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Guest Column | Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)

New Predators
Armed UAVs, their strength & limitations and the future of air warfare
 
By Lt Gen. B.S. Pawar (retd)

Modern warfare is characterised by highly mobile operations with the tactical scenario changing rapidly and the theatre of operations becoming more and more extensive. The advent of long range weapon systems and mechanization has extended the area of influence much beyond the line of sight of ground based sensors. In such a scenario field commanders require an organic, responsive, economically viable, multi source, long endurance, near real time reconnaissance
capability to collect, process and report intelligence throughout the level of conflict. Additionally, commanders need the ability to obtain data from anywhere within enemy territory, 24 hours a day and regardless of weather.
With the limitations of ground based surveillance and target acquisition devices, aerial means are gaining greater importance. Manned aircrafts run a greater risk factor because of introduction of sophisticated fire control and missile systems. In such a scenario the answer lies in the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). UAVs are remotely piloted or self piloted aircraft that can carry cameras, sensors, communication equipment, or other payloads. They have been used in the reconnaissance and intelligence gathering role since 1950s and more challenging roles are envisaged including combat missions. Unmanned vehicles are not impeded by restraints imposed on manned systems where both the aircraft and crew could be lost. Infact, they are increasingly being employed for missions that were hitherto the domain of manned aircraft.
From their early use as target drones and remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), UAVs were employed for reconnaissance purposes during the Korean War by USA and subsequently as highly classified special purpose aircraft during the conflict in South East Asia. The revolution in unmanned warfare has been a long time coming and it got further impetus ever since the Israelis demonstrated how UAVs could be effectively used in operations in the Yom Kippur war in 1973 and subsequently in Lebanon. Interest in UAVs further intensified following their successful employment on the battlefield in Operations Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom in Iraq- tactical and theatre level unmanned aircraft flew 100,000 flight hours in support of the above operations. In Afghanistan, the Global Hawk and Predator UAVs have been used extensively in carrying out both Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) and combat missions. The United Nations and NATO activities in former Yugoslavia also brought international attention to the relevance of UAVs on the battlefield. While Israel and USA have been the pioneers in UAV development, today at least 14 countries are using/ developing over 76 different types of UAVs for surveillance, target acquisition, electronic warfare etc.
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