UAVs: Electronic Watchdogs Over Battlezones

08 Oct, 1999    ·   271

Wg. Cdr. N. K. Pant explains why the DRDO must hasten the development of its Nishant project

The unduly long delay in the development of the Defence Research and Development Organisation's (DRDO) Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) Nishant, has forced the Indian army to sign a deal with Israel for the acquisition of their highly versatile Searcher-II Unmanned aircraft. The possession of these force multipliers and their integration into the operational plans during the Kargil conflict could have helped the ground forces with acquisition of enemy targets, directing artillery fire and battlefield surveillance in the war zone, and the Pakistani intruders could have been driven out earlier with minimum casualties on our side. 



UAVs have assumed an important role in intelligence gathering since the Israelis used them successfully against the Syrain air force in 1982. In the Gulf War of 1991, they were successfully deployed by the US and allied forces to deliver a serious blow to the Iraqi army and air force. NATO forces deployed them during the conflict in Bosnia . The US Air Force was even toying with the idea of using the UAVs in flying drug interdiction missions for the US Southern Command in Central and South America . The Unmanned aircraft can provide the field commander with vital information on the equipment being used by the enemy forces including a rough indication of numbers. It may also be able to spot large-scale field defenses such as ditches and wires. Moreover, UAVs equipped with thermal imaging equipment make it feasible to gather real time intelligence on the enemy activity during the night. To the field commander the real time information matters a lot as it reduces delay between a UAV sighting a target and the information being processed. 



For technologically advanced countries, UAVs are extremely useful for cross border surveillance. Their onboard cameras, night vision, infra-red devices and other sophisticated sensors enable these Unmanned Air Vehicles to relay data to ground positions or airborne posts. They can even act as an unmanned airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft which could remain in the air at great heights for long hours. It is understood that aeronautical scientists in the West have plans to build unmanned combat vehicles capable of launching lethal air strikes against the enemy positions. They are exploring designs of remotely piloted aircraft which would not only be more agile than Cruise missiles, but smaller and more maneuverable than the present day fighter aircraft.



For the army combat formations, the essential role of the UAVs in addition to ascertaining the opponent's order of the battle, is target acquisition and direction of artillery fire. The modern day heavy field guns and rapid-fire artillery rocket systems are capable of hitting the targets at more than 40-km range. Uneven terrain, bad weather, long distances or the enemy's deception plans can hinder or limit the flow of inputs to gunners and hence the need for suitable air observation posts at predetermined heights to direct the gun or rocket crew for accurate pounding of enemy positions. The UAVs flying over the war zone and dedicated to the artillery regiments act like eyes and ears for gunners in a fast changing battle scenario. The naval versions of the unmanned aerial vehicles can supplement the tasks presently performed by maritime patrol aircraft. The UAVs could be utilized in feeding the naval fleet commanders with essentials inputs in the spheres of reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, surveillance of enemy ships submarines besides target acquisition on the high seas.



The technology of reconnaissance has grown rapidly during recent years, often with much the same gadgetry as is fitted to UAVs and other aircraft. Armed forces depend on sound intelligence inputs for planning their offensive and defensive operations against their opposing forces. The UAVs form an integral part of the electronic eyes in the sky capable of round the clock scanning of the war zone, in conjunction with spy satellites, manned surveillance and photo reconnaissance aircraft, ground based listening cum observation posts, radar stations and various other means of obtaining intelligence. Sometimes all these put together produce a maze of information which is difficult to process in the shortest possible time available to field commanders at different levels. To achieve the maximum out of the UAVs, certain specified missions are normally programmed for them. But it is the user's ingenuity and the sophistication of their payloads, which will determine the efficient functioning of these remotely controlled unmanned flying machines. As our army has accepted the UAV concept a long time back, the DRDO must hasten the development of its Nishant project to provide it with a versatile indigenous unmanned flying machine for the successful conduct of operations.