Mahabharata war through the eyes of Sanjaya (Drones?)
While Sanjaya was still in Hastinapur, the series of events that happened on the battlefield of Kurukshetra was very clear to him. He saw with his eyes as if he was on the battlefield and heard with his ears the fierce battle-cries and the dialogue (Gita) between Krishna and Arjuna. King Dhritarashtra received the battle commentary through the eyes of Sanjaya who had received the gift of divine vision from Rishi Vyasa . So did the Drones exist above the battlefield of Kurukshetra and Sanjaya briefed his blind king in the palace? Can battle of Kurukshetra be considered to witness the first drone!
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or Drones have been deployed for over two decades now. These were initially being used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Armed with an array of sensors and having long endurance, the UAVs gave the real-time picture of the battlefield to direct the fire of various weapon systems. Armed drones are now armed with Precision Guided Munitions (PGM). The recent victory of Azerbaijan over Armenia can be attributed to the extensive military employment of drones. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or remotely piloted aircraft, ‘Drones’ of varied sizes including Nanoor call them now even suicidal Switchblade ‘Kamikaze’ are proving their lethality in the recent conflicts and acting as Force-Multipliers to the commanders on the battlefield. In future drones will swarm over the enemy.US killed the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by a drone strike outside Baghdad airport in January 2020.
The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan started on 27 September, 2020 over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. While Armenia only fought with tanks, artillery and air defence systems, Azerbaijan relied heavily on drones, specifically the Turkish made Bayraktar TB2 and the Israeli-made Kamikaze drones. Armenians lost 185 tanks, 45 armoured fighting vehicles, 44 infantry fighting vehicles, 147 towed artillery guns, 19 self-propelled artillery, 72 multi-barrel rocket launchers and 12 radars. Azerbaijan’s losses were only one-sixth of this. This was the first war in the history of modern warfare that has been won almost entirely on the strength of Azerbaijan drones.
According to the Ukrainian foreign ministry, Moscow has lost 24,900 troops, 1,110 tanks and 199 aircraft in its war against the eastern European country. The Russian forces have also lost 155 helicopters 2,686 armoured personnel vehicle, 502 artillery systems among others. The Ukrainian government further claims that the Russian forces have lost more than 1,900 vehicles and fuel tanks in what they call a ‘military operation’ in Ukraine. Ukrainian forces have been using variety of drones being supplied by the US and the West and of course they have the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 on their inventory. However, the percentage of destruction caused to the Russian equipment is not known but not seeing much of the destruction of Ukrainian war machinery it can be assumed that the Ukraine army operated Drones have proved lethal for the Russian forces. Several types of Russian-made drones have been shot down over eastern Ukraine.
In the Ukraine war, Drone warfare combined with anti-tank missiles and rocket launchers used intelligently in an aggressive manner proved to be the Waterloo for the Russian mech forces. It is therefore imperative that Armed Forces need to update its war-fighting doctrines to meet this new challenge and be fully capable to counter the joint threat of the combination of integrated unmanned systems of UAVs and Anti-Tank weapons posing threat to the military tank’s survival.
Drones: Multiple Roles
Drones can play multiple roles on the battlefield from reconnaissance, surveillance, target detection and identification to indirect fire by directing artillery or missile strikes and direct fire in the form of neutralization and direction. Logistics support is another role that a drone was seen to perform in Ukraine. Importantly some drones have demonstrated the ability to perform multiple roles.
- Drones are relatively less vulnerable as no loss to human life. The pilot or the controller may be away from the battle field at a reasonable safe distance. So the Drones are able to project ammo power on to the target.
- Armed Combat or Suicidal ‘Kamikaze’ Drones are precision guided or they guide the warhead precisely accurately on to the intended target that reduces collateral damage and minimizes casualties. Do not believe in “Shock and Awe” impact.
- Drones can be employed for military or civil Logistic purposes.
- Drones can be employed on all terrain configurations and can reach anywhere with limited restrictions in high altitude due to weather and low temperatures.
UAVs are No exception to counter-drone systems. Drones are slow-flying platforms, can be extremely vulnerable and countered electronically. Mech forces in the battle Zone ,future tanks and APCs have to be equipped with individual counter-drone electronic systems to protect themselves.
China is by far the leading exporter of armed drones worldwide. But drones are not just accessible to leading military powers. Middle powers such as Iran and Turkey have access to drone technology and are selling systems abroad. States and non-state groups that can’t afford to buy fighter jets can buy drones. But the use of UAVs in regional conflicts and civil wars provides only a pointer to the drone’s value in future warfare. Pakistan and Afghanistan need to watch out.
Drones are proving to be path breaking development on the battle field as well as in the civil field. In the future drones will be in excessive use. A new era of drone warfare has already arrived involving many more players. And the use of drones has moved from counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency warfare into full scale conventional combat. Combined with digital technologies that enable high-definition surveillance and precision strike, drones can be quite lethal to ground forces. Drone warfare based on artificial intelligence beckons to be the future sophisticated Force Multiplier as proved in the ongoing Ukraine conflict Drone warfare.
Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.