The ongoing debate over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – and particularly unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) – on the battlefield is growing increasingly vehement as time passes. However, it is essential to make a categorical distinction between UAVs and UCAVs, because the different usages of these two types of systems will lead to variance in the supporting arguments, and thus to the consequent verdict on the desirability of the overall technology.
Unmanned aircraft systems, comprising UAVs and UCAVs, are controlled either by pilots on the ground or autonomously, following a pre-programmed mission. The categorization of these unmanned systems is primarily based on their objectives. In the case of UAVs, the principal aim is real-time reconnaissance and surveillance. UCAVs are armed versions loaded with missiles and bombs. UAVs have varied uses, which stretch far beyond military combat and include aerial surveillance, search and rescue operations (a progressively expanding sphere), power-line and pipeline inspections in inaccessible regions or high-altitude terrain, surveillance and data relay during natural calamities, disaster management, border patrol and transborder refugee tracking, maritime surveillance and coast guard operations, detection and monitoring of radiation leaks or oil spillage (both at sea and along the coastlines), and intelligence collection.
Regional instability in the South Asian subcontinent coupled with India’s own internal security threats – the perils of which stretch from urban terrorism to armed insurgencies – have proved to be formidable challenges to the long-term peace and stability of India. Its precarious neighborhood is witness to severe internal socio-political and economic strife. Furthermore, the security situation within India is largely colored by an ongoing, externally sponsored proxy war, which includes, as India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has stated, “problems of terrorism in the hinterland of the country, cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, militancy in the northeastern states and left wing extremism in certain states.”1 Within this context, India maintains and employs a modest fleet of unarmed UAVs that are strictly intended for civilian and paramilitary usage. It is to be expected that India will make use of these technologies since it shares an approximately 15,000-kilometer land border and a 7,500-kilometer coastline, including the island territories.