by Ashish Shukla

India is scrambling to keep its skies safe after the US breached the sovereignty of its “friend” Iraq by carrying out an illegal drone attack which killed, among others, Iran’s top military commander, General Qassem Soleimani.

New Delhi already has a regulatory policy in place for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their remote pilots who require prior permission to be in Indian skies but it’s no safeguard if a foe (Pakistan, for example) or a perceived friend (the United States) comes hissing from above and starts raining mayhem.

India had begun to put its drone policy in place after Pakistan was caught dropping a cache of arms in Punjab last September, but it’s the United States, with its brazen disregard for international norms, as well as its murderous drone background, which has had a chilling effect on India’s strategic boardrooms.

General Soleimani’s was a cold-blooded assassination, but the United States makes no distinction between its enemies and friends, or civilians, as its drone attacks in seven countries – Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen – bear the imprint of its rogue strike. It has a cooperative security relationship in place with Iraq, yet it conducted what was described as an “outrageous breach of Iraqi sovereignty” by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in the wake of General Soleimani’s killing. 

US and its sordid drone history

In September last year, a US drone strike in Afghanistan snuffed out the lives of 30 civilian farm workers, and estimates of similar innocent deaths hover around 1,000-2,000. The exact count is difficult to verify since the United States no longer releases the annual reports on the civilians its airstrikes kill. The allocation of drones in its annual budget though had spiralled to nearly $7 billion in 2018 and conveys the increasing importance of this unmanned weapon in the United States’ aggressive military designs.

Now, in the wake of General Soleimani’s killing, India’s Army has asked the Home Ministry for the latest drone-disabling technology which could cut radio frequency and disable GPS. The future of warfare, if it’s not already upon us, would have drones mutating into swarms like bees or locusts and shooting them down would be nearly impossible. These swarms could swamp enemy sensors with their sheer numbers; neutralizing them digitally makes more sense.

India takes no prisoners

India is thus taking no prisoners as it has decided to expedite its ‘National Counter Rogue Drone Guidelines’ which describe measures to protect its leaders and vital installations from drone attacks. It deployed drones to monitor protests on its streets last month. Drone-strategy is part of the Indian military’s ambitious plans to spend $250 billion until 2025 to keep itself battle-primed.

Even before the drone-induced heightened tensions of present times, the Indian Air Force showed no interest in buying drones from the United States. It found the offer of 10 armed Predator or Avenger drones last August too prohibitive in costs.

Meanwhile, there are intelligence inputs in New Delhi that terrorists are readying themselves from across the border post-winter. There could be fresh attempts to air-drop funds, drugs and arms for their embedded sleeper-cells in the country. India simply can’t afford to take its eyes off either its friends or enemies.


Ashish Shukla
is a senior journalist and geopolitical analyst based in India, author of ‘How United States Shot Humanity.’ He runs the NewsBred website. Opinion, Readings in English