Redefining Modern Warfare: The Rise of Drones and Anti-Drone Systems

Drone-based surveillance and top-attack systems, anti-drone systems, precision guided munitions, AI and robotics, battlefield awareness – have all acquired new meaning in shaping modern day warfare

General Philip Campose
New Update
Drone technology
Listen to this article
0.75x 1x 1.5x
00:00 / 00:00

The most significant fact about major global conflicts of the past four years, namely Ukraine, Nagorno Karabakh, Gaza and the Red Sea, are the disruptive nature of attacks by the weaker adversary, as also  the technology-driven character of these attacks.


Most importantly, what stands out is the cost-effective advantage of the means employed. Thus, drone-based surveillance and top-attack systems, anti-drone systems, precision guided munitions, AI and robotics, battlefield awareness – have all acquired new meaning in shaping modern day warfare. Of these means, drone warfare – the employment of drones and anti-drone systems in warfare – can be described as the most significant and cost-effective development in the modern battlefield.

India too has been facing external challenges in the military domain due to its unresolved border disputes. Not only has India to deal with relentless territorial challenges from its two belligerent neighbours but it also has to deal with active connivance between the two, which has extended, in the past, even to the prohibited realm of sharing nuclear weapons technology. Our existing border disputes have the potential to escalate into military conflict at short notice. Thus, ignoring the existence and/ or the potential magnitude of these threats can only be at dire peril to our strategic autonomy, adverse impacts on which, could well disrupt  our aspirations to become a  global power of the future. 

On the other hand, given the volumes involved, we face serious budgetary challenges in meeting the modernization needs of our armed forces, be it in the realm of modern guns, missiles, tanks, infantry combat vehicles,  aircraft, warships or submarines. Indigenisation and self-reliance in military procurement are thus touted as the priority means to meet our future military requirements. But, due to the complex nature of modern weaponry and armament, as also the fledgling nature of our industry, it will take a long time for our indigenization efforts to materialize up to the desired levels.

It is in these aforesaid contexts that acquisition of drones and anti-drone systems, and development of related technology, provide a possible answer to our modernization problem, at least as an interim measure. Essentially, drones are unmanned aerial vehicles, which provide highly lethal, yet a low-signature, low-vulnerability  and low-cost option, for dealing with the current range of military threats. Drone warfare of the future, and acquisition of means thereto, have also to be seen in the context of combining all the latest defence technologies  - including those for  long-range and long-endurance surveillance, target acquisition and tracking, battlefield awareness, lethal engagement of platform-based targets at varying distances  utilizing precision guided munitions, command & control,  damage assessment, communications, logistics, and so on. Related ‘swarm drone’ technology, involving coordinated employment of multiple drones, also need to be mastered and implemented for maximizing the disruptive effect. Concurrently, keeping in view the acquisition of drone warfare systems by our adversaries, anti- drone systems, both in the non-kinetic and kinetic realm, need to developed and/or procured at utmost priority, even for addressing the swarm drone threat. 

What is important to note is that while developing drones, a serious effort  must be made to ensure high quality, low-signature as well as  cost-effectiveness. Needless to emphasise, drones which are large and vulnerable, and which involve high cost to develop or procure, defeat the very purpose of acquiring this system or producing it indigenously.  Equally important, the acquisition of drones for military purposes need to be regulated and coordinated to ensure quality standards and optimization of resources. Haphazard procurement would also not be cost effective, and could even pose serious challenges in their employment. To that extent, a drone management agency also needs to be established under the CDS, if not done so already.

So, what are the roles of Drones and Drone Systems in Modern Warfare?

Drone system

  • Surveillance and Reconnaissance
  • Intelligence Gathering
  • Stealth and Covert Operations
  • Facilitate Battlefield Awareness
  • Target Acquisition and Tracking
  • Lethal Engagement of Targets
  • Guidance for Precision Strikes
  • Battle Damage Assessment
  • Command & Control
  • Neutralising enemy drones
  • Electronic Warfare
  • Search & Rescue Operations
  • Humanitarian Aid Assistance
  • Communication Operations
  • Logistic Support

What are the Advantages of Drone Warfare over Conventional Warfare Means:

Drone system

  • Round the clock & all weather operations
  • Low Radar Signature
  • Stealthy system
  • Drastic Improvement in Attacker Vs Target Cost Benefit Ratio
  • Reduces Risk and Fatigue to Personnel
  • Maximises related use of technological support means
  • Minimises collateral damage due to better accuracy of engagement and by incorporating IFF
  • Better response to emergency situations

Types of Drone Systems that we need include:

Drone system

Surveillance drones – Short endurance, medium endurance and Long endurance

Top attack drones using guns, rockets or missiles, to engage multiple targets at tactical, operational and strategic depths.

Loiter attack (Kamikaze) drones to destroy critical targets

Underwater attack drones

Equally important is the acquisition of Anti-Drone Systems – to protect our assets and personnel from drone attacks – in keeping pace with developments in drone technology. The following facts are relevant in this regard: 

Modern, technology-based anti-drone systems utilize AI, machine learning and low-collateral electronic counter measures to detect, identify  and neutralize the enemy’s drone  systems.

Essentially, detection of small radar cross section (RCS) drones is done using  optical, acoustic or IR sensors or Radio Frequency analysers or counter drone radars, using multi-doppler capability.

This process is followed by classification (for differentiation from birds) and identification/ IFF of targets..

Thereafter, the enemy drones are neutralized   by electronic jamming,  using RF jammers or high power microwave devices or high energy lasers, , or they are killed using kinetic engagement, using air defence guns, medium machine guns or missiles.

Alternately, the drone’s control can be taken over by cyber means and manipulated or captured.

Types of Anti-Drone Systems that need to be acquired:

Drone system

Sensor Systems, involving one or more of the following:

  • Multi-doppler radar
  • Acoustic sensors (microphones]
  • Optical sensors & trackers (cameras)
  • Radio Frequency (RF) analysers
  • Drone Neutralising Systems:
  • Nets and net guns
  • Radio frequency Jammers
  • GPS Spoofers
  • High Power microwave (HPM) devices
  • High Energy lasers
  • Cyber takeover systems
  • Machine guns or missiles

sensor System

To summarise, currently, drones are the most important and cost-effective system required by our military to develop the desired capability with a view to plug possible gaps in our defence modernization, as also to disrupt the nefarious plans of our adversaries. Concurrently, anti-drone systems would be required to neutralize the capabilities that our adversaries would have developed or acquired in the drone warfare arena. It is also important that, while ensuring high quality, the  cost of procurement/ production is kept low – to make it attainable and cost-effective - towards optimizing our capability development, in the current context.

Jai Hind!

Electronic Warfare modern battlefield cost-effective development Anti-Drone Systems Modern Warfare Drones