Drones : New normal in hybrid warfare

Dr Sudershan Kumar
Amidst the changing paradigms of international security arena, the menace of hybrid warfare has increased manifold. The modern hybrid war fare encompasses deployment of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) and this has become the new normal between warring factions. The recently concluded war between Armenia and Azerbaijan where deployment of drones proved to be strategically beneficial for Azerbaijan forces further endorses the use of drones as imperative for future. In fact Azerbaijan used unmanned vehicles(UAV’s) as a loitering ammunition to destroy heavy ground targets including T-72tanks and S-300 systems. The dearth of updated technology with Armenia’s forces proved detrimental as the lack of appropriate technologies to either destroy or disable these drones put them at back foot. In south Asia during India China stand off at LAC in eastern Ladakh sector, China too tried to intimidate India by demonstrating the maneuvers of a swarm of 200 drones near LAC in eastern Ladakh to bring India onto the negotiating table trying to force India to toe onto their terms and conditions. People Liberation Army (PLA) resorted to this tactics after suffering humiliation through valiant soldiers of Indian Army during the bloody skirmishes which took place at Galwan Heights.
In fact Chinese mouth piece, the Global times had released videos showing Swarm of drones nearly 200 in number released from modules loaded in trucks as loitering ammunition. Moreover, Pakistan’s military junta after having failed to infiltrate terrorists/ jehadies through LOC and International border has resorted to various other audacious means:- by either digging tunnels along IB or resorting to deployment of drones for dropping ammunition and arms at various designated sites of LOC facilitating their smuggle to Kashmir valley. Parallelly they are also using drones extensively for reconnaissance and surveillance purpose. In an attempt to counter and contain this information warfare campaign launched by Chinese mouth piece Global Times, the Indian army for the first time showcased their prowess via demonstration of a swarm of nearly 78 drones performing various manoeuvers during 73rd army day parade on 15th January 2021 in national capital Delhi.This was a clear signal and a firm message to China and Pakistan that India too has the capability,capacity and technology to thwart any nefarious designs from its neighbours. Hence the very pertinent question which arises is that- what are these drones/swarm of drones ? what is the history behind this important concept and future challenges.Drone basically is an unmanned plate form(Air craft/ Ship) that can navigate autonomously without human control beyond line of site.Three main components of drone are aerial plate form ( which include air frame,navigation system, power system and pay loads), ground control system( which allows human control from remote emplacement)and of course communication system. When large number of mini/nano drones move in groups like honey bees, this is addressed as a swarm. These are weapons deployed to accomplish shared objectives with plate forms and weapons. They automatically alter their behaviour based on communication with one another. The fact that components of drone communicate themselves with one an other make them different from group of drones.Inter communication allows them to adjust behaviour in response to time information.
They have the potential to hit the targets with vengeance. These drones are multifaceted with a multitude of features. That is why these are used for both civilian and defence applications. But it needs to be mentioned here that the concept of drone is not new. On turning the pages of history, it becomes evident that nations have used drones in crude form in earlier occasions in battle field to secure an edge against their adversaries. In the year 1849 Austrian forces used drones in the form of balloons to drop bombs in besieged Vicence(a city in Italy).But majority of them missed the targets in lieu of the changing wind direction. Subsequently during world war I and afterward the unmanned aircraft commonly known as flying bomb was developed.
This was also known as crude missile where control was achieved through gyro scope. Later on Britishers developed large number of radio controlled targets and used them.Parallelly United States also used few drones to target Japan’s Merchant ship in Russell Island. Besides they also deployed 46 drones in Solomon islands. But only few could hit the targets.As a result drones at that time were dubbed as unreliable expensive toys. In Vietnam war American forces effectively deployed drones for reconnaissance purpose. But Israel’s victory over Syria with active support of drones completely changed the perception concerning utility of drones in battle field.In fact,the coordinated use of drones along with manned aircraft proved vital for quick destruction of Syrian air craft with minimal losses.Drones were used as electronic decoy, electronic Jammer as well as real time video reconnaissance. Since than nations around the globe initiated major programmes for development of variety of multipurpose drones for various defence and civilian applications. These are broadly classified into five categories viz nano (250gm), micro (250gmt to 2kg), smal 2kg to 25kg), medium (25kg to150kg) and Large (greater than 150kg). As per the worldwide data available, there are currently nearly 66 to 70 countries, which either have developed their own technologies or acquired from other countries.
Therefore the current scenario envisages the growing menace of this drone facilitated war fare in south Asia which is further augmented due to acquisition and possession by both China and Pakistan of the drones for multi purposes tasks. Therefore it is imperative for Indian planners to take cognizance of this, especially on the pretext of the hovering danger of the hybrid war with our dicey and rogue neighbours.In present global scenario, PLA will not indulge with battled hardened India army in long drawn conventional war. Moreover, they will resort to salami slice strategy. Hence the long range, stealthy and long endurance weaponized drones will play a key role in modern warfare. The author is of the opinion that 21ist century will belong to Asia.This is the century where technology and innovation will rule the world. China,which considers India as its arch rival will go all out to destabilize it by using all means including hybrid warfare.Standoff at LAC in eastern Ladakh is a first step in that direction.
But its plans are profound. Chinese leaders consider Tibet as palm of their country and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh as it five fingers. Given an opportunity, Chinese will not only grab these two sovereign countries and two Indian States along with new union union territory but they will go all out to break India so that in world market there is no competitor for them.Therefore, those who are in helm of affairs and in opposition must understand this game plan and evolve common firm and offensive national policy towards China. India must hit hard and expose Chinese actions in Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South China sea and atrocities on Ughjir Muslims. Parallelly be prepared to counter China militarily. There should be a minimum fifty years road map to counter future Chinese threats and manoeuvers.
(The author is former Director General & Special Secretary DRDO, MoD GoI)