The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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However abhorrent most votaries of peace may find the prospect of war, there are high chances of one breaking out in the coming weeks in Iraq. If Washington’s fierce battle-cries do lead to a flare-up, it will be the rapid technological advances made in recent years in the area of combat warfare which will decide the outcome. Individual acts of bravery are inconsequential in the face of these gadgets.

During the first Kuwait war 12 years ago, the United States of America and its allies had launched a massive military offensive. Air power and long-range air- and sea-launched cruise missiles had played an important part in that operation. But the most significant aspect had been the minimal use of ground forces, with the exception of a few tanks.

In 1998 again, Tomahawk cruise missiles with improved “circular error probability” were used on terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, indicating how superior military technology would win all future wars. Media reports say the US plans to use 300 to 400 cruise missiles a day over Iraq. This is much more than what was used during the entire Kuwait war. Analysts feel that these new technologies would make any attack on Iraq swift, surprising and massive.

Target practice

Some of these new age devices include surveillance and communication satellites, high-flying manned and unmanned spy planes, various ballistic and cruise missiles, as also remote-controlled drones capable of targetting hostile positions deep in enemy territory.

A missile fired by the American Predator drone over Yemen recently killed six suspected al Qaida terrorists. The high-flying drone picked up the vehicle carrying them using television or radar signals and tracked it as it sped along the highway. Predators have also been used to hit Iraqi targets over “no flying zones”.

The US army is also reportedly developing a laser beam to disable hostile satellites in space. In India too, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre is reportedly trying to develop a similar device — a powerful electron-accelerator called “Kali 5000”, which can be used as a beam weapon.

Most of these marvels are way beyond the means of most countries, but it is the cheaper remote-piloted vehicles and unmanned airborne vehicles which have been lately proving their efficacy in military operations. Both India and Pakistan use unmanned spy planes extensively along the line of control. Their small size allows these machines to cross the border, collect intelligence inputs and return back to their respective territories before the opposition is in a position to shoot them down.

Remote control

While Pakistan boasts of its own, indigenously-produced RPVs, India’s Defence Research and Development Organization too has designed the Nishant and Lakshya unmanned craft. The former is an UAV which can survey the battlefield from high altitudes, the latter is used for air-to-air and ground-to-air target practice by fighter pilots and gun crews. The latter, which can be modified for combat, is already in use in the armed forces, while Nishant is under trial. The Indian army is also in the process of acquiring the Israeli Searcher II drones.

Military designers are in the process of improving the UAVs, as per the lessons from Afghanistan where they were first used significantly, in preparation for their deployment in Iraq. The new improved devices can navigate obstacles in the terrain, lay down a smoke cover, check for chemical weapons and take photographs of enemy deployments. Its 14 Hellfire missiles can also be guided and fired by ground operators.

As relations with the US improve, defence planners in New Delhi must try to persuade Washington to allow transfer of technology, especially so the UAV Nishant can be converted into a weapons-delivery system. That would be the ideal war machine in the mountainous terrain along the LoC, capable of locating and destroying the Inter-Services Intelligence’s terrorist-training camps across the border.

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