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Drones and Anti-Drone Systems : Central Training Academy is a must for Common Philosophy and Training

Sub Title : A special Drone Corps is imperative to exploit the potential of drones and ant drone systems

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2024

Author : Col Ashwani Sharma, Editor-in Chief, South Asia Defence & Strategic Review

Page No. : 37

Category : Military Affairs

: January 27, 2024

In the rapidly evolving landscape of modern warfare, the utilization of military drones has emerged as a pivotal factor in shaping strategic outcomes. The conventional approach of acquiring and deploying drones in isolated, sporadic instances may not harness their full potential. It is imperative to adopt a comprehensive war philosophy that involves centralized coordination and the organization of a dedicated drone corps to truly leverage the game-changing capabilities of these technological marvels.

The proliferation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and drones has reshaped the landscape of modern warfare, offering unprecedented versatility, cost-effectiveness, and the ability to operate in high-risk environments without fear of losing highly trained military personnel.

The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020 over the Nagorno-Karabakh region saw significant use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones for the first time. Drones played a crucial role in intelligence gathering, surveillance, and precision strikes, influencing the dynamics of the conflict, and altering the course of war. Armenia whose military enjoyed a technological edge, until the UAVs appeared on the battlefield was in for a shock.  Azerbaijan used the Turkish Bayraktar TB2, Israeli HAROP, Orbiter1k (loitering munitions) and Hermes 900 to name a few.  This action and its resultant outcome were repeated during the ongoing Russia – Ukraine war when these lethal munitions caused massive damage to Russian assets in the initial stages of the conflict.  Over the tactical battle areas, it was the UAVs that ruled the roost along with some other PGMs (precision guided munitions) and autonomous weapon systems as manned platforms, particularly in the air, yielded space to the unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

Initial reverses and losses led the Russians to innovate anti-UAS measures which included use of anti-UAV drones,  electromagnetic anti-drone measures, physical destruction and changing tactical battle drills. Russians, being quick learners,  took their turn to exploit the capabilities of unmanned aerial systems causing havoc to Ukrainian platforms.  Iran’s affordably priced, Shahed136, carrying 50kgs of explosive payload over a range of 1000 km has been a Russian favourite along with their own ballistic and cruise missiles. Russia’s combat aircraft have maintained a low profile, perhaps due to an extensive air defence cover provided by the high density of ground based Air Defence systems. The gap has been filled by the likes of Lancet (kamikaze) drones which have reportedly destroyed almost 45% of Ukraine’s western made artillery. Ukraine on the other hand is now resorting to DIY (do it yourself) drones and holds hundreds of thousands of low cost repurposed drones. Russia’s MoD is reportedly hard at work to innovate anti-drone systems to combat the threat.

Drones and anti-drone systems have altered the battlefield dynamics by breaking the linearity of hitherto conventional battlefields. Compared to other legacy platforms and weapon systems, drones offer a much cheaper alternative for doing the same job. Being relatively new, the employment philosophy is yet to be worked out and there are no dedicated formal training facilities as yet. So is the case with anti-drone technologies; a number of them are emerging without a coherent philosophy or formal training methodology to guard against the threat.

Can such developments be ignored by any modern military? The answer of course is a big No. Indian defence forces, like most militaries across the world have been scouring around the world to add this potent yet highly affordable arsenal to its inventory. Mechanised forces, infantry, artillery, logistic services, the IAF and the Navy,  are all adding this force multiplier in some form or the other for a variety of roles including surveillance, firepower and logistics.  Anti-drone technologies face a similar situation; numerous options are emerging without a mature, central philosophy and training directive. But as the role, scope and capability increase, acquiring such a capability in penny packets and silos will detract from the overall operational performance.  And if we include the number of drones and anti-drone systems being acquired by para military and Central Armed Police Forces, the overall image is chaotic.

Defence forces therefore must take lead by creating a distinct and specialised corps within the military framework dedicated to the deployment and management of military UAS and as well as anti-UAS technologies. A detailed  examination of the current state of drone usage, potential challenges, and the strategic advantages of a dedicated corps is crucial for optimising operational efficiency and maximising the impact of drone technology in military scenarios.

The Rationale for a Dedicated Corps

Exploit Full Potential of UAS and Not as Adjuncts. Acquiring military drones in penny packets and using them in small, isolated operations risks limiting their impact on the battlefield. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) possess diverse capabilities ranging from reconnaissance and surveillance to targeted strikes. However, deploying them individually or in scattered numbers by way of supplementing tanks, guns or infantrymen etc will not exploit their full potential. A shift in mindset is needed – viewing drones not as isolated tools but as integral components of a broader military strategy as a Fighting Arm.

Centralized coordination is important for optimizing the efficiency and effectiveness of military drones. By establishing a centralized command structure, armed forces can synchronize drone operations with overall military objectives. This approach ensures a cohesive and strategic use of drones across different theatres of operation, preventing redundancy and enhancing the synergy between ground and aerial forces.

Organizing a specialized drone corps is the next logical step in maximizing their impact. Creating a dedicated unit with skilled personnel trained specifically for drone operations allows for a more nuanced and sophisticated use of this technology. These personnel can develop expertise in drone deployment, maintenance, and data analysis, ensuring that the acquired drones are not just tools but force multipliers in the truest sense.

Anti drone technologies need to be standardised as per an operational strategy. One definite requirement is IFF to avoid fratricide as far too many agencies are acquiring this capability.

Specific Advantages that accrue from a dedicated UAS Corps are:

  • Strategic Integration. Integrating drones into military strategies requires a deep understanding of their capabilities and limitations. A specialised corps can facilitate the seamless integration of drone technology into overarching military strategies, maximising their impact on the battlefield.
  • Acquisition. Once a doctrinal philosophy for employment of drones is adopted at the national level, acquisitions can be easily centralised. This step accords major financial, technical, and common training advantages.
  • Operational Expertise. Establishing a specialised corps ensures that personnel are trained and skilled in the nuanced operation and maintenance of military drones. This expertise can enhance the effectiveness of drone missions, optimising their potential in diverse military scenarios. The same goes for anti-drone systems.
  • Standardised and Central Training. Standardised and central training is a must to optimise the operational impact and enhance interoperability. A central training facility can also train paramilitary and CAPFs and thus get all users on the same page.
  • Centralised Command and Control. A dedicated corps allows for centralised command and control of drone operations, fostering better coordination and strategic alignment. These drone, and more importantly anti-drone units integrated at various battle formation levels, will ensure a more cohesive and synchronized use of drone capabilities across different military branches. This will also help in avoidance of fratricide, which is very likely to occur if the anti-drone deployment ethos lacks a common strategy thread.
  • Resource Optimisation. A dedicated corps can streamline resource allocation, ensuring that military drones are strategically distributed based on mission priorities. This approach enhances cost-effectiveness and maximises the return on investment in drone technology.

The advantages of a specialized drone corps extend beyond the battlefield. These units can continuously innovate, staying abreast of technological advancements and adapting their strategies accordingly. Furthermore, a well-organized drone corps can collaborate seamlessly with other branches of the military, integrating drone capabilities into joint operations for enhanced strategic outcomes.

The game-changing potential of military drones lies in their ability to provide real-time intelligence, surveillance, and targeted strikes. When employed in a centrally coordinated manner and organized as part of a specialized corps, drones can revolutionize military operations. From asymmetric warfare to conventional conflicts, their adaptability and versatility make them invaluable assets.

While the establishment of a specialised corps offers numerous advantages, potential challenges such as ethical considerations, legal frameworks, and public perceptions need to be addressed. A comprehensive central approach to regulation, transparency, and accountability is essential to mitigate these challenges.