Pakistan is making extensive and precise use of its own indigenous drones in the current surgical strikes against the Taliban, security officials and experts confirmed on Tuesday.
A top official said ground intelligence, combined with accurate data by the Pakistani drones, had made it possible to take out the TTP targets in Tirah and Mir Ali recently, creating a scare among the TTP ranks not seen before.
Sources in Islamabad say the telephone chatter after these strikes had shown that the Taliban were in disarray as they were telling each other if such precise strikes continued, they would be eliminated without even a fight.
A senior security official, when asked by me whether in the latest touch and go visit by the CIA chief Brennen to Rawalpindi, had the Pakistan Army asked for intelligence help from the US drone apparatus to pinpoint the TTP hideouts, the response was ‘no’.
“The CIA chief’s visit was just a courtesy call on the army chief but Pakistan is using its own ‘parindahs’ (birds) for the strikes that have been conducted. We have effective drones that can help immensely in such situations.”
The official was referring obviously to the capability Pakistan had announced in 2012 and confirmed in November 2013 when two locally-produced drones were displayed at an arms exhibition in Karachi.
According to a Washington Post report of the event on Nov 26: “After years of preparation, the Strategically Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were formally announced by Gen Ashfaq Kayani, chief of Pakistan’s military. The drones, called ‘Burraq and Shahpar’, will not be armed and are to be used only for surveillance, military officials said.”
“The development of the drones, thought to have a range of about 75 miles, represents a milestone for the country’s military and scientists,” the Post quoted Pakistani and Western analysts.
“It is a landmark and a historic event, wherein a very effective force multiplier has been added to the inventory of the armed forces,” the Pakistani military then said in a statement.
Pakistan’s military first revealed its drone technology at a trade show in 2012, but in November last year the formal unveiling coincided with an ongoing farewell tour by Gen Kayani, who was retiring after two terms as army chief, the Post reported.
Brig Muhammad Saad, a former senior officer in the Pakistani military familiar with the subject, was quoted as saying that the country already had less-sophisticated drones for intelligence gathering, with a range of about six miles.
The newer models, he said, will prove useful for ‘collecting more operational intelligence’ that could help guide helicopter gunships and fighter jets to specific targets. This is a great achievement, and the drones can be used instead of surveillance jets and fighter jets that would be costlier to fly.”
Experts say Pakistan is still years away from being able to develop armed drones but Washington Post quoted Peter W Singer, a security analyst at the Brookings Institution, saying most surveillance drones can be armed, though they will lack the precision of US-developed models.
“Almost any unmanned system can be armed in a crude style, such as dropping a bomb or even turning it into an equivalent of a cruise missile that you fly into the target,” said Singer, adding that the announcement will probably add to growing fears about proliferation of drone technology.
In November of 2012, London’s Guardian newspaper reported that military officials had briefed some of Pakistan’s closest allies about efforts by the army to develop its own combat unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
“The foreign delegates were quite excited by what Pakistan has achieved,” said the official, who was closely involved with organising the four-day International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (Ideas). “They were briefed about a UAV that can be armed and has the capability to carry a weapon payload.”
The official said Pakistan wanted to demonstrate to friendly countries, principally Turkey and the Gulf, that it can be self-sufficient in a technology that is revolutionising warfare and which is currently dominated by a handful of countries that do not readily share the capability.
A Pakistan Army colonel, who had just finished a tour of the country’s border region, was quoted by the Guardian as saying such small drones were a vital tool. “We have these small drones, but not enough of them and we do not always get them when we have operations,” said the colonel in Nov 2012. “They are excellent for observing their movements and deployments.”
But now it is 2014 and the Pakistan Army has as many of these birds as it needs. This will be the latest and the most effective tool in this fight against terrorism.