Lessons India can learn from two different conflicts

With the right mix of focused spending and technology acquisition, India could well possess a formidable array of kamikaze drones within three years
Last Updated : 28 November 2023, 06:46 IST

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The two raging conflicts, between Ukraine and Russia and Israel and Hamas differ in scale, complexity, weaponry, and geopolitical circumstance. However, they have a bearing on the evolution of military science and the geopolitical landscape that hold important lessons for India.

The first learning from the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel underlines how central human and electronic intelligence is for early warning of a hybrid attack. Indian military and private sector have already access to advanced electronic intelligence equipment design and manufacturing, but light of fast-paced technologies in counter-intelligence, jamming and embedded spyware India needs greater and faster electronics for defence development.

Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) is the collection and analysis of electronic signals, such as communications, to gather information about potential threats. India needs to invest in advanced SIGINT technology to enhance its capability to monitor and detect potential threats in real time, and use artificial intelligence from gathered data for threat pattern recognition. India needs greater localised actionable intelligence and a defused chain of command for pre-emptive action or reactive remedies.

There is information emerging that Israel border soldiers had indeed warned of a possible attack just from the video feeds that they were monitoring but their specific inputs were ignored. You must gather intelligence, but you also need an apparatus that puts that intelligence together as a coherent actionable military option. In the vast and harsh landscape of Pir Panjal facing Jammu, a co-ordinated attack by Pakistan-based terrorists through a change in tactic inspired by Hamas cannot be ruled out. Forewarned is forearmed in this business, and a Hamas-style attack is likely to be a template for Pakistan and its proxies such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Militaries around the world are also learning important tactical lessons. The era of towed artillery, a cornerstone of war for 200 years, is ending. The all-seeing world of sensors and radars that track shells and their sources seamlessly, and loitering ammunition that can take out immobile targets even in bad weather with relative precision has revitalised the debate on the new role of the so-called shoot-and-scoot — artillery that is self-propelled.

India currently has only 100-odd self-propelled guns but military planners have decided to procure 100 more K9 Vajara 155MM guns from L&T. These are self-propelled and through the transfer of tech from South Korea are likely to form the backbone of India’s firepower.

The second military aspect that has been keenly followed by Indian planners is the innovative use of so-called kamikaze drones by Russia in Ukraine. The cheap disposable drones have taken out equipment like leopard tanks and terrorised and neutralised well-armed soldiers often taking out entire companies.

In fact, India’s thrust for indigenous drones while admirable, has come a little late in the day. It has no equivalent currently to the drones such as Iran’s HESA Sahid. Costing $20,000 a drone, Russia has used it with telling success — they are relatively easy to shoot down but the missiles and air defence infrastructure needed to shoot them costs typically five times the drone. Also, if they are successful the target like a leopard tank costs $800,000.

India needs to put this lesson into practice on a fast track for the development of disposable one-way attack drones using Indian technology or technology transfers. With the right mix of focused spending and technology acquisition, or through other techniques, India could well possess a formidable array of kamikaze drones within three years. Put differently, India has no other option but to master this new way of war.

The Chinese are fast-tracking kamikaze drones and are particularly interested in drones that can be sacrificed while suppressing enemy radars and air defence systems and a swarm of drones that target mobile tank and truck units. Like India, they do not have a world beater yet, but the race is on to acquire the capability.

The third lesson from Ukraine, here India is relatively well placed, is the huge depletion of ammunition in a conflict. Ukraine, partly through a lack of well-trained soldiers and partly because of corruption, is running out of ammunition faster than Washington and Brussels can supply. India has one of the oldest, most robust, and technologically sophisticated ammunition businesses in the world. The military planners have taken note and added several kinds of supply lines, and corporatised ordnance factory boards.

To put all these lessons into practice, India needs to prioritise defence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s belief, as told to Russian President Vladimir Putin that “this is not an era of war” has turned on its head. This is an era of war, which without warning often goes into long years. Indian troops in Ladakh need their own suicide drones in great numbers. Indian armed formations need great stores of precision munitions, and India must beef up its intelligence-gathering network — all this must be done at once. India’s unfriendly neighbourhood is fast learning lessons from these wars.

At the same time, India cannot afford to spend less than 2 per cent on defence in this volatile world. New Delhi needs to increase its defence spending, failing which it must prepare for nasty tech-driven surprises from India’s many enemies.

(Ninad D Sheth is a senior journalist.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

Published 28 November 2023, 06:46 IST

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