New Weapons in Pak’s Jihad Arsenal
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 17 Jun , 2021

The Hindustan Times of 1 Dec 2020 published alarming news. It said: “Pakistan’s ISI, inspired by the success of using cheap drones to carry out small bomb attacks, has been exploring this option for terrorist groups. The ISI had laid out its plan first at a meeting with senior Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed commanders in Punjab province’s Taxilain April this year. There was a follow-up meeting the next month at the brigade headquarters in Kotli district of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, according to an intelligence report reviewed by Hindustan Times in October. The paper went on to say that, “Latest reports also indicate that Pakistan-based Khalistani groups are also being pushed by their handlers to exploit the farmers’ agitation in Punjab as part of its continuing effort to revive militancy in the border state. These suspicions have been communicated to the Centre and internal security agencies by the State Police time and again.”

After allowing the US to launch drone attacks on the terrorists in the Waziristan area of KP in which almost 3000 militants were killed during 2004-5, the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI thought of utilising the new weapon against India by dropping arms and ammunition and literature. The use of drones by Pakistan to drop arms and ammunition into J&K is part of its latest strategy to carry out drone swarms attacks—which gives deniability and carries an element of surprise. It also marks a tactical shift from the decades’ old strategy of infiltrating terrorists into Indian Territory.

However, over time, and after Pakistan succeeded in motivating China and Turkey to lend full support to her stand on Kashmir, the ISI actively looked for the cooperation of sorts between three adversaries of India, namely Pakistan China and Turkey in using the new war weapon – swarm drone — against India to make a dent in her defence strategy.

The Week Magazine of Oct 22, 2020, splashed the following sensational news:

“Thirty-three AK 47 rifles, 28 pistols, half a dozen M16 rifles, under-barrel grenade launchers, sniper rifles, three dozen magazines, grenades and more than 500 rounds of ammunition were airdropped by Pakistan using Chinese drones into Indian Territory between June 8 and October 12. The data of arms and ammunition airdropped by drones flying from Pakistan and recovered by Indian security forces along the Line of Control and International Border is a wakeup call to the new emerging threat from Pakistan which is desperate to stir unrest in Kashmir, as it has failed to counter the abrogation of Article 370….”

ISI has also been working on a changed strategy for Kashmir after India abrogated Article 370/35-A and reorganized J&K into two Union Territories. In the changed strategy, new terrorist outfits under different nomenclature like Resistance Front, Peoples’ Anti-Fascist Front, Joint Kashmir Front and the Jammu, Kashmir Ghaznavi Front and Ghazavatul Ansar are the new proxies deployed in addition to traditional ones.

The idea of extended use of drones as a war weapon was spurred by last year’s war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh which demonstrated the decisive advantage attack drones could bring to any battlefield. Drone strikes by Azerbaijan targeting Armenian troops, destroying military installations, tanks, air defence systems, and artillery gave the Turkey-backed country a decisive upper hand in that short war. After the fighting seized, Nagorno-Karabakh was unequivocal proof of the strategic advantage provided by armed drones to the militaries possessing them.

Although Pakistan already knew about Turkey’s new war weapon but the fighting in and heavy reverses inflicted on Armenia in Nogoro Karabakh whetted the appetite of ISI which began interacting with the Turkish defence establishment of benefitting maximally in her proxy war in Kashmir. She had been conducting drone attacks but only for a limited purpose and with limited capacity. Post -Nogorno Karabakh fighting showed that drones could be a powerful, effective and low–cost alternative to conventional weapons, and countries around the world were in a race to acquire the most advanced armed drone fleets. However, it is pertinent to note that Armenia- Azerbaijan war was a conventional war between their military forces. Can ISI employ terrorists equipped with drones to target military targets and not expect serious retribution?

With its victory in Azerbaijan – Armenian war, Turkish drones attracted the attention of many countries which now lined up to acquire the latest and more effective war weapon from Turkey.  It appears that now Ankara has become the newest drone superpower, shaking the military balance of power in the Caucasus, the Middle East and North Africa. However, the reality is that Ankara obtained vital assistance in the manufacture of the armed Bayraktar TB2 drones from a Britain –based manufacturer.

Well-informed sources assert that Pakistan is evincing keen interest in acquiring Turkish TB2 drones. This speculation may not be out of place if we recollect that for some time strong ties have developed between the two countries especially in the defence field. At the same time, Turkey’s blunt opposition to India on the Kashmir issue in the UN General Assembly and the malicious anti-India statement of the outgoing Chairman of General Assembly, Volkan Bozkır of Turkey, are morale boosters for Pakistan.

Pakistan is not alone in bolstering its drone attack capability against India. She seems to be tying up the tactics of new weapon with Turkey and China both. Against this India depends on obtaining on lease the US and Israeli armed drones to secure the border with Pakistan. According to reports India “has employed Israeli – imported Searcher and Herondrones only for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes.”

China is emerging as a rival of Turkey in drone technology. China is also the leader of the world drone market overshadowing the US and Israel. The US attaches conditions to the sale of drones, mostly political and human rights. But against this China does not attach any condition. Therefore it becomes easier for prospective customers to strike a deal with China. Pakistan’s case is special because of its strategic cooperation with China. It is difficult to predict the conditions under which China transfers its drones to Pakistan.

Nevertheless, India has conveyed to China its serious security concern as China is determined to arm Pakistan with a range of weapons that include weaponized unmanned aircraft. India is obliged to maintain the balance of power in the region and that is why she has signed two key pacts with the US namely COMCASA in 2018 and BECA in 2020 that facilitate India to lease or buy advanced attack drones. The Eurasian Times reported that India is likely to procure US-made MQ -9 Predator B drones. Indian media reported in March that she would be purchasing 30 drones from General Atomics of the US at a cost of about $ 3 billion.

In some political circles, it is often discussed whether India would prove a match to the combined drone war if unleashed by her three adversaries viz. Pakistan, China and Turkey. We think the three named adversaries will not be too willing to venture a joint attack on India recklessly knowing that firstly, India is also well equipped and armed with the new war machine. Secondly, both China and Pakistan would want to disturb India’s border by dropping arms, ammunition, RDX and other sophisticated materials clandestinely across the international border in Punjab and Rajasthan and partly Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan is engaged in raising pre-requisites for that like a underground network of tunnels across the border, conduits on the Indian side close to the border and well-connected links with the militants like the Khalistanis and Kashmiri militants. It has to be noted that of late Indian security forces have tightened the noose and it is no easier for miscreants to work as Pakistani agents. Pakistan is increasingly resorting to drones just because she finds infiltration into J&K or in Jammu and Punjab border area very difficult.

As far as China is concerned, yes China could exploit the Maoists and Naxalites in different regions and pockets in the Eastern part of the country. She can make conditions favourable for clandestine dropping. That is a real threat. But the threat is limited to the eastern region only and not to Ladakh where China has no agents to run her errands. Therefore, dropping of arms and ammunition or other material including propaganda material in Ladakh region has no significance whatsoever. Chinese sources have disclosed that Pakistan has acquired 50 Wing Loon II armed drones from her. The official Chinese media boats that it could turn to be a “nightmare for Indian ground formations in high-altitude areas with India having the little capability to repel advanced stand-off weapons.”

As drone swarms are made to play a significant role in future wars, it is naive to believe that India is not prepared to face the drone threat posed by her adversaries. The combat drones that were part of the ‘swarm technology’ display at the Army Day Parade on January 15 have been inducted in phases since August 2020, boosting army’s surveillance capabilities and also bringing in an element of surprise to carry out targeted strikes to assist troops on the ground.“These drones were out on a public display as the Indian Army carried out a live demonstration of Drone Swarming capability using 75 indigenously designed and developed drones which executed an array of Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled simulated offensive missions and close support tasks during the Army Day Parade held at Delhi Cantonment” wrote India Today of 15 January 2021.

“The Indian Army is investing heavily into Artificial Intelligence (AI), Autonomous Weapon Systems, Quantum Technologies, Robotics, Cloud Computing and Algorithm Warfare in order to achieve a convergence between the Army’s war fighting philosophies and military attributes of these technologies,” Indian Army said in a statement. India is very much alive to the threats likely to be posed by her adversaries but she is not only equipping herself adequately to meet the new challenge but is conducting continuous researches in improving and upgrading the strike capacity of her drone swarms.

In the final analysis, India is well prepared to meet any exigency arising out of drone war if unleashed by her adversaries. Yes, Turkey has made some advancement in drone technology making them deadlier, and, of course, she will transfer these machines to Pakistan. But before doing that Turkey will have to carefully look at her irons in the fire. Ever since Erdogan has been nursing the ambition of revival of Ottoman Empire, entire Europe and the US have mounted close watch on her movements and policy. A country desirous of being considered more a European than an Asiatic country and one that is a member of NATO will have to think twice before she unfolds any sinister design against the world’s largest democracy.

Pakistan and its dirty tricks department, the ISI, may be biting more than they can collectively chew if terrorists decide to target the security forces. The repercussions are likely to be severe.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

KN Pandita

Former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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