The Indian defence forces are all set to make a major leap in their cross-border strike capabilities. The Indian Army has reportedly signed a contract to purchase 120 armed drones or ‘Skystrikers’ under its emergency procurement powers. This is a part of India’s defence strategy to fulfil its security needs in the context of the threats posed by China and Pakistan.
Why are Skystrikers special
The SkyStrikers will be manufactured in Bengaluru by a joint venture between Adani’s Alpha Design and Israel’s Elbit Systems.
The official website of Elbit Systems gives a detailed description of SkyStriker. It describes the armed drone as a “cost-effective loitering munition that is capable of long-range precise tactical strikes. The technology-enabled SkyStriker improves performance, situational awareness and survivability by providing direct-fire aerial precision capabilities to manoeuvrable troops and Special Forces.”
The website adds, “SkyStriker is a fully autonomous UAS that can locate, acquire and strike operator-designated targets with a 5kg warhead installed inside the fuselage, enabling high-precision performance. The UAS’ electric propulsion offers a minimal acoustic signature, allowing covert operations at low altitude operations.”
Moreover, SkyStriker allows the defence forces to carry out stealth operations due to the lack of visibility and silent manoeuvres attached to it. The armed drone is suited to the needs of s modern battlefield.
SkyStriker functions on broadly the same model as Israel’s ‘Harpy’, which is essentially a suicide drone that loiters over the battlefield, its remote operator searching for targets and once it locks a target, the drone flies in and destroys both itself and the target.
India’s capability to carry out more ‘Balakot’ type operations enhanced
In 2019, India had responded to Pakistani terror activity by carrying out airstrikes over Pakistan’s Balakot. The operation carried out by the Indian Air Force (IAF) had inflicted heavy damage on the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camps in Balakot. Similarly, in 2016, the Indian Army’s special forces had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to carry out surgical strikes over Pakistani terror outfits.
However, such operations where your troops or air assets have to cross the LoC or violate Pakistan’s airspace are inherently dangerous for the troops or pilots involved. Now, with the Indian Army procuring Skystrikers, India has acquired the ability to carry out Balakot-type operations deep inside Pakistani territory without having to send troops or pilots into the adversary-controlled territory.
Moreover, given the ability of the SkyStriker to locate, lock and hit designated targets, the detection capabilities of the defence forces themselves get a shot in the arm. Also, the SkyStrikers offer tremendous flexibility in operations, as targets can be changed after launching the ‘suicide drones’ and the operation can also be aborted at the last minute if the ground control forces so desire.
India’s answer to the security threat posed by Pakistan
The Pakistan-sponsored terror establishment has got energised after the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan thinks that the Taliban will aid it in getting hold of Kashmir. It genuinely believes that with the Taliban overrunning Afghanistan, the extremist group can divert a significant chunk of its fighter force to “liberate” Kashmir from India.
India cannot stay oblivious to the fact that Pakistan is constantly plotting and planning terror attacks in Jammu & Kashmir and other parts of India. On Monday, India’s security forces averted a major terror attack in Srinagar by detecting and defusing six hand grenades placed in a sandbag on a busy road.
Moreover, serious concerns regarding the use of drones by adversary forces came into the picture when suspected Pakistan-based terrorists used two drones to attack the Jammu Air Force station in June. India is bolstering its anti-drone capabilities to protect its military bases from such attacks in the future. However, strike capabilities are also required for creating a deterrent effect over Pakistan.
The China ‘threat’:
Over the past few years, China has intensified its efforts to design and manufacture unmanned platforms based on Artificial Intelligence (AI). China is the biggest exporter of combat drones, though the US continues to lead the exports market in the general drones sector.
At the end of the day, China is actively considering using combat drones in its international military conflicts, including one with India. And therefore, India must build its own capabilities to ensure that there is not a mismatch of firepower in the drones sector.
Moreover, as Chinese President Xi Jinping becomes internally weak, he is making people ‘rally around the flag’- a phenomenon that world leaders use to whip up jingoism and divert attention from internal issues by creating a false fear of national security threat. For this purpose, China is once again relying on expansionism and has gone as far as claiming India’s state of Arunachal Pradesh.
In any case, India needed to augment and enhance its offensive capabilities with two enemies located on its Eastern and Western front. India is responding to the needs of a modern battlefield by purchasing ‘suicide drones’ that can carry out surprise attacks and promote machine-led warfare.