India’s quest for armed drones: 

India’s quest for armed drones: 


Given India’s complex security challenges, UAVs have the potential to aid the Indian military not only in fighting wars but also in intelligence and surveillance.

What has happened?

  • The US government’s decision to grant India the licence for the export of 22 Guardian drones through the US foreign military sales programme will address gaps in India’s maritime surveillance capabilities.
  • India’s quest for armed drones in the absence of a defined strategy for the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) has created misconceptions about their utility for India in conducting cross-border strikes or “surgical strikes” against Pakistan-based terrorists.

India’s pursuit of armed drones

  • The Guardian drones will complement India’s maritime surveillance aircraft at sea in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, helping boost battle space awareness and target acquisition or guide forces on suspected surface threats.
  • The additional capability will free up the navy’s Boeing P-81s for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). This will be critical given the increasing forays of Chinese submarines in the India Ocean region and India’s capacity-deficit in ASW.
  • India’s pursuit of armed drones has led it to order 10 Heron TP drones from Israel and this will likely be the highlight of Indo-Israeli defence cooperation.

What are UAVs?

  • An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft that carries no human pilot or passengers.
  • UAVs, sometimes called “drones” can be fully or partially autonomous but are more often controlled remotely by a human pilot.
  • UAVs are currently used for a number of missions, including reconnaissance and attack roles.

Use of UAVs

  • The use of UAVs permits Indian policymakers to exercise the use of force while substantially lowering the risk to military personnel and acts as a force multiplier in enhancing surveillance capabilities. This expands the variety of missions the Indian Armed Forces can conduct.
  • The use of unmanned systems such as drones removes potential political costs and makes it easier for policymakers to opt for “clean and quick” use of military force rather than the slow and often difficult political and diplomatic options.
  • In India’s case, the Indian military hopes that armed UAVs will give it the capability to conduct symbolic retaliatory attacks against Pakistan-based terrorists while limiting the violation of Pakistani sovereignty and hopefully avoiding any escalatory spiral.

About modern air defences

  • Modern air defences are more dangerous and effective than ever before.
  • Armed drones against targets in Afghanistan or Yemen have succeeded as these have undefended air spaces or in Syria and Pakistan because air defences have not been employed to target them.
  • To mitigate the threat to manned and unmanned aircraft from air defences, India needs long-range stand-off weapons systems along with the requisite advances in intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance.


Given India’s complex security challenges, UAVs have the potential to play a role in enabling the Indian military not only in fighting wars but also in intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, and deterring cross-border terrorist attacks. Currently, however, the integration of unmanned assets, especially armed drones, with manned fighters and combined arms concepts remains at a nascent stage.

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