Category Archives: Unmanned

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.

Evolution and Role of Naval UAVs

(Published in special edition of Economic Times, India on 04 Dec 2017)

Earliest mention of a drone/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in the Naval context is found in 1917, when the US Navy commissioned the design of an ‘aerial torpedo’ for use against German U-boats. A contract was awarded to the Curtiss Aeroplane Company, and the airplane was named the Speed-Scout. It was designed to be launched from naval ships carrying a 1,000-lb. payload and to be stabilized by an autopilot. It suffered several failures before it achieved its first successful flight on 06 March 1918, making it the first flight of an UAV. On 15 April 1923, the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) specially equipped F5L seaplane was controlled by radio signals up to a range of 10 miles from the transmitter. The NRL also reported that radio control of take-off and landing of aircraft was possible. Project Fox, equipped with a television camera, was developed by The Naval Aircraft Factory in 1941. It was controlled by TG-2 aircraft and successfully carried out torpedo attack on a destroyer in 1942.

McDonnell Aircraft developed a radio-controlled target drone TD2D-1 in 1942 for anti-aircraft and aerial gunnery practice of U.S. Navy. TD2D was gyro-stabilized, radio-controlled and could be recovered by parachute. The Ryan Firebee was a 23-feet long target drone, which could fly at over 700 miles per hour on a pre-programmed flight path. It could be recovered mid-air by a C-130 Hercules with a capture net, or parachute into the sea for recovery. A modified Firebee with cameras called a ‘Lightning Bug’ could fly over a target area and take aerial pictures, it carried out over 3,000 reconnaissance missions in Vietnam. The drones have been tested on carriers, and have flown in combat, the TDR-1s launched from the USS Sable in 1943, and the Firebees took off from the USS Ranger from 1969 to 1970.

The Gyrodyne model QH-50D was a remotely controlled UAV which was built and delivered to the U.S. Navy as the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH). The QH-50D was a rotary-winged, anti-submarine weapon carrier designed primarily to deliver two MK44 acoustic homing torpedoes or a Mk 17 Nuclear depth charge using the W-44 warhead and also had a provision for a ‘classified weapon’.

The maritime UAV serves in national security, paramilitary and wartime missions. It expands the user’s horizons by providing Over The Horizon Targeting (OTHT). In addition, it increases the scanning area, time over target and the mission flexibility. It also serves in real time battle damage assessment. During peacetime, it prevents the penetration of any sea borne hostile intruder, protects the country’s rights and interests in the Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) and supports in Search and Rescue operations. In war-time it assists in achieving naval superiority, helps in destruction of enemy naval forces, defends the coast lines, and supports ground operations (littoral warfare). The role of the Maritime UAV system is to provide unmanned, long endurance aerial reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. In addition, the UAV can create a comprehensive, real time, naval tactical picture for the ship’s commander and naval HQs.

A typical Maritime UAV System consists of at least three aircraft, with ground control system (GCS), Launch & Retrieval Station (LRS), Ground Data Terminal (GDT), Launch & Retrieval Data Terminal (LRDT), and mission oriented Payloads. A typical Payload consists of a Maritime Patrol Radar (MPR) with multi-mode functions, an Electro-Optical sensor with day/night capabilities, and an optional ELINT package. The payload package provides the necessary data for detection, classification, and identification of surface vessels at sea. Having a line of sight data link package provides a system range of 250 km and an air data relay extends the patrolling distance to 350 km.

The launching of UAVs from warships presents less of a challenge than recovery. UAVs can be launched through a variety of catapult options, including rocket-assisted take-off (RATO) as used by the US Navy for embarked Pioneer UAV operations. The IN operates the Lakshya unmanned aerial target system that uses boosters to launch without any ground run. Recovery of UAVs is more problematic than their launch. Vertical landing UAVs can be recovered using manual remote piloting to a conventional vertical landing, or by automatic landing systems such as the US UAV common automatic recovery system (UCARS). Fixed wing UAVs are presently recovered by more extreme methods, such as by flying it into a recovery net, by stopping the motor and ditching it into the water by parachute for a manual recovery, or by mid-air recovery using a manned helicopter or aircraft.

The IN currently operates the Heron and the Searcher MK II UAVs manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries. These are capable of beaming real time live pictures of maritime targets to Commands ashore, thus enhancing the joint defence capability by synergizing capabilities of the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and local authorities. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) has initiated a request to the US for procuring 22 multi-mission Guardian UAVs for the Indian Navy. A RFI has also been issued for 50 ‘Naval Ship-Borne Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’ (NSUAS) for Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR), monitoring of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), Exclusive Economic Zone safety, anti-piracy, and anti-terrorism functions along with Search and Rescue (S&R) roles. The MoD, is also considering procurement of Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAVs for use by the three defense services.

For the near future, the US Navy is progressing ahead with procurement of The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAS (BAMS UAS), the Vertical Take-off and Landing UAV (VTUAV) Fire Scout MQ-8B unmanned helicopter, and The Small Tactical UAS (STUAS), RQ-21 Blackjack. The indigenous AURA and Rustom (& its variants) are being developed by DRDO for the Indian Armed Forces.

The question that the Indian Navy faces today is, whether it is ready to go for development of fully 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? If yes, then there is a need for the Indian Navy to look in to:

– technologies and software formulations which would permit an unmanned vehicle to launch itself, proceed to learn acoustic/magnetic/electromagnetic signatures, and identify the target on its own.

– technologies, which are more environmental friendly, for e.g. the use of green plastics of the poly hexahydrotriazines or PHTs category, and green electrical power including its storage for long endurance operations.

– a resilient architecture that can act as a redundant pathway to atmospheric communications through electromagnetic domains including digital communications utilizing fibre domain.

– Distributed manufacturing to enable efficient use of resources, with less wasted capacity in centralized factories, and develop 3D printing of circuit boards and other integrated electronic components.

– cognitive testing aspects of software for unmanned vehicles today to fruitfully operate autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.

– exploring technologies for developing new types of weapons for use in the autonomous vehicles.

– focusing on the technology developments in the commercial sector, especially in the software, and the artificial intelligence sectors. As it appears, the only option is to synergize with the commercial sector to ensure that UAVs become a force multiplier in the next decade.

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.


Cyber Warfare – a Perspective

(Published  15 Oct 2016, CLAWS)

The US Defense Science Board report of 2013 states that “in a perfect world, DOD operational systems would be able to tell a commander when and if they were compromised, whether the system is still usable in full or degraded mode, identify alternatives to aid the commander in completing the mission, and finally provide the ability to restore the system to a known, trusted state. Today’s technology does not allow that level of fidelity and understanding of systems.” The report brings out that, systems such as automated intrusion detection, automated patch management, status data from each network, and regular network audits are currently unavailable. A cyber attack against national critical infrastructure could therefore have a cascading effect upon economy, society, and government in ways difficult to understand, model or predict.

In cyber warfare, it has been claimed that opponents can distract, disrupt, and demoralize a nation by skilful use of cyber tools, timing, surprise, and an adversary’s specific vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities are not restricted to military targets; the ability to attack civilian targets such, as public utilities or financial sector can be far more dangerous and subsequently more effective, at discouraging and deterring potential adversaries because of its immediate social and political effects. Theoretically, at least adversary may not need kinetic weapons to render a nation incapable of defending itself. On the other hand, it has not been feasible to assess the real cyber warfare capabilities of the nations because these have never been used in large scale war-fighting resulting in serious damage or led to a full scale war between nations.

It is reasonable to presume that current tools of war would continue to be utilized for achieving military objectives simply because cyber attack in current form exists as a onetime gambit, since cyber weapons are transient and last only until the breaches are plugged. There is no doubt that delay and denial can be achieved to a large extent but whether that would lead to a victory on ground is a fact yet to be seen.

It has been brought out as per a Mandiant Consulting report that the mean time an intruder remained in the victim’s system undetected was 205 days in 2014 and 146 days in 2015. This highlights the use of cyber warfare to remain undetected in a system to prepare for a strike by infiltration, location of weak spots and leave cyber weapons for a preemptive strike to destroy networks and information systems.

Pure military planning and countermeasures would not be able to play a critical role in cyber security because of the civilian nature of cyberspace and the predominantly non-military nature of the nebulous attacker. Much of the cyber expertise and resources required to defend information infrastructure are located outside of the military establishments. Creating a credible cyber capability is less about technology than finding the right people and skill sets, which can be difficult for militaries.

Realm of Cyber Attacks. Some examples that highlight the distinct types of cyber attacks as relevant to national security are in order now. These are cited to highlight the extent of cyber reach from the dedicated attacks on strategic assets to tactical military operations to criminal activities like ransom.

One is the well-known Stuxnet strike, which required tremendous amount of resources, brainpower, and planning time. It falls under the one time gambit with major nations already on guard against similar strikes on their critical strategic facilities.

In 2009, Conficker worm infected civil and defense establishments of many nations, for example, the UK DOD reported large-scale infection of its major computer systems including ships, submarines, and establishments of Royal Navy. The French Naval computer network ‘Intramar’ was infected, the network had to be quarantined, and air operations suspended. The German Army also reported infection of over a hundred of its computers. Conficker sought out flaws in Windows OS software and propagated by forming a botnet, it was very difficult to weed it out because it used a combination of many advanced malware techniques. It became the largest known computer worm infection by afflicting millions of computers in over 190 countries.

There was a cyber attack in Dec 2015 against energy distribution companies in Ukraine, which led to massive power outages and affected a huge civilian population. This achieved high visibility while using an old Trojan BlackEnergy and other malware to shut down critical systems and wiping out data.

In February 2016, the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, California was the victim of a cyber attack that encrypted its electronic data rendering its systems unusable for over a week. The hospital was forced to operate with no access to its computer systems and even had to move some patients to other hospitals. Staff relied on fax machines and telephones to keep hospital operations moving. The hospital regained access to its data only after paying a fee of 40 bitcoin (approximately USD 17,000) to the attackers. In March 2016, Methodist Hospital in Henderson, Kentucky, experienced a similar attack and declared a “state of emergency” being unable to access patient files. Methodist Hospital was able to restore their system from data backups and did not pay the attackers. Since 2014, the CryptoLocker ransom ware alone has allowed cyber criminals to collect over $100 million.

While illustrating the wide ambit under which the cyber attacks take place and the enormous cyber space that requires protection the above examples also highlight the inevitable ease of threat to civilian space. The cyber war if unleashed in entirety could encompass strategic, tactical, financial, social, and psychological space among others. It would thus be waged beyond a traditional military war on the borders.

Autonomous systems. An area of immediate concern for the military is Autonomous systems, for a system to be autonomous, it must have the capability to independently compose and select among different courses of action to accomplish goals based on its knowledge and understanding of the environment.

Autonomous decision-making resides in software replete with branching logic and tables of variables and parameters, which together, model the mission to be accomplished, the environment in which it must be executed, and the conditions that are relevant. The more complex the mission and the more diverse the environment, the more extensive and complex is the software. The autonomous systems also have organic sensors, a considerable amount of stored information, and optional communication for some supervisory functions, along with a capability to receive and implement over-the-air updates. These systems present an ideal target for the adversary. Thus more the capabilities, more the software and hence greater the vulnerability. To weed out the intruder in complex software and eradicate vulnerabilities which may or may not have been introduced by the attacker would require validation and verification, which may not be humanly possible in the time available.

It is evident that the amount of data and the speeds at which processing is required in case of cyber defense is not feasible for human beings to carry it out. Conventional algorithms also cannot tackle dynamically changing data during a cyber attack. As it appears today, effective cyber defense would only be provided by real time flexible Artificial Intelligence systems with learning capability. This in simple terms requires using Artificial Intelligence systems at practically every stage of military operations.

Conclusion. As of penning this article, a code of Mirai malware was released by a hacker, which has resulted in the largest ever DDos attack across countries. Mirai malware is used to create botnets that infect Internet of Things devices connected to the internet. It is said that about 1.0 to 1.5 million devices have been infected so far with numbers rising every second.

Nations have to think differently if cyber attacks are to be defended effectively. During an international conference on Electronic Warfare in Kuala Lumpur recently, the delegates were surprised to note that Indian Government had been following a policy of segregating internet-connected computers from those that carried important information. Much of the software being developed for cyber defense is being sent over the web from India albeit under IPR of different nations. Time is ripe for India to harness and synergies both cyber attack and cyber   defense capabilities.



Smarter Eyes in the Skies

(Published 10 Sep 2016, CLAWS)

“…[t]he main advantage of using drones is precisely that they are unmanned. With the operators safely tucked in air-conditioned rooms far away, there’s no pilot at risk of being killed or maimed in a crash. No pilot to be taken captive by enemy forces. No pilot to cause a diplomatic crisis if shot down in a “friendly country” while bombing or spying without official permission”  [1]

Medea Benjamin, 2013

The aim of this article is to look at some of the developments and the technological spinoffs that are likely to have a profound impact upon uninterrupted 24/7 gathering of real time strategic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data.


X-37 B. The X-37 B or the Orbital Test Vehicle[2] mystery aircraft of the US Air Force has nearly completed one year in orbit and it is not known when it will land. The X-37 B program has been shrouded in mystery since its inception some time in 1999 as a NASA program. The X-37 B has a wingspan of 24 m, a length of 2.9 m, a height of 4.6 m, and a launch weight of 4990 kg. It is powered by GaAs solar cells and lithium-ion batteries after it is boosted into space. It can remain in orbit for periods of over one year. As per US Air Force fact sheet the mission of the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV, is “an experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform for the U.S. Air Force. The primary objectives of the X-37B are twofold: reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth”[3]. It states further that OTV missions till now have spent a total of 1,367 days in orbit, “successfully checking out the X-37B’s reusable flight, re-entry and landing technologies.” As per US Air Force fact sheet[4] some of the technologies being tested include advanced guidance, navigation and control, thermal protection systems, avionics, high temperature structures and seals, conformal reusable insulation, lightweight electromechanical flight systems, advanced propulsion systems & autonomous orbital flight, reentry and landing. It is said that X-37 B has a XR-5A Hall Thruster made by Aerojet Rocketdyne and that it carries an experimental propulsion system developed by the US Air Force.

VULTURE. VULTURE is an acronym for DARPA’s Very-high altitude, Ultra-endurance, Loitering Theater Unmanned Reconnaissance Element[5] program. The objective of the Vulture program was to enable an uninterrupted ISR and communication missions spanning 5years or more by remaining airborne at very high altitude. The VULTURE was envisaged to operate as a single platform, or as a formation of multiple aircraft, or as a constellation providing infrastructure augmentation/recovery. The project transformed into Boeing/ Phantom Works Solareagle (VULTURE II) project, which aimed to reach that five-year endurance mark with its 120m wingspan but the project was cancelled in 2012. Interestingly, both Facebook and Google have taken the lead from DARPA and have launched programs for ultra long endurance stratospheric drones.

High Altitude Airship. The Lockheed Martin High Altitude Airship[6] (HAA™)  is an un-tethered, unmanned lighter-than-air vehicle that is being designed to operate above the jet stream in a geostationary position to deliver persistent station keeping as a surveillance platform, telecommunications relay, or a weather observer. It will provide the military with, ever-present ISR, and rapid communications connectivity over the entire battle space. The airship is estimated to survey a 600-mile diameter area and millions of cubic miles of airspace.

Global Hawk. Global Hawk is the long-range, high-altitude ISR UAV of the US Air Force. It can fly for up to 32 hours at altitudes as high as 60,000 feet, with a range of 12,300 nautical miles[7], providing imaging and signals intelligence, as well as communications support, to troops around the world. It is battle proven and gives near-real-time, day and night, all weather high-resolution imagery of large geographical areas. The US Air Force plans to spend $4Bn on upgrading Global Hawk drone program[8].

Triton MQ 4C. The US Navy will continue with Triton MQ-4C that can stay aloft for over 24 hours at 17,000 m. It has speeds of up to 610 km/h[9]. Its surveillance sensor is the AN/ZPY-3 Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) X-band AESA radar with a 360-degree field-of-regard, capable of surveying 7,000,000 sq km of sea. It utilizes the radar in inverse synthetic aperture mode[10] to identify a target in any weather condition and take high definition radar pictures, then use the advanced image and radar return recognition software of the onboard automatic identification system (AIS) for classification.

Sensors Packages

Gorgon Stare. In December 2015, the US DOD confirmed[11] that the Gorgon Stare wide-area airborne surveillance (WAAS) system had been incorporated in to the Reaper MQ-9 UAV of the US Air Force missions flying over Afghanistan. The basic configuration of Gorgon Stare consists of five monochrome charge-coupled device (CCD) daylight cameras and four thermal cameras built into a 25-inch EO/IR turret with a separate pod for data links. The advanced version of the above is the Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System, (ARGUS-IS).

ARGUS. The ARGUS-IS, is a  DARPA project contracted to BAE Systems and is a type of  of wide-area persistent surveillance system[12]. It is a camera system that utilizes hundreds of mobile phone cameras in a mosaic to video and auto-track every moving object within a 36 square mile area. ARGUS-IS provides military users an “eyes-on” persistent wide area surveillance capability to support tactical users in a dynamic battle space or urban environment. The sensor uses 4 lenses and 368 cell phone cameras of 5 megapixels each. The major components of the system are a 1.8 Gigapixels video system and its processing subsystems, in the air and on the ground. In early 2014, ARGUS-IS achieved initial operating capability (IOC) with the U.S. Air Force as part of Gorgon Stare Increment 2[13]. The system streams a million terabytes of HD video per day. The enormous amount of data can be stored  indefinitely and subjected to review as and when required[14]. It is understood that ARGUS can be easily deployed on UAVs like Predator and HALE. The software utilized by ARGUS-IS is Persistics.

Software Persistics. The brain for handling of the immense amount of data gathered by the advanced surveillance cameras is a software program called Persistics developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. Fundamentally, it is a data compression program, which can compress the raw wide area video data from aircraft and UAVs by 1000 times and achieve a reduction of pre-processed images by a factor of ten. Persistics compresses data that is essentially a background data like jitter, static images of the background etc. while retaining the images of military interest. The system functions by; carrying out  video stabilization[15] using ‘pixel-level dense image correspondence’; background image compression; aligning image positions obtained from different cameras, and output images of moving objects with sub-pixel resolution.


The military is moving rapidly towards gathering of strategic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data. The processing of such voluminous data is also being undertaken by advanced techniques utilizing artificial intelligence to a large extent. Nevertheless, the kill loop still takes considerable time from detection by the unmanned vehicles in the sky to activation of the armed response. Time is therefore ripe for the long endurance UAVs to start deploying armament on their pods. However, the automation of the drones to execute the kills on their own, without a human in the loop, is still some years away.


[1] Benjamin, Medea. 2013. Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. New York, NY: Verso.



[4] Ibid.