Advancement of drones and the future of war in South Asia – OpEd – Eurasia Review
Although drones are considered modern technology, their history can be traced back to WWI and WWII as flying bombs and imprecise devices, than during the Cold War as surveillance and reconnaissance devices and later. just after the Cold War, drone technology aided in artillery and surveillance missions. However, that these weapons did not have their current sophistication; start 21st century, digitization and computer systems using automated maps and satellites have provided the current level of sophistication in drone technology.
In the 21st Century this technology gained notoriety when the Bush administration used them against terrorists in many countries, which led to the debate on the violation of state sovereignty and elements of transparency in the murders. Due to their ISR, precision strike and air support capability, these weapons have become highly sought after weapons in nation-state arsenals.
Today, states use these weapons against each other not only for ISR but also against to wage wars as in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh. South Asia is home to two rival nuclear neighbors who are locked in a difficult situation of peace due to numerous territorial disputes, hostile borders and deep-rooted mistrust. The deterrence equation between the two countries is effected due to continuous technological developments, offensive political and doctrinal initiatives and due to the involvement of world powers in the region. In terms of technological developments recently, the two countries are striving to acquire and operationalize sophisticated drone technology. Therefore, the essential question in this wake is to analyze the trends of development and acquisition of drone technology in Pakistan and India, while it is also important to analyze the impact of this technology in any future conflict.
Regarding drone technology, Pakistan GIDS (Global Industrial and Development Solutions) recently introduced its Shahpar-II Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) drone, which is locally developed by NESCOM and was also showcased during the military parade of March 23, 2021. by the country. According to media reports, the Pakistani Shahpar-II is the equivalent of the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 with its carrying capacity of almost 170 kg and other capacities.
Besides Shahpar-II, Pakistan also signed the contract with the Turkish aerospace industry to develop the MALE combat drone. In addition, Pakistan also acquired 4 Cai HONG MALE drones from China and in 2018 the two countries signed the agreement whereby China would sell 48 Wing Long II drones to Pakistan. Besides this international collaboration, there are locally developed drones by Pakistan, such as Buraq and Shahpar-1, which are in service and Pakistan has operationalized them against terrorists and for the ISR on its eastern border.
India, after its strategic agreements with the United States, is also in the process of acquiring several high-end military drones. At present, it is in the process of procuring 30 MQ-9B Predator drones from the United States, Heron from Israel and has already inducted United States guard drones for its Navy. With the arrival of drone technology in the region, India is also investing heavily in anti-drone technology.
On the other hand, Pakistan has so far not invested in anti-drone technology. But with the recent trend where Pakistan alone until mid-2021 shot down 8 small Indian spy drones or quadcopters, it shows that in the future Pakistan may need to invest in some type of system. air defense which would also provide defense against drone intrusion at its borders. . India, recently in December, handed over its armed forces, a locally developed anti-drone system as well as an automated air launch system and an advanced countermeasure radar system. The anti-drone system recently supplied to the Indian Armed Forces has both “soft-kill” and “hard-kill” capabilities, which means that it can electronically lock into incoming drones and that, through a laser strike, it can also kill it. India is also deploying its recently acquired S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile batteries and systems as well as its border with Pakistan.
Since drones are cheaper than fighter jets and can achieve the goal of entering the adversary’s homeland, they will be preferred by a state that wants to exploit the territorial boundaries between states. At present, due to current Indian strategic thinking where it deems it appropriate to exploit levels below the nuclear threshold by performing surgical strikes, armed drones could, with the ability to target adversaries, air capability could give India the “false sense of superiority” which could lead it to use drones as a means of carrying out surgical airstrikes.
However, such a situation will force Pakistan to react to Indian offensive actions because during the 2019 crisis, Pakistan showed its commitment to it by relying on the policy of “quid pro quo plus”. So, what is needed is to realize that levels below the nuclear threshold, even if they seem exploitable, are not exploitable without the risks of escalating the crisis into generalized conflict. The drone is a technology that offers the two countries many advantages not only for their security but also for the development of their society, so it is important that the two countries remain cautious in their use.
*Ahyousha Khan is Associate Researcher, Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad.