Category Archives: Armament

Cupping the Pacific — China’s Rising Influence

(Published March 27, 2018  IndraStra Global

Cupping the Pacific — China’s Rising Influence

China’s Rising Influence in the Pacific through Sale of Arms

There is one aspect of the recent revolution in Hawaii which seems to have been kept out of sight, and that is the relation of the islands, not merely to our own and to European countries, but to China. How vitally important that may become in the future is evident from the great number of Chinese, relatively to the whole population, now settled in the islands…….China, however, may burst her barriers eastward as well as westward, toward the Pacific as well as toward the European Continent.

                        Alfred Thayer Mahan, Captain, United States Navy. New York, Jan. 30, 1893


Arms sales are always for enhancement of self-interest of the seller country, they are primarily for furtherance of own strategic and commercial interests. The strategic reasons include, widening of areas of influence vis-a-vis a perceived adversary, projection of power in the desired region, quid pro quo proposition in times of hostilities through utilisation of recipient’s military facilities and resources or for gaining political upper hand in international bodies. Arms sales are invariably never without a hidden agenda on the part of the seller. The sales are justified under the garb of strengthening self defence capabilities of the recipient or providing support against an adversary. The commercial interests include furtherance of own defence manufacturing capabilities, enhancement of the profits accrued to its own defence industries or as a quid pro quo for other products of interest from the recipient.

This article takes in to account only the certified arms sales as recorded by SIPIRI and does not detail political, social, educational or other soft-influence approaches in the Pacific region by China. The article considers towering influence of the United States in the Pacific region since the second world war as a given and hence the arms sales by the US are not discussed vis-à-vis China. Further, an attempt has been made to indicate to the rising Chinese influence in view of its sales of arms in the region so as to spur some timely corrective measures to ensure cooperative and collective freedom of the Pacific commons. The countries considered in the article comprise SE Asia and South America.

American Approach to the Pacific Ocean

The American approach to the Pacific is largely an implementation of the thoughts of Mahan detailed in his book ‘The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future’[1]. He had held forth on the importance of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) for the Pacific, stating that they should be under the American control. He foresaw that the commercial shipping from Japan and China would pass near to the Hawaii island group and thus provide America a strong position in the Pacific to safeguard its maritime interests. He had said that Hawaii forms the centre of a circle of about 2100 nm radius in the Pacific, the periphery of which touches the archipelago system of Australia- New Zealand as well as the American west coast. The power which will hold Hawaii island group, in his opinion, would over see the Pacific. It is for the simple reason that in case of hostilities the supply lines would stretch back to over 3000-4000 nm each way making such an assault against America unstainable. The United States had structured its maritime thrust in to the Pacific along a virtual ‘arrow head’ from its west coast to Hawaii on to Guam and thereafter to Taiwan. Further, the concept of Island chains was constructed utilising island groups in the north-west pacific[2] during the cold war, to contain the spread of communism by Soviet Union and China. Some distances which describe the US ~6940 nm arrowhead across the Pacific up till Taiwan are: San Francisco – Hawaii (Honolulu) ~2095nm; Hawaii (Honolulu) – Guam ~3333nm; Guam – Taiwan ~512 nm. With Hawaii and Guam as entrenched US naval bases and the fact that a warship can sail 600 nm per day at 25kts the arrowhead is well established logistically to sustain prolonged operations from the west coast of the US. The allies would also provide unstinted support in times of inevitable hostilities in the region.

Chinese Perception of the Pacific

Chinese view their seaboard frontier as seas of denied opportunities, seas where their access is perpetually under watch by inimical powers. The Chinese threat perception encompasses Japan in the north and Malacca in the south. The access to the SLOCS from the Gulf is overlooked by India right up to Malacca straits, thereafter by nations which have been under the western influence. Indian island Chain of Laccadives sits astride the important 9-degree channel SLOC and the Indian island chain of Andamans looks over the entry to Malacca straits. It may be interesting to note that Singapore and Malaysian port of Penang lie just ~1176 nm and ~807 nm from Port Blair in Andamans.

The construct of the island chains is viewed as an attempt by the Western Powers to inhibit its naval expansion to within the First Island Chain. Once China has started looking seaward it finds layers of obstruction lined up in the Pacific to dissuade it from becoming a modern Naval power. The Chinese aim in the Pacific appears to be; to overcome or pierce the island chains at their weak points by strengthening its onshore long-range missile capabilities and its naval might. Japan and Guam are considered the strongest components of the first and second Island Chains. Taiwan and Philippines are relegated to a weak component status. However, it is held that Taiwan needs to be in the Chinese fold for a strong grip on the seas.

The US-Japan-Australia-India ‘quad’ (with France in support), if and when it takes concrete shape, would definitely be taken as an attempt to thwart Chinese ambitions of attaining global power status in its envisaged multipolar world. The positioning of road/rail mobile Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBM) DF-21 D and DF-26 C in the recent past is to put a serious deterrent in place to thwart any intimidating attempt by the US Navy. It is claimed that the DF 21 D (CSS-5 Mod 5) has a range of ~1,500 km and is armed with a Manoeuvrable Re-entry Vehicle (MaRV). DF 21 D has the ability to attack large ships like the aircraft carriers. DF-26, has a claimed range of 3,000-4,000 km enough to strike Guam. It is estimated that China has command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities required for targeting ships at sea. However, ASBMs also require over-the-horizon (OTH) targeting support that can integrate target information from multiple sources. Once fully deployed the Chinese ASBM system-of-systems would be the world’s first system[3] capable of targeting a moving carrier group with long-range ballistic missiles fired from land-based mobile launchers and would pose a grave threat to the US forces and bases in the region.

China appears to be forging along a strategic trajectory in the Pacific in that it is developing its Navy to blue water capabilities, upgrading its land based ballistic missiles to target mobile assets of the adversary with conventional and nuclear warheads at great ranges, and courting countries in and across the Pacific through Arms sales to build up sympathetic logistic linkages to counter US influence. It is opined that China would keep building up its military might and its cross-Pacific network through sale of arms and/or dole of economic benefits to nations till such time that Taiwan comes firmly in its fold thereafter it could plan for making a bold move in the Pacific to challenge the US power.

Arms sales by China

Chinese arms and weapons are in demand as China has started supplying modern equipment which can meet the economic requirements of middle and lower tier countries. The arms are cheap, reasonably reliable and are supplied with access to easy term loans from Chinese banks. Chinese unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles are considered nearly as good as those offered for export by western countries. This has made China a leading arms supplier across the globe. It is understood that the guiding tenets of China’s arms export include, non-interference in internal matters of the country like its political or human rights record; perceived strengthening of the recipient’s self-defence capabilities; and bringing about regional arms balance. China also offers transfer of technology which makes countries gain a degree of self-reliance and allows development of their own defence industry. Whether the loans offered push the recipients into a debt trap or force it to part with its resources or make it pliable to extract military gains for China is yet to be seen. The fact that the importing country becomes politically indebted to China cannot be denied, even when a country is hedging or diversifying its sources of arms import, as it would definitely adopt a more benign stance where China is concerned.

The major countries where China seeks influence in the Pacific are those in SE Asia, Oceania and countries in South America.

Arms Transfer to SE Asian Countries by China

China has arms trade with seven of Southeast Asia’s countries namely Indonesia, Myanmar Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Timor-Leste.

Some of the major Arms transfers to SE Asian countries by China during the period 2010-2017 as per SIPIRI Arms trade register are:

Indonesia- Surface to Air Missiles (SAM), Anti-Ship Missiles (ASM), Naval Guns, Close-in weapon system (CIWS), Anti-Aircraft Guns (AA Guns), Multi-Rocket Launchers (MRL), various Radars, Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).

Myanmar- Frigates, various Radars, ASM, Trainer/combat aircraft, Naval Guns, Main Battle Tanks (MBT), MRL, UAV, UCAV, SAM, Transport aircraft, Fifth generation aircraft J-17, Armoured Fire Support Vehicle (AFSV), Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC).

Malaysia- Offshore patrol vessels (OPV)

Thailand- Self-propelled MRL, ASM, Arty Locating Radar, SAM, Tank, Submarines, Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), Anti-ship and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) torpedoes.

Cambodia- Helicopters, Transport aircraft

Laos- Transport and light aircraft

Timor-Leste- Patrol aircraft

As far as Philippines is concerned, China has recently donated 3000 Assault rifles for tackling the drug mafia.

Interests in Oceania

 ‘China is not just filling a political vacuum created by Western neglect…. [i]t is incorporating the Pacific islands into its broader quest to become a major Asia-pacific power with a long-term goal to replace the US as the preeminent power in the Pacific Ocean’.

John Henderson and Benjamin Reilly, 2003[4]

Among the Pacific rim countries, Chinese relations with Australia and New Zealand have been very good traditionally, however, there has been a turbulence with respect to Australia in the recent past. Its relations with Tonga have raised eyebrows in the neighbourhood since it has a population of only 300-400 Chinese people and offers practically no economic benefits apart from its vast unexplored EEZ and fishery resources.

A word about maritime Tonga would not be out of place here. Tonga has a settlement history of over 3000 years based upon the discovery of Lapita pottery fragments on the islands. Lapita people are now supposed to be the ancestors of the Polynesian people. The Lapita people were considered to be proficient sailors and expert navigators.  The Polynesian people succeeding Lapita settlers were great sailors and sea warriors. Tongans also continued the seafarers’ legacy and excelled in building large bi-hulled, 20-30-meter-long, Kalia sailing crafts. The structure of the Kalia was unique in that it had one larger and one smaller hull. Stability could be achieved with the smaller hull rising with the ocean swell and the larger hull dipping in the swell.  They were joined by a platform forming a sort of bridge. The Tongans have been crisscrossing the pacific islands regularly over the past three millennia.  In fact, it is said that no Fiji boat ventured to and from Tonga without Tongan sailors on board. The Tongans procured stone tooling from Fiji, Society islands and Samoa. Tonga had also became a trading hub during the past millennia. Tongan waters have been a witness to one of the most filmed mutinies at sea amidst its Ha’apai island group, namely “the Mutiny on the Bounty”.

Tonga, today, sits astride the SLOC from Asia to South America & Australia/New Zealand to the US and has underground sea cables running through its EEZ. It also has rights to a number of satellite launch sites[5]. The area has a large number of air strips and ports.

Apart from the economic aid, humanitarian assistance and education programs, Chinese ships make frequent goodwill visits to the islands.  China had also gifted a turbo prop aircraft to Tonga, which had ruffled feathers in New Zealand. Recently the King Tupou VI of Tonga visited China where he stated that “Tonga agrees with China on its vision to build a new type of international relations and stands ready to work with China to build a community with a shared future for mankind.”[6]

Keeping the above in view, it does not appear that Chinese largesse towards these islands is a display of its charitable and humane side. It is Tonga’s strategic location on the third island chain that could be the more likely reason for the Chinese strategic foray in to the region.

Arms transfers to South American countries by China

It is noteworthy that China has not only made arms sales to SE Asian countries and is making friendly overtures in Oceania but that it has also made deep inroads through arms sales in South America. Significantly, it has sold arms to Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Trinidad & Tobago.

Some of the major Arms transfers to South American countries by China during the period 2010-2017 as per SIPIRI Arms trade register are:

Venezuela- Radars, Trainer/combat aircraft, Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles (SRAAM), Transport aircraft, self-propelled MRL/Mortar, infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), Armoured Protected Vehicles (APV), Armoured personnel carriers (APC), light tanks, ASM

Peru- SAM, 122 mm MRL

Argentina- APCs

Ecuador- Air Search Radars

Bolivia- Trainer/ combat aircraft, helicopters, APV

Trinidad and Tobago- OPVs

Strategically China has thus ‘cupped’ the Pacific by securing not only its south eastern shores and Oceania but also the western shores of South America.

San Francisco System

A Japanese peace treaty was signed on 6 September 1951 between 49 allied countries and Japan which also contained elements of regional security. A separate security treaty was signed between the US and Japan on that day which made Japan’s economy, military, and diplomacy dependent upon the US. There were a slew of bilateral agreements and treaties thereafter which resulted in a loose and flexible collective security & cooperation structure in the region. The result was a hub and spoke structure with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia as spokes and the US as the hub. Historian John W Dower coined the term San Francisco System (SFS) to describe this informal arrangement under the security umbrella of the United States. The SFS continues to this day in the absence of any other formal security structure covering the Pacific region.


China has been working on the strategy of casting a strategic net across the seas with its arms sales which raises security concerns for nations directly or indirectly dependent upon sea trade. It has almost put in place a multi-polar power structure which would be difficult to dislodge. The string of pearls in the IOR, has grown in to a studded ‘Jade Necklace Across the Oceans’[7] with its pendant as the cupped Pacific.

The Chinese arms sales should not be wished away as insignificant since the market share of the US remains undented, it should instead be assessed in terms of collapsing geo-strategic and geo- political space of the US and its future ramifications.

The option available today in the Pacific is striving for freedom of the Ocean commons and loosening the trade & economic web spun by China through strengthening the spokes in the San Francisco System. It may be worthwhile to look for additional spokes in the nearly 70-year-old system especially in the third island chain. Island nations with rich maritime heritage like Tonga offer a good strategic foot hold and geostrategic advantage in the Pacific. For example, Tonga is ~3182 nm from US base at Guam, ~2752 nm from Hawaii, and ~1959 nm from Sydney. It has a large swath of uninhabited islands which can be utilised for security infrastructure. With the available sensor technologies innovative and cost effective ISR stations can be created which in turn would help in the development of the South Pacific Nations and wean them away from the influence of China.


A new node in these islands nations offers the US the flexibility of using the existing sea ports and airstrips as well as an alternate manoeuvring and staging Area. In turn it could accrue scarce strategic space and strengthen the third island chain.

Time to act is slipping away!

[1] Mahan A. T. The Interest of America in Sea Power, Present and Future. (Accessed 10 Mar 2018)

[2] On 4 January 1954, US State Department Advisor John Foster Dulles propounded the Island Chain Concept, comprising of three island chains. The key component of the First Island Chain was Taiwan (it was thereafter christened as one of the Unsinkable Aircraft Carriers); it extended from northern Philippines & Borneo, up to Kuril Islands. The second line of defence was from Mariana Island to Islands of Japan. The Third Chain’s key component was Hawaii; it began at Aleutians and ended in Oceania.

[3] Andrew S. Erickson. Chinese Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Development and Counter-intervention Efforts

Testimony before Hearing on China’s Advanced Weapons. Panel I: China’s Hypersonic and Manoeuvrable Re-Entry Vehicle Programs U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Washington, DC.23 February 2017. (Accessed 18 Mar 2018)

[4] John Henderson. Benjamin Reilly. Dragon in paradise: China’s rising star in Oceania. The National Interest; Summer 2003. (Accessed 18 Mar 2018)

[5] What Does China Want with Tonga? Featuring Gordon Chang & Cleo Paskal’, online video, 2014,, (accessed 15 March 2018).

[6] China, Tonga agree to promote strategic partnership. Xinhua. 24 Mar 2018. (accessed 17 March 2018).

[7] Kulshrestha, Sanatan. “FEATURED | Jade Necklace: Naval Dimension of Chinese Engagement with Coastal Nations Across the Oceans”. IndraStra Global 02, no. 12 (2016) 0032.  (Accessed 19 Mar 2018)

Civilian Micro Drones, IEDs, and Extremists


Kulshrestha, S. “Civilian Microdrones, IEDs, and Extremists”, IndraStra Global Vol. 04, Issue No: 01 (2018), 0035, | ISSN 2381-3652


“I look to the skies
and expect artificial passenger pigeons,
blackening the light,
people taking potshots for kicks
imagining one day they will be extinct.”
Carl-John X Veraj

The proliferation of COTS drones
Unmanned aerial vehicles/systems (UAVs/UAS), have been used by military forces in conflict zones to meet various operational requirements for a long time. However, it is only now, due to the availability of Drone technologies from commercial off the shelf (COTS) market sources, that the use of the UAV/Drones [End note 1]. in the civilian arena have found multifarious applications. This availability of Drones is also being gainfully exploited by terrorists/extremists/non-state actors/insurgents & rebels for furthering their nefarious purposes. The Drones have been weaponised innovatively to drop mini bombs, booby trapping, and carrying out kamikaze attacks on the targets of interest. The exploding of a precision crashed drone, in a target area using remote means, at a time of choice is a more recent phenomenon. For example, Skywalker X-8 drone has been spotted by Kurdish forces since 2015. It is understood that a modified Skywalker X-8 (drone borne improvised explosive device or DBIED-End note 2), white in colour, crashed at approximately 1200 hours on 2 October 2016, about 30 to 40 metres from the Peshmerga trench in the Mosul Dam area. Because the drone was light (approx. 2 kg), it was assumed that it was not booby-trapped. It exploded soon thereafter, resulting in the death of two Peshmerga soldiers and wounding of two French paratroopers. The burns they endured were probably due to the detonation of Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil explosive (ANFO), and from the melted expanded polyolefin (EPO) material of the UAV body generated by the heat of the explosion {1}. The explosion of the UAV created a small crater (approximately 15-20 cm in diameter) on the ground where the victims were standing. Since then, the Isis has frequently used weaponised Drones to carry out attacks. The type of Drones are commercially available Chinese mini hobby UAVs with ranges upwards of 7km and payloads of up to 40kg {2}.
As per a report by Bard College, UK, the Drone use by extremists has increased exponentially in 2017. Drones are being used in conflict zones like, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Philippines. In fact, the ISIS has a well organised system for its Drone operations, it is understood that the US had targeted the leaders of the ISIS Drone program during airstrikes in 2017 {3}. The easy availability of cheap drones in the hands of the extremists has also raised the spectre of the extremists carrying out a spectacular attack using a large number of drones akin to a swarm attack by locusts.
Counter UAS – cUAS [End note 3]
The use of consumer drones by Militant groups; for battlefield reconnaissance, dropping small bombs/IEDs, propaganda footage for recruitment videos, acts of terrorism, flying drones into the flight path of commercial airliners, swarming, or creating fear in the minds of public by other acts etc; has accelerated the developments of Counter UAS technologies in major countries.
Western Countries. Whereas the militaries today are conscious that in case of a drone swarm attack it may not be feasible to destroy or take under control of all the attackers it may be a better idea to have a calibrated and a multi layered approach to the problem. This may include both the kinetic and the electronic warfare options. The threat from small UAVs operated by extremist lone wolves are also being looked at with concern. Some of the efforts at tackling drones by the US include applicability of the British Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS), which integrates Blighter’s A400 series Ku-band electronic scanning air security radar; Chess Dynamics’ stabilized electro-optic director, infrared and daylight cameras, and target tracking software; and an Enterprise directional radio frequency (RF) inhibitor to detect, track, classify, disrupt, and defeat UAVs up to a range of six miles {4}. The US Army is utilising multiple equipment to deal with the drone threat. For example; US Army has announced a $65 million contract to SRC Inc. New York, to develop, build, and maintain the low slow small unmanned aerial system integrated defeat system; it has also awarded Leonardo DRS, USA a contract of $16 million to develop a counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) capability to protect soldiers from enemy drones; and it has purchased the “Dronebuster,” which is a 5-pound radar gun-like device that soldiers can use to jam weaponized commercial drones.
Drone Defence of UK uses Dedrone DroneTracker to detect and identify unauthorized UAVs, then utilises either the man-portable Dynopis E1000MP to jam the UAV or its Net Gun X1 C-UAV system to capture the aircraft. Operating from either a fixed location or as a mobile unit, DroneTracker uses acoustic, optical, and infrared sensors for real-time detection and identification.
Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse, France, has developed a cUAV System combining the company’s radars, IR cameras, and direction finders with state-of-the-art data fusion and signals analysis. The system can identify an approaching drone and assess its threat potential at ranges between 5km and 10km, then offer electronic countermeasures like its Smart Responsive Jamming Technology, to minimize the risk of collateral damage.
Russia. The first Russian permanent tactical unit to combat unmanned aircraft has been positioned around Kursk {5}. It is equipped with R-330KMK Zhitel or “Resident” automated radio interference systems. These systems are understood to be able to detect and jam radio signals and interfere with UAV mission systems up to a radius of 30km. “Zhitel” (R-330Zh) system consists of two elements: a wheeled platform with an operator station for the reconnaissance system (0.1-2GHz frequency range) and a trailer with emitters and antennas of the active jamming system. The system’s purpose is to detect, track and jam the Inmarsat and Iridium satellite communications and GSM 1900 cell phones, and also to act against GSM navigation system utilizing the NAVSTAR satellites. “Zhitel” may be operated autonomously or it may, alternatively, be remotely controlled by the R-330KMK station. Its range has been defined as 15 kilometres in case of the ground-system jamming and 200 kilometres, with regards to the airborne platforms.
Israel. At the Singapore Air show in February 2016, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) revealed the Drone Guard, its new system for drone detection, identification and flight disruption. ELTA, a subsidiary of IAI, offers 3D radars and Electro-Optical (EO) sensors for detection and identification, as well as dedicated Electronic Attack (EA) jamming systems for disrupting drone flight {6}.
China. China’s Ministry of National Defense released images of the new cUAS on 28 Nov 2017. The cUAS is a container based, road mobile short-range air defence system. As per UAS Vision {7} ; the detection and jamming vehicle is equipped with roof mounted radar, electronic jamming system, and a small electro-optical (EO) ball turret. The other vehicle has a roof mounted laser emitter, a tracker (EO and thermal), and a laser range-finder on a stabilized elevatable and rotatable platform. SZMID High Technology Co. Ltd of China, has offered a new cUAS against illegal intrusion, which claims that it can disrupt the navigation of an unmanned aircraft, forcing it to land or return to base {8}.
Attack by Rebels on Russian Bases in Syria using Drone Swarm
“As for these attacks, they were undoubtedly prepared well. We know when and where these unmanned vehicles were handed over [to the attackers], and how many of them there were. These aerial vehicles were disguised – I would like to stress that – as homemade. But it is obvious that some high-tech equipment was used, {9}”
Vladimir Putin
On 6th Jan 2018 rebels in Syria launched a Swarm attack using drone borne IEDs. The attack involved using more than a dozen of weaponized unmanned aerial vehicles on Russia’s Khmeimim airbase and a Russian navy supply base in Tartus. Khmeimim or Hmeimim Air Base, is a Syrian airbase is located south-east of the city of Latakia in Hmeimim. It is being operated by Russia under a 2015 treaty with Syria. The airfield facilities of Bassel Al-Assad International Airport are utilised by the Khmeimim Air Base. The Russian naval facility at the Syrian port city of Tartus is a leased facility. It is used as a minor repairs and logistic supply base by the Russian Navy.
It is understood that 13 drones were used in the attacks, seven were shot down using Pantsir-S1 system and six were force landed using electronic warfare {10} . The Pantsir-S1 is an anti-missile and anti-aircraft system which has a combined missile/gun for automatically engaging up to 4 targets simultaneously. However, using an anti-aircraft/anti-missile system to bring down ISD modified COTS drones is a very expensive way to neutralise the drone swarms, and militaries are looking for cheaper solutions and measures for the same {11}.
The bombs attached to the captured drones were recovered and had “semi-transparent casings, white plastic fins, and a thick metal hook to attach them underwing.” The bomb’s explosive payload consisted of metal ball bearings epoxied to an explosive core and placed in a mortar bomb-like aerodynamic shell {12} . It is understood that Russians were able to track down the militant launch site after decoding the data recorded on the UAVs and kill the militants responsible for the swarm attack.
The swarm attack by rebels has caught the world by surprise mainly because of the complexities involved in controlling and directing a large number of drones to designated target tens of kilometres away. That the rebels have been able to modify the commercial drones to carry explosives as well as procure rudimentary software to carry out a coordinated attack has shaken the Russians and Americans alike. The possibility of such attacks in near future on non-military targets and urban areas cannot be ruled out.

“The incident itself, while it wasn’t necessarily a spectacular attack by terrorist standards, it certainly portends a very dark future.”
Colin Clarke, RAND
Chinese Drones
A look at China’s ingress into the global drone market is required at this juncture since China is making sophisticated and inexpensive drones that are beginning to dominate the global military and civil markets. The emphasis in this section is on drones which could be easily acquired for exploitation by extremists or rogue regimes.
Military drones. Chinese drones have been purchased by many countries including allies of the US. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have purchased Wing Loongs, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Myanmar operate CH-3. Nigeria uses CH-3 against Boko Haram. Saudi Arabia and the UAE utilise CH-4s and Wing Loongs against Houthi in Yemen {13} . Iraq has got CH-4s. Jordan and Egypt have also bought Chinese drones. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the manufacturers of CH-4 UAV, have already set up production factories in Pakistan, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia {14}.
The bigger combat UAVs come under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) but China is not a signatory to the same and can therefore proliferate its military drones.
Commercial Drones. China’s DJI is a company that has risen to one of the top manufacturers in the commercial drone market. DJI is famous for its Phantom and Mavic Pro drones. It represents 50 percent of market across all price categories {15} . DJI’s rise in the consumer drone market has been due to its ability to innovate and produce feature rich drones. DJI also reduces its prices periodically forcing other manufacturers, at times, out of the market.
The commercial drones are far cheaper and easily available in the open market, further, there is no current binding or international law against sale of commercial drones and therefore it is very lucrative for the extremists to buy and modify them to suit their objectives.
China’s Swarm technology
“Our swarming drone technology is the top in the world,”
Zhang Dengzhou of CETC, China
For years, the U.S. appeared to have a clear lead when it came to swarming drones. In 2015, the Advanced Robotic Systems Engineering Laboratory (ARSENL) of USA, had claimed a world record by launching a swarm of 50 drones. However, at the 11th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) bettered that record with a swarm of 67 drones flying together {16}. The drone used was Skywalker X6s, made by the Skywalker Technology Co. of China. Skywalker drones are popular because they’re cheap, readily-available, and easy to customize. ISIS has adapted Skywalker drones to carry bombs {17}. At the Zhuhai 2016 Air show, the SW-6 was showcased, it is a small drone with folding wings which can be dropped from a mother aircraft. Its stated role is reconnaissance, but it is also a good candidate for China’s drone “swarm” project.
Chinese Micro Killer Drones
There are a number of combat drones or CUAVs developed by China but of interest and likely application in swarm warfare include the CH-802 and CH-803. These drones have been developed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
CH-802. It is a fixed wing micro air vehicle (MAV) with elevated high-wing configuration and V-tail. It is hand launchable. It has a cylindrical fuselage and a two-blade propeller driven by an electric motor. It has a payload capacity of 1 kg and a range of 30 km.
CH-803. It is a fixed-wing UAV with a cylindrical fuselage propelled by two-blade propeller driven by engine mounted in the nose. It is launched by catapult and recovered by a parachute. It has a range of 30 km and a payload capacity of 3.5 kg.
The Future
The drone and drone swarms in the arsenal of the extremists are going to be here for a long time to come. The drones are going to carry more and more harmful weapons like the chemical sprays or the biological viruses. They will be deployed against the state & civil infrastructure as well as personnel. The targeting and guidance is going to be better and better in tandem with the advances in commercial sector. Better speed, obstacle avoidance, longer range, night operability and payload capacities etc. are going to be the norm in near future.
India, as of today, appears to be deficient in effective cUAS/anti-DBIED defensive measures. Major nations across the globe have already strengthened their capabilities in this field while pursuing Unmanned technologies. It is true that as of now such attacks by extremists have more of a propaganda value than a debilitating one. However, considering the capabilities which can be easily transferred by our adversaries to the terrorists under the current trade regimes, and without any fear of international repercussion, the feasibility of a multitude of attacks upon diverse targets launched from across the borders by non-state actors should not be ruled out. India could capitalise on innovative use of artificial intelligence, AI in collating information leading to purchase of drones, their modification, purchase of civil explosives & chemicals, flight pattern of drones etc to augment the EW and kinetic options of cUAS.
It is imperative that India should put in place an AI based robust kinetic and EW counter drone program at the earliest for protection of the military as well as civil areas of interest to the terrorists.


1.Drones and UAVs are considered to be synonymous references.

2. DBIED (Drone-borne improvised explosive device) – is a drone attached to a bomb fabricated in an improvised manner incorporating destructive, lethal, noxious, pyrotechnic, or incendiary chemicals and designed to destroy or incapacitate personnel or vehicles.

3. A UAS is an all-encompassing description that encapsulates the aircraft or UAV, the ground-based controller, and the system of communications connecting the two.


[1] The Use of Weaponised UAVs by the Islamic State: Analysis of DBIED Incident on Peshmerga Forces in the Mosul Dam Area on 2 October 2016. A Report by Sahan Research Ltd London circulated on 29th December 2016. (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[2] Charles Clover and Emily Feng. Isis use of hobby drones as weapons tests Chinese makers. Financial Times. 11 December 2017. (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[3] Drone Year in Review: 2017. Center for the Study of the Drone, Bard College, 3 January 2018. (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[4] J.R. Wilson. The dawn of counter-drone technologies. Military & Aerospace. 1 November 2016. (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[5] Philip Butterworth-Hayes. Russia forms first battlefield tactical counter-UAV unit Kursk. Unmanned Airspace. 01 November 2017. (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[6] IAI Unveils “Drone Guard”: Drone Detection and Disruption Counter UAV Systems. Israel Defense. 18 February 2016. (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[7] China Test-Fires New Laser-Based C-UAS. UAS Vision. 30 Nov 2017. (accessed 18 Jan 2018)

[8] Dylan Malyasov. Chinese defence company offers new counter-UAV system. 22, Sep 2017. (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[9] Putin slams drone attack on Russian base in Syria as provocation. Russian Politics & Diplomacy January 11, 20:01. (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[10] Kyle Mizokami. Russian Bases in Syria Attacked with Black Market Drones. Popular Mechanics. 12 Jan 2018. (accessed 20 Jan 2018)

[11]Marcus Weisgerber.  Air Force Buys Mysterious Israeli Weapon to Kill ISIS Drones. Defence One.23 Feb 2017. (accessed 20 Jan 2018)

[12] 10 Ibid.

[13] Ben Brimelow. Chinese drones may soon swarm the market – and that could be very bad for the US. Business Insider. 17 Nov 2017.  (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[14] Minnie Chan. Chinese drone factory in Saudi Arabia first in Middle East. South China Morning Post.26 Mar 2017. (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[15] April Glaser. DJI is running away with the drone market. Recode. 14 April 2017. (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[16] David Hambling. If Drone Swarms Are the Future, China May Be Winning. Popular Mechanics. Dec 23, 2016. (accessed 19 Jan 2018)

[17] 16 ibid.

Massive Ordnance Air Blast, MOAB – A Perspective

(Published in CASS Journal, Vol4, No.3. Jul-Sep 2017. ISSN 2347-9191)

On 13th April 2017 at 7:32 p.m. local time[1], U.S. Forces Afghanistan conducted a strike using a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, MOAB dropped from an U.S. aircraft on an ISIS (Khorasan) tunnel complex in Achin district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Some of the immediate reactions were: –

-Mr Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan, said that the strike was “designed to support the efforts of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)” and “precautions were taken to avoid civilian casualties”[2],

-Mr Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s former president condemned the attacks in a series of tweets saying “This is not the war on terror but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons”[3]

In January 2015, the ISIS had announced the establishment of its Khorasan branch, it was also the first time the ISIS had officially spread its wings outside the Arab world. In December 2015, analyst Harleen Gambhir of Institute for the Study of War, ISW had indicated that ISIS is likely to expand in Afghanistan- Pakistan region[4] as ISIS associate Wilayat Khorasan, controlling Nangarhar province, had commenced attacking Kabul and Jalalabad. It was estimated that ISIS influence is likely to increase further due to many factors such as, infighting among Taliban, vacuum due withdrawal of international forces and reduction in competition with al-Qaeda due to support of Khorasan.

Nangarhar Province is located in eastern Afghanistan, on the Afghanistan – Pakistan border. It is bordered by Kunar and Laghman provinces in the north, Pakistan in the east and south, and Kabul and Logar provinces in the west. It provides the easiest passage to Pakistan from Afghanistan. Topographical Features of Nangarhar include Spin Ghar and Safed Mountain Ranges along the southern border; belt of forests along southern mountain ranges and in Dara-I-Nur District in north; Khyber Pass in Mahmund Dara District in east; bare soil, and rocky outcrop throughout centre of the province. Achin, the target of the MOAB on 13 April 2017, is one of the districts in southern Nangarhar, bordering Pakistan.

The ISIS (K) were using a tunnel and cave complex in Tora Bora area which was apparently created by Central Intelligence Agency, CIA for the Mujahideen in 1980 in their fight against the Soviets. Tora Bora has steep heights, mountains, valleys and caves. The Tora Bora CIA complex constitutes of miles of tunnels, bunkers and camps built with the financial support of CIA 35 miles south west of Jalalabad[5]. It is understood that the complex was built by the Saudi Binladen group and the young Osama bin Laden had played a big role in its construction. The complex is said to have its own ventilation and hydroelectric power supply system.  Subsequently Osama bin Laden had hidden in the same tunnel complex before escaping to Pakistan during attack on Tora Bora. The MOAB was dropped on the same mountain ridge in the Achin district of Nangarhar.[6]

Conventional/Incendiary/Fuel Air Explosive/Thermobaric Bombs

It is required to differentiate between conventional, incendiary, Fuel Air Explosive and Thermobaric bombs because MOAB is compared with different types of Bombs like the Russian 15, 650-pound Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power (ATBIP) also called the FOAB (father of all bombs), as well as the 30,000-pound GBU-57A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP).

Conventional Bombs. A conventional bomb is a metal casing filled with high explosives (HE). Conventional bombs are generally classified according to the ratio of explosive to total weight. They are mainly of three types namely general purpose or GP, penetration and cluster bombs (The Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is an international treaty that has prohibited the use, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster bombs, which scatters submunitions (“bomblets”) over an area). A GP bomb produces a combination of blast and fragmentation effects with weight of its explosive filling approximately equal to half of its total weight. In the fragmentation bomb the explosive filling is up to 20% of its total weight, with fragmentation cases making up the remaining weight. The damage is caused due to fragments travelling at high velocities. The penetration bombs have up to 25/30% of explosive filling and remaining is taken up by the body designed for penetration.  The kinetic energy of the bomb or the shaped charge or a combination of both achieve the penetration of the target.

Incendiary Explosives. Incendiaries cause damage by fire. They are used to burn supplies, equipment, and structures.

Fuel Air Explosives FAE. These disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel ignited by a detonator to affect an explosion. The wave front expands rapidly due to overpressure and flattens objects in the vicinity of the FAE cloud, and also causes heavy damage in the neighbouring area. A FAE bomb contains fuel and two independent explosive charges. After deployment, the first explosive charge is used to burst open the fuel container at a predetermined height and disperse the fuel. The fuel disperses and mixes with atmospheric oxygen and flows around the target area. The second charge is then made to detonate the cloud, which creates a massive blast wave. The blast wave results in extensive damage to the target especially in enclosed spaces.

Thermobaric weapons. Thermobaric weapons have been designed to overcome the short comings of conventional weapons when used against fortified structures/buildings. The blast wave generated by thermobaric weapons are not designed for penetration and it is effective in causing blast damage in a large radius. Fuels are chosen on the basis of the exothermicity of their oxidation, ranging from powdered metals, such as aluminium or magnesium, to organic materials, possibly with a self-contained partial oxidant. During detonation of a high explosive bomb, rapid formation of a blast wave, thermal radiation, break-up of the munition casing, and acceleration of the fragments takes place. In the case of conventional blast/fragmentation warheads, a large part of the energy is consumed by the breaking-up of the shell and acceleration of the fragments. Thermobaric weapons have thin casings and maximum energy is released in a couple of microseconds as a blast/shock wave. In the initial detonation only a small part of energy gets released, the products of detonation thereafter suck oxygen from the air and burn in what is termed as after-burning[7]. This increases the blast pressure wave as well as the fire envelope.

Guidance of Bombs

Air to surface bombs today have either laser guidance kits or Global Positioning System, GPS guidance kits. The laser guided bombs were found to be difficult to deploy in bad weather/visibility conditions or when the targets could not be safely illuminated by the designator, and this led to the preference for GPS guided munitions. Munitions with integrated Inertial Navigation System, INS coupled to a GPS receiver like the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) of Boeing are all weather deployable. The GPS/INS coupled with a tail control system provide the guidance. The Aircraft provides the initializing position and velocity, the target coordinates are also fed/updated by the aircraft through a data link. With GPS, the bomb gives a circular error probable (CEP) of five meters and without the GPS (signal lost/not available/jammed) for flight times up to 100 seconds the CEP is 30 meters. Thus, the GPS/INS kits have enabled the bombs to have the following advantages[8]:

  • Deployable in all weather conditions.
  • Fire and forget capability, the aircraft can proceed to its next task after launch.
  • Enhanced Launch Acceptance Region or LAR because these kits enable the weapon to adjust the flight trajectory at the time of launch to hit the target.
  • GPS provides an accurate common time code for all systems.
  • Flight trajectory can be programmed to hit the target at desired angle of impact.

As a further improvement Laser JDAM is now operational which has an add on laser kit in addition to the GPS/INS to take care of manoeuvring targets and midcourse alterations. A new wing kit (extended range- ER) can also be added to extend the range of the bomb up to 38 nm.

The MOAB – ‘Mother of All Bombs’

The GBU-43/B (MOAB) is a large, powerful and accurately delivered conventional bomb. It has KMU-593/B GPS-guidance with fins and inertial gyro for pitch and roll control. The KMU-593/B kits have been further upgraded with SAASM (Selective Availability/Anti-Spoofing Module) technology in the GPS receivers. In a further improvement, the KMU-xxx/C kits are additionally fitted with Anti-Jam technology. The MOAB is a satellite guided improved version of the 15000-pound BLU-82 Daisy Cutter bomb. It is 30 feet in length with a diameter of 40.5 inches. The warhead is a BLU 120-B aluminium casing weighing 3000 pounds with an explosive weight of 18,700 pounds. The warhead is designed for blast effect. It was designed to be delivered by a C-130 and originally used the explosive Tritonal, a mixture of 80% Tri nitro toluene, TNT and 20% aluminium powder. It was first tested in March 2003 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, when it produced a mushroom cloud that could be seen up to 20 miles away[9]. The current explosive filling is 18,700 pounds of H6. H6 is a type of HBX explosive composition, which is a cast able military explosive mixture composed of 44.0% RDX (Cyclotrimethylene trinitramine), 29.5% TNT and 21.0% powdered aluminium by weight. The MOAB delivers a massive explosive blast (over pressure), with lesser fragmentation effects due to a thin-walled aluminium casing. MOAB is a good choice against caves and earthen tunnels since the pressure waves on entering the complex can severely injure personnel and collapse the structures. The MOAB provides a capability to perform psychological operations, attack large area targets, or hold at-risk threats hidden within tunnels or caves. It is not designed for deep penetration and is an area impact weapon.

The MOAB is cradle launched from C-130 Hercules or MC-130 Talon II aircraft by means of a drogue extraction parachute. [10] Thereafter, the MOAB is guided for approximately 3 nautical miles through a GPS system (with inertial gyros for pitch and roll control), JDAM actuators, and is stabilized by series of fixed wings and grid fins.  The MOAB does not use a retarding parachute, thus permitting the aircraft to fly at higher altitudes, and making it safer for US pilots.

Future Trends in Design and Development of Conventional Bombs

It is understood that nanotechnology is spearheading the development of highly potent explosives, however, not much information is available through open sources, much of it has to be gleaned from research papers and patents (for e.g. Patents like US20150210605 – Structure of energetic materials, US6955732 – Advanced thermobaric explosive compositions and WO2013119191A1 – Composition for a fuel and air explosion).

Essentially, Nano energetic materials (nEMs) perform better than conventional materials because of much larger surface area, which increases speed of reaction and larger energy release in much shorter time. Addition of Super thermites[11] (nano-aluminium based) have shown instantaneous increase in explosive power of existing compositions[12]. Further, use of nano-sized materials in explosives has significantly increased safety and insensitivity by as much as over 30% without affecting reactivity. It is predicted that nEMs would provide the same explosive power at mass up to two orders of magnitude less than the current explosive systems[13].

While Nanosizing of high explosives leads to increasing their explosive power[14] and decreasing their sensitivity to external forces[15], it also decreases its thermal stability. The shelf life of such explosives could therefore stand reduced; however, some patents reveal that this issue has also been resolved technically (e.g. patent US20120227613 Thermal enhanced blast warhead). In India, the work on explosives and propellants is being undertaken at High Energy Materials Laboratory, HEMRL, a Defence Research and Development Organisation, DRDO laboratory, and it is understood that the research in nEMs is progressing satisfactorily.

It can be envisaged that nEMs would replace the conventional explosives in the next decade. This would provide existing conventional weapons with explosive powers higher in magnitude by a factor of two and enhance the safety to external stimulation by at least 30%. In simple terms, a missile warhead having an explosive content of 200 kg of TNT equivalent would have an explosive power of 20,000 kg of TNT equivalent when substituted with nEMs material of same weight of 200 kg! This advancement could displace Tactical nukes from the battlefield.

Nanotechnology is permeating in all fields of design & manufacturing of weapons and ammunition. It is bringing unprecedented precision in weapon systems, robustness in triggering mechanisms and opening new frontiers in propellant and pyrotechnic functioning. In addition to explosive and propellants, Nanomaterials have ushered in innovative improvements in many characteristics of ammunition such as guidance, penetration capacity, embedded sensors for monitoring condition, embedded antennae for guidance and so on.

Russian Answer to MOAB

An Aviation Thermobaric Bomb of Increased Power (ATBIP) was tested by Russia on 11 September 2007. It was said to be the most powerful conventional bomb in the world, with a 7-Ton explosive mixture resulting in a devastating effect equivalent to 44 tons of TNT[16]. It was nicknamed the Father of All Bombs (FOAB). It was hinted that the FOAB contained a liquid fuel, such as ethylene oxide, mixed with energetic nano-aluminium powder, which was dispersed by a high explosive booster. Some reports speculated that the liquid fuel was purified using nano-filters. What caught the imagination of defense experts was the fact that the Russian FOAB had less fuel than the MOAB, but was four times more powerful. It was also probably the first time that the nonprofessional learned of the lethal uses of nanotechnology.

India’s Biggest Conventional Bomb – SPICE

India has acquired the 2000 pound Israeli SPICE (Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective) bomb. It is the biggest bomb in the inventory of the Indian Airforce. Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence System’s first precision guidance kit for dumb bombs was called the SPICE. SPICE kits claim a CEP (Circular error probable) of three metres. SPICE’s Automatic Target Acquisition capability works by comparing a real-time image received from the dual Charge-Coupled Device (CCD) and infrared seeker to a reference image stored in the weapon’s computer. The SPICE can be carried on Mirage 2000 as well as on a variant of SU-30 MK1 aircraft of the Indian Air Force. The SPICE-2000 is stated to have a stand-off range of 32.3nm (60km).

MOAB the New WMD?

‘In the more distant future, weapons systems based on new principles (beam, geophysical, wave, genetic, psychophysical and other technology) will be developed. All this will, in addition to nuclear weapons, provide entirely new instruments for achieving political and strategic goals. Such hi-tech weapons systems will be comparable in effect to nuclear weapons but will be more “acceptable” in terms of political and military ideology. In this sense, the strategic balance of nuclear forces will play a gradually diminishing role in deterring aggression and chaos.[17]

Vladimir Putin, 2012

There are differing definitions of weapons of mass destruction WMD, therefore it is better to adhere to the one adopted by the United Nations. The definition of WMD was arrived at by the United Nations Convention on Conventional Armament in its first resolution in 1948.The Commission advised the Security Council that “all armaments and armed forces, except atomic weapons and weapons of mass destruction fall within its jurisdiction” and also stated that “weapons of mass destruction should be defined to include atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above”.[18] This definition provides the guidelines to distinguish between the conventional weapons and the WMDs.

The determining factors distinguishing the Conventional weapons from the WMD could be the terms Mass Causalities and Mass Destruction. However, mass casualties can also be inflicted by conventional weapons during extended periods of siege or carpet bombings. There is ambiguity in the sense that that event of occurrence of mass casualties could be a single event or a series of consecutive events. The number of casualties could in fact be higher in sustained usage of conventional weapons than in the case of a single use WMD. The other notable point is that there is no quantification of the term ‘Mass’, i.e. how many dead humans would qualify for an event to be termed as Mass casualty. The term mass destruction also suffers from similar dichotomy.  A barrage of conventional weapons can cause a larger scale physical destruction spread across tens of miles as compared to a single WMD in a single event, again, quantification as to what constitutes Mass Destruction has not been defined clearly.

The MOAB has been incorrectly compared to a nuclear bomb. It has less than 1000th[19] of the power of the atomic bomb ‘Little Boy’ dropped on Hiroshima because the MOAB blast was equivalent to 11 tons of TNT whereas the Hiroshima blast was close to 13000 tons equivalent of TNT.  The ‘Fat Man’ atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was a 20,000 tons equivalent of TNT. However, the blast radius of MOAB lies in the same one mile radius as the atomic bombs of WWII. Conventional bombs can never achieve the damage potential of the exponential rise of energy that ensues upon a nuclear bombs detonation. The most powerful of nuclear bombs today is the B83 bomb of the United States, it uses a fission process similar to that used in the atomic bombs, the initial energy is then used to ignite a fusion reaction in a secondary core of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium. The nuclei of the hydrogen atoms fuse together to form helium, and result in a chain reaction leading to a far more powerful explosion. The nuclear fission bomb B83, has a blast equivalent to 1,200,000 tons of TNT compared to 11 tons equivalent of TNT blast by the MOAB. The tactical nuclear weapons range from 10 tons to 100 kilotons. What unambiguously differentiates a conventional weapon from a WMD would be the latent effects of the deployment, which in case of atomic/nuclear weapons last across generations in case of humans and decades in case of remediation of the material. The UN definition of WMD covering atomic, radiological, chemical, biological, or any weapon producing similar effects appears to be sustainable, from this it can be inferred that MOAB/FOAB type of conventional bombs; which lie on the lowest limits of the destructive power of tactical nukes without the attendant latent effects; would not fall in the category of WMD.

An U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130 Combat Talon transport aircraft dropped the MOAB out of the cargo ramp on 13th April 2017.The bomb detonated at 7.32 pm local time in the Achin district of the eastern province of Nangarhar[20].  The Guardian reported that “a local security official said they had requested a large strike because fighter jets and drones had failed to destroy the tunnel complex”. Also, Ismail Shinwari, the district governor of Achin, said, “the strike was closely coordinated with Afghan soldiers and special forces, and tribal elders had been informed to evacuate civilians.[21] He also told AFP that that at least 92 ISIL fighters were killed in the bombing.[22] It was confirmed later by the Afghan officials that foreign militants, including 13 Indians, were also killed in the bombing.[23] The Indians had joined ISIS and were fighting for caliphate.

The MOAB had proved itself in Global War on Terror.


[1] U.S. Bombs, Destroys Khorasan Group Stronghold in Afghanistan. U.S. Department of Defense. 13 April 2017. (Accessed 25 May 2017)

[2] D’Angelo, Bob. “Afghan official: 36 ISIS fighters killed by ‘MOAB’”. 14 April 2017. (Accessed 28 May 2017)

[3] “U.S. drops ‘mother of all bombs’ in Afghanistan, marking weapon’s first use”. CBS News. 13 April 2017. (Accessed 03 Jun 2017)

[4] Harleen Gambhir, ISIS in Afghanistan: ISW Research. 3 December 2015. (Accessed 28 May 2017)

[5] Weaver, Mary Anne. “Lost at Tora Bora”. The New York Times. 11 September 2005. (Accessed 25 May 2017).

[6] Robertson, Nic (2017-14-04) MOAB hit caves used by ISIS, drug smugglers and Osama bin Laden. CNN. (Accessed 03 Jun 2017)

[7] Dr Anna E Wildegger-Gaissmaier. Aspects of thermobaric weaponry. ADF Health Vol 4 April 2003. (Accessed 25 May 2017)

[8] Attariwala, Joetey. Dumb Bombs with Graduate Degrees, Armada International. 27April 2017. (Accessed 28 May 2017)

[9] Mizokami, Kyle. U.S. Air Force Drops the Largest Conventional Bomb Ever Used in Combat. 13Apr 2017. (Accessed 03 Jun 2017)

[10] GBU-43/B “Mother of All Bombs”, (Accessed 05 Jun 2017)

[11] Nano-Thermite or Super-Thermite is a metastable intermolecular composite (MICs) containing an oxidizer and a reducing agent, which are intimately mixed on the nanometer scale. This dramatically increases the reactivity relative to micrometer -sized powder thermite. MICs, including nano-thermitic materials, are a type of reactive materials investigated for military use, as well as for general applications involving propellants, explosives, and pyrotechnics.

[12] Gartner, John. “Military Reloads with Nanotech.” Technology Review, an MIT Enterprise, 21 January 2005. (Accessed 25 May 2017)

[13] Yang, Guangcheng, Fude Nie, Jinshan Li, Qiuxia Guo, and Zhiqiang Qiao. “Preparation and Characterization of Nano-NTO Explosive.” Journal of Energetic Materials, 25, 2007.

[14] Kaili Zhang, Carole Rossi, and G.A. Ardila Rodriguez. “Development of a Nano-Al/CuO Based Energetic Material on Silicon Substrate.” Applied Physics Letters No. 91, 14 September 2007.

[15] Guangcheng Yang, Fude Nie, Jinshan Li, Qiuxia Guo, and Zhiqiang Qiao. “Preparation and Characterization of Nano-NTO Explosive.” Journal of Energetic Materials, 25, 2007.

[16] Russia tests giant fuel-air bomb. BBC. 12 Sep 2007. / (Accessed 28 May 2017)

[17] Vladimir Putin, “Being Strong: National Security Guarantees for Russia,” Rossiiskaya Gazeta, February 20, 2012, (Accessed 25 May 2017)

[18] Commission on Conventional Armaments (CCA), UN document S/C.3/32/Rev.1, August 1948, as quoted in UN, Office of Public Information, The United Nations and Disarmament, 1945–1965, UN Publication 67.I.8, 28.

[19] Tayag, Yasmin. How Does the “Mother of All Bombs” Compare to a Nuclear Bomb? 13 April 2017. (Accessed 03 Jun 2017)

[20] Ackerman, Spencer; Rasmussen, Sune Engel (14 April 2017). “36 Isis militants killed in US ‘mother of all bombs’ attack, Afghan ministry says”. The Guardian. (Accessed 28 May 2017)

[21] Rasmussen, Sune Engel. “‘It felt like the heavens were falling’: Afghans reel from MOAB impact”. The Guardian. 14 April 2017. (Accessed 25 May 2017).

[22] “IS death toll hits 90 from huge US bomb in Afghanistan”. Times Live. 15 April 2017. (Accessed 05 Jun 2017)

[23] “13 suspected Indian IS fighters killed as MOAB hit Afghanistan: Reports”. Hindustan Times. 18 April 2017. (Accessed 03 Jun 2017)


74. Weaponised Unmanned Vehicles in the Indian Navy: Technology Outlook

(Published IndraStra Global   May 22, 2016 )

In the Navy unmanned vehicles constitute four types of vehicles which operate in aerial, surface-land, surface-sea and underwater environments. Even though more glamorous terms like ‘autonomous vehicles’ are used to describe them, in reality, all these vehicles fall in the category of remotely controlled/piloted robotic vehicles. However, it is also true that in most of these categories, higher and higher degree of autonomous functioning can be built-in with the available technology.

The question that arises before the Indian Navy is whether it is ready to go for development of autonomous unmanned systems, which would be cable of engaging a target and inflicting lethal damage on their own? Is the Indian Navy willing to develop technologies that empower the vehicle with embedded artificial intelligence to make the final decision to launch weapons at the target independent of any human intervention?

It may be worthwhile to look at some innovative technologies, which are going to have a profound effect upon weaponised unmanned vehicles of tomorrow.

Cutting-Edge Artificial Intelligence (AI):

Whereas artificial intelligence would enable an unmanned vehicle to perceive and respond to its changing environment, the cutting edge AI would enable the unmanned vehicle to learn automatically by assimilating large volumes of environmental and tactical information. There is a need for the Indian Navy to look in to technologies and software formulations which  would permit an unmanned vehicle, for example, to launch itself, proceed to learn acoustic, magnetic or electromagnetic signatures and identify the target on its own (as distinct from current weapons like mines, torpedoes and missiles which have a tested and tried inbuilt code). The need to pursue technologies that would enable it to go a step further by taking a decision to launch its weapons could be looked at  in future.

Profound/ Deep Learning in respect of Unmanned Vehicles:

There is a definite need to look into Profound or / Deep learning technological issues since for most of the areas of their operations, unmanned vehicles would be required to accumulate vast amounts of data/ intelligence inputs from the surroundings, process it and upload it to systems for decision making by humans. Fundamentally, advanced algorithms need to be developed for unmanned vehicles through which the vehicle on its own can differentiate changes from the normal that need to be highlighted for predicting a future course of events by the analysts. Since Unmanned underwater vehicles would operational for periods extending over months at a time,one area of importance could be to make the vehicle unlearn (specific areas it has self-written the codes for), since it occupies memory space or it may no longer remain relevant.

Green Technologies for Unmanned Vehicles:

As the Unmanned systems race to achieve higher and higher levels of autonomous operations, there is a need to look into technologies, which would make unmanned vehicles more environmental friendly, like the use of green plastics of the poly hexahydrotriazines or PHTs category, which provide the same strength but are biodegradable. Similar advances need to be explored for providing the unmanned vehicles with green electrical power and its storage for long endurance operations.  Neuromorphic Technology.  Neuromorphic chips are designed to process information by mimicking human brain’s architecture resulting in massive computing and processing power. These combine data storage and data processing components in same interconnected modules thus providing power as well as energy efficiency.

Communications Pathways:

Satellites are not the only pathway for reliable communications, be it for data, voice, or command & control. There is a requirement for a resilient architecture that can act as a redundant pathway to atmospheric communications (including underwater) through electromagnetic domains including digital communications utilizing fiber domain. Fiber carries far larger bandwidth than what can be carried through the satellite systems. Multiple pathways would provide greater safety and protection to the cyber networks. Technologies need to be developed, to make the network physically resilient to deal with High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP), and to make the network react by itself to tampering by external actors.

Additive Manufacturing Technology:

Distributed manufacturing enables efficient use of resources, with less wasted capacity in centralized factories. It also reduces the amount of capital required to build the first prototypes and products. Further, it limits the overall environmental impact of manufacturing since digital information is transferred over the internet with local sourcing of raw materials. However, Additive manufacturing poses a potentially disruptive challenge to conventional processes and supply chains. Its nascent applications in aerospace sectors need to be developed for the unmanned systems across the Naval unmanned requirement. There is a need to examine and develop 3D printing of circuit boards and other integrated electronic components. Currently, Nano scale component integration into 3D printing is a formidable challenge for this technology. Taking a step further, adaptive-additive technologies (4D printing) would be ushering in products that would be responsive to the natural environment (like temperature and humidity) around them.

Test and evaluations of Unmanned Systems:

Test and evaluation of collaborative (Humans and robotic) systems is a big technological leap that needs to be addressed at the earliest. As of now, there is no software, which can test a collaborative system both physically, and intellectually, once an unmanned system has been tasked to learn on its own, it should have the capability to convey the extent of its learning as it progresses in its knowledge acquisition process. Navy needs to delve into cognitive testing aspects of software for unmanned vehicles today to fruitfully operate autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.

Disruptive Unmanned Warfare:

Autonomous vehicles have ushered in a paradigm shift from the few big, expensive, and lethal weapons to large numbers of small, cheap, and smart unmanned systems capable of swarming the adversary. The unmanned vehicles today can carry significant amounts of weapons utilizing new designs of weapons with nano materials. The Navy needs to explore technologies for developing new types of weapons for use in the autonomous vehicles.

Finally, the Indian Navy has to focus in the coming years on the technology developments in the commercial sector which have outpaced the developments in the military; especially in the software; and the artificial intelligence sector. It has to seek ways and means to synergize the commercial sector developments such that it can become a force multiplier ushering in the next RMA.


Weapons and Sensors that Wait to Strike

(Published 24 Jun 2016, CLAWS)


Passive sensor triggered weapons have been in use for a considerable time by the military. They have been in form of Bangalore Torpedo, anti tank mines or anti personnel mines on land and as ground or moored mines at sea. Passive sensors have been extensively used on land for electronic support measures and at sea for detection of ships by submarines. One of the largest chains of passive sensors in the WWII era was Sound Surveillance System or SOSUS. It was a chain of hydrophone sensors located at various places in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The main aim was locating Soviet submarines transiting the Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom gap (GIUK gap). With developments in stealth technologies, other elements have been added to it such as the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS), and it has become part of the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS)[1].

One of the important weapons of the cold war era, that lay dormant until activated, was the anti submarine encapsulated torpedo MK 60 CAPTOR. It was a deep-water mine which could be laid by aircrafts, ships or submarines. The mine could distinguish between surface ships and submarines as well as between friendly and enemy submarines based on their acoustic signatures. It would thereafter launch the MK 46 torpedo, which would then acquire and attack the enemy submarine. Both Russia and China had also developed similar mines.

With the rapid advances in sensor technologies, it is now feasible to expect robustness, high quality, and reliability in commercially produced sensors. The sensors today are produced using novel signal processing methods, provide very high speeds, and utilize low cost electronic components. Similarly, two main developments in manufacture of chips, which have acted as a catalyst in exponential improvements in computing technologies, include, firstly, coupling of traditional electronics with optical components using Ge Laser to obviate usage of wiring in chips. The ongoing work at MIT’s Microphotonics center utilizes a series of subterranean tunnels instead of buried fiber cables for transmission of the laser[2]. This would achieve at least 100 times faster speeds than current systems. Secondly, the use of Mermisters or resistive random access memory (ReRAM) chips. These are 1000 times faster and can store twice as much data as flash memory chips. The main advantage is that ReRAM does not lose contents once power is switched off. [3] Further, they can be used in logic computations, implying thereby that both memory and computation functions can be carried out on the same chip[4].

Interestingly, Russia, China, and Iran have taken active interest in passive radar technologies. As per reports of a Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s online affiliate, in February 2015, Moskva-1 (developed by KRET) is a passive radar system, which would enable Russian troops to detect and identify airborne targets as far as 240 miles away without disclosing their location. It is understood that this could also be supplied to Iran[5].

The USAF had also released a request for information RFI RFI-PKS-0001-2012 for development of a Phased Array Antenna in respect of its Passive RF Sensing program. This involves development of analog and digital beam forming techniques for wideband phased array radar antennas that can operate over a 10:1 bandwidth[6]. The US Army too has evinced interest in such systems that lie in wait submerged at sea and could be launched at an opportune time[7].

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has undertaken a project titled Upward Falling Payload (UFP) in which it is envisaged that drones would be made to lie in wait at concealed locations on the sea floor, for prolonged periods before being launched to the surface and into the air[8].

As per DARPA, “Nearly 50 percent of the world’s oceans are deeper than 4 km, which provides vast areas for concealment and storage. Concealment provided by the sea also provides the opportunity to engage remote assets that may have been dormant and undetected for long periods, while its vastness allows simultaneous operation across great distances. Getting close to objects without warning, and instantiating distributed systems without delay, are key attributes of UFP capability.”[9] The DARPA UFP program in its study phase, looked at long-range communications, deep-ocean high-pressure containment, and payload launch. It is understood that one of the firms that participated in the first phase was Sparton Electronics of De Leon Springs, Florida; this firm had worked to develop conceptual designs of a system with the potential to launch a plethora of non-lethal weapons like electronic warfare jammers, blinding lasers, and distracting light strobes upon surfacing.

The second phase would be development of proto types. The sub systems of the UFP program include; the pressure tolerant container or riser which would hold the payload for prolonged periods; the communication package, which would trigger the encapsulated payload to be launched to the surface, and the payload, which should be able to execute its function after it, is made to surface. To achieve the above aims the technologies that DARPA is looking at include, long endurance reliable electro-mechanical systems, very small sensors, small-unmanned systems, long-range underwater communications, navigation technologies etc. Phase 3 would be demonstrations of the systems at sea.

Once developed the UFP would provide pre-deployed sensors or non-lethal weapons in open seas. These could be  used by the US Forces for surprise deployment in times of international conflicts across the globe.

The author is not aware of any such futuristic research initiatives in respect of Indian Armed Forces by the Defence Research and Development Organisation in India.






[3] Six minute Memrister guide








Surface-to-Surface Missiles on Warships

(Published SP’s Naval Forces. Jun-Jul 2016 Vol 11 No. 3)

Surface-to-Surface Missiles on Warships

Blue water navies defend and attack with a variety platforms utilizing wide range of weapons. The three-dimensional operations of a formidable navy involve aircrafts, surface ships, and submarines. Each of these platforms has weapons designed for its specific role. A naval force far away from its homeport is thus fully capable of meeting threats arising from the air, surface or under water. A warship’s weapon outfit includes; missiles for anti air and anti ship warfare; torpedoes, depth charges and rockets for anti submarine warfare; and guns for anti surface, anti air, anti missile and naval gunfire support roles. Among the missiles, a warship’s outfit generally comprises of surface-to-surface missiles (SSM) and surface to air missiles (SAM). The SSM capability has rapidly advanced to the realm of the cruise missiles. The cruise missile owes it origins to the German V1/V2 rockets and mainly to the fact that manned aircraft missions had proved to be very expensive during the wars (loss of trained fighter pilots as well as expensive aircraft). Unfortunately, the cruise missile development until the 1970s resulted only in unreliable and inaccurate outcomes, which were not acceptable to the armed forces. Cruise missiles overcame their inherent technical difficulties and owe their tremendous success and popularity to notable technological advances in the fields of; propulsion (small turbofan jet engines resulted in smaller and lighter airframes); miniaturization of electronic components (smaller on board   computers led to much better guidance and control abilities); and high-density fuels, much better explosives, & smaller warheads.       Cruise missiles have become weapons of choice at sea because of their ability to fly close to the sea surface at very high speeds (sub-sonic/supersonic), formidable wave point programming, and lethal explosive capabilities. These make the missiles very difficult to detect and counter at sea.

A survey of some of the most powerful weapon platforms at sea would confirm that the surface-to-surface missile is one of the most potent armaments onboard. The significant surface-to-surface missiles include the Tomahawk, the Exocet, the Uran, the YJ-18, the RBS 15, the Brahmos, and the under development LRASM.


The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) has proved its versatility by successfully carrying out attacks on various types of land targets under hostile environments. The land attack Tomahawk is equipped with inertial and terrain contour matching (TERCOM) radar guidance. The missile constantly matches its database with the actual terrain to update its position. For terminal guidance, it uses the optical Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) system for comparing the actual target image with the stored one. In TERCOM a digital characterization of an area of terrain is mapped based on digital terrain elevation data or stereo imagery and loaded in the missile. During flight, the missile compares the stored map data with radar altimeter data, missile’s inertial navigation system is updated, and the missile can correct its course if required. In Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC), a digitized image of an area is mapped and then embedded into a TLAM mission. While in flight the missile compares the stored images with the actual image for updating its inertial navigation system to enable course corrections.

The Tomahawk Weapon System (TWS) comprises of four major components; Tomahawk Missile, Theater Mission Planning Center (TMPC), Afloat Planning System (APS), Tomahawk Weapon Control System (TWCS) for surface ships, and Combat Control System (CCS) for submarines. Systems of the missile include Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver; an upgrade of the optical Digital Scene Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC) system; Time of Arrival (TOA) control, and improved 402 turbo engines. The missile is provided to ships as an ‘all-up-round’ (AUR). It includes the missile, the booster, and a transportation container which itself acts as a launch tube. TLAM-C has a conventional unitary warhead for attacking hardened targets, and TLAM-D has a conventional sub munitions (dispense bomblets) warhead for use against softer targets.

The Tomahawk TLAM Block III system upgrade had included jamming-resistant Global Positioning System (GPS) system receivers, Time of Arrival, and improved accuracy for low contrast matching of Digital Scene Matching Area Correlator, extended range, and a lighter warhead. The warhead for Block IV, the WDU-36, has an insensitive PBXN-107 explosive, the FMU-148 fuse, and the BBU-47 fuse booster.

Tactical Tomahawk has the capability to reprogram the missile during flight to attack any of 15 preprogrammed alternate targets or the warship can redirect the missile to any new GPS designated target. It is also able to loiter over a target area for some hours, and with its on-board TV camera, enable battle damage assessment & if required redirection of the missile to any other target. Addition of Network-centric warfare-capabilities is a major improvement to the Tomahawk where in it can use data from multiple sensors (ships, satellites, aircraft, UAVs etc.) to find its target as well as  share its own sensor data.

The new features in Block IV modifications include, a new multi mode passive seeker, As far as warhead is concerned, it is understood that Joint Multi-Effects Warhead System (JMEWS,  bunker busting feature) as well as Advanced Anti Radiation Guided Missile technology is being incorporated for increasing the warhead versatility. The TLAM-D contains 166 sub munitions in 24 canisters; 22 canisters of seven each, and 2 canisters of six each of Combined Effects Munition bomblet used with the CBU-87 Combined Effects Munition of the US Air force. Developments are also underway to use scramjet technology and make TLAM a supersonic missile with a speed of Mach 3.

The Exocet

The variant Block 3 MM40 is the ship-launched version of the Exocet. The basic body design of the Exocet (MBDA) is based upon on the Nord AS30 air to ground tactical missile. It has a solid-propellant booster and with a turbojet sustainer motor providing it a range of more than 180 km. It is a missile, which flies 1-2 m above the sea level and remains very difficult to detect until about 6 km from the target. It is guided inertially and has an active radar terminal guidance. The Exocet MM40 has three main versions Block 1, Block 2, and Block 3 for deployment from ships as well as coastal batteries. The Block 3 version can attack targets from different angles through GPS based waypoint commands. It weighs 670 kg, with a warhead weight of 165 kg.


The Russian Uran missile is a subsonic anti ship missile with active radar terminal guidance. It is the booster launch version of the Kh-35 U missile. Target designation and flight mission details are fed to missile prior to the launch. The missile is guided through inertial navigation system until it reaches the target zone. There after the radar is switched on for locating and tracking the target, once target has been acquired the missile traverses at very low altitude until it hits the target. It is said that it can be launched in sea states up to six. The acquisition range of the radar is 20 km. The ARGS-35E radar is being replaced by SPE Radar MMS built Gran-KE seeker. The Uran is highly secure even in a hostile counter-measure environment. It has a weight of 610 kg with a shaped charge warhead of 145 kg.


The YJ-18 is a Chinese anti ship cruise missile with a NATO designation of CH-SS-NX-13. It is said to be a copy of the Russian 3M-54E that is subsonic during the cruise phase and turns supersonic in the terminal phase. It has a range of 540 km. It may be having a BeiDou based inertial guidance with a warhead (explosive/ anti radiation) of 300 kg. It is said to be deployed from the Type 052D destroyers.


The RBS-15 is potent long-range surface-to-surface missile developed and manufactured by Saab Bofors Dynamics. It weighs 800 kg with a blast/ pre-fragmentation warhead of 200 kg. It has inertial, GPS guidance with active radar terminal homing. It has range of 250 km and cruises at subsonic speeds. The RBS-15 Mk3 missile system is claimed to have extremely flexible trajectory, an advanced target seeker with all weather capability and high defense penetration capability. Saab claims that it will support the missile system throughout its 30-year service life and offer in-country maintenance and other flexible maintenance solutions for its customers.


The BrahMos is a supersonic ramjet cruise missile being produced under a joint venture between the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation and the Russian NPO Mashinostroeyenia. It is the fastest cruise missile in the world with a range of 290 km. Because of its high speed (close to Mach 3), it can penetrate current anti missile defenses. It has a wingspan of 1.7 m, diameter of 70 cm with a warhead of 200 kg. Its Block III version can carry out land attack also. It is understood that it has been tested in supersonic dive mode, without any seeker; against hidden land, targets with G3OM based navigation system, which can use GPS, GLONASS, as well as the Indian GAGAN satellite systems. Brahmos-II (K) is a hypersonic missile under development with a range of 290 km and a speed of Mach 7.It is likely to be propelled with scramjet air breathing jet engine.

Missiles of the Future (LRASM)

DARPA is developing an anti ship cruise missile with advanced stealth features as a replacement for the Harpoon missile for the US Navy. Lockheed Martin has been given a limited production contract for 90 missiles to meet US Navy’s urgent requirements. In August this year, the US Navy has officially designated the air-launched LRASM as the AGM-158C. LRASM will be fitted with a modified Mk 114 jettison-able rocket booster for launch from ships using the existing Mk 41 Vertical Launch System. LRASM is likely to herald autonomous targeting capabilities by utilizing on-board targeting systems. The LRASM would not require GPS, data links or any prior intelligence, it would be able to carry out positive identification of its target and track and attack it on its own. It will have advanced counter-counter measures to penetrate the enemy defenses under highly adverse conditions.

The basic design of LRASM is derived from the AGM-158B JASSM-ER with addition of a new weapon data link, radio frequency sensor (multi mode), altimeter, and better power system. It is a sea skimmer with a range of 370 km, which can be guided to target, given midcourse corrections, or function in standalone mode for selection of the target. The guidance system and the homing head have been designed by BAE Systems. These comprise, imaging infrared homing with automatic scene/target matching recognition, jamming resistant GPS/INS, passive RF and threat warning, ESM, radar warning sensors, and data link. Data link enables the missile to collate real time digital picture of the target zone from friendly assets. The emission data is autonomously classified, and acquired for generation of the missile’s attack trajectory. The LRASM can search and attack the target on its own using the active radar, the multi-mode homing head enables the missile to avoid being decoyed and hitting the incorrect target. It is claimed that the missile can also operate in swarms and has land attack capability.


Cruise missiles are very expensive weapons costing millions of dollars per piece. Therefore, selection of the target becomes a difficult task, as cost benefit analysis has to be carried out prior to launching the cruise missile on its mission. However, with their minimal signatures in the visual, infrared and radar spectrums they become weapons of choice in mission of high priority and stealth.

It appears that the trend towards developments of supersonic/hypersonic scramjet cruise missiles will continue to gather momentum and such missiles could be in the naval inventories by 2020. Coupled with hypersonic missiles, would be real time target data updating and guidance by extremely fast on-board computers and satellite-based systems. The kinetic energy of hypersonic cruise missiles would be a lethality multiplier against targets at sea and therefore such a missile would be a formidable weapon without a credible countermeasure as on date. The costs continue to increase with new developments; however, maintenance requirements appear to be reducing with canisterised missiles. The proliferation of precision guided missiles would continue to increase with reductions in cost of components, electronics, and software.

Nanoenergetic Materials (nEMs) in Conventional Ammunition

(Published on 17 May 2016, CLAWS,

Nanoenergetic Materials (nEMs) in Conventional Ammunition

 Nanotechnology “could completely change the face of weaponry,”

Andy Oppenheimer, Jane’s Information Group[1]

On 11 September 2007, Russians tested Father of All Bombs (FOAB), an Aviation Thermo baric Bomb of Increased Power (ATBIP). It was said to be the most powerful conventional bomb in the world, with a 7-Ton explosive mixture resulting in a devastating effect equivalent to 44 tons of TNT[2]. It was hinted that the FOAB contained a liquid fuel, such as ethylene oxide, mixed with energetic nano-aluminium powder, which was dispersed by a high explosive booster. Some reports speculated that the liquid fuel was purified using nano-filters. What caught the imagination of defense experts was the fact that the Russian FOAB had less fuel than the similar US device Mother of All Bombs (MOAB), the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, but was four times more powerful. It was also probably the first time that the nonprofessional learned of the lethal uses of nanotechnology. Not much information is available through open sources about the developments involving nanotechnology in explosives, much of it has to be gleaned from research papers and patents (for e.g. Patents like US6955732 – Advanced thermo baric explosive compositions and WO2013119191A1 – Composition for a fuel and air explosion).

            Since 2004, ‘Combat Safe Insensitive Munitions’ concept has shifted the focus of safety from a pure materials approach to making marine explosives insensitive to a platform based approach based upon mechanics to increase insensitivity[3]. US Navy has been at the forefront of R&D into new energetic materials since a long time and it is opined that nanotechnology enabled energetic materials would form the backbone of the future defense systems. Timely induction of nano enabled energetic systems with controlled energy release is the focus of current research at institutes like the U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and the University of Maryland.

            In simple terms, Nanoenergetic materials (nEMs) perform better than conventional materials because of much larger surface area, which increases speed of reaction and larger energy release in much shorter time. Addition of Superthermites[4] (nano-aluminium based) have shown instantaneous increase in explosive power of existing compositions[5]. Further, use of nano-sized materials in explosives has significantly increased safety and insensitivity by as much as over 30% without affecting reactivity. It is predicted that nEMs would provide the same explosive power at mass up to two orders of magnitude less than the current explosive systems[6].

In rocket, propellants nEMs have shown similar capabilities at Los Almos National Laboratories with nitrogen-energized nEMs[7]. In addition, incorporation of more than one burning rate in rocket propellants has given rise to novel design options by creating grains with continuously varying properties along the length as well as across the radius of the grain in Functionally Graded Materials (FGM).

While Nanosizing of high explosives leads to increasing their explosive power[8] and decreasing their sensitivity to external forces[9], it also decreases its thermal stability. The shelf life of such explosives could therefore stand reduced, however, some patents reveal that this issue has also been resolved technically (e.g. patent US20120227613 Thermal enhanced blast warhead). In India the work on explosives and propellants is being undertaken at HEMRL, a DRDO laboratory, and it is understood that the research in nEMs is progressing satisfactorily.


Nanotechnology is permeating in all fields of design & manufacturing of weapons and ammunition. It is bringing unprecedented precision in weapon systems, robustness in triggering mechanisms and opening new frontiers in propellant and pyrotechnic functioning. In addition to explosive and propellants, Nanomaterials have ushered in innovative improvements in many characteristics of ammunition such as guidance, penetration capacity, embedded sensors for monitoring condition, embedded antennae for guidance and so on.

It can be envisaged that nEMs would replace the conventional explosives in the next decade. This would provide existing conventional weapons with explosive powers higher in magnitude by a factor of two and enhance the safety to external stimulation by at least 30%. In simple terms, a missile warhead having an explosive content of 200 kg of TNT equivalent would have an explosive power of 20,000 kg of TNT equivalent when substituted with nEMs material of same weight of 200 kg!

This advancement could displace Tactical nukes from the battlefield.

What can also be foreseen is the mushrooming of new classes of extremely precise and lethal small/micro weapon systems, which could be scaled down by at least second order of magnitude from the current systems. Thus creating space for the likely paradigm shift from bigger & larger to the smaller & numerous holdings of weapons. This in turn would herald the era of Swarm Warfare.

[1] Gartner, John. “Military Reloads with Nanotech.” Technology Review, an MIT Enterprise, January 21, 2005.


[3] Insensitive munitions:

Improve the safety and survivability for Armed Forces and civilians in urban areas or near combat zones because they can safely be stored at closer distances. Reduce the vulnerability of platforms and resources against unintended or hostile aggression, violent reactions with blast overpressure and fragmentation damages are under control. Maximize the storage capabilities and improve flexibility logistics: IM can safely be carried by land/sea/air; storage platforms can be closer together and are key to Inter-Operability between the Armed Forces.

[4] Nano-Thermite or Super-Thermite is a metastable intermolecular composite (MICs) containing an oxidizer and a reducing agent, which are intimately mixed on the nanometer scale. This dramatically increases the reactivity relative to micrometer -sized powder thermite. MICs, including nano-thermitic materials, are a type of reactive materials investigated for military use, as well as for general applications involving propellants, explosives, and pyrotechnics.

[5] Gartner, John. “Military Reloads with Nanotech.” Technology Review, an MIT Enterprise, January 21, 2005.

[6] Yang, Guangcheng, Fude Nie, Jinshan Li, Qiuxia Guo, and Zhiqiang Qiao. “Preparation and Characterization of Nano-NTO Explosive.” Journal of Energetic Materials, 25, 2007.

[7] Tappan, B.C., S.F. Son, and D.S. Moore. “Nano-Aluminum Reaction with Nitrogen in the Burn Front of Oxygen-Free Energetic Materials.” Shock Compression of Condensed Matter, American Institute of Physics, 2005

[8] Kaili Zhang, Carole Rossi, and G.A. Ardila Rodriguez. “Development of a Nano-Al/CuO Based Energetic Material on Silicon Substrate.” Applied Physics Letters No. 91, 14 September 2007.

[9] Guangcheng Yang, Fude Nie, Jinshan Li, Qiuxia Guo, and Zhiqiang Qiao. “Preparation and Characterization of Nano-NTO Explosive.” Journal of Energetic Materials, 25, 2007.