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Security Brief: CENTCOM Week of July 19, 2021

Updated: Aug 3

Week of Monday, July 19, 2021 | Issue 39

Vaania Kapoor Achuthan, Jujhar Singh, CENTCOM Team


Modular drones can replace cameras with IEDs to attack unsuspecting forces[1]


Date: June 27, 2021

Location: Indian Air Force Station, Jammu

Parties involved: India; allegedly Pakistan-sponsored or Kashmiri separatist groups

The event: Two drones carrying Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) exploded on a building roof and open field on an Indian military base in Kashmir. Two Indian soldiers were lightly injured and no military equipment was damaged beyond the building. Because the Indian base is close to the Pakistan-India border, the Indian government suspects that Pakistan-sponsored Kashmiri militants like Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) carried out the attack. A day after the attack, two additional drones were intercepted by Indian forces.[2] Other reports indicate that three drones were spotted after the attack and disappeared into the sky after Indian troops engaged them. Although this appears to be the first use of a UAV in an offensive capacity against India, India has also accused Pakistan of using Chinese made drones to drop weapons for Kashmiri militants, a claim Islamabad denies.[3] Both countries have also claimed to shoot down each others’ surveillance drones in their respective areas of Jammu and Kashmir.[4] The most recent shoot-down of a drone carrying a 5kg IED on July 23 supports this assessment of UAVs’ increased use during low intensity conflict, also known as the “gray-zone.”


The implications:

  • As the first attack using Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) against India, this event could indicate a significant shift in Kashmiri militants’ tactics, which usually involve the use of more direct, confrontational methods to fight Indian forces. The shift from guerrilla warfare to the usage of sophisticated technology could increase the threat that Pakistani terrorist groups pose to Indian security forces in disputed areas. It is also likely to threaten the legitimacy of the February 2021 India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement. As drone technology becomes cheaper with the ability to carry heavier payloads, it is highly likely that terror groups will increase their use of drones because UAVs can avoid radar detection and are an easy way to plausibly deny the attacks that they perpetrate. More attacks on Indian installations are possible and thus, in response to this threat as well as to counter it, it is possible that India will install countermeasures like lasers and remote sensors.

  • It is unknown if the drones were controlled by militants, or preprogrammed to fly. Although there is no indication of direct Pakistani culpability in the attacks, the drones were likely manufactured in China and distributed to Pakistan for use by proxy militant groups because of Islamabad’s close economic and security relations with Beijing. The use of China-made hardware in terror attacks on Indian forces will almost certainly increase tensions between China and India, leading to provocations in the Indian ocean and border clashes in the Gulwan Valley. If LeT is responsible for the attacks, the attacks demonstrate that the group is still a favorite of Pakistani security services despite law enforcement actions against LeT’s senior leadership in recent years. Why the drone attack occurred now is unclear, however technological diffusion from other conflicts like Iraq, Syria, and Libya, where drones are used by various groups, likely serves as a source of inspiration for Pakistani militants. This attack is likely to be an important step in dictating the future of warfare, indicating that technology can be used both for counterterrorism as well as terrorist activities. Thus, it is important that both India and Pakistan reinvigorate their counterterrorism methods to combat the growing use of technology, specifically drones, by terrorist groups.

  • With the resurgence of Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and now the usage of drones by LeT, it is likely that Pakistan and Afghanistan are witnessing increased innovation by terrorist groups with attack drones. It is possible for the three groups to form coalitions in the near future, sharing technology, expertise and human capital. It is also likely to increase turmoil across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, threatening border security. India too is likely to see a rise in violence at their border with Pakistan, and it is possible for Pakistan to face retaliation from terror attacks from groups harbored in India. Overall, the future of Indo-Pakistan relations look bleak, with inter-state terrorist attacks likely to increase, emboldened by the use of technology and drones for these activities.

[1]Modular drones can replace cameras with IEDs to attack unsuspecting forces” by Robert Lynch licensed under Public Domain

[2] Indian air force base in Kashmir hit by explosions, Al-Jazeera, June 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/27/india-probes-suspected-use-of-drones-in-blast-at-jammu-air-base

[3] Indian police say bomb-laden drones hit air base in Kashmir, Associated Press, June 2021, https://apnews.com/article/kashmir-india-religion-5aa73efb693b3a6bda7739dbdba027a3

[4] Ibid.


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