The Border Security Force has been "bombarded" by the onslaught of drone flights from across the Pakistan border on the western front, and instances of the aerial vehicles bringing drugs, arms and ammunition more than doubled in 2022, the force's Director General Pankaj Kumar Singh has said.
He said the force has recently established a state-of-the-art laboratory at a camp in Delhi to study drone forensics and the results have been very encouraging.
Security agencies could track the flight path and even address of criminals involved in this cross-border illegal activity that is rearing its head over the last few years, he said on Saturday.
"The BSF has been at the receiving end of the drone menace for quite some time... the versatility of the drone, which is very well known, has been posing problems to us with nefarious elements having found new uses of the drone due to its anonymity and quick flight at sufficient height bypassing the frontiers," he said.
The DG said this while briefing Union home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, who was chairing an event to inaugurate the forensic lab through a webinar session.
Quantifying the enormity of the drone menace, the DG said while the BSF detected about 79 drone flights along the India-Pakistan international border in 2020, it increased to 109 last year and "more than doubled at 266 this year".
"The major culprit regions are Punjab which saw 215 flights this year... in Jammu, about 22 flights have been seen," Singh said.
"The problem is grave. We do not have a foolproof solution as of now. They (drones) have been bringing across narcotics, arms and ammunition, counterfeit currency and all kinds of things," he said.
The DG said initially the BSF grappled with the challenge of not knowing what to do and even when the drone fell they had "no clue" where was it coming from or going.
"We then started getting into the forensics part. We realised that these drones had chips similar to computation devices like computers and mobile phones. As digital forensics help in solving cyber crimes, we got answers here too," Singh said.
The BSF, tasked to guard over 3,000 km of the India-Pakistan International Border running across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu, first established a drone repair lab at Delhi in September last year and later enhanced it in October to analyse the forensics of the drones shot down or recovered by it, the Punjab Police and the Narcotics Control Bureau.
It spent about Rs 50 lakh in creating this forensic lab and has deployed a chosen manpower of tech-savvy officers and personnel to run it.
"We found (after forensic analysis of drones) their flight paths, launching and landing points, timings, GPS (global positioning system) coordinates and even messages they have exchanged and we realised there was an information mine. If we could get into this, we could find suspect's addresses, locations and much more," Singh said.
He said the force developed "good coordination" with the Punjab Police over this issue which has also provided the BSF with 200 personnel to conduct "depth patrols" at the front to check drones and their droppings.
Citing a success story, where drone droppings happened in the Havelia area of Punjab in March, the DG said a joint investigation and action by the two security agencies led to the arrest of 8 people, six of whom were convicted for narcotics crime.
The DG said the force has now begun a new system of incentivising and giving cash rewards to its border teams who shoot down drones.
"Eleven drones have been shot down (by us) this year and we are giving very handsome incentives to teams that bring them down. There is a very good enthusiasm in these teams," he said.
The BSF chief said the force is now undertaking a two-pronged approach to check this menace.
"We are undertaking depth patrolling so that people cannot come to the border to pick drone droppings. We are digging deep into drone forensics to extract information about its senders and receivers," he said.
The problem is "so acute" and, "this we know by interrogation (of suspects and those apprehended) that wherever our drone teams are deployed... depth patrols are or anti-drone equipment is installed, the criminals go to other parts to undertake the illegal activity", the DG said.