Winning: Pakistan Improvised

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October 1, 2021: While Pakistan has fewer tanks, warplanes, armed helicopters and combat ships than India, they have managed to achieve superiority in armed UAVs, similar to the American Predator and Reaper. India has been buying similar Heron UAVs from Israel and maritime surveillance versions of the American Reaper but so far has not armed any of these UAVs. Pakistan has a much smaller military budget and found it more practical, from a financial point of view, to design and build its own armed UAVs.

Pakistan has some experience building UAVs, mainly from a co-production deal with an Italian firm to build the Falco UAV. In 2009 Pakistan bought 25 Falcos and another 25 were built in Pakistan under license. This gave Pakistan the expertise to build the one-third larger, one-ton Burraq armed UAV. Only twelve were built but unlike the unarmed Falco, the Burraq was armed with laser guided missiles and these were used against Islamic terrorists in the northwestern tribal territories from 2015 on. Meanwhile in 2018 Pakistan negotiated a licensed production deal for fifty Chinese GJ-2 armed UAVs. None of these have been produced yet. In 2021 Pakistan made a similar deal with Turkey to produce at least fifty Anka armed UAVs. Pakistan did manage to purchase four Chinese CH-4 armed UAVs which were delivered in January 2021. There were technical problems getting this operational but by mid-2021 the CH-4s were ready and several were seen over eastern Afghanistan in August 2021 firing missiles at locals seeking to halt the advance of Taliban forces, which had recently ousted the elected government.

The much larger Indian military has purchased about a hundred surveillance UAVs from Israel and the U.S. and about 270 Harpy and Skystriker loitering munitions from Israel. These are UAVs used to seek out targets with their surveillance sensors and if a suitable target is found the remote operator of the Harpy can have the UAV dive into the target where the explosives carried will destroy or severely damage it. Not exactly an armed UAV, but currently the best India has got. Meanwhile Pakistan, with a much smaller UAV acquisition budget is building or buying more armed UAVs.

The Indian government is once more considering its military’s requests for armed UAVs, which the U.S. is willing to provide. India is not the only major military power that was slow to procure armed UAVs. Russia had a hard time catching up with UAV design and manufacturing and only got its first armed UAV into production in 2020.

There is a major manufacturer and exporter of armed UAVs, but it is Indian archenemy China. For several decades a growing number of Chinese commercial firms have been developing military UAVs and dual-use commercial UAVs. Unlike most Western nations, China will sell military UAVs to anyone who can pay and is not bothered about the use of bribes and other illegal (in the West) payments. If you can pay you can have it. For that reason, China has a lot of “unnamed customers” for its armed UAVs and does not release as many details of weapons export customers as other nations. Even Russia sees any export sale as good publicity. China has multiple and competing companies developing and building weapons and some aircraft types, like UAVs of all sizes. Chinese UAV manufacturers have more customers than they can handle and if some prefer to be anonymous, the Chinese comply. These anonymous customers are eventually revealed when their Chinese UAVs are spotted in a combat zone.

 


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