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Drones are set to change the meaning of warfare completely

Drones And The Future Of Warfare

Even though the small sized drones have been useful in delivering packages to inaccessible areas –medical and food items – especially during an emergency, trust the terrorists and their minders to adopt such technologies for their nefarious purposes. Apparently this is what Pakistan’s ‘deep state’ has chosen to do, by twin attacks on the IAF base in Jammu, though there is yet to be a formal Indian announcement about Pakistan’s role in these attacks. Why they chose to use the hexa-copter type small drones was easy to gauge; it gave them deniability and allowed them to add to the heightened sense of alarm across India, especially in Jammu & Kashmir, where India’s forces are already stretched. Moreover, with the ceasefire still in place along the LOC, this was a possible effort by the hard liners within Pakistan (who oppose General Bajwa’s peace initiatives) to convey to their protégées operating within India and their sympathizers in the Kashmir valley, that Pakistan’s army hasn’t abandoned them entirely and any political initiative by New Delhi, will be resisted. More so as these summer months are usually used by the Pakistan army to push in trained and armed militants across the LOC with heavy firing to distract Indian troops on the lookout for infiltrations. But with the ceasefire in place, drone attacks would now provide the necessary distractions to facilitate infiltrations from another point on the LOC. But though the attack on the Jammu air base was the first of its kind – and could set the scene for escalation, if more were to follow – Pakistan has been using drones for some time now, specially in the latter part of 2020, to send arms consignments across the LOC, and drugs across the IB in Punjab. However, these attempts were sometimes neutralized by Indian troops, when these drones were sighted.

The problem for the defenders – as India has rarely resorted to the offensive use of drones – is that these drones, of the type used in Jammu, are too small to be picked up by the radars in an air force base. They often pass off as birds. And because these were not regarded as a big enough threat, the Indian establishment was busy preparing to fight the last war, with ships, aircrafts and missiles, and have chosen to ignore the minor irritants like drones! But had they attempted to study the trends in warfare, it was clear at least over the past decade that future conflicts would see much greater use of drones. In January 2018, a swarm of 13 armed, fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (that are also commonly referred to as drones) attacked the Russian naval base in Tartus on the Mediterranean sea. Though they were repulsed by the alert Russian forces, over that year some 47 drones were shot down by the Russians. But these attacks were on military facilities and hence were stalled. But the attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil refineries September 2019, by drones fired by Iran backed rebels in Yemen, shocked the world, shot up oil prices and made military analysts rush to their drawing boards to find ways to counter swarms of drones that attacked targets both military and civil of critical value. They didn’t have the answers then, and perhaps they even don’t have them now. It is one thing to use expensive air defence systems to ward off missiles, but the US made Patriot systems that the Saudis had were unable to take on the drones, since these were too and flying too low to alert the air defence teams. The US has regularly used its ‘Predator’ UAV to fire Hellfire missiles at targets in Afghanistan. This marked the start of a 15-year campaign in which drones carried out hundreds of strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in the Af-Pak region.

However, it was the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that presented lessons for the future. Analysts have argued that this war was essentially won by drone warfare. The conflict, fought over the disputed Nagorno-Karabkh region saw the tanks and artillery systems of the Armenians reduced to junk by the forces of Azerbaijan which used a combination of Turkish and Israeli made drones that carried munitions weighing from 50 to 15 kg, and bombed the daylights out of their opposition. As per a blog on Oryx, titled ‘The Fight For Nagorno-Karabakh: Documenting Losses on The Sides Of Armenia and Azerbaijan’ the losses of the Armenians were six times more than that of Azerbaijan.  Pakistani military observers were present near the battlefields – perhaps encouraged by Turkey, a close friend of the Pakistanis –  to draw lessons, and reports suggest that Pakistan has been engaging Turkey and Israel to buy drones, just like it has done for some years with China, the world’s largest manufacturer of small sized drones. In fact, there are also reports that China too has studied the lessons of this conflict, to use for its own military agenda, or to get Pakistan to use drones to divert India’s attention over the two front military threat China and Pakistan now present to India.

Having said that it is still early days to say that drone warfare will define the outcome of all future wars, as drones might help an adversary to attack hilltops and pickets guarded by the soldiers on the borders, but eventually the adversary would need to send its troops to physically occupy tactically held positions, like the Chinese would need to do on the LAC. Here a trained and determined army like that of India, could certainly hold its own. And while India and Pakistan have in the past battled with Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAV) along the LOC – both having shot down one or two of UAVs from the other side – reports now suggest that India’s defence research and development organization (DRDO) is clearly lagging behind in the race for drones and anti-drone technologies. Some rudimentary technologies do exist within India, but the thorough all encompassing military acquisition process could take at least a few years to put in place across our vast frontiers, since it would require the system to have the ability to detect, track and intercept the smaller drones, unlike intercepting the larger UAVs. Currently the tools used by militaries, defense organizations and police include GPS spoofing, drone nets, radars and jammers for radio-frequency, electro-optical and acoustic systems and of course the physical shooting down of drones by soldiers. Currently Indian companies are toying with multiple technologies to deal with all possible contingencies.

An earlier report released by Ernst & Young along with FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) had pointed out that drones were a threat to security that shouldn’t be ignored. However, the slow moving machinery of the government has yet to implement their suggestions, as also that of certain other private bodies like Indianeye Security Ltd. Perhaps, as an immediate response New Delhi could involve India’s private sector to provide much needed technology that already exists to counter the threat of mini-drones, like the ones that were used in Jammu. As per the study report of EY and FICCI the market for drones was expected to touch $100 million by 2020, but the ‘instances of misuse of this technology by nefarious entities also heighten the security risk posed by them,’ warns the report. That is in the civilian sector, where over 50,000 drones were operating in India in 2018 itself. The national security challenges not just on the borders but even on high value targets within major cities are now clearly bigger. Thus, the government cannot procrastinate any more in implementing the ‘No Permission No Take-off (NPNT)’ requirements mandated in Civil Aviation Regulations (CAR) even though India has already taken the first step towards bringing accountability in drone ownership and operations. Tragically, those who sponsor terrorism could have now killed off uses of this innovative technology, that could be used for saving lives – by transporting food and medicines in far flung areas – and not just to take lives, that terrorists target.

This essay first appeared on on 30th June’21

Article by Maroof Raza

(Syndicated by WordSword Features & Media)

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