Home Opinion Brahmastra Drones won the war for Azerbaijan. India must spend military modernisation money...

Drones won the war for Azerbaijan. India must spend military modernisation money wisely

India has always focussed on military strength. Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict shows why it’s not a good game plan.

File photo | IAF drone seen flying in Leh on 18 Nov 2020 | ANI
File photo | IAF drone seen flying in Leh on 18 Nov 2020 | ANI

Where are you, b*******?” an Armenian soldier shouts as fellow compatriots look up at the sky and fire randomly. Seconds later, a drone strikes a nearby bus.

The video of this incident, available on Twitter, gives us an insight into the new age of warfare where human beings are trying to fight off machines that can easily track them from the sky and rain down on them, bringing along complete destruction.

The spectacular and crushing defeat of Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is a good lesson for all countries, especially India, which is focussing on revamping and modernising its military.

The war was singularly won through the use of drones and loitering munitions, procured from Turkey and Israel, which managed to hunt down tanks, armoured personnel carriers, trenches of soldiers, radars and everything that moved on the ground. The air defence system of Armenia and soldiers with assault rifles were no challenge to the drones that seemed to come in with ease and strike.

Also read: How drones helped Azerbaijan defeat Armenia, and the implications for future modern warfare

Era of drones

In the early 1990s’ war, interestingly, it was Armenia that got the better of Azerbaijan with its modern and well-equipped military.

But then things changed. Azerbaijan invested in new technology and has won the battle decisively. However, only time will tell whether the drones will make tanks redundant, just like the use of gunpowder by Babur eventually made elephants irrelevant in war.

Mike Eckel writes in RFE/RL, “Drones are being used to a far greater extent than ever before, helping to shape the battlefield, offering a glimpse of how future wars are likely to be fought….”

And as The Washington Post noted, “The Nagorno-Karabakh has become perhaps the most powerful example of how small and relatively inexpensive attack drones can change the dimensions of conflicts once dominated by ground battles and traditional air power.”

“It also highlighted the vulnerabilities of even sophisticated weapons systems, tanks, radars and surface-to-air missiles without specific drone defenses. And it has raised debate on whether the era of the traditional tank could be coming to an end,” it said.

Also read: What India’s military commentators don’t get about drones — AI can’t just be unboxed and used

In between Pakistan and China

India is going through a massive modernisation process and it is important that the country takes lessons from the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict and focuses on niche and punitive technology.

The Indian military has always relied on numerical strength rather than pure technological prowess.

The best period for our military was the late 1970s and the 1980s. That is when the military really got state-of-the-art technology and firepower, not in piecemeal deals as is being done right now but in large quantities. Be it the Mirage 2000 jets, which carried out the Balakot strikes last year, or the MiG-29 fighter carrying out combat air patrol in Ladakh, or the T-72 tanks standing tall before the Chinese, all these systems were procured in that period. Not to forget the Bofors gun that won India the Kargil battle and still excellently performs its task, be it against Pakistan or in Ladakh.

India should work out a clear national security doctrine and take into account the kind of warfare that the enemy is likely to wage. We should not just focus on and pump money into systems that will prove to be sitting ducks or useless in future wars.

While drone warfare may have been successful in the Armenian context, it may not be the same in an India-Pakistan scenario where both sides have deployed heavy air defence systems. For drones to be successful, the country operating them needs to have complete air dominance, something that the Indian Air Force (IAF) or the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) may not be able to sustain over an extended duration.

But what if a swarm of drones is launched from multiple locations? Would India and Pakistan be able to stave off such an attack?

The scare of the drone is such that the IAF air defence operators on the ground in Srinagar on 27 February 2019 had mistaken an incoming Mi17 VH chopper to be an enemy drone, resulting in a deadly ‘friendly fire’ incident.

In the immediate neighbourhood of India, China is the big player when it comes to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Not only has it invested a lot of effort in developing drones, including armed ones, but it has also focussed on anti-drone technology too.

According to an Asia Times report, “State-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) has developed a counter-drone system consisting of multiple weapons and equipment, including land-based rockets and drone-hunting drones that can shoot huge webs and vehicle-based detection devices.”

The Global Times says, “China also has rifle-shaped counter-drone devices, which ‘shoot’ jamming signals that will disrupt drones, bringing about either a forced landing or diverting an intruding drone.”

A look at India’s own UAV capability reveals a rather sorry state of affairs.

Also read: High-tech drones could have neutralised Chinese intrusions at LAC but India didn’t have them

Time to be tech-ahead

It is a shocker that even when China is breathing down our neck, Indian soldiers on the ground don’t have enough reconnaissance and surveillance capability.

The 14 Corps, which looks after the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in the northern sector, is looking at procuring at least 10 to 15 long-range Heron UAVs and 20-25 multi-copters for close-range surveillance.

What India has in its inventory is a small range of surveillance drones and loitering munition.

Last year, the Army went in for about 600 SpyLite mini-UAV for high-altitude aerial surveillance. It is built by Cyient Solutions & Systems (CSS), a joint venture between Israel’s BlueBird Aero Systems and Cyient Ltd of India. The Army also has the Harop loitering munition, procured in the late 1990s from Israel, besides Searcher Mk 11 and Heron, both from Israel.

India is also exploring the possibility of acquiring a number of GA-ASI MQ-9 Reapers from the United States.

India should focus on investing bigger on indigenous drone technology rather than ending up buying expensive armed drones from abroad, numbers of which will be too less to give any capability prowess over the enemy in a war.

It’s time India thinks of technology, and not just manpower, to counter the enemy in a battlefield.

Views are personal.


  1. Well, drones have helped Azerbaijan in its war with Armenia. In this century, there must be some changes in military like everything else in life. Tanks were the heroes of the previous century. It is getting replaced by rocket launchers and armed drones. Thus, India should invest in these new weapons and it is doing so as far as I can tell. India already developed a third option, ultra-fast missiles. Brahmos is definitely a cutting edge technology that India is exploiting well. But even lesser technologies like Akash, Pinaka, Shaurya missiles must be produced in large numbers, tens of thousands, along with automated missile launchers in a war time speed. Then preprogramme the launchers with a single switch to attack the military bases along the India-China border with rain of missies with the goal of maximizing military casualties. It has to be so overwhelming that their missile defense systems fail. Azerbaijan took out military hardware with drones. But in the event of LAC war India should opt for killing soldiers fast and weapons second. China will be able to replace weapons quickly but dead soldiers are harder to replace because of the devastated families who lost them. Thus, India should focus single-mindedly on killing people on the other side of LAC with non-nuclear missiles.

  2. the world need to reduce building war weapons as it brings nothing good only destruction. The world need peace and love tears flow from those who suffers from civil war innocent children and women and men as well.

  3. What would China achieve by going to war with India ?
    Occupying and controlling the populated territories is no more a sustainable option.
    Giving India a bloody nose (as was done in 1962) with virtually no cost to HERSELF is also unlikely.
    The PROBLEM: cost of giving that bloody nose is something the Chinese are not able to quantify because of the unexpected posturing by India..
    In addition to the actual cost the Chinese would worry more about the loss of face and a dent to the invincibility that they would want to project..
    Is China making the same mistake that Sadam Hussain made in the Iran/ Iraq war? By going after Iran thinking that there would be no fight with Shah gone.
    Xi thinking that India is busy fighting Covid -19

  4. China’s export version drones have beaten Turkey’s in Libya hands down. US & Israel Drones won’t survive PLA if they can’t survive Iran’s EW.

    Russia drones & EW are advanced but not very comprehensive as exposed in Syria war, sign of under funded. They will also not export their best version that can match China’s.

    Chinese is not just forefront in drones/anti technology with overwhelming fire power of kinetic weapons and air superiority, but its advanced electronic warfare will blind enemies C&C, disabled its networks, blackout its satellites & GPS reliance, render adversary coordination in chaos & all precision weapons like cruise missiles useless.

    Wars is not just on drones & air/ground wars ignorant CDS Rawat boasted, but ability of maintaining command & control, survive cyber attacks, sustainable logistic supply, national integrated strength, maintain functioning infrastructures, political stability, and convertible civil-military mfg capacity.

    Unfortunately, India is weakest in all these aspects vs China the world strongest.

    China air superiority with 5th Gen fighters & dense layered air defense will have complete air control over India, making the war short & sweet with swarm of drones to pluck out all assets.

    Infact China does not even need to invoke its gigantic mfg capacity & overwhelming technology edge/firepower to win the war, a mere 10~30days war sustaining will see India meagre stockpile of ammunition & fuel depleted with only stick & stones left as weapons.

  5. “Drones won the war in Azerbaijan” . Probably a true statement which is very simplistic in the Indian context. Military weapon systems and military tactics are constantly changing. Yesterday it was the UAV today it the drone. What will come tomorrow? we have to anticipate and prepare in advance, if we want to win. We can safeguard our sovereignty and be heard by the world only when we have a strong Military with competent soldiers who can handle sophisticated equipment while also fighting the conventional battles along our long and hostile borders.
    We can’t win battles, leave alone wars, by trying to optimise an inadequate budget. I am astounded that with the sort of neighbors and threat we face, none is suggesting enhancing the defence budget. You can’t get modern weapons, and drones, for a pittance. Neither can we make them cheaply – as yet. They definitely can’t be got with part pension of veterans or from the cost of soaps and shampoos of troops.
    Let us not fool ourselves. Indian defence budget needs a boost, at least 1% of the GDP more than the current plans, because we have not been spending enough these past decades. For 2019 China’s Defence expenditure plan was US$181 Bn as against US$71 Bn by India (Source -Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)).
    Let us just stop hallucinating and wake up to a reality.

    • Col., you are saying the obvious – just increase the budget. Every military person wants war toys, but don’t you know that India cannot afford it ? It cannot afford education, healthcare or defence.

      As for Modi sarkar, they were supposed to bring back black money from abroad and each Indian would get 15 lakhs. All Indians can forgo this 15 lakhs and give it to defence. Where is this money ? You told us Modi is running and running to catch up for 70 years of neglect. As for the money that is available, 3000 crores is used to make a useless Patel statue and now a Vivekananda statue for JNU. Money is spent lavishly on elections, Modi is building a vanity project around Parliament, and he has bought himself a plane so he can travel like the US President and pretend he is in the same league. Huge amount of money is allocated for building concentration camps for Muslims.

      The economy has shrunk, we do not have money, and what we have is wasted without accountability. Yet Hindus like you believe Modi is running and running to catch up for 70 years.

      Col. you should know the Hindu mentality and its limits.

      • I just want to remind you of “Kargil”. Kargil showed what Hindus can do and castrate Muslims and will castrtae Chinese too in LAC!

    • Heads of Staff in India’s military today are more political appointees than people distinguished by their strategic thinking. Someone like Sam Maneckshaw who talked back to leadership would have little chance in today’s setup. Appaling though India’s preparation for drone warfare is, it is not surprising.

      I would think a thousand times before making increased budgets available to people who cannot use it wisely.

  6. Helo Snehesh. Hope you are doing good. I am a keen follower of your handle for defense-related updates.

    It would be really grateful if you could create more awareness on the evolving significance of Drone warfare (especially Turkish TB2 and Israeli Kamikaze – the ones used by the Azeri army to effectively wipe out Armenian forces/Tanks/S300 Air defense systems). Such light & cheap Loitering munitions (costing only $1Mn apiece) could cause tactical havoc to our soldiers, tanks, and Air defense systems (especially S400’s) in the future.

    Also, please cover India’s options regarding our own purchases of such drones and also some possible defense (including the acquisition of some Drone jammers such as the Russian made Belladonna).

    This seems to be quite a critical issue but as usual, our Govt/Intelligence agencies seem to be sleeping on it! Thanks in advance!

    • I have no problem with India using drones at LAC. But India should focus on killing Chinese soldiers rather than their weapons using one area where India is quite advanced, missile technology. India’s current non-nuclear missiles like Brahmos, Akash, Pinaka, Shaurya, etc. are capable of causing enormous death if India does its homework. In six years PM Modi managed to advance Indian defense in every front. Of course India can prepare more and spend more on armaments but India is not that unprepared as some posters appear to suggest. In addition India has support from Israel, France and now United States. Just see how Predator drones miraculously appeared on Indian soil. There are only two visible but there could be twenty somewhere else. We cannot predict outcome but it will be different that 1962.

  7. Hi Snehesh/The Print Team

    Could you please help me with a doubt I’ve got. I was thinking about making a voluntary something to the National defence fund and while browsing the ndf site, could see that the spend is way lesser than the funds received. In fact 2019 was the lowest in 5 years.

    Why isn’t the government utilising the funds available?

    Thank you.

  8. China is miles ahead of India in drone development and deployment. Pakistan has access to Chinese and Turkish drone technology. Our problem is an unimaginative and plodding culture that is complacent and takes comfort in empty slogans. The war-fighting strategy formulation and procurement system is paralyzed due to professional incompetence and a culture of excessive hierarchy and sycophancy; politicization; and lack of accountability in the bureaucracy. No use planning to fight the last war.

  9. Sticking to the subject, Drones or aerial warfare is effective when your adversary is not tech advance. Drones can be jammed in matter of minutes and that’s upcoming thing in warfare. Pak and China both have hands on such technologies and so has India. Comparing Armenia/ Azerbaijan conflict or war theatre with indo-china is incorrect. Matter of fact is, even Indian hobbyists and private sector is capable of producing complex drones in large numbers. Modern warfare is electronic, not ammunition.

  10. It is surprising how someone praises and appreciates article snippets from Communist Government Propaganda Machinery such as Global Times. It is best left for the people who are on the job, have the experience and in the field to do and decide what is best in the interest of country. Rather than sitting at home with internet, a computer and surfing around the web to gain knowledge and commenting without verification, author must report from ground. The Print owes responsibility to its readers. The Print cannot get away with a small disclaimer at the end of each article, “Views are personal.”.

  11. The BJP has put India in a tight spot with possibility of a two front war, with two nuclear neighbours, and with even Nepal against India. China will drive India into an arms race India cannot afford.

    India is not an R & D oriented nation Small countries like Israel and Turkey make drones. So does Pakistan.

    Instead of attending to these, the BJP has focused on what they do best – internal warfare against minorities. India is unlikely to survive the next 50 years as one country. History shows countries have come and gone, even large and apparently powerful ones, and new countries are formed.

  12. Our defence budget is used up in providing salaries and pensions post OROP. There is unfortunately no political resilience to make the barely literate populace understand we need Jai Vigyaan, Jai Industries rather than wallow in 18th century Jai Kisaan Jai Jawaan rhetoric.

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