A new age of military tech

The killing of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in central Kabul, reportedly with a new type of missile that did not even have an explosive warhead, shows how far military technology has evolved since the United States (US) mounted a high-risk operation within Pakistan against Zawahiri’s predecessor more than a decade ago. The operation that killed Osama bin Laden involved months of training, boots on the ground and nearly came undone when one of the helicopters used by the assault team crashed into the terror mastermind’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. While the planning for the latest operation was just as meticulous, the US reportedly deployed a drone armed with the Hellfire R-9X missile, which has no explosives and instead destroys a target with sheer kinetic energy and six metal blades that emerge from the projectile’s body just before impact.

The missile has reportedly been used in precision strikes in Syria and the Gaza Strip, in situations where it was necessary to avoid collateral damage. Such new-age weapons reflect the new dynamics of war and counterterror operations, with greater reliance on technology and intelligence, and with weapon systems manned by personnel who could be thousands of miles away. The importance of technology-driven weaponry has also been seen in the Ukraine conflict, where Ukrainian forces have used Turkish drones and western missiles to stymie and hold off numerically superior Russian troops.

Clearly, technology, especially the capacities for surveillance, intelligence-gathering and target acquisition, will be a key deciding factor of military superiority in future conflicts, more than just the number of ground forces that a country possesses. This is a change that has been predicted, but the theories appear to have come of age if one were to go by recent developments. In the case of India, some experts contend it is still necessary to maintain a large Army to have an edge against traditional adversaries such as Pakistan and China, but military planners in Beijing have already made the switch to a more technology-driven force, as reflected in China’s capacity to mount cyberattacks and its greater use of hi-tech platforms. India’s experiment with the Agniveer programme, which aims to give the forces a younger and tech-savvy profile, creates the grounds for the potential use of such technology-driven platforms though the country will have to move much faster to boost both the acquisition and adoption of the latest military technologies.

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