- According to the most recent news, India is in the process of buying swarm drones to meet ISR needs for military operations in mountainous terrain.
- The Indian Army would do well to ask the U.S. to show off this ability during the upcoming Yudh Abhyas exercise.
Between October 14 and 31, the Indian Army and the US Army will hold high-altitude military exercises in Ladakh, not far from the Line of Actual Control (LAC), where India and the People’s Republic of China are in a military standoff (PRC). As part of the 15th round of the Yudh Abhyas joint military exercise, India will show the strategies and tactics the army uses in high altitude or mountain warfare. In the same way, the US Army will show off its technologies that can be used in mountainous areas.
US Technologies for Indian Use
Communication technology, which is likely to work well in high-altitude mountain terrain, is one of the most important areas. First of all, the US Army has already started bringing in new Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) technologies that can be used in high-altitude environments.
Take the US Army’s Aerial Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (A-ISR) system, which is an airborne platform also known as the Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System (ARES). It recently went through demonstration tests in the Indo-Pacific. The most recent information shows that it is still in the technology demonstration stage, but it won’t be long before it is put to use in a full-fledged way.
The ARES was sent to the Indo-Pacific in April to do operational work. The ARES is a technology demonstration based on a business jet that will help gather and process intelligence in real time. From the point of view of gathering intelligence, the ARES helps with three things: processing, exploiting, and spreading (PED).
Even if the ARES system is just a technology demonstrator and not ready for use or sale, its capabilities could be shown to the Indian Army during the Yudh Abhyas joint exercises in October. The US Army could show off its technological skills with more than just the ARES system.
In what the US Army calls a “passively denied environment,” which is made up of mountain features like valleys and mountain folds that create natural barriers against Radio Frequency (RF) and communication relays, technologies are being tested to find ways for soldiers to communicate with senior commanders who are far away when they are sent to fight in undulating mountain terrain.
The US Army is currently testing the “Aerial Tier Network,” which is made up of a swarm of drones. This is to get around the problems that these natural features of mountainous areas cause. These drones are made to send signals down and receive them up from the ground. This lets the signals “hop” over obstacles and lets soldiers talk across a rough mountain battlefield, like between two valleys separated by a mountain ridge, using a network of High Aerial Platforms (HAPs).
Lack of good communication is likely to make military operations very hard to run. Without signal relays, soldiers might not only lose touch with each other but also fail to coordinate and synchronise their responses to actions by the enemy. If infantry fighting units are spread out across mountainous terrain and lose contact with each other, the enemy will be able to set up ambushes, stop the movement of troops, and send in reinforcements.
As of right now, satellites are used to relay or send messages. Satellites do have flaws, though. They can be jammed, and they could be destroyed with either physical or non-physical counterspace capabilities, such as Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons.
HAPs can be used to deal with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Pakistan, which are a constant threat to India. This is because HAPs are more flexible in ways that satellites are not. Modern battlefields have a lot of sensors, so adding HAPs to satellite communications makes sense for tracking and locating enemy positions, directing artillery fire accurately, and letting infantry units and armoured units working in high-altitude terrain work together closely.
If precision firepower is to be used effectively against widely spaced targets in thin air, which is a key feature of high-altitude terrain, using high-altitude technologies that the Americans are likely to show off will be at least helpful, if not an absolute necessity.
High-altitude Technologies and Mountain Warfare
From India’s point of view, these high-altitude technologies will help the army integrate them into its operational strategy and tactics in the area of mountain warfare. To be exact, American technologies designed for mountain warfare might not be available right away. However, the US Army’s demonstration will show the Indian Army what to expect and how these technologies might be used in mountain military operations. It will also give the Indian Army a chance to compare how well its ISR capabilities for high-altitude operations work with those of the US.
The Indian Army has a lot of knowledge and experience with high-altitude warfare that the US Army could learn from. But the Americans are by no means novices or newcomers in this area. American ground forces have a lot of experience fighting terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan’s rough mountainous areas. This is because they have been doing this for many years.
India’s own work in this area could be helped by these technologies. According to the most recent news, India is in the process of buying swarm drones to meet ISR needs for military operations in mountainous terrain. The Indian Army is likely to buy two sets of swarm drones made by two Bengaluru-based start-ups. These drones will help the army’s ground units in Eastern Ladakh with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and communications.
These Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) will help the Indian Army with communication relays, surveillance data, and intelligence about enemy force movements and deployment patterns that involve concealment and deception. They will also help coordinate armoured, mechanised, and infantry-based defensive and offensive operations. But it is not clear what Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities these drone sets have for use across the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS).
Any military fight between India and China will happen in a place with a lot of electromagnetic waves. Without significant EW capabilities in the Indian Army’s order of battle, Suppression of Enemy Defense (SEAD), Electronic Attack (EA), Electronic Support (ES), and Electronic Protection (EP) are all necessary to dominate the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS), or at least to stop the PLA ground and air forces from dominating the EMS.
If China controls the EMS during a war with India, India won’t be able to know what’s going on, talk to its army, or tell its weapons where to go. The US Army is in the process of integrating the Multi-Function Electronic Warfare – At Large (AFEW-AL) pod, which will probably be mounted on a MQ-1 Gray Eagle drone. The Indian Army would do well to ask the U.S. to show off this ability during the upcoming Yudh Abhyas exercise.
Even though Washington wants and prefers that the Indian Army get technology from the US, India could eventually develop some of these technologies on its own without much help from other countries. Still, for now, the focus should be on evaluating and figuring out how well and how relevant American technologies are for meeting the tough needs of mountain warfare.
Even though the Indian Army has bought swarm drones, they should hold off on making a decision until they see the American demonstration, which might show how their own swarm drone deployments work together and what their strengths and weaknesses are.