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India Demonstrates Drone Swarming Capability

On 16 January 2021, the Indian Army (IA) showcased a newly acquired drone swarming capability during its annual parade. Using 75 locally developed drones, the IA demonstrated multiple mission applications, such as anti-armour attacks, ground strikes, humanitarian and disaster relief, and logistics support.[1]

The IA is developing its drone swarming capability in partnership with a private sector player, NewSpace Research and Technologies. In the long-run, India intends to build the capacity to deploy 1,000 drones in a swarming formation at the same time. Its current capability allows it to strike at targets 100 km away.

However, India’s drone ambitions are far-reaching. In fact, it even intends to build an air-launched swarm capability under the Combat Air Teaming Systems (CATS) initiative. One CATS project, for example, would see the Indian Air Force (IAF) configure its Jaguar strike aircraft with 24 loitering munition-type drones.

It seems that India will integrate drone swarming to its air and land-based capabilities. The latter can result in vehicle-based tube-launchers armed with loitering munitions. In turn, India can invest in boosting the range of its loitering munitions and quadcopter drones. It could even look at using them in additional ways – e.g., electronic countermeasures (ECM) jamming and top-attack anti-armour strikes, among others.

Drone swarming will be a significant addition to India’s capabilities. Not only is the capability itself a clear sign of India maturing its drone technologies, but it could impact Pakistan.

Why Drone Swarms Are a Threat to Pakistan

Drone swarming introduces an asymmetrical element to conventional warfare. These aircraft are small in size, incredibly low-cost and, most importantly, disposable. Disposability frees the end-user to use these drones in high-risk scenarios without worrying about the loss of its own operators. The main way the end-user measures the success of these drones is whether they hit their targets. The only constraint is the cost of sustaining the numbers necessary to continually deploy drone swarms.

The capability also opens another way for India to undertake area-wide attacks. Instead of strictly relying on the Sensor-Fuzed Weapon (which can scatter guided sub-munitions over an area and strike individual armoured vehicles), for example, India can use swarms of loitering munitions to carryout anti-armour operations. In fact, it can deploy these drones from both land and air. In addition, because of the portable nature of the drones, it can disperse and station this capability across many units.

If India scales the application of drone swarms, it can use them in any scenario provided the drones have enough range to reach the target area. These systems will certainly be a threat to Pakistan’s built-up areas, such as its fixed positions across the Line-of-Control (LoC), or forward deployed units. In some situations, these drone swarms may even be threat to main operating bases and permanent positions.

Finally, the means to reliably stop drone swarms are not in place. Lockheed Martin is working to a directed energy weapon-based weapon, but Pakistan does not have anything comparable to that in its acquisition pipeline in the foreseeable future. There may be a solution in the form of various short-range air defence (SHORAD) systems, such as counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM) and anti-air guns (AAG) with air-burst ammunitions. However, the effectiveness of these systems against drone swarms is questionable – and if they do work to an extent, deploying them at a wide scale is cost-prohibitive.

Mirroring India is the Only Viable Solution

For Pakistan, the only way to reliably counter India’s drone swarm capability is to have a similar solution. In fact, if Pakistan acknowledges the magnitude of the threat, it will seek solutions from China and Turkey.

Turkish Drone Solutions

The STM (Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik) Kargu-series is similar in design to India’s quadcopter drone. It weighs 7 kg and can fly at a top speed of 145 km/h. The Kargu can operate in swarms of up to 20 aircraft, and it can stay airborne for up to 30 minutes. It is also configurable with different warhead options. [2]

In addition, STM also offers the Alpagu-series. The Alpagu is a fixed-wing loitering munition that the end-user can deploy from vehicles and foot. It offers a range of up to 5 km and endurance of 10 minutes. The Alpagu can fly a top speed of 120 km/h, and it weighs 1.9 kg.[3]

Both the Kargu and Alpagu are part of STM’s wider initiative to develop drone swarming capabilities. The state-owned bureau is also working on artificial intelligence (AI) to drive autonomous operations – such as targeting – as well as drone-to-drone communication, target-sharing, and other capabilities.

Chinese Drone Solutions

The Chinese also have a quadcopter-based loitering munition. In terms of drone swarms, the Chinese have shown (at least in civilian applications) the ability to fly hundreds of quadcopter units. In addition, China also offers a fixed-wing loitering munition in the form of the CH-901. It has a range of up to 10 km and top speed of 120 km/h. Like the STM Alpagu, the CH-901 is also configurable with different warhead types.[4]

Like Turkey, China’s drone solutions are part of a wider program to deploy drone swarms. Basically, if one is importing a solution, they are basically buying an entire technology stack. The stack would comprise of the drone aircraft (e.g., quadcopters and fixed-wing loitering munitions), support equipment (e.g., ground control units), and the proprietary technologies to enable swarming and autonomous operation.

If Pakistan imports a solution from Turkey or China, it will perpetually rely on the supplier, at least for the sensitive technologies (e.g., autonomous operation). However, Pakistan could gain transfer-of-technology to domestically manufacture the aircraft. Turkey could even deliver the latter through offsets by tying the Pakistani private sector into the supply chain for the Pakistani armed forces.

Domestic Industry

Though it would rely on commercially-off-the-shelf (COTS) inputs (e.g., batteries), there is little to stop the Pakistani defence industry from designing and producing its own swarming drones. Be it state-owned or private sector entities, the capacity to develop a front-end system already exists.

The bigger challenge may be the autonomous flight capability, though an entity like the Centre of Artificial Intelligence and Computing (CENTAIC) could develop that stack. However, it is unclear if Pakistan is as far along on that front as China, Turkey, or India. Pakistan will likely start by importing a turn-key solution.

Pakistan Should Rethink its Procurement Strategy

This situation exposes Pakistan’s inability to deeply study and adopt new warfare trends. Granted, limited financial resources are a major constraint, and they make adopting new technologies difficult.

However, drone swarm development is actually an outcome of resource optimization and cost control. It is much easier to develop in that Pakistan does not require as many proprietary or industrial-scale inputs to produce the munitions and technology stack as it would for a fighter aircraft, for example.

One reason why Pakistan did not pursue swarming drone technology sooner is that its idea of optimizing resources is antiquated. When it faces a gap against India, Pakistan tries filling it by acquiring comparable – but similar – weapons. However, due to fewer funds, Pakistan usually makes a compromise – either in by cutting the quantity, omitting a feature, or reducing the performance parameters.

For Pakistan, the goal is achieving a ‘minimum viable capability’ with the resources it has available. But it will rarely eliminate a gap. Basically, at some level, India will maintain an edge because Pakistan does not have the resources to close every deficit. Thus, Pakistan should consider a rethink of its approach.

Basically, instead of trying to use its limited resources to match India’s capabilities, it should look at ways to eliminate the gaps entirely. In other words, it should look at alternative solutions and not restrict itself to matching India (though in some cases, it would need to as there is no alternative).

That is the type of thinking that would have led to Pakistan acquiring swarming drones earlier than India. For example, if Pakistan is worried about its air coverage for anti-armour operations, it would look for other ways (in addition to attack helicopters and aircraft) to address the gap. In this case, ground-launched loitering munitions with top-attack capability could have been an option.

Fortunately, it is not too late for Pakistan to take full-spectrum drone development seriously. In fact, drone development is spinning off into diverse lines ranging from simpler munition-type aircraft for swarms all the way up to sophisticated deep-strike aircraft. Thus, the entire area should be of focus to Pakistan.

[1] “Army Displays Drone Swarming Prowess.” Hindustan Times. 16 January 2021. URL:

[2] Product Profile. Kargu. Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik. URL:

[3] Product Profile. Alpagu. Savunma Teknolojileri Mühendislik.

[4] “China defense industry presents CH-901 suicide drone at SOFEX 2018.” Army Recognition. 09 May 2018. URL:

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