Chinese Drones ‘Breach’ Indian Airspace; Operated By Pakistan, Cheap UAVs Smuggle Arms & Drugs

India has a Chinese drone problem. Since last year, the number of drones violating the International Border along Pakistan has quadrupled, and most of them are high-end Chinese-made dual-purpose drones. India is making its air space impregnable by installing more anti-drone systems and CCTVs in vulnerable areas.

This year alone, the Border Security Force (BSF), responsible for manning the India-Pakistan international border spanning across five states – Kashmir, Jammu, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, has recovered a total of 95 drones along with weapons, ammunition, and drugs they were smuggling across.

Intelligence inputs have indicated that the drones drop packets of Afghan heroin, which is then used for financing terror operations in Kashmir and Punjab. Terror outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba, which has camps across the international boundary, are using these Chinese-made drones for transporting weapons, explosives, and drugs across the border.

Punjab’s Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Headquarters, Sukhchain Singh Gill, said in a press conference that while the sightings of drones laden with suspected contraband and narcotics have spiked, so have the recoveries. IGP Gill said: “There have been 514 drone sightings from 2022 to date. However, the recoveries (of contraband and narcotic substances) have gone up as well. As many as 121 drones (laden with drugs) were shot down in joint operations between the BSF and the Punjab Police.”

These drones’ apprehension has resulted in the recovery of a massive cache of narcotic substances. As late as December 9, 2023, BSF’s Punjab Frontier intercepted a Pakistani unmanned vehicle that violated Indian airspace. It was intercepted by the BSF troops. “BSF Punjab troops launched a search operation, recovering a Pakistani drone (DJI Mavic 3 Classic – Made in China) from a field near Village – Rohilla Hazi, District – Ferozepur, Punjab,” the BSF Punjab Frontier announced on its X handle.

DJI Mavic 3 is a powerful flagship camera drone made by the Chinese firm DJI, a global leader in drone manufacturing. The DJ Mavic is equipped with a 4/3 CMOS Hasselblad camera that can capture professional-level imaging that can be used for surveillance and spying. It also has omnidirectional obstacle sensing for a smooth flight. It has a maximum flight time of 46 minutes and a transmission range of 15 km.

A February 2022 Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs Report stated, “Punjab has not drafted or articulated a separate police drone policy. However, specific area-based detection and neutralization of drone threats are available and being improved upon. However, larger areas like borders remain a challenge.”

The BSF has been coordinating with Punjab Police to track the movement of drones intruding in India. The BSF uses anti-drone technology to track and take down these unmanned flying objects. CCTVs would also be installed under a plan at vulnerable points near the border areas in Punjab to prevent smuggling activities. The installation will be complete by March 2024.

Pakistani drone captured by India’s border force. (BSF)

Reining In Pakistan’s Chinese Sky-Minions

Drones have been in use in combat for some years now. Pakistan moved swiftly to absorb the unmanned aerial vehicles in its arsenal. In 2015, it joined the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel to use armed drones to strike targets after its ‘Burraq’ drone killed three senior leaders of Tehreek-e-Taliban. Apart from the Burraq, the Falco and GIDS Shahpur form Pakistan’s fleet of UCAVs.

China and Turkey have also helped Pakistan in increasing its fleet of military UAVs. The western neighbor of India has imported Caihong (CH) 4 and Wing Loong UAVs from China and Bayraktar Akinci UCAVs from Turkey.

Both state and non-state actors from Pakistan can use drones to minimize the risks involved for human infiltrators and maximize the intended negative impact. This use of drones highlights the shift toward unmanned methods with reduced logistical costs.

The familiarity of Pakistan’s military with drone technology meant that soon, the non-state actors had access to the commercial technology, and the drone intrusion into India spiked. BSF, the first line of India’s defense, initially had to know how to address the menace.

In September 2022, the BSF established a state-of-the-art laboratory in Delhi to deconstruct the drones crossing the border. As the organization started getting into forensics, it realized that the drones had chips similar to computation devices like computers and mobile phones. The chips gave an insight into the drone’s flight paths, launching and landing points and timings, GPS coordinates, and even messages exchanged between their Indian cohorts.

The BSF Special Director General (DG) BSF Special Director General, Western Command, Yogesh Bahadur Khurania, said that the force is not only bringing down the drones but is investigating further along with the police to find out who the drone came from and who was involved in it.

The BSF is also planning to get more anti-drone equipment. Reports indicate that the Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir frontiers will soon receive indigenous anti-drone equipment developed by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). This system was first tested in Punjab in 2020 and has been put through its paces extensively.

The equipment includes a laser weapon with a 1,000-metre range, a radio frequency jammer, and a GPS jammer/spoofer. Bharat Electronics Limited will be manufacturing these anti-drone systems.

In response to a question in the Lok Sabha, Nisith Pramanik said that the BSF has established an Anti-Rogue Drone Technology Committee to evaluate and certify the effectiveness of available technology. They conduct awareness campaigns among the public in border areas to sensitize them about UAV/drone activities and encourage them to report any suspicious movements to the BSF and local police. Similarly, the army in J&K has also been training Village Defence Committee members to help them spot drones and counter the threat.

According to the Indian Army Chief, General Mukund Naravane, “the easy availability of drones allowed both state and non-state actors (in Pakistan) to use them, increasing the complexity of challenges faced by the security forces.”

This acknowledgment of the threat came following the twin-drone attack on the Jammu Air Force Station in June 2021, in which two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) dropped two improvised explosive devices (IEDs), damaging a part of the building. This was the first reported use of drones to attack military facilities in India.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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