Are Drones Going to Change the Way we Fight?

"Have drone spotters with high end hearing and seeing equipment in every company. Located discreetly. Be proactive, hit them before they hit you."

Are Drones Going to Change the Way we Fight?

Establishing the Credibility

Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) or any type of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the present form are more effective in responses short of war (RSOW), Counter Insurgency Operations and disaster management. As soon as you apply the same dimensions of applicability to the overall nature of conduct of military operations, or a conventional form of warfare, you will lose the game. In the Indian context where technology still has miles to go before it attains cult military status, due to availability and economics.

The first requirement is, identify the threat. In peace time to ones own critical assets. The underbelly of security, the ammunition dumps, the air and aviation bases, the weaker logistics bases. To mitigate this threat, you need buffer zones, dynamic intelligence, liaison with civil security forces, tiered surveillance screens both human and electronic. Drone identification systems and anti drone weapon systems. No fly area demarcated as policy.

In operations use it for what it was made, preliminary that’s Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR). Visibility beyond the first obstacle, terrain mapping of own area of responsibility (AOR), searching the surfaces and finding the gaps, info on enemy infrastructure development, dumping of logistics and ammunition, preparation of defences, improvement of defensive layouts, existing and new gun areas, engineer parks, creation or improvisation of obstacle systems. Defensive orientation of obstacles, Flooding schemes, patrolling policy, Trials, and induction of new weapon systems, new/improved Advanced Landing Grounds (ALG), Helipads, etc.

On D Day before the holding air defence (AD) of the enemy opens up, the asset can be used for targeting, (on the premise that all enemy air defence systems will maintain electronic silence till manifestation of their envisaged critical threat). The most viable targets during this stage of operations are. Destruction of Guns, logistics dumps, ammunition dumps, engineer park, headquarters, entraining and detaining stations. Helipads, advanced landing grounds, aviation bases, Etc.

Once war begins in earnest, use it simultaneously with a favorable air sit(FAS) for destruction of priority targets. Concentrate on the area of interest rather than influence. What ideally your inherent long-range vectors can do needs to be avoided as targets by RPV. Prevent build up, harass, and delay. Post-strike damage assessment (PSDA).

In an infantry attack, use it to recce enemy defence systems, loc of automatic weapon systems, armour, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) deployed within a node.  Can also help in Information of reinforcement. Direction and move of counterattack forces. Will permit higher degrees of exploitation. Hit gun areas, Destroy all kinds of dumps. Basically, the role they would play is only if a favourable air situation (FAS) exists.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Tactical Level Mitigation

For the Infantry Brigade Commander, the low payloads of these systems will prevent making large hits and will not make a major difference. He has to use it basically for timely and guaranteed information. Survivability is a major requirement. Use it where reconnaissance warriors cannot be sent. Identify mob corridors and choke points and assign specific taskings. As per my perception of the versatility of this system in war, I hardly visualise any permanent effects, their intensity to cause damage is only when there is asymmetry in air and AD.

In our case during war, with the present capability of payload delivery, infantry will be least vulnerable. It’s all about destroying mobile elements and logistics. Therefore, to be on the winning side, we need dispersed defences, overhead protection (OHP), underground logistics, prefabricated store houses, etc.

Imagine in a conventional battle the divisional area of responsibility (AOR) of the pivot corps. The division itself, is spread over 150 kms. How many targets therefore will a RPV, or a swarm achieve. Even if they do, how many can you actually revisit to ensure, the target stays out of battle. Our western adversary has a very strong AD. But our strength is in our air force.  The most critical time for RPVs on both sides of the fence is when the strike corps are building up and the enemy AD still hasn’t opened up.

Changes in Approach

So, what can you do at the brigade level, to mitigate this threat?  Who then is best capable to handle this info and convert the same into timely applicable intelligence? In my assumption, the deputy Commander along with the general staff officer (GSO2) and three Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO), Intelligence Officers (IO) from each Battalion. During the Preliminary stages:

Understand the intelligence requirements.
• Prioritise.
• Detail eqpt for specific tasking.
• Maintain log.
• Revisit and review situation.
• Map the data, establish patterns.
• Match information available with higher HQs.
• Identify intelligence voids.
• Educate the hierarchy.
• Carry out detailed IPB.
• Store data for future reference.

Remember any info that is credible can be used. Counterattack and counter penetration drills will remain. What you need is more area weapons and long-range vectors. Also, you need missile systems for the tactical battlefield. A la Brahmos. One missile will take care of one breach. It’s war, no one is looking for a cost-effective war. We are looking at victory and the annihilation of the enemy.

The very question is do you need to change your tactics? The answer is no. You have to change your methodology to approach the tactics. Therefore, surprise and deception (dxn) is primary. Dummy positions, signaling, wrong intentions, strengths as vulnerabilities etc.

Drills of the infantry are specific. Occupation of defences, this would involve movement, location of assets, generating intelligence, occupation of forward, protection of vital areas (VA) and vital points (VPs) and HQs broadly.

Now in defence we need to ask ourselves, what is the most cost-effective viable target. Drones etc. because of lesser payloads do not have lasting effects. A target therefore can be resuscitated fast. So, infantry can never be the target that gives large dividends. Mobile reinforcement, high mobility vehicles (HMVs), artillery gun areas especially long-range vectors, ALGs, forward arming and refuelling points for helicopters and communication stations will be targeted for max effect. The aim is to delay, prevent and cause disruptions.

So, it’s a simple analogy, these are drones, they don’t have high speeds in comparison to manned air crafts, have visibility issues at night, amplified if there is dust and smoke and have limited payloads.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

The Change

So, what are the imperatives, Multi directional movement, fast uninterrupted move from place A to place B. Creation of deception measures, dummy moves, smoke screens etc. Finally incremental movement, if possible, to the area of action. Correct pre positioning of capacities.

The biggest need is protection of assets from visibility. What he can see is what he can hit. So, give out fewer visual signatures. These are all in the infrastructure development domain. Merge with the environment. Use built up areas (BUAs), confuse the enemy with providing him excessive options.

There has to be no compromises on the close air protection (CAP) and the favourable air situation (FAS). Since the biggest vulnerability is, Supporting armour, guns, ammunition dumps. Logistics nodes. Therefore, disperse, merge with the towns and the villages. Keep things on wheels. Have back up and inbuilt redundancies. Shift from positional def to a mix of positional and mobile defences.

Have drone spotters with high end hearing and seeing equipment in every company. Located discreetly. Be proactive, hit them before they hit you. Drones carrying larger payloads, from turkey etc. need ALGs/ road strips that have a runway, there is no vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). Identify those, address that. The enemy is not interested in the normal. He will excaliberate to hit your nerve centers, the guys in your force matrices that will do the biggest damages.

His biggest threat is the IBGs. His concept is to disallow you the simultaneity and jointness you seek. To separate your armour from your infantry, what the minefields did previously, he aims to do with all assets under his disposition.

He is going to aim at your decision enablers. He will seek to address targets that would change your options, confuse your plans and force you to fight on his terms. The process is simple…allow...disallow...allow again...steer to critical battle spaces for maximum effect... hit... cause disarray. NO PLAN SURVIVES CONTACT. That’s the belief. The pedagogy of war.

Drones are likely to have a predictable fight path, they will try and fly low, under radar coverage, through electronic gaps, or presumed gaps, so in the tactical battle area (TBA) it’s essential that you identify those gaps. Once identified, its but common sense to cover them with detection and identification devices. Technology today exists not only to detect and identify but to engage and destroy. This needs to be done in an overlapping mode, to provide your vulnerabilities maximum depth.

There will be multiple arguments and varied thought processes on analyzing the viability of using drones as swarms. It’s not Star Wars and not the revenge of the avengers. Until the drone comes up with technology that makes it invisible and gives it speeds that enable its survival, they will be detected, and they will be hit. Therefore, the answer is simple, we need to invest in a strong air defence system. The army needs to look low and in operational depth, leave the rest to the IAF’s air defence.


The drones are the future of warfare. A favourite tool to generate options in an asymmetric environment. Their versatility will only increase with time and technology influxes. Artificial intelligence will make it even more lethal. The low cost is the winning factor. A terrorist with little or no education can operate it, with payloads, sitting in a field or a busy market place.

In conventional war, a recce warrior or a Trans Border Patrol armed with this capability of identification, targeting, destruction and PSDA, can accrue immense advantages and unparalleled success. The psychological impact a drone threat will have is enormous, especially in peace time. We got to get our act right. Invest in counter measures first, to secure and protect our assets. Then explore the multi dimensional offensive possibility. There are a million ways of harnessing this technological strength, of course most of it in the unconventional domain.

About the Author

The author is a military analyst and commentator on national security issues. Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India

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