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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

Major push to Make in India in defence sector

Ajay Jandyal

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To give a major push to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atamanirbhar Bharat mission, the Indian Army has joined hands with various technology firms to cater to the demands of the present security scenario.

The Army says if it has to remain operational all around, it cannot rely on obsolete technology hence latest advancement in the sector have to be adopted.

“The Northern Command is always combat ready in the times to come, the challenges will continue to increase so we have to rely on advance technology and keep on innovating,” Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi told The Daily Guardian on the sidelines of the Northern Technology Symposium held in Udhampur on Sunday.

North Tech Symposium was organized under the aegis of HQ Northern Command at Udhampur. Technology symposium, exhibition was organised wherein 162 companies from Indian defence industry including MSMEs, DRDO, DPSU, participated and exhibited their products.

In addition, 42 innovative solutions by Army establishments towards enhancement of combat potential of the Army were also on display. Lt Gen BS Raju, Vice Chief of Army Staff inaugurated the first of its kind technology symposium in Jammu and Kashmir.

Addressing the event, vice-chief of Army staff Lt Gen V S Raju said that he would have appreciated if the investors, capital ventures would have also shown interest in the event to boost the new start-up.

“To cope up with the ever-evolving and ever-changing security scenario, we also need to adopt changes and keep on innovating. I am happy that so many companies have shown interest to showcase their products at the North Tech Symposium. I am hopeful that in near future, many of the products would be put in use by the armed forces,” General Raju said.

In the wake of recent incidence of drone dropping in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab from across the Indo-Pak border, various companies have displayed their products including anti- drone system, drone jammer which can strengthen the forces and border guarding forces to thwart Pakistan’s plan of disturbing peace.

Other than drone dropping threats, detection of tunnels on Jammu and Kashmir border is also a major threat for the security forces these days as 11 tunnels have been detected on Indian-Pakistan border in the past few years. There was number of companies which showcased their products to detect underground tunnels by using artificial intelligence and special radar.

The symposium saw active participation from of senior officers from different forces including IDS, Army HQ, HQ ARTRAC, other Commands, HQ Northern Command, and its subordinate formations. This interactive platform for knowledge diffusion through Joint Army-Industry participation was an important step in the direction of the government’s initiative of “Make in India”.

On the first day of the seminar, the participants from Army and industry discussed the policy and procedures for expeditious procurement, Raksha Atmanirbharta initiatives by Indian Army, DRDO and Defence Public Sector Undertakings, how can private sector contribute towards surveillance system, weapon sights, drones and counter drone system and miscellaneous technologies like 3D printing.

The symposium served to showcase cutting edge technologies and innovative products providing solutions to some of the complex challenges faced by the security forces in Northern Command and also acted as an ideal platform for mutual exchange of ideas between the domestic defence industry and the Army. The technologies and products on display covered a wide canvas, the prominent ones being surveillance and situational awareness, tactical mobility, firepower, force protection, communications, combat medical facility, robotics and simulators.

The symposium was a huge success and Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi, AVSM lauded the initiative and innovations of all the vendors. The General Officer expressed his conviction that the plethora of technologies available indigenously can further boost the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” project of the nation. The spirit of Atmanirbharta demands that research and development, the domestic defence industry and Army have work in a synchronized manner to realise the nation’s vision.

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ARMY MAJOR SUCCUMBS TO INJURIES DURING OPERATION IN KASHMIR

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An Indian Army Major lost his life after slipping into a ravine during a counter-infiltration operation in the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday.

Major Raghunath Ahlawat.

Late Major Raghunath Ahlawat, 34 was leading his team on a counter-infiltration operation based on reliable intelligence input. “To identify a safe approach for the team he led from the front while carrying out reconnaissance on a route through a steep cliff. “Unfortunately, he slipped due to bad weather and slippery conditions and fell 60 meters into a ravine. Critically injured, he succumbed to his injuries enroute while being evacuated to the nearest Army Hospital,” Indian Army officials said in a statement.

The Army paid tribute to the officer in a ceremony held in the Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar led by Chinar Corps Commander Lieutenant General DP Pandey.

Major Ahlawat was commissioned into the Army in 2012 and hails from Dwarka, New Delhi and is survived by his wife and his parents.

The mortal remains of Late Maj Raghunath Ahlawat were taken for last rites to his native place, where he would be laid to rest with full military honours.

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Defence

FOR 114 FIGHTER JETS, IAF FAVOURS ‘BUY GLOBAL MAKE IN INDIA’ ROUTE

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For over USD 20 billion tender for manufacturing 114 multi-role fighter aircraft (MRFA) the Indian Air Force (IAF) would prefer to take the ‘Buy Global Make in India’ route over the strategic partnership policy model to produce the planes within the country.

‘Buy Global Make in India’ is a category of procurement process provided in the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 under Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to smoothen the acquisition of foreign weapon systems and their production within the country under the ‘Make in India’ in the defence programme. Along with the indigenous LCA Tejas and the 5th Generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft project, the 114 MRFA project would also be required by the IAF to maintain an edge over both the Northern and Western adversaries. We would prefer to go in for the Buy Global Make in India route which is preferred by the vendors also who are expected to take part in the programme, government sources said. Three American aircraft including the F-18, F-15 and F-21 (modified version of the F-16), Russian Mig-35 and Su-35 along with the French Rafale, Swedish Saab Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft are expected to participate in the programme. The Indian Air Force had also sought the views of these companies on the acquisition procedure that they would like to opt for in the programme and most of them have shown a preference for the Buy Global Make in India route only, they said.

The sources said that the force has also sought directions from the government on the project.

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INDIA GETS DEFENCE SUPPLIES FROM RUSSIA, BUT PAYMENT MAY BECOME AN ISSUE

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Amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, defence supplies from Moscow are continuing as the Indian defence forces have received a shipment of overhauled aircraft engines and spares. However, there is concern about whether this would continue in the near future as a solution for making payment to Russia has not yet been found.

“The defence forces have received shipments from the Russians very recently and it is still on. So far, there has not been any glitch in supplies for our forces,” a government source told ANI.

“However, there are concerns on whether these supplies can continue in the same manner as the Indian side cannot make payments to these Russian firms in view of the sanctions related to their banks,” he added.

The sources said the Indian and Russian sides are working to find a way this issue can be overcome and many options are being explored.

The latest supplies from Russia included overhauled fighter aircraft engines and spares for an aircraft fleet and they arrived through the sea route, the sources said.

India also received the final parts of the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia whose first squadron is operational with its elements deployed to take care of threats from both Pakistan and China.

India is one of the largest users of Russian weaponry including major platforms like fighter jets, transport aircraft, helicopters, warships, tanks, infantry combat vehicles and submarines.

Over the last couple of decades, it has broadened its source base by including equipment from countries like the US, France and Israel in a big way but the dependence on Russia still remains very high.

The Air Force is dependent majorly on the Russian supplies as its mainstay Su30 aircraft fleet is Russian along with its Mi-17 helicopter fleet.

The Army is also dependent on the Russian-origin T-90 and T-72 tank fleet for the armoured regiments.

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IAF, ARMY BRASS WILL ASSESS LAC SITUATION

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The top brass of the Indian Army and Air Force would be assessing the preparedness of their forces and infrastructure requirements along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as the militaries of both India and China continue to remain in a standoff position in eastern Ladakh.

The Indian Air Force brass would be meeting this week from 6 April to discuss the security situation including air operations along the northern borders. The Indian Army commanders led by Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane would be assessing the present deployments along eastern Ladakh and the northeastern sectors from 18 April onwards in the bi-annual commanders’ conference.

The top brass of the Indian Army had jointly discussed the infrastructure requirements and developments required by the Indian side from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh during a conference in Lucknow recently.

India has made several changes in its deployments post aggression shown by Chinese troops in April-May 2020.

India and China have been talking to each other at both military and diplomatic levels to address the issues but so far they have not been able to do so mainly because of Chinese reluctance. In recent talks to address the Patrolling Point 15 friction, they proposed a solution that was not acceptable to the Indian side.

Indian security establishment led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has been of the view that the issue would be resolved only if the Chinese completely disengaged and went back to pre April 2020 positions.The Indian side has strengthened its deployments manifold all along the LAC. The Indian Air Force has also started building advanced bases in the forward areas including infrastructure to operate fighter jets and attack helicopters from the forward fields such as Nyoma.

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Sharp fall in infiltration of foreign terrorists, stone pelting: CRPF DG

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There has been a sharp decline in the infiltration of foreign terrorists as well as in stone-pelting incidents in Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 from the erstwhile state, Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Kuldiep Singh said on Thursday.

However, noting the targeted killings in Jammu and Kashmir, the officer said, “Some time there is a spurt in terrorist incidents” and the recent killing in “periodic series” are among those, and “it occurs”. Replying to queries during a press briefing here at the CRPF Headquarters, Singh said, “CRPF immediately try to control terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir soon after it gets inputs. These incidents are not totally controlled by internal terrorist people who are there. On many occasions, it is controlled by those sitting across the border and it is directed whom to be targeted or not.”

The CRPF DG reiterated that “some directions comes from foreign lands too”, and thus, “terrorist incidents some times increase and sometimes decrease” “It does not mean that things are out of hand…You can see that the incidents of stone-pelting are almost nil. There has been a sharp decline in the number of infiltration of foreign terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir. Sometimes, there is a spurt in terrorist incidents but it happens,” he said.

The officer informed that the CRPF has neutralized 175 terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir and apprehended 183 from March 1, 2021, to March 16, 2022.

Meanwhile, the CRPF has recovered 253 arms from Jammu and Kashmir and seized 7,541 ammunition as well as 96.38 kg explosives, 23 Improvised Explosive Device (IED), 232 grenades, and 36 detonators from the Union Territory, Singh said. Further, he informed that as many as 91 encounters have taken place from March 1, 2021, to March 16 this year. CRPF is the premier Central Armed Police Force (CRPF) entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding the internal security of the country. It is deployed across the length and breadth of the country, assisting various state police in the discharge of their duties. CRPF is providing security cover to 117 protectees of various categories, he said adding that 32 women personnel have been inducted into the VIP Security Wing.

A total of 41 VIPs were provided security cover by the CRPF during recently concluded Assembly elections in five states, the DG said adding that the security of 27 protectees has been withdrawn post-elections. The CRPF chief also said that under financial assistance from the risk fund, ex-gratia for personnel martyred in action has been increased to Rs 30 lakhs from Rs 20 lakhs, and for all other cases, the ex-gratia has been increased to Rs 20 lakhs from Rs 15 lakhs.

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