By Sher Bano*
With the advent of drone technology in warfare, surveillance and reconnaissance at the borders have become more efficient by using unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones. In recent years, there has been a major shift in warfare with the technological advancements in which drones play a dominant role. Now, the militaries across the world are using drone technologies to keep their eyes across the borders even without getting exposed. This perhaps appears as one of the reasons that drone or unmanned warfare has become the order of the day.
In South Asia, with an increase in border skirmishes between India and Pakistan, the use of drone technology for surveillance has been intensified by India. In the year 2020, the continued Indian provocation at the Line of Control (LoC) through airspace violations by using spy drones has been witnessed several times. This has increased the fears of an escalation in the region. All such advances by India are a violation of the existing air agreement between both countries. The advanced UAVs acquired by India can monitor the deployment and movement of troops and could be used in strategic or tactical missions across the border. Hence these capabilities can be detrimental to Pakistan’s security.
India has been using quadcopters for intelligence-gathering operations and the aerial photography of Pakistani posts. In September 2020 an Indian quadcopter was shot down by Pakistani military troops at the Chakothi sector along the LoC. This was the 11th Indian quadcopter that was shot down by the Pakistan Army during this year. This was not the first time India has violated the ceasefire agreement, in fact, it has become routine practice.
Moreover, there are reports that the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) serving at the LoC would be armed with anti-drone systems. This would increase the capacity of the Indian military to detect the lone flying object or group of UAVs and target them within 10 seconds. Apart from this, the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) of India has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Israel Elbit system for the joint-development of rotary military drones. India is also about to acquire 30 armed General Atomics MQ-9B drones from the US under a 3 billion dollar deal which would further enhance its surveillance even at the coastal boundaries. All such military developments would embolden the Indian military to complement its self-proclaimed surgical strikes inside mainland Pakistan without the risk of the lives of any military personnel. Moreover, the unmanned vehicles also facilitate the Indian temptations to attain its strategic objective efficiently.
In the South Asian context, drone technology for surveillance and reconnaissance has become extremely sophisticated. Pakistan has been compelled to enhance its unmanned surveillance capabilities vis-à-vis India. In this regard, Pakistan is in process of negotiating a deal with Turkey to buy mini drones such as S-250 and S-350. It has been dealing with Turkish companies such as Bogazici Savunma for the acquisition of neutralization systems and ILTER drone detection.
The Prevention system and ILTER drone detections are the latest features in drone technology with automatic detection, deception, and stopping features against the drones that use ISM bands while communicating. The relatively small size of these drones also makes them difficult to be shot down. To consolidate its defensive capabilities, Pakistan has also bought 48 Wing Loong-II drones from China back in 2018. Furthermore, quite recently Pakistan is in talks with China to buy CH-4 drones to be deployed along the LoC in order to thwart any border intrusion initiated by India. The high maneuverability and agility benefits of the swarms of advanced armed drones acquired from China and Turkey would likely provide Pakistan a decisive edge over India.
In the light of the growing Indian warmongering rhetoric and brinkmanship, the probability of false flag operations against Pakistan has considerably increased. In this regard, the likelihood of Indian drones invading Pakistan’s airspace across the LoC might become more relevant.
There is a dire need for Pakistan to enhance its capabilities in the detection and deterrence of drones by employing an effective Counter Unmanned Aerial System (C-UAS). Since the drones have become faster and smaller new solutions would be required to incapacitate them. Furthermore, anti-drone technology has to be more credible and reliable as the latest drones are now equipped with wide-field cameras and advanced tactical sensors for higher altitudes. Hence, Pakistan needs to strengthen its capacity of intercepting and targeting the drones because both drones and anti-drone technologies have evolved simultaneously.
In the present circumstances, the use of unmanned technology has become a turning point in the way military operations are conducted. In a way, it is an indication of the increased usage of drone technology as part of hi-tech warfare. In such operations, drones serve as the best alternative to achieve the strategic objective without the loss of human life. Hence, to prevent border espionage across the LoC Pakistan also needs to enhance its surveillance capabilities by indigenously developing and acquiring drone technologies from its strategic partners. Moreover, under such circumstances where situational preparedness is the key to critical readiness, there is also a dire need for Pakistan to strengthen its anti-drone capability to overcome the ever-increasing Indian threats in this regard.
*The writer is working as a Research Affiliate at the Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), a non-partisan think-tank based out of Islamabad, Pakistan.