The drone attack on the Jammu airbase seriously escalates the threat of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan. Earlier, drones from across the border have been used to drop weapons in Punjab for terrorist purposes. In those cases, the targets were not military. However, in the Jammu drone attack, the target was an Air Force base with the intention no doubt to cause serious material damage.
Even if this objective was not realised, the message that our air bases close to the Pakistan border are now vulnerable has been conveyed. The drone used in the Jammu Air Force Station attack was a relatively less sophisticated one, but in future more potent drones with greater reach can be used. That will depend on the calculations of the Pakistani elements behind this escalation and how much they think they can get away with, as well as their assessment of the options available to New Delhi.
Because drones fly low, they escape detection by radars and interjection by air defence systems. Drones have been used with deadly effect, for example, from Yemeni soil against the Saudi oil installations. They have also been used militarily with great success against the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey-supported Azerbaijani forces. The Chinese have used drones for aerial surveillance in Ladakh during the current stand-off. The Americans have used armed drones in Afghanistan and in Iraq to eliminate terrorists, and even a high-ranking serving military officer as in the case of the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
Drone swarms are now part of the panoply of a country’s military arsenal. India too has acquired armed drones from the US for maritime security. This new security challenge that has surfaced has to be effectively met. It is not possible for local Kashmiri elements to, without external help, get access to drones and get trained to operate them with explosive charges and target acquisition.
An in-depth investigation is needed to determine the trajectory of the drone used in the Jammu Air Force Station attack and the source of the technical support needed for operating it. It can safely be assumed that Pakistani elements are behind this one way or another. It is well to recall the attack on the Pathankot air base in 2016 wherein the Jaish-e-Mohammed was involved. Judging from the manner in which Pakistan treated the Pathankot investigation, there is no doubt that it was carried out with the connivance of Pakistan-based ISI.
It is most important that the result of India’s meticulous investigation of the drone attack is widely shared domestically and internationally. India could bring the incident to the attention of the Security Council of which it is currently a member. A clear warning should go to Pakistan that India reserves the right to react appropriately to such a dangerous provocation at a time of its own choosing.