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DRONE SWARM TECHNOLOGY AND ITS IMPACT ON FUTURE WARFARE

Drone swarm technology promises significant advantages in the near future as no other technology is likely to offer as many tactical advantages to the military and that too at low costs.

Lt Gen Balli Pawar (retd)

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DRONE SWARM TECHNOLOGY AND ITS IMPACT ON FUTURE WARFARE

A profound transformation in warfare is underway, based on advances in two interconnected critical technologies related to artificial intelligence and machine autonomy. The convergence of these technologies is enabling the concept of ‘Drone Swarms’, made up of cooperative, autonomous robots that react to the battlefield as one — this concept will fundamentally alter the rules and nature of warfare in the 21st century. SWARM is an acronym for ‘Smart War-Fighting Array of Reconfigured Modules’. The basic ‘Drone Swarm Technology’ revolves around the ability of a very large number of drones, generally in the mini/micro category to autonomously make decisions based on shared information, and has the potential to revolutionise the dynamics of conflict. In simple terms it is like a hive of bees geared towards a single larger objective but each bee capable of acting on its own in relation to other bees to meet that objective. Due to the significant number of drones that can form part of any swarm, there is considerable degree of autonomy that the swarm as a whole and individual drones can exercise in finding and engaging targets.

Nonstate actors have already demonstrated the efficacy of swarming attacks on conventional military and economic targets, with off the shelf drones. The first such attack took place on the Russian Air and Naval Bases at Khemmiem and Tartus in West Syria respectively on 5 January 2018 — thirteen GPS guided drones were involved in this attack. While Russia was able to shoot/neutralise all the thirteen drones involved in the attack without any major damage, the crucial aspect of this technology was brought home to the world at large. Analysis revealed that though these were very simple and rudimentary drones made of wood and plastic, they were launched from a range in excess of 50 km, had warheads and were guided precisely to the targets. This use of this concept was further corroborated when on 14 September 2019 approximately ten drones were used to swarm two Saudi ‘Aramco’ oil processing facilities at Abqarq and Khurais with devastating effect — their origin was traced to the Yemen backed Houthi rebels. We are today on the cusp of an era when smart, autonomous robots fly and communicate with each other and work together as a team to accomplish missions. These robot teams could number more than a hundred and hence the swarm effect to overwhelm and defeat the enemy.

Leading military powers like the United States, China, Russia and Britain are already involved in the process of developing this technology and have been carrying out drone swarming trials over the last 3-4 years. The US has been carrying out drone swarming trials since 2015 — in Jan 2017 the US Strategic Capabilities Office and Air Force carried out trials with 103 ‘Perdix Quadcopter Drones’ functioning as a swarm. The US research agency DARPA is also working on a programme called ‘Gremlins’ involving micro drones the size and shape of missiles designed to be dropped from planes. The US Navy meanwhile has an entire research program towards the development of autonomous swarms called, ‘Low Cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Swarming Technology’ (LOCUST). Russia is also reportedly working on the concept of drone swarming and is probably trying to integrate drones with its ‘Sixth Generation Fighter Aircraft’. The Chinese have been demonstrating their capability and progress in this area on numerous occasions.

The first display was in December 2017 at the Global Fortune Forum in Guangzhou of a swarm with 1,108 drones. This was followed by a pre-recorded display of 1218 quad-copter drones swarm during the ‘Pyeongchang Winter Olympics’, leaving the spectators astounded. China has also demonstrated drone swarming using 67 larger size fixed wing drones and is seriously looking at swarm capability for attacking US Aircraft Carriers. That UK is also investing in drone swarm technology was evident when their Defence Secretary stated last year in Feb, that Swarm Squadrons will form part of British military in the future. Closer home India has been a late starter and is finally moving in the direction of investing in the development of this critical technology in collaboration with the US, through the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) — this decision was taken during the 2 + 2 dialogue last year. What is however encouraging is that a Bangalore based start-up, ‘New Space Research and Technologies’ along with state run HAL is currently working on the drone swarm technology project, ‘Air Launched Flexible Asset-Swarm’ (ALFA-S). The ALFA-S swarming drones will be 1-2 metres long with folding wings, capable of being packed in canisters and launched from aircraft. As per the company the first swarm drone prototype would be ready in two years’ timeframe. Military Applications Keeping in mind the significant developments taking place in the swarm technology as cited above, there is no doubt that drone swarms are going to be the choice of militaries around the world in the foreseeable future, as they could become the cheapest way to successfully execute many types of missions related to internal and external security threats.

The Perdix system (103 Drones) used in the US Air Force test had an off the shelf price of only a few thousand dollars, as most of these systems are based on existing, easily available and extremely cheap civilian technology. This dramatically changes the cost-benefit analysis that the military forces need to do, as risk management is the cornerstone of all military operations. Another important facet of military application of this technology is that a Swarm is literally unstoppable due to its disaggregated nature and can be multi-tasked to cover both ISR role and attack missions. Swarms of drones could search the oceans for adversary submarines, disperse over large areas to identify and eliminate hostile surface-to-air missiles and other air defences and could also potentially serve as novel missile defences, blocking incoming missiles. On the internal security front, security swarms equipped with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) detectors, facial recognition, anti-drone weapons and other capabilities offer defences against a range of threats.

Drone Swarms could be particularly useful in urban warfare and anti-terrorist operations where they could be launched inside built up areas to seek out hidden militants and neutralise them. Strategic drones like the Predator are already being extensively used in this role by the US in Af-Pak region, but they are slow, vulnerable and expensive. Combat search and rescue is another area where drone swarms will be very effective due to their ability to comb through larger areas even in difficult and hostile terrain. On the flip side, Swarms smaller in size could be used in clandestine attack missions against adversaries during peacetime and make it difficult to apportion blame. Case in point is the attack carried out on Russian air and naval bases in Syria, in which its origin, source and the organisation responsible still remains a mystery. In the Indian context drone swarms could have been the ideal weapon systems for carrying out Uri style surgical strikes or targeting the Jaish terror camps in Balakot. But while drone swarms represent a major technological advancement and will be a game changer in future conflicts, unlocking their full potential will require developing capabilities centred around three key areas like swarm size, diversity and hardening.

A large swarm is more capable with greater survivability though the size basically will depend on the type of target and mission profile. A drone swarm need not consist of the same type and size of drones, but could incorporate both large and small drones equipped with different payloads — such diverse swarms will be more capable and provide greater degree of flexibility. Drone swarming creates significant vulnerabilities to electronic warfare and hence protecting against this vulnerability is critical. Drone swarm functioning inherently depends on the ability of the drones to communicate with another and if the drones cannot share information due to jamming, the drone swarm cannot function as a coherent whole. Swarms may incorporate drones equipped with anti-radiation missiles or operating on multiple different frequencies to counter jamming-advances in technology may also harden the swarm against electronic warfare vulnerabilities. Conclusion Drone swarm technology promises significant advantages in the near future. Both the US and China have realised this and are racing ahead by pouring considerable funds into the research of this technology.

Some analysts believe that China’s swarm technology has enormous military potential and that their demonstrated capability in this area has surpassed the US. The potential of drone swarms in offensive roles against a technologically superior adversary is well understood by the Chinese military. This should set the alarm bells ringing in India and it is important that these Chinese advances in swarm technology are not taken lightly. Presently India has only taken some baby steps in this critical technology development process as brought out earlier. Apart from the option of collaboration with the US in this area, India’s military R&D along with the private sector needs to urgently work on the indigenous development of this technology along with counter strategy. No other technology is likely to offer as many tactical advantages to the military like that of the drone swarms in the future and that too at low costs.

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Defence

INS TABAR PARTICIPATES IN MARITIME EXERCISE WITH ALGERIAN NAVY

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The Ministry of Defence informed on Tuesday that the Indian Navy Ship (INS) Tabar took part in the maiden Maritime Partnership Exercise with the Algerian Navy on 29 August.

INS Tabar participated in the exercise during its ongoing goodwill visit to Europe and Africa. “The landmark exercise held off the Algerian coast and saw the participation of a frontline Algerian Naval Ship (ANS) ‘Ezzadjer’,” said the Ministry of Defence in a statement.

As a part of this exercise, several activities including coordinated manoeuvring, communication procedures and steam past were undertaken between the Indian and Algerian warships.

“The exercise enabled the two navies to understand the concept of operations followed by each other. It also enhanced interoperability and opened the possibility of increasing interaction and collaboration in the future,” the statement added.

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Defence

Home Ministry appoints Rajwinder Singh Bhatti as Border Security Force ADG

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NEW DELHI: Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has appointed Rajwinder Singh Bhatti, a 1990-batch IPS officer, as ADG Border Security Force (BSF) on a deputation basis up to 30 September 2025, his date of superannuation or till further orders.

According to the official statement, “Ministry of Home Affairs appointed Bhatti, a 1990-batch IPS officer, as ADG Border Security Force, on deputation basis, up to 30 September 2025, the date of his superannuation or till further orders.”

The Home Ministry has also written to the Bihar government to relieve him at earliest.

The state government is requested to relieve him immediately to enable him to take up his new assignments at the Centre, as per the official MHA statement. Bhatti, a Bihar cadre officer, is currently posted as Director General, Bihar Military Police, at Patna.

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Defence

NO SECURITY THREAT AT PANGODE MILITARY STATION, CLARIFIES DEFENCE PRO

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Reports carried by a section of the online media related to the security of the Pangode Military station here are ‘’unsubstantiated,” a Defence PRO said on Tuesday. “No security threat at Pangode Military station”, the Defence wing said in a release.

It said the news carried by the online media does not hold credibility due to lack of authentication and supporting evidence and warned that appropriate action would be initiated against any entity that peddles fake news, especially that which jeopardises security.

The office of the Defence PRO, in its official capacity, scrutinised the validation of the contents of the news segment publicised online from varied official agencies who proclaimed that the news is unsubstantiated.

“It is needless to emphasise that publicising such fake news in any media platform is against media ethics and is a serious breach of security”, said the release issued by the Defence wing.

The reports had claimed that the Pangode military station was facing a ‘’security threat’’.

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Defence

CYCLING EXPEDITION FLAGGED OFF BY ITBP TO MARK ‘AZADI KA AMRIT MAHOTSAV’

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SILIGURI: To celebrate the 75th Independence Day anniversary, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) commenced a cycle rally from Siliguri on 31 August and it will culminate in Patna on 8 September.

The cycle rally, which is a part of Azadi Ke Amrit Mahotsav, originally, started from Itanagar and culminates in Delhi’s Rajghat on 2 October, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. From Siliguri, as many as 12 ITBP personnel, including officers and jawans, were part of the cycle rally.

Talking about the motive, RPS Raghubangshi, DIG, ITBP-Gangtok told ANI, “The motive of the cycle rally is to connect with the locals and common people.” Meanwhile, in Ladakh, the cycle rally of ITBP personnel started the rally from Sakti village and reached Leh as of 31 August, covering over 236 km in total, tweeted from ITBP’s official Twitter handle. –

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Defence

FIRE AND FURY CORPS CELEBRATES 22ND RAISING DAY IN LEH

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PRO, Defence, Srinagar informed that ‘Fire and Fury Corps’ celebrated its 22nd Raising Day, on Wednesday, in Leh with a solemn Wreath Laying ceremony held at War Memorial.

Lieutenant General PGK Menon, General Officer Commanding, Fire and Fury Corps laid a wreath at the Leh War Memorial on behalf of all ranks of Fire and Fury Corps to honour the brave soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice during various operations in Ladakh. According to Srinagar Defence PRO, the corps was raised on 1 September 1999, in the aftermath of the Kargil War. Since its raising, the Corps has successfully ensured sanctity of both, the Line of Control with Pakistan and Line of Actual Control with China while maintaining eternal vigil at some of the highest battlefields in the world including the Siachen Glacier.

The Corps since its raising has been instrumental in the development of infrastructure in Ladakh for the common use of the Army and civilians, thereby promoting development in Ladakh.

The Corps has stood steadfast with the people of Ladakh in times of natural calamities, providing assistance and support in relief, rescue, and rebuilding of infrastructure.

“On the auspicious occasion of the Raising Day of the Corps, all ranks once again pledged to defend our borders with their blood and reaffirmed their wholehearted support to the people of Ladakh”, the statement read.

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Defence

FORCE WELL-TRAINED, PREPARED TO DEFEND BORDERS: OUTGOING ITBP DG

Ashish Singh

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The outgoing Director-General of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) that primarily guards 3,488 km long India-China borders ranging from Karakoram Pass in Ladakh to Jachep La in Arunachal Pradesh, while referring to the safety of the borders stated that the force is well-trained and always prepared to defend our international border in all situations.

Surjeet Singh Deswal, who retired, on Tuesday, as the ITBP DG while speaking to ANI said, “Whether there is an agreement or no agreement. We go by the needs on the border. India is a law-abiding nation. We respect our bilateral agreements. We respect our international conventions and the conduct which should be there between the two countries. We have never violated our bilateral agreements, our promises to our neighbours. We have always respected our neighbours. But we are always prepared to defend our border in all situations.” Responding to a question that there is a policy of no use of firearms on the Indo-China border and if in such a situation, if the Chinese attack the Indian side, what will India do, Deswal said, “Till our bilateral agreements are respected, we will keep on respecting. In case of need, we are prepared for all situations.”

On the India-China disengagement process and friction points between the two countries, he said, “Such border issues across the world take long to settle down. Our efforts in totality are the might of the forces, the diplomatic strength, our economic strength, the total collective forces of the country are on the job and to negotiate. Times are not as important as our claims are. We have to pursue our negotiations so that, at the end of the negotiations, our claims are with us.”

India and China have already disengaged from the banks of Pangong lake after extensive talks and the Gogra Heights and Hot Springs areas are left to be resolved as these friction points were created post-Chinese aggression last year. 20 Indian soldiers were killed in violent clashes with Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley in June last year.

The two countries have been engaged in a military standoff for almost a year but disengaged from the most contentious Pangong lake area last month after extensive talks at both military and political levels.

“I’m retiring after 37 years in the uniform. I served for 27 years in the Haryana state police and 10 years with GoI. For the last three years, I was heading ITBP which is an elite force of the country, looking after the India-China border in very tough topographical, geographical conditions. The force is well-trained for that terrain and is comfortable staying there and complete its mandate of protection of the international border. ITBP soldiers and officers are trained for all kinds of situations,” added Deswal.

Deswal is an Indian Police Service officer. He did his graduation (B.Sc.) from Panipat and LLB from Kurukshetra University. As Superintendent of Police, Deswal served in several important districts of Haryana such as Karnal, Rohtak, Kaithal, Bhiwani and Fatehabad and Commandant 5th Battalion of H.A.P, Madhuban. He joined the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the year 1994 and served as Superintendent of Police till 1998 in the All India Anti Corruption Unit. He was promoted to DIG, Railways and Tech.

As Inspector-General of Police, Deswal held the charge of important ranges like Ambala and Rohtak. He worked as Commissioner of Police of Gurugram, from 2009 to 2011.

Deswal worked as Director-General of State Crime Branch and Haryana Armed Police. He was awarded the Indian Police Medal for meritorious service in 2001 and President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service in 2012 for dedicated service to the Nation.

Deswal joined Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) in December 2015 and served as Additional Director General (ADG) till October 2017. He served as ADG and Special DG (Operations) in Border Security Force (BSF) for a year. Deswal was appointed DG SSB on 30 September 2018 and appointed DG ITBP on 31 October 2018.

He retired after his three years of service to the force as its Director-General. Deswal handed over the customary baton to senior Indian Police Service (IPS) office Sanjay Arora at the force headquarters.

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