Essay on Drone Technology: Is It A Substitute For Manned Aircrafts?

Drones are the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS) controlled either by a pilot on the ground or with the help of technology. It may be as small as a radio-controlled toy helicopter or as big as a global hawk. They can be considered as the eyes in the sky which keep a check throughout. Drones are normally used in the situations where manned flight is considered too risky or difficult. A typical unmanned aircraft is made of light composite materials to reduce weight and increase its maneuverability. This composite material’s strength allows military drones to cruise at extremely high altitudes thus proving very beneficial in a country’s defense mechanism.

These materials are highly complex composites which can absorb vibration and decrease the production of the noise. An unmanned aerial vehicle system has two parts, the drone itself and the control system. The nose of the unmanned aerial vehicle is where all the sensors and navigation systems are present. The rest of the body is light weight. Drones can be controlled by the remote-control system or a ground cockpit. They are equipped with state-of-the-art technology such as infra-red cameras, GPS on-board sensors, software-controlled flight plans and laser. The build type of UAVs are fixed wing, tilt wing, unmanned helicopter and multicopter. Non-military UAVs use the electric engine and internal combustion engine.

Some drones also have the Radar Positioning and Return Home feature. The flight radar displays the current position and location of the drone. When the drone crosses the control range of the remote control, its system automatically triggers the ‘Return Home’ feature. This means that the IAV will automatically fly back to its takeoff point and land safely.

In order to take flight, drones require a controller, which is in charge of the pilot or the person who launches, lands and navigates. Controllers can take many forms, from gamepad-like controllers to smartphones and tablets. Regardless of how they look, controllers need to communicate with the drone, and this is typically done through radio waves. However, there are many drone-controllers which use internet technology through Wi-Fi to communicate with their aircraft. The latest technology has enabled a GPS chip inside the aircraft which relays the drone’s location to the controller. It helps to hold the drone within the proper x and z axes, correcting its course when stiff winds blows around it and make it move away from its path. When it comes to flying, there are onboard sensors which keep drones aloft. An altimeter lets the drone know what altitude it is at.

UAVs typically fall into one of six functional categories which are (a) Target and decoy-providing ground and aerial gunnery a target that simulates an enemy aircraft or missile, (b) Reconnaissance-providing battlefield intelligence, (c) Combat-providing attack capability for high-risk missions, (d) Logistics-UAVs specifically designed for cargo and logistics operations, (e) Research and Development-used to further develop UAV technologies to be integrated into field deployed UAV aircrafts,  (f) Civil and Commercial UAVs- UAVs specifically designed for civil and commercial applications.

At present, new innovative technologies have enabled greater use of drones. They are not only useful in defence but also in various spheres like Commercial Aerial Surveillance, Journalism, Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue etc.

Drones are used for conducting photography, surveillance and spying operations. Armed drones are used for the assassination of terrorists and anti-social elements. Many defence forces use drones as aerial targets to combat training of human pilots and to check the security of the sensitive areas. Air-surveillance of large areas is possible with low cost drones. The surveillance applications include livestock monitoring, wildfire mapping pipeline security, home security, road patrol and antipiracy. Some of the journalists have used drones for gathering news and covering disasters such as typhoons, damage done by hurricanes etc.

Many police departments across the world have procured drones to maintain law and order. There are unarmed surveillance drones which are helpful to monitor movements of armed groups in the and protect the civilian population more effectively. UAVs are helpful in the search and rescue after the hurricanes and other natural calamities. UAVs have been tested as airborne lifeguards, locating distressed swimmers using thermal cameras and dropping life preservers to swimmers.

Drones are useful in accessing areas that are too dangerous for manned aircraft. The US National Ocean and Atmospheric administration started using Aerosonde unmanned aircraft as a hurricane hunter. The Aerosonde system provides measurements from closer to the water’s surface than before. Drones have been successful in the documentation of animals such as counting the number of animals present in a reserve forest and combat poaching of endangered animals such as rhinoceroses. Archaeologists have used drones to speed up survey work and protect sites from squatters, builders and miners. Small drones help researchers produce three-dimensional models of sites instead of the usual flat maps and in less time.

But these advantages generate three major risks: of violating sovereignty, of over-using the military option and of making it more difficult to identify violations of constraints against targetting non combats.

Undoubtedly, drone technology is another example of the rapid technological development taking place in the world. But looking at the safety and ethical concerns related to it, the regulatory authorities need to be stringent and lay down strict rules and regulations for the use of the Unmanned Vehicles and drone technology for different purposes.

Given the complex security challenges that India faces, the role of UAVs in providing critical intelligence will be a key enabler not only in fighting wars effectively but also in deterring cross-border terrorist attacks. UAV of India are Nishant, Rustom, UAV Panchi and AURA. Nishant is a multi-mission unmanned aerial vehicle with day/night capability used for battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance, target tracking and localization and artillery fire correction. Rustom is a medium altitude long endurance unmanned combat air vehicle being developed by DRDO. UAV Panchi is the wheeled version of unmanned aerial vehicle Nishant, capable of taking-off and landing by using small airstrips. AURA is stealth UCAV, capable of releasing missiles, bombs and precision-guided munitions. Although a number of countries are working individually or jointly to develop an advanced drone industry, currently the US, Israel and China are the market leaders

However, despite genuine suspicions, the seeming acceptance of the need for an international control regime on the proliferation and use of armed drones is to be welcomed. Armed drones are a real and genuine danger to international peace and security. While there is a long, long way to go and many-if not most-will need to be convinced, that this is the right process, failure will also play into the hands of those who argue that there should not and cannot be such controls. While civilian drones are becoming popular across the globe, very few countries have regulations governing it.