By Muhammad Ali Ehsan


Should Pakistan and its military establishment be concerned on the recent deployment of US-manufactured drones on the LOC? By all means the deployment of these surveillance drones on the LOC is a significant Indian step and may actually open up the possibility of the start of a new kind of warfare between the two arch rivals on Pakistan’s Eastern Front — ‘The Drone warfare’ — a definite reality in the years to come.

Renowned to perform the dual task of killing key leaders and denying sanctuaries to the terrorists, Is India likely to put these military machines to similar use? About drones one thing is certain — in the hands of the governments that are not responsible they may end up getting more abused than used.

At the moment India seems to have purchased ‘The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) Drones’ ($17 million apiece) designed for long endurance and high-altitude surveillance from US (replacing Israeli Heron System which is an earlier- generation surveillance drone). United States, it is believed, has not exported armed drones (Predator or Reaper) to any country except UK. If India is able to purchase armed drones from US in future, it will be the second country after UK to do so. Last year the Indian Air Force just days after India gained membership of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) sent a letter to San Diego-based General Atomics requesting for the purchase of ‘Avenger — The unmanned air combat vehicle’ ($13 to 15 million apiece) — the drone that can fly for 18 hours without refueling and carry 3,500 pounds of munitions and reaches an altitude of 50,000 feet.

Interestingly, India which was recently deprived entry into the 48 nations Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) by China managed membership of MTCR (enabling India to import UAV’s and high end missile technology) a 35-nation organisation for which China still awaits a consensus decision on its membership applied since 2004.

China and even Pakistan if they apply for the membership of MTCR would have difficulty in managing a consensus approval (given India has also become its member and may use the membership as a bargaining chip specifically with China on its NSG candidature).

The deployment of drones (worst if they are armed drones) represents a paradigm shift in the way the two arch rivals India and Pakistan continue to do what they do best- gather information( now through surveillance drones), convert that into intelligence and utilise this intelligence to keep their operational plans ready and updated at all times. Armed drones may just be the military tools needed to put these operational plans to action displaying both pride and power to gain rapid results which could actually be a political sellout.

Especially for PM Modi of India who presently riding on the wave of his very familiar anti-Pakistan rhetoric and now a massive victory (winning 312 of state’s 403 seats) in Uttar Pradesh elections (in his election campaign had blamed Pakistan for the deadly train crash that killed 148 people in November in Uttar Pradesh) may resort to violating Pakistan’s State sovereignty and initiate a drone strike (in September 2016 India claimed to have carried out surgical strikes across the LOC in Pakistan sending the Indian people and its media into a celebration frenzy). Such actions are a good political sellout for PM Modi and serve his political needs all in line with his desire to secure a second term in office in 2019. Having an armed drone capability is not about having a clear shot and taking it — it is more about not violating the international law. Armed drones in the Modi-led BJP government may only give further rise to the unconventional warfare and also maximise the allure of jihad amongst the non-state actors or the militants.

It is for these reasons that United States needs to be careful before rushing into a decision of arming India with armed drones. The introduction of armed drones on the LOC will definitely disturb the existing balance of power between the two neighbours and though Pakistan has developed and tested armed drone of its own matching the US provided armed drones military capability will force Pakistan’s defence establishment to further reinforce its air defence systems, the recent induction of Low to Medium Altitude Air defence System’s (LOMADS) to Pakistan’s air defence fleet (LY-80 is a Chinese mobile air defence system capable of tracking and destroying a variety of aerial targets) may just be in response to the US drone deployment by India on the LOC.

With the precedence of extrajudicial and extra territorial killings already set at the world stage by India’s drone supplier (United States) the current Indian drone deployment along the LOC may most likely lead to some tactical miscalculations and thus may only result in unnecessary military escalation. Pakistan military has already shot an ‘Indian spy drone’ along the LOC in July 2016. At the heart of the drone import and deployment at LOC is the Indian current strategic priority of how to deter (as well as respond) to future terrorism emanating from Pakistan? Drones worked for US in the war on terror but are they likely to work for India? The hundreds of US drone strikes that have been carried out in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Sudan have been carried out in a universally accepted ‘global counter terrorism driven conflict environment’. The political and military elements of these strikes are understood by the majority of global audience in the same context. Not in the specific case of ‘Pakistan-India conflict environment’ where armed drones if relied upon by India as ‘quick fixers’ and ‘instruments of military reach’ will be responded to and retaliated against by Pakistan. The Indian drones are likely to confront air defense capabilities that have not so far been confronted by the US drone operators. There is absolutely no doubt that Indian drones will risk Pakistani air and ground forces interdiction if these drones are found violating the country’s geographical borders.

No more a US monopoly that once armed drones were — Pakistan today is part of that elite group of countries (United States, Israel, and United Kingdom being the other) that have put armed drones to operational use. The indigenously built Pakistani Burraq drone (introduced in Pakistan Air Force in 2013) was used last year (September 2015) in destroying a terrorist compound in Shawal Valley killing three terrorists. China and Iran are the other two countries that showcase operationally deployed drones (not used as both countries not involved in major conventional conflicts).

With China being the leading drone developer after USA (with its drone budget likely to equal the US drone budget by 2020) drones definitely are the military machines of future that will clutter the skies. Unless drone warfare is conducted under a policy on “extraterritorial and extrajudicial killings” that is adhered and respected by all it will be difficult to control and regulate this future form of warfare.

Source: https://tribune.com.pk