The narrative about the ‘military uses of drones’, has now changed and by some accounts, this could be the weapon of the future. A conflict in 2020, between Armenia and Azerbaijan opened up the possibilities of what could be achieved by drones in warfare, when tanks and artillery systems of Russian origin, used by Armenians, were reduced to junk by the forces of Azerbaijan.
They 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. The same was the case in Ukraine, when Russian armour faced devastating attacks by drones that the Ukrainians used, supplied by the West.
Reportedly, Pakistani military observers were present near the Nagorno-Karabakh battlefield, where Armenia and Azerbaijan fought, and where the losses of the Armenians were six times more than that of Azerbaijan. Armenian forces were largely equipped with Russian equipment.
It has given the Pakistanis room for optimism. Since then, Pakistan has been engaging Turkey and Israel to buy drones, just like it has done from the Chinese for some years. China, is 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.
The problem for the defenders – as India has rarely resorted to offensive use of drones – is that these drones, of the type sometimes used on the LoC by Pakistan, are too small to be picked up by the radars – at an air force base – designed to pick up aircrafts. They often pass off as birds. And because these weren’t regarded as a big enough threat, the Indian establishment had been busy preparing to fight the last war, with ships, aircrafts and missiles, and thus had 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. The US has regularly used its ‘Predator’ UAV to fire Hellfire missiles at targets in Afghanistan, from 2001. It marked the start of a 20-year campaign in which drones carried out hundreds of strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in the Af-Pak region. But the US still left Afghanistan, accepting the futility of fighting there.
It is in manouvre warfare in the plains, where a swarm of drones can alter the outcome, as Azerbaijan did against Armenia. But it is still early days to say that drones will surely define the outcome of all future wars. Drones might help an adversary to attack posts and pickets guarded by the soldiers on the borders, or even tanks and armoured vehicles, 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 in the mountains. And though India is lagging behind in the race to scale up the manufacture of drones and anti-drone technologies, India can catch up fast if the Union government would permit India’s private sector to provide much needed technology that already exists to counter the threat of mini-drones.
What is made in India, is reportedly still rudimentary. It will take a few years to put in place technologies that we require: ie, to have the ability to detect, track and intercept small drones, unlike intercepting the larger UAVs. It must have GPS spoofing, drone nets, radars and jammers for radiofrequency, and electro-optical and acoustic systems and of course the ability to physically shoot down drones by troops. And for this, a partnership between DRDO and private Indian Companies and the Armed Forces is a must to find the technologies to deal with all contingencies.