This article is written by J Jerusha Melanie


On the 27th of June 2021, Air Force Station Jammu was attacked by two low-flying drones that carried Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). The attack is the first of its kind in India. Though neither life nor any equipment suffered many injuries, the incident has prompted major security concerns. Is drone technology the new threat to national security? Can drone-menace be stopped? Are Indian drone laws strong enough to prevent the misuse of drones? Let’s try to break it down. 

What are Drones? 

‘Drone’ is the common name of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). It is a flying robot that is either remote or software controlled. Drones are a part of the unmanned aerial system that includes a ground-based controller and a communication system. 

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How does a drone work?


The fundamental components of a drone are a frame, propellers, motor, battery, transmitter, receiver, flight controller, Electronic Speed Controller (ESC), and various sensors. Most drones also come with cameras and a Global Positioning System (GPS) Module. 


Plainly said, this is how a drone flies- the battery powers the drone, the motor provides its rotational power, and the propellers and ESC provide its stability. The transmitters and receivers in both the ground-based controller unit and the drone facilitate communication.

Evolution of Drone Usage 


Initially, drones were build to be engaged in warfare. During the First World War, the British designers from Sopwith Aviation made the first pilotless aircraft in 1917 to attack the German airship, Zeppelins. 

The prospect of inventing pilotless aircraft to attack the enemies without potential casualties led to the invention of ‘aerial torpedoes’ that later became cruise missiles. 

Civil and commercial applications

In recent times, UAVs have been used extensively for various purposes like aerial photography and film-making, rescue operations, wildfire mapping, crowd monitoring, etc. The COVID-19 pandemic led us to witness the application of UAVs in the efficient and safe delivery of food and medicines. 

But technology is a double-edged sword. As much as drones are helping us to build a better world, it is also posing a growing threat to national security. The seemingly mundane technology is now becoming a menace. 

The Terror of Drones

A drone may be extensively useful until its remote control lands on the hands of someone who has serious intentions to create chaos. Lately, drones are being used more as a weapon than a tool. 

Stealth Drones:  

A stealth drone is a type of UAV designed to escape from being detected by radar or sonar. Globally, militaries are commonly using this type of drone for surveillance or reconnaissance purposes. Espionage on the borders has become ridiculously simple with the use of stealth drones. Stealth is the main advantage of these drones; they tend to look insignificant at first sight, but what makes them lethal is that they come with cameras that can transmit sensitive data of crucial areas like military installations to adversaries. 

The advantages of stealth drones are: 

  • Cost-efficient: Stealth drones just need a camera to do the job. The cost of such a drone is much less than conventional methods of espionage. 
  • Appearance: These drones come in seemingly insignificant forms like ornithopters (drones resembling insects or birds), tiny robotic toys, etc., that make their identification even more challenging. Due to its indistinguishability, a stealth drone may capture sensitive data without being caught. 

  Weaponized Drones:

As the name suggests, weaponized drones are UAVs that contain lethal payloads; the payloads include hazardous chemicals, explosives, etc. These drones have become an essential part of contemporary warfare and are used to attack specific targets. UAV was invented for the very same purpose- to attack the enemy without any casualties on one’s side.

Weaponized drones are preferred over cruise missiles because they are: 

  • cheaper, 
  • accurate and,
  • highly manoeuvrable.

Drone Swarms: 

SWARM is an acronym used to denote Smart Array of Configurable Modules. Drone swarm refers to that scenario where a significant number of drones autonomously and collectively carry out the pre-programmed task, usually to attack a target. Its concept emerged from locust-swarms. What makes it menacing is its sheer number; imagine being surrounded by hundreds of locusts, and now replace them with UAVs. When a threatening number of UAVs attack from all sides, the menace becomes almost unstoppable. Such swarms are used to 

  • vehemently attack the enemy or 
  • Create chaos and divert the enemy. 

Drone Attacks that Made Headlines Worldwide:

2016, 2017- Weaponized drone used by ISIS in Iraq:

On the 17th of October 2016, ISIS used drones to attack Iraqi military troops during the campaign over Mosul. The militant group also released footage of the attack. 

2018- Caracas drone attack:

On the 4th of August 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro survived a weaponized drone attack while addressing the Bolivarian National Guard in front of Palacio de Justicia de Caracas, a government complex. The government claimed it was an attempt to assassinate the President. 

2019- Saudi oil sites hit by Yemen Houthi drones:

On the 14th of September 2019, Houthi, a Yemen rebel group, hit Abqaiq, the world’s largest oil processing facility, and Khurais, a major oil field in Saudi Arabia. 

2021- Hamas’ Kamikaze drone attack on Israel:

In May 2021, Hamas, the Palestinian military group, launched weaponized drones named ‘Shehab‘ on Israel. However, those drones were intercepted and disabled by the Iron Dome System installed in Israel. 

Drone Attacks in India:

On the 27th of June 2021, India encountered its first drone attack. Air Force Station Jammu was attacked by two low-flying drones that carried Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs); one exploded on the roof of a building and caused minor damage while the other in an open area. Two Indian Air Force personnel sustained minor injuries; two more drones were sighted over the Kaluchak Military Station in Jammu the next day.

But drone spotting has been frequent in India since August 2019, when a drone was found crashed in a village near Amritsar, Punjab. Over 150 drone sightings are recorded so far along with the Pakistan border. 

Major Countries with Drones:

United States of America: 

The USA is debatably the most advanced country as far as drone technology is concerned. The US military forces have 18 types of UAVs, constituting over 670 in number. 


The Chinese are globally the top manufacturers of commercial drones; The Shenzen-based company, Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI), has more than 70% share in the commercial drones industry, as of March 2020.


Israel is globally a major military UAV exporter; over 50 countries use Israeli UAVs; these are largely unarmed, as their primary objective is reconnaissance.   


Currently, India has five types of UAVs- IAI Harop, IAI Heron, IAI Searcher, DRDO Lakshya, and MQ-9 Reaper. 

Why are Drones Potentially Lethal?

Drones, which have immense potential to help humans in many ways, can inflict catastrophic damage if operated by a person with wrong intentions. It is because of the following reasons: 


Generally, radars detect aerial vehicles like airplanes. Radars emit radiofrequency waves in short pulses; when the waves hit any object in the airspace, they get reflected. The Reflectibility of an object depends upon factors like size, materials used, etc. It helps the radar in identifying the object. But drones, such as nano drones, cannot be easily detected by the radar because of their tiny radar cross-section (RCS). Unless high-resolution radar systems are set up, enabling the detection of drones, the possibility of stealth drones transmitting sensitive data to potential adversaries will persist. 


 A drone may either live-transmit the data it gets or capture it and carry it back to its ground-based controller. Shooting down a drone capable of live transmission is of little use, as the data is already is by the controller; the only benefit is the fact that it cannot be used by the operator again. But if it is not capable of the live transmission of data, then shooting it down can prevent the controller from getting his hands on the captured data. But since these drones come in miniature sizes, it is challenging to shoot them down even if identified. 

Identification of origin

Even if a drone is detected and incapacitated, there is no way to identify who sent it. It is crucial to know the origin of the drone to understand who the actual enemy is. 

Operational Flexibility

 Drones are cheaper, safer, and more efficient than conventional methods of espionage. Drones are unmanned; so there is no potential threat to people on the operating side. 

The person behind the remote controller can manoeuvre the drone anywhere he wants; he can spy the things at a considerable distance without actually going near and risking his life. 

A long-range subsonic cruise missile (for example- the ‘Tomahawk‘ used by the United States Navy and the Royal Navy) costs almost $1.87 million, but a miniature military UAV (for example- the Wasp-III UAV used by the US Air Force) costs around $49,000. Meanwhile, the cost of civilian drones such as nano drones and quadcopters ranges from $30 to a couple of thousand US dollars; meaning, affordable by many. So a stealth drone is the safest and effortless mode of espionage.

Are there Drone Laws in India?

Yes. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) under the Ministry of Civil Aviation implements civil aviation rules in India. The following are the Rules and Guidelines as to drones in India: 

Civil Aviation Requirements (National Drone Policy 1.0) 2018:  

The CAR on Operation of Civil Remotely Piloted Aircraft System was issued by the DGCA under Rule 133A of the Aircraft Rules 1937. It categorized drones into 5 categories- nano (up to 250g, micro (250g to 2 kg), small (2 kg to 25 kg), medium (25 kg to 150 kg), and large(more than 150 kg). It also introduced various requirements for flying drones, like UAO Permit, Unique Identification Number, No Permission-No Take Off Policy, etc. 

National Counter Rogue Drone Guidelines 2019:

These Guidelines provide measures to prevent the misuse of drones; for example, it states the importance of drone detection and neutralization mechanisms, and strict enforcement of rules. It also discusses the limitations of the present drone response mechanism against drone misuse. 

Unmanned Aircraft Systems Rules 2021(National Drone Policy 2.0):

In addition to the categorization of drones in the National Drone Policy 1.0, these Rules further categorize Unmanned Aircraft Systems into- Airplane, Rotorcraft, Hybrid, Autonomous Aircraft Systems, etc. It also introduces some requirements for nano-drones, such as geo-fencing, autonomous return to home, etc. It also adds new compliances for drone owners, importers, exports, manufacturers, persons operating UASs in India, etc. 

Drone Restrictions in India

Drone restrictions are imposed by the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Rules 2021. Some of the crucial restrictions are listed below:


Under the UAS Rules 2021, the following are the authorized to trade, own, operate, or manufacture drones in India: 

  • Individual: Indian citizen of or above 18 years of age;
  • In case of a company or body corporate, it should be registered and have a principal business place in India, and the Chairman and the at least two-thirds of the directors must be Indian citizens; 
  • Central or State Govt. agencies, local authorities, etc. 


All operators, owners, traders, importers, exporters of UAS have to register it by applying (Form UA-1) to the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The DGCA may direct the applicant for security clearance from concerned authorities. Then the applicant may be authorized to own, trade, operate, etc. The applicant also gets a Unique Authorization Number (UAN), which may be valid for a maximum of 10 years. 


All drones (including nano and micro drones) must have the following equipment:  

  • Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS);
  • Autonomous return-to-home option ;
  • Geo-Fencing;
  • Flight controller;
  • Reliable command and control link;
  • Manufacturer Serial Number;
  • Fire-resistant Identification plate for engraving Unique Identification Number (UIN);

All drones (except nano drones) must have the following equipment: 

  • Flashing-anti collision strobe light;
  • Flight data logging capability;
  • No-Permission, No-Take Off compliant; 
  • Real-Time Tracking System;
  • Barometer;
  • The 360-degree anti-collision avoidance system;

All drones (except nano and micro drone) must also have the following equipment:

  • Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR).
  • Detect and avoid, and two-way communication system (if intended to fly the drone above 400 feet AGL).

No-Permission, No-Take Off Policy

All drones (except nano) must be “no-permission, no-take off” policy compliant; before every flight, the operator must get permission to take off from the DigitalSky Platform mobile application. The drone must have tamper-proof NPNT software and firmware configured with DigitalSky. So if the app does not grant permission, then the drone cannot take off.

Height of the flight

  • Nano drone- Up to 15 meters AGL or a maximum speed of 15m/s and maximum of 100 meters distance from the remote pilot; 
  • Micro drone- Up to 60 meters AGL or a maximum speed of 25m/s;
  • Small done- Up to 120 meters AGL or a maximum speed of 2m/s; 
  • Medium/ Large drone- As per the conditions specified in the Operator Permit issued by DGCA. 


Except for nano drones, only the operators who have the ‘UAS Operator Permit’ issued by the DGCA can operate a drone. Operators must have the Remote Pilot Licence to apply for the Permit. To get the Permit, Form UA-12 or the UAS Operator Permit-I (for micro and small drones), or Form UA-13 or the UAS Operator Permit-II (for all drones of higher categories) is filed with the DGCA. Its validity is up to 10 years. 


Licenses are of two types – Remote Aircraft Pilot Licence (RAPL) and Student Remote Pilot License (SRPL). SRPL for a specific drone class or category (aeroplane, rotorcraft, or hybrid) is applied by filing Form UA-14 to any authorized training organization and undergoing training; the license is valid for up to 5 years. 

The student must possess SRPL to commence the remote flying training; once the training and examination are complete, the trainee gets the RAPL, on the receipt of which he will get the Permit. RAPL’s validity is up to 10 years. 

No-Fly Zones:

Some of the no-fly zones are:

  • Within 5km from the perimeter of international airports at Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad; 
  • Within 3km from the perimeter of any civil, private, or defence airports;
  • Within Prohibited, Restricted and Danger Areas as notified by AAI;
  • Within 25km from international border including Line of Control (LoC), Line of Actual Control (LAC), Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL); 
  • Within 3km from the perimeter of military installations/ facilities;
  • Within 2km from the perimeter of strategic locations/ vital installations notified by Ministry of Home Affairs;
  • From a mobile platform like a moving vehicle, ship, aircraft, etc.;

However, flying drones over such zones may be allowed on clearance or prior permission. 


Some of the penalties for some nature of offenses are listed below:  

Nature of Offence

Relevant section

The amount for compounding of the offense committed by an individual (in rupees)

Wilfully flying any aircraft in a manner to cause danger to any person or property on land, water, or air

s.10(1) of Aircraft Act 1934

Five Lakh

Unauthorized manufacturing of an unmanned aircraft    system or part or component

rule 11

Fifty Thousand

Flying of unmanned aircraft by a person who is not a licensed remote pilot.

sub-rule  (6) of

rule 29

Twenty-Five Thousand

Operating an unmanned aircraft without a valid third-party insurance

sub-rule (1) of rule 66

Ten Thousand

Fraudulently lending license, certificate, authorization, permit, or approval or allow it to be used by any other person.

rule 74

Fifty Thousand

Unauthorized owner of an unmanned aircraft system

rule 21

Ten Thousand


Manufacturing UAS prototype without prior permission from DGCA

(sub-rule (1) or (2) of rule 8

One Lakh

Importing UAS without a certificate of manufacture and airworthiness

sub-rule (1) or (3) of rule 10

One Lakh

Loop-holes in the Laws


Similar to many other laws, the major setback of the drone laws is implementation. Sure, the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 impose several restrictions on owning, operating, manufacturing, and trading drones in India; but are these restrictions implemented? So far, no. 

Drones without the mandated equipment like NPNT hardware and firmware, 360 degrees anti-collision system, GNSS, etc., are still being sold in the market without any hiccups; most commercial drones are sold on the internet are made in China. 

When the drones are non-NPNT compliant, the question of logging flight plans on DigitalSky Platform doesn’t even arise. 

Exorbitant requirements

The laws mandate drones including the nano type, to possess features like fire-resistant identification plates for engraving Unique Identification Number (UIN), autonomous return-to-home system, etc. These specifications seem quite impractical, expensive, and unnecessary for the technically modest ones like nano drones. Compliance with such requirements is evident to raise the price of such drones.  

Training cost

The laws mandate every remote pilot possess a license. The license is received only after undergoing training; the training itself costs over Rs.30,000, which is not affordable to most people wanting to operate a drone. So, non-compliance to the rule of the license is evident. 


The positive uses of drones are plentiful but, their potential hazards cannot be ignored. Drones are increasingly becoming an essential part of modern warfare. The Unmanned Aircraft System Rules 2021 are apparently excellent, but there are numerous challenges to its implementation. Rules, combined with a practical implementation policy, can efficiently reduce drone threats to India. 




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