Understanding fascination with drones

YB WEB DESK. Dated: 4/6/2021 11:36:43 AM

New Delhi, Apr 05 Everyone seems to be captivated by drones and the Indian Army’s demonstration of ‘swarming’ by drones on Army Day seems to have caught people’s fancy. Before anything else, we need basic clarity on what a drone is. Autonomous flying platforms in one form or another have been around ever since aviation came into being but did not have the required smartness associated with such platforms of today. A drone, in technological terms, is an unmanned aircraft. It can be described as a flying robot that can be remotely controlled or fly autonomously through remote controlled flight plans and software embedded in its systems, working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS. At a lower level of awareness, what needs to be understood is that drones, just like aircraft, can be of two types—fixed wing and rotary wing. Both started with extremely low payload capability, which has now increased substantially based upon the type of avionics. For conventional operations and hybrid war, both types of drones can be armed with precision weapons that can be launched and guided to their targets, or worked with the aid of artificial intelligence. Copter-type drones can also be employed as robotic munitions carriers in ‘suicidal’ mode against field fortifications, hardened vehicles or logistics dumps. The recent Azerbaijan- Armenia war over the enclave of Nagorno- Karabakh also seems to be the cause of the current interest. The deciding factor that ensured Azerbaijan’s victory was the extensive military employment of drones in what has been one of those rare conventional wars in the last 15 years or more. Drones have been often spoken of and their role in Afghanistan is well known over the last 20 years but that is a different context altogether. The war in Afghanistan remained a below threshold battle after the initial entry operations. Drones there have been more in the mode of surveillance a n d prec i - s i o n kills of terrorist leaders or destruction of h i d e o u t s based upon accurate information. The killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor (replacement of Mullah Omar) in May 2016 near the Pakistan-Iran border was ascribed to a drone attack as are many other such lower-profile killings. Interestingly the control of drone operations is done remotely from as far as Tampa, Florida, in the US through satellite-based communications. In relation to conventional operations, why have drones suddenly acquired such a reputation? This needs a return to some earthy military basics. Just remember the possibility of a precision hit at the top of a bunker or a tank is always far less when it comes to artillery that fires parabolic. A hit by direct fire or by flat trajectory is what most protection caters to and that is frontal or broadside. Hence the tank is designed with thick armour plating in front, lesser protection at the sides and the least at the top. Bunkers similarly have strong frontal protection against direct flat trajectory fire and packed earth (or concretised) on top to cater for the possibility of a direct hit by a shell. Now with the drone, a top attack is always possible with precision direction and accuracy. The tank and all its variants are suddenly vulnerable even more than what they were to fast-moving combat aircraft or the attack helicopter.


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