What next after Rafale – please don’t go shopping anywhere


Rafale is good, but does not provide any strategic advantage. Next round of strategic advantage for any force will come from drone technology and India should start investing in it so that few years from now we are self sufficient and pioneers in Drone based weapons

Entire India is jubilant with first Rafale key handed over to our Defence Minister and Ayudh Puja conducted in France with Chandan, Roli and Diya over the aircraft. The government is ecstatic and leaving no opportunity to reap the political mileage out of it. It is being portrayed as if Rafale is the “Brahmastra” that the country was waiting for – and any and every enemy is going to lick the dirt. Media across the ideological spectrum lauded the efforts by government to ameliorate the technological obsolescence of Indian Air Force. Shekhar Gupta(www.theprint.in) of “The Print” stated that he was happy to see that the aircraft museum that IAF had become, has got some shelves of modern equipment.There are others (Samir Shukla in TOI, www.timesofindia.com ) who question why we need to buy this from other country even when we have spent billions in setting up institutions like IITs, IISC and DRDO etc. It is a serious point to be pondered over by all our think tanks and intellectuals as to why we have not been able to produce our own Rafale while these same engineers and scientists create new inventions elsewhere. It is really sad to see us exporting engineers and importing engineering.

I have, however, another point to make. Should India focus its intellect and money on building Rafale kind of technology and do a catch up with the other countries while other countries develop next generation weapons? World over, the weapon technology is moving away from creating big and giant weapons to focus on small and smart weapons. Should we not continue to buy current technology and invest in building new and next generation weapons so that we do not have to do a catch up in, say. 5 to 10 years from now? If we do not jump the step in building capability, we will continue to buy weapons which are outdated at a much inflated price and still remain under constant threat from neighboring China which is building its domestic capability at a much faster pace – and also from neighboring Pakistan which is able to get all weapons from China. 

Future wars are increasingly becoming autonomous and technology is going to be a big part of war capability. With all of undersea cables and satellite communications. And ever increasing accuracy of sensors do we really need a human pilot to go out in the enemy space? If that be so, do we really need such a big machine to fly so high up and then go down? Yes we do; but, not not a whole lot. Our future war is not going to be won on machismo and fire power, but on intelligence and maneuverability. Do we really need a submarine loaded with a squadron full of cadets to infiltrate the enemy squadrons? probably not. we have Sea Hunters which are 132 feet and designed to go off and do missions of up to 10,000 miles on a single tank of fuel with no one on board. World is talking about a squadron of air force with one Fighter Pilot supported by rest of un-manned drones. Autonomous infantry is another areas of weapon evolution where countries like USA and China are spending huge amount of money.in order to  be focused in my writing and in order to bring the point, let me point to the fact that world over there has been increased spending on Drones by military establishments. Chinese company DJI has really taken over this industry by storm with its cheap drone manufacturing in Middle east. The U.S. military’s spending on drones is set to reach a five-year high. The Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2018 budget request contains $6.97 billion for drone-related procurement, research and development, and system-specific construction. The Pentagon is expected to ramp up its investment in unmanned aerial vehicles in the coming years as new capabilities come online and the U.S. military prepares for high-end fights against advanced adversaries.


Drone Spending by Function ( https://dronecenter.bard.edu)

Annual spending on Dornes has been increasing and increasing at a much faster pace. what is more interesting to see is that the spending on Research and development in Drone technology is increasing at a a rapid speed. World over, defense establishments have realized the  importance of Drones for military usage.


Drone Spending over the eyars( https://dronecenter.bard.edu)

the proliferation of drone technology is expected to continue as countries like China, which has emerged as a major exporter of unmanned systems, to include armed drones, and others export drones around the world. 

We can not afford to have an IAF pilot engage in dog fight any more and a Mig 21 raising a lone battle against any other aircraft. Days of fighter aircraft engaging in dogfight with Military planes are over. Fighter air crafts are going to become more of a control and command center in sky connected intelligently to squadrons of drones, multiple satellites and to the ground command center. Drones are going to be foot soldiers ( or Wing Soldiers) in the sky. These drones can counter attack, gather frontier intelligence, do a suicide attack by self destroying themselves or do a precision attack to kill target enemy. Drone Squadron can be highly agile and super maneuverable force. At instruction they can fly very low, stay dormant for longer period of time and at the opportune time, overwhelm the enemy with sudden coordinated attach. Imagine a scenario where one IAF pilot on our beloved Rafale, within the Indian air space has a squadron of drones infiltrated kilometers in Pakistani airspace because they can fly very low. The IAF Pilot is the Operations In-Charge and commanding the drones supported by base command center on the ground. These Drones go-deep in the enemy territory and destroy the terrorist hide-outs, terrorists and if required destroy themselves to annihilate the targets. This narration is not science fiction but reality – our forces have to adopt the emerging technology. 

The point I am trying to make is that our government should realize that next war will be fought trough technology and not through muscle power. We have ample technology which we sell to entire world and unfortunately do not use for ourselves. Let us wake up to the reality and invest appropriately in research, procurement and production. Government of India  has looked at finalizing procurement of Drones from Indian companies worth $ 3 bn over next 10 years which is a good step. This is not enough. I feel there should be dedicated research on Drone technology and its usage and there should be investment in developing new technologies. We have all the ingredients and we can be the best in this area within few years. we need focused attention from the government. Fortunately, the government of the day is open to listen – and, I hope the government is listening. 
Another important point that the government should realize is that our countries immediate and more sinister enemy are the terrorist groups. These terrorists groups are adopting Drone technology at an alarming rate. Drone technology has made it possible for even the smaller insurgent groups to acquire capabilities to penetrate deep in to the territories without spending enormous amount of money or even its men. India is; therefore, in double danger from a lethal combination of a hostile neighbor and also from all the terrorist groups world over who have been targeting the country for last four decades. Research in Drone technology to generate credible anti-Drone technology is also of immediate urgency. 
Government of India does not have much time. The technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that India will be found catching up in another 5 years if it does not do something serious now. It will not be too far that Pakistan will get the technology from China, If we do not put a coordinated effort to become world leader in Military Drone technology now, In 5 years , Indian drone capability will be in a similar situation which IAF is today – old Mig 21 sent to fight superior F16. We do not want to celebrate any import of Drone technology – Mr Government. Knock, Knock – Hope there is someone who is listening. 


1. https://www.theverge.com/2018/12/5/18127785/one-nation-under-drones-john-jackson-military-war-weapons-interview

2. https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/08/27/pentagon-seeks-to-counter-chinas-drone-edge/


4. nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz

5. https://dronecenter.bard.edu/projects/defense-spending-on-drones/drones-2018-defense-budget/
6. https://www.defensenews.com/air/2016/03/20/india-finalizes-3b-blueprint-for-uav-fleets/

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