File photo of Army Chief General M.M. Naravane at Leh to review security situation and operational preparedness along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh | Photo: Twitter/@adgpi
File photo of Army Chief General M.M. Naravane at Leh to review security situation and operational preparedness along the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh | Photo: Twitter | @adgpi
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For the past one month, the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has made the militaries world over sit up and take notice of the extensive use of high-end military technology — armed/unarmed drones and loiter munitions, colloquially known as kamikaze drones. The videos that have emerged from the conflict demonstrate how artificial intelligence-based weapons system will have a major impact on shaping the contours of future conflicts, relegating the much romanticised close combat to the sidelines.

It is empirical wisdom that the development and introduction of path-breaking military technologies, and their antidotes is near simultaneous. What you require is the know-how and a will to reform and pay the costs involved — India is notorious for violating these cardinals. Nothing demonstrates this better than our inability in neutralising the Chinese intrusions and coercion on the LAC due to the huge differential in high-technology capabilities.

I analyse these technologies, their exploitation by our adversaries, our current status and the way forward.


Also read: Countering China is now a priority for both India and US. But only one needs the other


What are these technologies?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones as they are popularly called, have been around for nearly four decades now. These were initially developed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). Armed with an array of sensors and having long endurance, the UAVs gave real-time intelligence of the battlefield to direct the fire of various weapon systems. The 21st century saw the advent of armed drones that could carry Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) and missiles. Their effectiveness was proved in Afghanistan beginning 2001—eliminating Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership. Initially, this capability was the monopoly of the US, but in the last few years, at least 10 countries other than America — Israel, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia and the United Arab Emirates — have conducted drone strikes, and many more countries have them in their arsenal.

Drones can be used both at the tactical and strategic level. The latter is dependent on space-based intelligence, communications and navigation. The US, Israel and China are the biggest manufacturer of drones of all types. Turkey has progressed rapidly to produce, export and use armed drones.

Loiter munition is a bomb with an inbuilt guidance system, which is much cheaper to produce and can effectively target weapons system and personnel. These come both in kamikazi (one-time use mode) and the more sophisticated return-to-base models, in case it remains un-utilised. A swarm of such loiter munition can be launched from a launcher with multiple tubes. The use of loiter munition in large numbers will be a game changer on the tactical battlefield. The psychological impact of being targeted by an unknown and unseen enemy is far greater – “Where are you, bastards? ” shouted a frustrated Armenian soldier after one such devastating strike.


Also read: Why NSA Doval and his men are asserting themselves in Nepal, rather than MEA


China, Pakistan and non-State actors

China initially relied on imports but has now become a leading manufacturer and seller of these modern weapons. In 2015, Pakistan, Iraq, and Nigeria all conducted strikes using armed drones supplied by, or developed in coordination with China. China has both unarmed and armed drones in its inventory. Hence, it is logical to presume that it has a large number of loiter munitions as well.

During China’s National Day parade in October 2019, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) displayed a number of UAVs — DR-8 supersonic spy drone, the GJ-11 stealth combat drone and the GJ-2 reconnaissance and strike drone. The PLA has also deployed another drone named CH-4, which underwent tests in the Tibetan plateau region in 2018, and the BZK-005C, specifically modified for use in high altitudes. Since 2017, China has exported CH-4 and CH-5 fixed-wing reconnaissance and strike drones, selling them to more than 10 countries, shipping more than 200 units every year. Recently, China also conducted a test of swarm drones.

As early as 2013, Pakistan had displayed two domestically produced drones based on China’s CH-3 model that were already in service in its armed forces. In 2015, Pakistan used its domestic model, the Burraq, based on CH-3 in a publicly-owned strike on militants in the North Waziristan region. In 2018, China finalised its biggest drone sale when Pakistan agreed to buy 48 GJ-2 drones, under its export name Wing Loong II. Pakistan is also likely to possess loiter munitions in unknown numbers.

With both our adversaries having the capability to manufacture drones, it is only a matter of time before non-State actors start using them too — both for induction of arms/ammunition/stores and for direct attack. Man pack loiter munition is the most likely mode of attack by the terrorists.


Also read: China lacks ‘honest intent’, be prepared for any eventuality, Rajnath Singh tells Army


Where does India stand?

India has, so far, been using drones primarily for ISR purposes. It began early by importing Searcher 1 and 2 drones from Israel in the late 1990s for the three Services. These were followed by the Heron — a sophisticated long-range, long-endurance and high-altitude unarmed drone. Ninety Herons are currently in service with the Indian armed forces. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has also imported a limited number of Harop suicide drones from Israel, primarily for suppression of enemy air-defence systems. The Indian Navy is in the process of procuring 30 unarmed Sea Guardian drones from the US. However, India’s indigenous development of various unarmed/armed drones is still at the trial stage.

So far, India does not have the classic strategic armed drone in its arsenal, though we have initiated the project to modify part of the existing fleet of Heron UAVs into armed UAVs. The combination of two foundational pacts signed with the US — Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) on Tuesday — has paved the way for importing 30 Reaper or Predator-B armed drones. These agreements will also make the drone attacks more effective due to access to geospatial, communications, location and navigation capabilities.

India has also floated a request for information for man-portable loiter munitions. The face-off on the LAC has given the impetus to fast track the procurement of drones and loiter ammunition.


Also read: Special forces, capacity-building, Indo-Pacific — how India-US ties will grow in coming days


The Way forward

There should be no doubt that the Indian armed forces have been left way behind with respect to development and possession of armed drones, loiter ammunition and other AI military technologies. It is pertinent to highlight that what was achieved by the surgical strike of 2016 and the Balakot air strike of 2019 could have also been done with the help of loiter munitions and armed UAVs. They would have captured high-resolution real-time videos of the attack and the damage caused for psychological impact as is being done by Azerbaijan.

While urgent procurement is necessary to bridge this yawning gap in the armed drones and loiter munition capability, eventually, a holistic look would be required to exploit emerging AI technologies and integrate them with the existing conventional systems. And for this, India’s scientific community and the Defence Research and Development Organisation will have to rise from their slumber and deliver. Selcuk Bayraktar who quit his PhD at MIT in 2007 to develop Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 armed drone, considered a game changer, at less than half the cost of the much acclaimed Reaper armed drone, should be a role model for our IIT graduates.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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41 COMMENTS

  1. Since The Chinese incursion and till the recent Azerbaijan-Armenia clash, of the many articles Mr. Panag wrote , how many of them mentioned this particular dimension of modern warfare?

  2. A simple collection of information about some weapons systems and platforms, masquerading as a ‘researched article’. Name and rank held while in Service will carry only so far. The blogger needs to put some more thought into it.

  3. This guy, along with some others, has been busy pulling the Indian military’s legs for the last few months. Why did he not dole out these gems of wisdom while he was serving in the army? I remember an article by this guy where he said that he was expecting a repeat of 1962 by way of the Indian troops getting dislodged from the mountain tops by the Chinese. I am glad this guy is no longer serving in the Indian army.

  4. The impotency was because of papu family from independence time. Now lion is roaring. Hope china changes stand of joining big powers in Asia like India and Japan and then play with small countries. China should become democracy first

  5. Defence Research and Development Organisation will have to rise from their slumber and deliver. This is a bad statement inb the article . They have been doing womdeerful with the resources available. Looking at the comments, it appears Indians get weird pleasure in down grading our own peopl, our own gvoernment, our own insrtitution. Not one person said any thing good abouanything happening at DRDo

  6. Here in India every thing is to be endorsed by pappu..Else he will criticize he even said that Modi is behind Pulwama attack.just for electoral tactics what ever we do for our difence ..He won’t hesitate to betray us by telling to china or pakistan…. So we have three fronts to tackle

  7. The article makes a shocking reading. We have scores of R & D organisations under the Central Government, including the DRDO, and dozens of IITs and engineering colleges. I wonder why the defence ministry does not engage with them for developing such state-of-the-art weapns systems. We continue to get Howitzers and Rifles from abroad. I am pained that India is so backward iin defence technology.

    • Like most government organisations they don’t work. As for IITs etc they have been created to supply trained manpower to the West, subsidised by the Indian tax-payer. None of India’s elite institutions or research laboratories have produced a single new idea, product or technology in the last 70 odd years. To expect them to work for the welfare of the country is expecting too much. They exist only as employment providers to mediocre talent.

    • ministry doesn’t like to interact with education institutions on technicalities as they will stand exposed .Pappus and likes followed the same trajectory . They are all good for nothing.Now you see we have a NSA without any defence background .No background in Millitary operations,no background in Millitary equipment .no background in cyberspace warfare ,no background in advanced communications , no background in space warfare , failures in advising with regards to viral pandemic /warfare, failure in handling internal security like preparation of SOPs for handling riots , Radical flash mobs baseless agitations . cessation of cross border terrorism & repetitive cease fire violations .Yet this NSA seems to be in the good books of our Prime Minister of India .At his age he magically continues to man a department which I think cannot be easily be handled even by a number of great professional specialists together as a team .

  8. A good analytical ( but more importantly, apolitical) article from the General. Our problems are well known and thanks to the Chinese aggression in Galwan, we are now a changed country and will have focused on attention on arming ourselves adequately and also on indigenous R&D. DRDO must rise to the occasion and deliver on drones. It is also a welcome change that our focus is shifted to China as the main adversary rather than Pakistan. Once we deal with China, we take care of Pakistan by the by.

  9. It is surprising that Pakistan has started manufacturing drones, while India like everything else starting earlier but always becoming Johnny come late.

    It is time HAL & other defense Industries carry out purges to remove deadwoods and get dynamic people.

    • Pak has started manufacturing drones and exhibiting them in armaments exhibitions.

      ‘It is time HAL & other defense Industries carry out purges to remove deadwoods and get dynamic people…’

      Appointments will be only Hindu dinosaurs from RSS and failed Hindu businessmen. There will be no Kalams.

      • Kalam was appointed by BJP government and he became president in BJP gov too…and why you have so much problem with Hindus. You have no valid argument. Its true that congress ruled India for 70 years and still upto 2015 we did not manufacture bullet proof jackets. Now we are exporting it. Under modi government defense export has increased 700%.
        At last i want to say that Kalam(muslims) will be recruited and Sarabhai (Hindus) will be recruited too….but people like you will not be recruited for sure who are just slave of colonial era

  10. I really want DRDO, HAL, Ordinace factory employees to be reserve military peroenel of Indian army. These guys should be deployed on border in case of stand-off. I hope they love their life more then their nation, this might be an incentive for them to work hard.

    • In the battle of Stalingrad, Soviet workmen making a T 34 tank rode one of them off to battle straight from the factory, as the Soviets threw everything and everyone to defend their city.

      Indians are not capable of such patriotism and heroism if their country is invaded.

      • Soviets also deported Chechens and other anti-national elements. India has no courage to do that with jihadis or activists like Harsh Mander

  11. The lack of urgency is applying. If we got drones from Israel in late 1990’s, pardon me, what the hell were our Military planners doing in the last two decades.

    Was it ignorance, incompetence or corruption OR a mix of all three which prevented us from developing drones and loiter ammunition?

  12. what about the drone shown in the first scenes of interstellar made by India. 😉 I know that is in a future but have we started the development yet. haha.

  13. AI, cyber, kill chain, electronic warfare, space & Drones will be game changer of new age war. With China in the forefront for all above, esp its drones are so good even USM used them, there are little chance India can match with its current poor industrial base & tiny R&D fund.

    Top Military research required huge investment, talents and strong industrial base of complete supply chains, which only US, China, Russia, Germany, UK, France, & Jp have. But only China has the most established complete industrial and supply chain.

    China produced No.1 number of high quality STEM, 8x more than US. India although produces 2nd most STEMS, its quality is so bad that 93% of its engineers are said to not qualify for employment(India IT CEOs, Reuters).

    In 2009 PISA Test, India sent out its best from two best educated regions: Tamil Nadu & Himachal, the result shock the world with BOTTOM LAST, worst than every countries. Whereas China Shanghai scored No.1 in 2012 with 2 grades above the world, a wide margin beyond any competition. In 2015, it drop to Top6 due to including of students from 3 more cities that are unfamiliar with newly implemented PC answering system. Again in 2018 China scored No.1 in with wide margin beating Singapore, after familiar with PC based answering.

    China literacy is above 98%, with mandatory free 10 standards education. Chinese ave IQ is 105. India on the other hand, has below 80% literacy(India consider literacy means can write own name), with 90% poorly educated. Indians aveIQ is below 82.

    India Top2% migrates permanently for better living standard in West. Their best do not want to return after graduated in US-UK ivory Uni. Whereas majority China’s overseas students return. More are returning in last decade as China economy surging to all time high.

    China patents filing ranked global No.1, more than next Top10 nations combined. Its defense budget and R&D investment is Top2. India pale in comparison in defense budget, patents filing, papers & R&D investment.

    In A.I., China ranked No.2 just behind US, with 85% facial papers published by China. But 50% of US A.I. researchers are Asians, with Chinese highest number, follow by Indians. India ranked 18th in AI index, with very little investment.

    With above, its not surprise China could developed 5th Gen stealth J20 fighters within 10yrs, concurrently with another 5th Gen stealth FC31 ongoing, a 4G LCA fighter JF17 within short 5yrs, variants of 4.5G fighters J10C, J11, J15, reconnaissance, refilling, Y20 cargo, HK6 bombers, widest range of drones…even have spare resources for indigenous a/carriers & new nuclear submarines.

    Whereas India took 40yrs to develop its only 4G LCA Tejas with global contractors help from specs defining by France to all imported parts. Yet its still not ready to enter full service. IAF & navy have rejected its poor quality, which cost more than better F16 & SU30MKI. Similarly for India a/carrier, submarines, tanks, helicopters, rifles…indigenous program have all delayed or failed miserably.

    When India still needs to import rifles & ammunition speak voluminous of its indigenous military complex quality. High performance Drones?

    Last but not least, China has the world best Beidou, alternative of US GPS. When China jamming GPS signal in battle zones, all India precision ammunition and drones will be blinded.

    So why do India military leaders & ex-Generals like LT GEN H S PANAG (RETD) continue not able to recognize/accept the reality of forever widening disparity, to drop all Indians delusion of winning a 2.5 wars that will be catastrophic?

    • Chinese are practical people. They did not waste their time arguing over worthless issues like secularism, socialism and non-alignment.. While India wasted more than 50 years for such useless items. Ideas are there to serve nation and people, not people there to serve idea.

      They proceeded to get result oriented people in administration, while India kept procedure oriented people in short red tape. That is the result China got bulk of foreign investment fund. So China is way ahead.

      There was joke in Singapore. If you see two people working they must be Chinese, if you see two people arguing they must be Indians and if the see two people sleeping they must be Malays.

      Argumentative Indian may be good for Amaritya Sen, because he he is not manufacturing anything but it is bad for India. India need disciplined Indian. Hopefully RSS can over period transform Argumentative Indian into disciplined Indian.

      • Harry, Your Spore story is very true from what i observed. That’s why most lawyers are Indians, they are great in facts twisting & debating.

        There is another famous story spoken by Msia ex-PM Mahatir to persuade all Malays let hardworking Chinese do business while lazy Malay can enjoy taxing them. “When Malay see coconut tree, he went over to pluck one enjoy and sleep underneath. When Indian see it, he steal all coconuts to exchange for todi(wine) drinking. When Chinese see them & coconut trees, he employed the Malay to plant and harvest coconuts, Indians to guard the farm.”

        The original goal of establishing RSS aka radical Hindu is to fight Muslims, stirring conflicts & riots. They will lead India into abyss with BJP.

        • ‘The original goal of establishing RSS aka radical Hindu is to fight Muslims, stirring conflicts & riots. They will lead India into abyss with BJP. ‘

          Harry does not have the IQ to understand that. He is one of the Indians with the IQ below 82.

        • “The original goal of establishing RSS aka radical Hindu is to fight Muslims, ”

          Do you think their goal should be to make Hindus fight among themselves and let Muslims rule over them? This is the reason limited number of predators rule jungle. RSS is providing the same role that Communist party provide to USSR to win war against murderous Nazis. Muslims are not less fanatic than Nazis. Tell me baring Iran’s Khatami how many Muslim leaders have ever acknowledged that Muslims destroyed so many Hindu temples?

          Muslims are like holocaust deniers. A tough, discipline RSS is need of nation. We already gave away 1/4 of land to Muslims as homeland from which they kicked out indigenous Hindus. it is time we deal with Muslims with with Lal bahadur Shastri saying ” Eit ka jawab Patthar se” to bring Muslims to their sense and make them realize they are no more conquerors.

        • What made you believe that RSS is radical hindu. This is fact with rss and geeta….you will keep thinking that they are hindu organisations/book untill you join/read them….you will not find hindu word in geeta and radical hindu in rss

      • You know that India is a failure relative to China, but your diagnosis is that we wasted time arguing about secularism, and your solution is that the RSS will bring discipline. The RSS only wants to fight Muslims and create a Vedic India run with Brahmin caste system.

        The Hindus are incapable of ruling, so India will fall apart. .

    • Yours is the best and most objective analysis here.

      India cannot overcome its shortcomings, so it is best to concentrate on its basics like education, eradication of caste and communalism, instead of posing as a superpower. A large population does not entitle one to be a superpower.

      • China has a larger population than India.
        But what India needs is to kick out people like you out of its boundaries.
        We were superpower when we did not had people like you some 1500 years ago

    • If a 2.5 war will be catastrophic. …then be it. BUT WE WILL NOT SHY AWAY FROM DEFENDING OUR MOTHERLAND.
      Its not emotional nationalism or over enthusiastic patrotism.
      If chinese want to capture India…okay…but they will do so only on my dead body…and that shall never happen.

  14. Timely suvey by Gen Panag. We are merely playing catch up with China, Pak and Turkey if we go by what he writes. And maybe we are
    not even as well positioned as Azerbaijan in drones !!

    But drones alone would not have stopped the PLA advance in E Ladakh. Our satellites must have got advanced warning of troop movements. The question to ask is why didn’t we move fast enough via DBO to protect DEpsang plains , when we had the aircraft to fly in troops ? And why didn’t we set up resistance upto Finger 8 in Pangong Tso when we already had a strong presence upto Finger 4 ?

    Drones cannot compensate for slow and timid decision making.

    • We have presence in DBo and depsang still. We did not rush to finger8 because in 2013 china made an all weather road upto finger 4.

    • Because Modi was busy with internal fights, CAA-NRC, and finding ways to undermine opposition in the next election.

    • Because we were fed opium of secularism by Nehru family, so expected to see enemy as friend and friend as enemy. Finally BJP is trying to fix the . nation.

      .I didn’t like government closing down Samjhota Express. I want it going to Pakistan with full capacity filled with secularist Hindus, so that they can give the benefit of their wisdom to our Pakistani brothers.

  15. A well articulated analysis devoid of political fluff and underlying bias. A departure from the typical narrative style.

    Thank you dear General Panag.

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