for surveilling infiltration routes, not delivering ordnance.

From the accounts of experts, the costs are trivial. In 2016, former United States Air Force officer Mark Jacobsen “experimented with building the cheapest ‘insurgent’ drone I possibly could”. “The result required $4 of foam board, packing tape and hot glue, and about $250 in cheap Chinese components. It was ugly, but it could deliver two pounds [1kg.] at a range of six to 12 miles”. Jammu Airport, interestingly, is just 14km from the border.

27/06/21 Praveen Swami/CNN-NEWS18

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