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Iranian Kamikaze Drones

Context

  • According to Ukrainian officials, the capital region of Ukraine was recently struck by Iranian-made kamikaze drones.
  • Ukraine claims Russia imported the drones, known as Shahed-136 in Iran. Tehran officials, for their part, deny supplying Russia with the weapons.

Relevance

GS Paper 2: International relations

GS Paper 3: Security challenges and their management in border areas – linkages of organized crime with terrorism, Defence Technology, Indigenization of Technology

Mains Question

When it comes to terrorism and hybrid warfare, drones as a technology present a uniquely perplexing and complex security threat. Analyze critically. (150 words)


Kamikaze drones

  • These are small unmanned aircraft packed with explosives that can be flown directly at a tank or a group of troops and are destroyed when it hits the target and explodes.
  • Unlike drones that return to base once missiles are launched, kamikaze or suicide drones are destroyed in an attack.
  • The name comes from the World War II era’s feared Japanese kamikaze pilots.

These drones’ characteristics

  • Modern drone versions can outperform traditional defences to strike their targets and are also less expensive than their larger counterparts.
  • The small lethal drones are difficult to detect on radar and can be programmed to hit targets without human intervention using facial recognition.
  • These are also known as loitering munition because they can hover around the target area for some time (much longer than a cruise missile) and attack only once a target is located.
  • These drones are slow, but they carry a powerful charge, so a hit from them is equivalent to a missile hit.

What countries have these drones?

  • Some countries have admitted to using such armed drones, while others have accused them of being used for covert operations.
    • According to the US military, Iranian-backed militias used small drones in 10 attacks this year on US bases in Iraq.
    • In recent years, Azerbaijan has used small Turkish-made drones against the Armenian military.
    • In 2019, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels used them to blow up Saudi oil facilities.
  • Security analysts believe the US Kamikaze is the most advanced in this class of drones, but Russia, China, Israel, Iran, and Turkey all have versions of it.

Why is it difficult to deal with a drone?

  • Conventional radar systems are incapable of detecting small flying objects. If these radars are calibrated to detect drones, they may misidentify a bird as a drone.
  • At the moment, forces primarily use their eyesight to detect drones and then shoot them down. Shooting these drones is difficult because they fly at high altitudes that are difficult to target.
  • High energy beam technology has also been tested to disable their navigation, interfere with their radio frequency, or simply fry their circuits.
    • None of these, however, have proven to be foolproof.

India’s existing drone arsenal

  • Drone use by Indian security forces has increased dramatically in the last decade or so. However, India has not been reported to be in possession of any Kamikaze drones thus far.
  • The Indian armed forces have a large number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), primarily of Israeli origin, for real-time reconnaissance and precision targeting.
    • For example, the Israeli Air Force has Harop “killer” missiles that act as cruise missiles by exploding into enemy targets and radars.
    • There are also plans to equip more than half of the Israeli Heron UAVs inducted by the armed forces with laser-guided bombs, air-to-ground anti-tank missiles, and advanced reconnaissance capabilities.
  • This will be done as part of ‘Project Cheetah.’
  • Unlike the American Predators and Reapers, India currently lacks full-fledged unmanned combat aerial vehicles.
    • These are satellite-controlled and can fire missiles at enemy targets before returning to rearm for future missions.
  • The proposed acquisition of 30 armed MQ-9B Predator or Sea Guardian drones from the United States has been put on hold.
    • This is due to the high costs involved, as well as the emphasis on indigenization in defence production.
  • During the Army Day Parade in New Delhi in January 2021, the Indian Army performed a live demonstration of Drone Swarming capability in attack and support tasks.
    • The drones being released in a swarm is a tactic known as swarm drone technology.
    • Under the Defence Technology Trade Initiative, India has been working with the United States to develop swarming drones since 2018.
  • In July 2022, India carried out the maiden flight of the Autonomous Flying Wing Technology Demonstrator, also known as the ‘Stealth Wing Flying Testbed’ (SWiFT).
  • SWiFT was created as a technology demonstrator for India’s top-secret stealth combat drone, Ghatak.

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December 2022
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