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The rise of drones in modern warfare – What more to look for?

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By Nagendran Kandasamy, Co-Founder & CEO, Zulu Defence 

In the annals of military history, the evolution of warfare has been characterised by seismic technological innovations. From the tanks to the rise of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), each decade has witnessed the launch of new combat assets, and even more amidst the changing socio-political contours. In fact, in recent years India has showcased its likeness to enhance domestic defence capabilities, in line with the broader ‘AtmaNirbhar Bharat’ initiative.

The pronounced shift towards becoming a more self-reliant defence market becomes more evident, against the notable uptick in defence spending which stands at a staggering Rs 6.21 lakh crore for the 2024-2025 interim budget. Supporting this growth is the recent rise in drones, which have quickly surfaced to the top by challenging the dominance of traditional heavy armour and posing as a major strategic advantage that has empowered the army in more ways than one.

High-definition surveillance boosting military’s decision capabilities

In the age of nuanced military operations, the adoption of drones presents the capacity to offer high-definition surveillance. This has been a game-changer and has opened the door to enhanced situational awareness and informed decision-making. Equipped with sophisticated EO/IR cameras sensors, the new drones allow for unparalleled visual clarity and detail, and this helps in the identification of potential threats, and enemy movement. Having recognised the value of high-surveillance drones, the Indian Armed Forces is actively seeking domestically produced drones to enhance the ISR capabilities.

At the same time, these drones can help the Indian military in conducting assessments of tactical situations with unmatched precision to safeguard the lives of personnel on the frontlines. With the accurate monitoring of sensitive areas, they can plan their operation with greater accuracy, and also reduce the risks and increase the chance of success and survival. Additionally, the footage captured by these drones will allow the military to enhance their training by analysing these real-life situations, which will in return improve the effectiveness of operations.

Enhancing the power of military

While the role of medium and large drones is significant in increasing the conventional capabilities in ISR, directing artillery fire, and conducting post-strike assessment, at the same time, the power of small and micro drones cannot be overlooked. In various tactical situations, micro drones can be used to pinpoint the location of insurgents, which facilitates their neutralisation. In addition, destructive drones which are designed to carry explosive payload and engage targets with accuracy can help reduce collateral damage.

Drones have become an indispensable asset for gathering intelligence and tracking and monitoring terrorist groups. They can not only operate in dangerous areas but can also provide real-time intelligence which allows the armed forces to immediately respond and take swift measures. Furthermore, drones embedded with an advanced camera and constant presence help in strengthening border surveillance, protecting the country from any illegal crossings and unauthorised attempts.

Expanded reach and remote monitoring

In contested environments and complex terrains, traditional air force carriers may not be viable solutions, against which advanced Aerial Defence systems emerge to be promising. These modern drones leveraging AI capabilities, and autopilot features allow for autonomous navigation and operation in GPS-denied areas. Also, the AI-embedded sensor suite goes a long way in enabling real-time object identification, classification and tracking.

With continuous innovation in the airframe material, payload, weight, deployment, range and ease of use, these advanced drones are proving to be valuable in harsh environmental conditions, as they keep the performance optimal and ensure longevity. As the contours of warfare continue to change, there are times when the mission also needs to be altered, and in such cases, these drones coordinate through mesh networking and swarming algorithms which provides seamless communication to adapt to mission changes.

Final thoughts

The revolutionary impact of drone technology on India’s defence capabilities is undeniable. The aerial systems help in offering unprecedented capacity in surveillance, intelligence gathering and remote operations, while also enhancing situational awareness by allowing precision targeting. As the country moves on building its defence capabilities, the integration of domestic Aerial Defence systems presents an opportunity to foster independent growth for the defence sector.

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