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  • Neel Sharma

8 Ways Drones Will Change The Face of Modern Warfare


With the advancement in technology and military strategies, armed forces across the world are shifting focus towards modernization to preserve their battle worthiness and most important of all preserve precious human life.

The global defence drone market size stood at USD 10.53 billion in 2019 and it is projected to grow with a CAGR of 12.2% to reach USD 23.78 billion by the year 2027. The Indian armed forces are investing crores in drone procurement and development with the latest addition being two Predator series drones for the Indian Navy on lease under the emergency procurement to counter China's aggression in the Indian Ocean region and Ladakh.

In today's wars, if you control the sky, you control the ground. The induction of drones of various size and mission-specific capabilities have proven them to be force multipliers as evident from the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where the Azerbaijani military with its capable drone fleet regained Armenian occupied national territories. Drones have assumed a leading role in conventional, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency operations. With the increase in complexities and threat levels at the war front, the integration of drones is aimed at simplifying the military's engagement during sensitive operations. Drones allow a soldier to remain in relative protection away from the action and enable them to make informed decisions and increase the overall operational efficiency of the armed forces. Let us look at how drones will change the future of modern warfare.

Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR)

Future wars will be won by those who have information superiority. Drones combined with the right sensors like EO/IR (Electro-Optical/Infra-Red) optics and laser range finders will be instrumental in tracking targets to provide real-time information to military commanders and enable them to take accurate and informed decisions. As per the latest news, terror launch pads across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir are still active and around 300 terrorists are still waiting for an opportunity to cross over . With the help of drones, forces can have a bird’s eye view of most likely areas of infiltration and perform regular ISTAR operations and take necessary steps to prevent infiltrators to cross over to the Indian side.

Logistics delivery and transportation

The geographical conditions in and around a battlefield are never favourable. As the operations intensify, there is a possibility that major supply routes, bridges, roads, and garrisons will either be destroyed, or their access cut off. This situation will have a severe impact on the logistics and morale of the soldiers. The traditional way of delivering supplies will be disturbed and this is when drones will be the need of the hour. Drones can be used over small and long distances and deliver essential supplies like ammunition, food, medicines, survival gear, emotional support like letters from home, and other military tools and equipment to front line troops and keep the supply chain open.

Combat Operations

Combat drones can be deployed over a wide area of operations where humans may not be able to perform with the same output. These drones save lives by putting the soldiers out of harm's way. During operations, where a quick response makes all the difference, drones play a vital role. They are handy in saving the time needed to neutralize an enemy since they are always ready to be deployed thus providing flexibility. Combat drones can be modified to be kitted with air-to-surface missiles, guided bombs, or other mission-specific weapons and are instrumental in tracking and neutralizing the targets with pinpoint accuracy. A very new and interesting concept in combat drones is Swarm technology. A swarm of drones works just like a flock of birds working together to achieve a specific task. Using biomimicry (a technological-oriented approach focused on putting nature's lessons into practice) and state of the art Artificial Intelligence algorithms, a swarm of drones can be dispersed over a target area to locate and destroy enemy targets.

Search and Rescue

Armed forces across the world operate in inhospitable regions like mountains, seas, jungles, and deserts. In the event of a natural disaster like floods, avalanches, or an attack by the enemy on one's location, there can be a lot of confusion, loss of life, and missing soldiers under debris. In addition to that, harsh weather conditions and challenging terrains make search and rescue operations difficult and many times they are stopped till the weather is favorable for ground rescue teams to carry on. This is when drones come into play. With high zoom cameras and thermal payloads, drones can reach confined and unreachable locations and discover the location of lost troops. Drones can help deliver messages regarding their evacuation, drop crucial supplies like first aid kits, clothes, communication equipment till the ground rescue teams reach them and evacuate them to safety.

Communication Relay over long distances

Military communications are always about being Swift and Alert. Under highly chaotic missions the flow of information needs to be seamless between various ground units and their commanders hundreds of kilometers away to coordinate their efforts for the success of the mission. Conventional relay stations are either based on the ground in the form of antennas and vehicles which can be easy targets for the enemy or through helicopters and satellites which are more expensive alternatives. In addition to this, battlefields might have highly dense vegetation, tall buildings, or other natural obstacles that attenuate the signals leading to poor range. Drones can be installed with communication equipment like repeaters and can be placed at strategic locations for the transfer of voice, video, and data to provide a seamless transfer of crucial information.

Target Designation

Have you ever seen the movie LOC Kargil? Remember the moment when 120 Bofors guns open fire to bombard enemy positions? During such operations, certain troops also known as spotters are situated close to the actual target area to direct the fire of artillery guns more accurately due to lack of line of sight, putting their own life at risk. The same task can be achieved by a drone flying high in the air. The live video of the target area gives the gun operators real-time situational awareness to redirect fire more effectively.

Generating 3D Terrain maps

Maps are a soldier's best friend. They are used to plan strategies, locate friendly and enemy forces, plan operations, and coordinate among various stakeholders. Wars are planned based on precise locations and maps for modern wars need to be more precise than ever!

Drones can create 3D maps of the target areas as they fly, providing real-time tactical information and actionable data. This technique of creating image-based maps is known as photogrammetry and it provides the soldiers with a 3D image of the desired area with minute details such as contours and elevations that can be used for planning operations.

Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear (CRBN) Events

A harsh reality of future wars is the possibility of a CRBN attack by the enemy or terror outfits. Possibility of malfunctions in our missile depots or unfortunate accidents can take place during the transportation of such weapon systems. Using drones in such situations might come in handy. A drone will significantly reduce human exposure to harmful environments caused by such situations while providing real-time monitoring and actionable data. The possibility of damaged or unusable take-off and landing zones will be high and some drones with compact form factors will rely less on such take-off and landing pads. Drone missions were conducted during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan to get more information on what exactly was happening at the disaster site.

Drones are a shot in the arm for any country that has them in its arsenal. This niche technology is advancing as we speak and gives its users the insight to act on credible information and take decisions that will change the face of future battles and wars. The fact that future wars will be won by those who possess cutting-edge technology is well established and countries who have these state-of-the-art systems in their fleet and are willing to leverage this emerging technology will have an upper hand for sure.

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