India is preparing for the next generation of warfare by building indigenous capacities for unmanned platforms, including drones

Ever since the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out, the world has taken note of the extensive use of high-end military technology by using armed/unarmed drones. A number of videos have flooded social media demonstrating how artificial intelligence-based weapons system are being used and how they will shape the future of warfare.

Taking a cue from this, India and China have been bolstering their arsenal amid the border standoff at eastern Ladakh.

As per this India Today report, India is preparing for the next generation of warfare by building indigenous capacities for unmanned platforms. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) had unveiled a blueprint of its plans to bring in such platforms during the Aero India show in Bengaluru earlier this year.

India is the world’s third-biggest military spender worldwide after the United States and China.

According to Hindustan Times, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones as they are popularly called, constitute one area where India lags behind and ends up relying on costly imports from countries such as the USA and Israel.

According to experts cited in this report, the standoff was an ‘eye-opener’ for both India and China to ramp up deployments and surveillance equipment to solve issues at this ‘long-neglected border, including ‘strategic area denial’ and ‘border clarification’.

China One of The Biggest Manufacturer Of Drones

China also seems to have taken note of the value added by drones to warfare, and it has been stepping up its game. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which tracks global arms flows, China has not just built drones for the People’s Liberation Army but also exported 163 large weapons-capable UAVs to 13 countries from 2008 to 2018. It even gave four Wing Loong II armed drones to Pakistan to protect the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Gwadar port.

According to Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, the need of the hour for the Chinese government is to deploy "more smart equipment like drones" along the country's borders. As per the newspaper, the proposal to deploy "more sophisticated, larger drones in its arsenal" came after the months-long border standoff between China and India.

But before we understand where India stands with drones, let us take a look at what drones are.

What are UAVs Or Drones?

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, 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 US, Israel and China are the biggest manufacturers of drones of all types.

China used to initially rely on imports but has now become a leading manufacturer and seller of these modern weapons and has both unarmed and armed drones in its inventory.

So Where Does India Stand?

So far, India has been using drones primarily for ISR purposes. Amid the recent standoff with China, bolstering its military with the latest technology is the need of the hour, for which India has already been making moves in the combat drone/UCAV spectrum. The Indian Army is in possession of around 90 Heron Surveillance drones and the Harop loitering munition. Additionally, the army is planning to acquire more of these from Israel.

In August 2020, the defence approved the upgrade of Heron UAVs. The upgrade will include arming some of these drones, sources in the Indian security establishment told India Today.

Recently, Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane spoke at a webinar, asserting how the use of disruptive technologies like drones is the future of warfare.

Underlining the use of drones by Azerbaijan recently in Idlib and Armenia, he said the offensive technology has challenged the traditional prima donnas: the tanks, the artillery and the dug-in infantry.

Indicating that India is also enhancing its drone warfare capabilities, he referred to the Indian Army showcasing swarm drone offensive striking multiple targets during the Army Day Parade earlier this year.

He also stated that India has been looking at ramping up its drone capabilities and that during the recent Aero India show, several indigenous platforms were on display.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has started work on an ambitious project, modelled on US project Skyborg, that will allow teaming up of unmanned aircraft and vehicles with manned jets. It would be used with currently manned fighter jets such as Tejas and Rafale. This would both complement and maximise the effectiveness of these planes.

According to this India Today report, during the defence expo in Lucknow in February last year, HAL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) from Israel and Dynnamatic Technologies Limited signed an agreement for the manufacturing of drones.

Another Big Project In The Pipeline Is The Rustom-2

Rustom-2, India’s medium-altitude long-endurance drone being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, is targeted to achieve a huge milestone in April when it will take off from its test range in Karnataka’s Chitradurga to fly for more than 18 hours at a height of over 27,000 feet, reports Hindustan Times.

“This will be a huge step,” a senior government official told the newspaper about the indigenously-developed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for strategic reconnaissance and surveillance operations.

Recently, Lt. General Y K Joshi (GoC-in-C Northern Command), in an interview with News18, said that the Indian Army had been given a ‘free hand’ by the government in operational preparedness against China during the standoff. As per Joshi, the success in the disengagement was the result of joint efforts at the military and diplomatic levels, which is being constantly monitored using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and men on the ground.