A few months ago, the Russian Ambassador in Tehran announced that China, Russia and Iran would hold joint maritime exercises in the Persian Gulf either by end of 2021 or in the beginning of 2022. Pretty sure you are thinking – SO WHAT? Afterall military exercises including joint maritime exercises are definitely nothing new. In fact, they are generally welcomed if it brings security across the seas. Yet, when the above was announced, the stated objectives may have been mildly amusing to most followers of such exercises around the world.
According to Levan Dzhagaryan, the Russian Ambassador, the drills are aimed at ensuring safe navigation, international shipping safety and combating pirates. When those indulging in illegal actions across the maritime spectrum are part of the above-stated objectives of a maritime drill, amusing it certainly is!!
China’s Maritime Safety Law & farce of ‘safe navigation’‘anti-piracy’
This news also comes at a time when China announced foreign vessels to report when in her ‘territorial waters’…and as always, their “territorial waters” covered almost the entire South China Sea. According to the Communist Party-run Global Times, the new regulations came into effect on September 01, 2021. The Maritime Safety Administration of China issued a notice to “operators of submersibles, nuclear vessels, ships carrying radioactive materials and ships carrying bulk oil, chemicals, liquefied gas and other toxic and harmful substances to report their detailed information upon their visits to Chinese territorial waters”. The categorisation covered almost every type of vessel other than warships and passenger liners. What is even more perplexing is that for the purpose of its latest regulations, China continues to claim water bodies within an ambiguous nine-dash line as territorial waters – a concept that has no legal standing in the International Maritime Laws.
The latest announcement when read in isolation may not strike immediately as dangerous. However, coupled with a law enacted in January this year which permitted ChineseCoast Guard to fire on foreign vessels in the disputed South China Sea, the latest announcement, has made transit across the South China Sea ‘dangerous for navigation’.
Now, back to the Russia-Iran-China joint maritime exercise. While China and her motives are already raising eyebrows, Iran for its part too is under the lens for its alleged actions in explosions onboard transiting merchant vessels in the Persian Gulf over the past few yearsincluding one onboard an Israeli owned vessel. To participate with these very forces in an exercise to ensure safe navigation in the Indian Ocean Region is definitely anembarrassment for Russia.
As for anti-piracy operations in the Persian Gulf, the premise is just that – a premise. Piracy has largely been restricted to the Gulf of Aden and now intensifying across the East Atlantic Ocean, especially the Gulf of Guinea. The IOR navies, principally the Indian Navy, have contributed handsomely over the years to reduce piracy to almost nil. The Navies in the Persian Gulf, especially those of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and even Iran to an extent have kept piracy out of the discourse with their constabulary actions.
Russian Navy has largely been seen as a benign maritime force in the IOR. Its periodic anti-piracy operations and bilateral exercises with various littorals have seldom raised eyebrows. Most navies in IOR that have been abiding by international maritime laws look forward to regional bilateral/multilateral exercises with navies from the USA, UK, India, Australia, France, Japan – not only because those navies are law-abiding, but also because they bring about a sense of security. Russia, therefore, has largely been welcome in the IOR – whether it is the Indra series of exercises with India or bilateral exercises with other countries. Yet, when any country exercises with China, there have always been suspicions. China, after all, has worked towards and cultivated the image of an aggressor, a violator of international maritime laws, an usurper of others resources – all of which are difficult to undo.
Chinese maritime misadventures
In the past decade, China has been the largest decimator of ocean resources and is feared by all maritime nations – small or big. For a country that aspires to be at the apex in every conceivable parameter, it certainly has succeeded in becoming the number one in Illegal, Unregulated Unreported Fishing (IUUF). Accounting for 35% of global demand, China today is the largest consumer of fish. With a nearly $405 billion annual industry that caters to 20% of the protein intake of the world, fishing is an extremely lucrative industry. After depleting stock in its waters, President Xi Jinping’s directives to – “Build bigger ships and venture even farther into the oceans and catch bigger fish” – has made China the lead encroacher on every possible EEZ where the coastal state is unable to repulse IUUF on account of ill-equipped navy or coast guard. Be it the Island nations in the Pacific, the countries abutting the Atlantic Ocean, Africa, the South and the East China Sea or for that matter the IOR – China has been the lead violator of all regulations. Even large countries such as Australia haven’t been spared.
Indeed, most coastal nations across the globe today are been at the receiving end of the Chinese Fishing Flotilla, its militia and illegal underwater surveys. China’s grey-zone misadventures keeps every less capable coastal state’s polity awake. It is, therefore, rich for China to conduct joint exercises with the stated aims of keeping the oceans safe. Infact, what could be one of the biggest ironies, just a day before the Russian Ambassador announced the trilateral exercises, Pakistan – the self-proclaimed ‘Iron-Brother’ of China witnessed hundreds of its citizens in Gwadar protesting against Illegal fishing by the Chinese trawlers – usurping traditional fishing waters of Pakistani fishermen.
While the trilateral exercises may proceed as planned, it would do little to boost the confidence of other maritime nations. Compare this with other maritime exercises in the IOR such as those participated by India or France or the USA or Australia or such other law-abiding maritime powers. They bring a general sense of safety across the oceans and reassurance to smaller coastal states that there is room for all, security for all and growth for all. No number of claims and façade of exercises by China towards achieving safety and peace across the oceans can compensate for its actions or instil a sense of security. The perpetrator claiming to be protector has little acceptance in this world.
The Few & The Fearless – Meet India’s Marine Commandos aka MARCOS
It is believed that if there is a ghost in the water, it must be a MARCOS.
Regarded as the crocodile of the Indian Navy, the Marcos or the Marine Corps of the Indian Navy is a naval infantry force that is tasked with amphibious warfare, coastal defence, and maritime security.
The member of these corps can operate in all types of environments; at sea, in the air and on land, undertaking a wide range of missions, such as counter-terrorism, special reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue and unconventional warfare.
They have earned a reputation for being one of the world’s most elite and highly skilled special forces units, gaining names such as the ‘Magarmach’ (The Crocodiles), the ‘Dadhiwala Fauj’ (The Bearded Army) and the ‘Tigers of Drass’.
India’s Elite Naval Commando Unit – Who are the Marine Commandos aka Marcos?
Established in February 1987, the MARCOS was originally named Indian Marine Special Force, which was later changed to Marine Commando Force to impart “an element of individuality” to it. This corps came into existence after the Indian Navy realized the need for a special forces unit that could conduct maritime special operations and protect the country’s vast coastline and strategic maritime assets. The Marcos were inspired by the US Navy SEALs and received training from them in the initial years. They also trained with other foreign special forces units such as the Russian Spetsnaz and the Israeli Sheeted 13. The MARCOS gradually developed their doctrine, tactics and equipment, and became an independent and formidable force.
In times of crisis, these troops achieved many feet which were deemed impossible.
Here are some of the missions executed by Marcos.
A military intervention to foil a coup attempt by mercenaries on the Maldives in 1988.
In 1988, Marcos we’re called on to intervene in the Maldivian crisis and prevent a military coup that was taking place.
This operation was launched within hours of receiving the request from President Gaydom, who was under siege by a group of Maldivians led by businessman Abdullah Luthufi and aided by armed mercenaries of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), a Tamil secessionist organisation from Sri Lanka. About 500 Indian paratroopers were airlifted from Agra to Malé, where they controlled the airport, crossed across to the capital in boats, and engaged the mercenaries in a heavy firefight. Off the coast of Sri Lanka, they also intercepted the hijacked cargo that was carried in the mercenary army.
The Marcos were not only successful in rescuing the Maldives’ President but they also restored the country’s rightful administration.
In 1998, a clandestine operation was carried out in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to kill a group of Burmese insurgents involved in arms smuggling and drug trafficking.
Six rebel leaders were murdered and several others were captured by the MARCOS. A team of 12 MARCOS led by Lieutenant Commander Praveen Kumar invaded the island of Landfall, where the rebels had established a base. They pretended to be arms dealers and duped the insurgents into a trap. They then opened fire, killing six rebel leaders, including Wasanti, their leader. They also took several guns and explosives from the insurgents.
The operation dealt significant damage to the rebel network and hindered their operations in the region.
In 1987-1990, a peacekeeping mission was launched in Sri Lanka to disarm Tamil insurgents and implement a cease-fire agreement.
Against the LTTE, the MARCOS performed amphibious raids, surveillance, and sabotage missions. This operation was part of India’s engagement in the Sri Lankan Civil War, to resolve the ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. The MARCOS and the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) were deployed to help the Sri Lankan government execute the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, giving autonomy to the Tamil provinces. The MARCOS conducted many daring missions against the LTTE, who were hostile to the agreement, and continued its military battle for an independent Tamil state.
The operation was difficult and controversial, resulting in heavy casualties for both India and Sri Lanka.
The MARCOS provided naval support and intelligence to the Indian Army and Air Force during the Kargil War of 1999.
They also played a vital role in providing naval blockade, surveillance and reconnaissance to prevent any Pakistani naval intrusion or assistance to their ground forces. They conducted a covert operation codenamed Operation Talwar, which involved landing on an unguarded beach near Gultari, where they destroyed a Pakistani supply base that was supporting their troops on Tiger Hill.
The operation was a success and inflicted heavy damage on the Pakistani logistics. The war ended with India regaining control of all its territory and Pakistan withdrawing its forces under international pressure.
Operation Black Tornado
The most sophisticated and crucial mission in the history of the Indian military, was a counter-terrorism operation in Mumbai in 2008 to neutralize the attacks of 26/11.
The MARCOS stormed the Taj Mahal Hotel and engaged the terrorists in a fierce gun battle. The terrorist attack killed 166 people and injured over 300 others. The MARCOS were among the first responders to reach the Taj Mahal Hotel, where four terrorists had taken several guests and staff as hostages. The MARCOS entered the hotel from different directions and engaged the terrorists in close combat for over 60 hours. They faced several challenges such as a lack of communication, coordination and intelligence, as well as booby traps, grenades and fire set by the terrorists. They also faced criticism from some media outlets for their perceived delay and inefficiency. Despite these difficulties, they managed to kill all four terrorists inside the hotel and rescue most of the hostages alive. They also prevented any further damage or loss of life at other locations such as Nariman House and Oberoi Trident Hotel, where other security forces were involved in similar operations.
This operation was one of the longest and most complex urban counter-terrorism operations in India’s history.
This operation was carried out after Cyclone Phailin, one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded in India, made landfall near Gopalpur in Odisha on 12 October 2013.
The cyclone caused widespread damage to infrastructure, crops and livelihoods, affecting over 13 million people across Odisha and Andhra Pradesh states. The MARCOS were deployed along with other naval assets to provide relief and rescue operations to the affected areas. They used their boats, helicopters and amphibious vehicles to evacuate people from flooded villages, distribute food packets, water bottles and medicines, clear roads and debris, restore power lines and communication networks, repair damaged buildings and bridges, conduct medical camps and sanitation drives, etc. They also coordinated with other agencies such as NDRF, NDMA, state governments, NGOs, etc., for effective relief work. The operation was a success and helped mitigate the impact of Cyclone Phailin on millions of people.
Awards & Achievements of Marcos
While most of the work of these commandos is done in the shadows, some members of this troop have time to time given their life for the nation.
Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Awarded the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, posthumously for his valour during Operation Black Tornado. He led his team in the Taj Mahal Hotel and fought terrorists in close combat, ultimately losing his life while trying to rescue an injured fellow commando.
– Photo Unavailable
Lieutenant Commander Praveen Kumar, Awarded the Shaurya Chakra, India’s third-highest peacetime gallantry award, for his leadership during Operation Leech. He and his team successfully infiltrated the island of Landfall, posing as arms dealers, and eliminated six rebel leaders.
Lieutenant Commander Abhinav Nagori, Awarded the Nao Sena Medal (Gallantry), India’s fourth highest peacetime gallantry award, for his bravery during Operation Cyclone. He and his team used amphibious vehicles to rescue people from flooded villages in Odisha, distributing relief materials and restoring essential services.
The MARCOS are some of India’s finest soldiers who have made significant contributions to their country’s security and saved lives in various challenging situations. They are a force to reckon with in the Indian Navy and the Indian Armed Forces. They have proved their mettle in various operations and missions across the globe and have earned the respect and admiration from their counterparts and adversaries alike.
These few and fearless marine commandos of the Indian Navy, are a source of pride and inspiration for the nation and its people.
Kamikaze Drones – Latest from Russia Ukraine War Front
Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are aircraft that do not require a human pilot onboard. They can perform various functions such as reconnaissance, surveillance, communication, or combat support. However, there is a special type of drone that is designed to be used as a weapon itself. These are called Kamikaze drones or loitering munitions.
Kamikaze drones are aerial weapon systems that can loiter around the target area passively for a while before striking once a target is found. They explode when they contact the target and are loaded with explosives. Because their wings fold out as they are launched, they are also known as switchblades or suicide drones.
Various nations and actors have utilised kamikaze drones in an array of wars and crises. They have benefits like stealth, accuracy, cost-effectiveness, and drawbacks including vulnerability, moral dilemmas, and a finite range. They differ from UAVs in their use, functionality, and design. We shall examine the development, characteristics, uses, and implications of kamikaze drones in contemporary warfare in this article.
Evolution of Kamikaze Drones
The concept of kamikaze drones is not new. It dates back to World War II when Japan used manned aircraft loaded with explosives to conduct suicide attacks against Allied ships. These were called kamikaze (divine wind) missions, and they caused significant damage and casualties to the enemy. However, the modern version of kamikaze drones emerged in the late 20th century, with the advancement of technology and miniaturization.
The US was one of the first countries to develop and deploy loitering munitions, such as the Harpy anti-radar drone developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in the 1980s. The Harpy could detect and destroy enemy radar emitters autonomously. Since then, several countries have developed and acquired their versions of kamikaze drones, such as Israel’s Harop and Hero series, Turkey’s Kargu and Alpagu series, China’s CH-901 and WS-43 series, Iran’s Raad-85 and Ababil-3 series, etc. Some of these drones can be launched from ground vehicles, aircraft, ships, or even soldiers’ backpacks.
Kamikazes in the Russia-Ukraine War
In the Russia-Ukraine war, both sides have been using various types of drones and UAVs for surveillance, reconnaissance, communication, and combat support. However, since autumn 2022, Russia has been using a new type of drone that has caused significant damage and casualties to the Ukrainian forces. These are the Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones.
What are Shahed-136 Kamikaze Drones?
The Shahed-136 kamikaze drones are loitering weapons that could fly independently or remotely to a target location and then detonate upon collision, destroying both the target and themselves. Russia refers to them as Geranium-2. They contain explosives in a warhead on their nose and are programmed to hover over a target until told to attack. The Shahed-136 has a wingspan of around 2.5m (8.2ft) and is difficult to detect on radar. It has a range of about 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) and an endurance of up to ten hours. It has a cargo capacity of up to 50kg (110lb) and a top speed of 250km/h (155mph). It can direct itself to its target using GPS or inertial navigation technologies.
How are Shahed-136 Kamikaze Drones Used by Russia?
Since October 2022, Russia has started utilising Shahed-136 kamikaze drones to target Ukrainian forces along the Donbas front line. Since then, Russia has launched over 300 drone strikes, killing over 200 soldiers and wounding over 500 more, according to Ukrainian sources. Russia has also targeted civilian infrastructure, including power plants, bridges, railroads, and factories. Russia frequently employs swarms of drones to overpower Ukrainian air defences and cause confusion and panic among troops. Drones are also used by Russia to offer real-time intelligence and guidance for artillery and missile attacks. Russia maintains that the drone operations are in response to provocations and violations of ceasefire agreements by Ukraine.
How is Ukraine Trying to Combat Shahed-136 Kamikaze Drones?
Ukraine has been trying to counter the drone threat by using various means such as small arms fire, heavy machine guns, portable anti-air missiles, electronic jamming devices, and counter-drones. However, these methods have proven to be ineffective or insufficient when faced with large numbers or high speeds of drones. Ukraine has also sought international assistance and support to enhance its air defence capabilities and acquire more advanced drones and UAVs. The US has said it is supplying Ukraine with 700 of its Switchblade kamikaze drones, but it is unknown whether any have been used. The US has also provided Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles, radars, communications equipment, and training. Ukraine has also used its kamikaze drones to attack Russian targets in Crimea and inside Russian territory. In autumn 2022, Ukraine used kamikaze drones of some sort to attack a Russian military base in western Crimea, an airbase near Sevastopol, and ships in Sevastopol harbour. In December 2022, Ukraine used kamikaze drones for three separate attacks on airbases at Saratov and Ryazan – both hundreds of miles inside Russian territory.
Development of UAVs and Drones in the India-Pakistan Equation
India and Pakistan are two rival neighbours in South Asia who have been engaged in several wars and conflicts over the years. Both countries have been developing and acquiring UAVs and drone technologies for military and civilian purposes. However, there are some differences in their approaches and achievements in this domain. The following table summarizes the comparison of India and Pakistan in UAV and drone technology:
|Market size||Smaller and more focused on military applications||Larger and more diverse with potential use cases in various sectors|
|Talent pool||Smaller and more dependent on foreign partners||Larger and more independent with domestic innovation and development|
|Policy framework||Supportive but less transparent and consistent||Supportive and more liberal and progressive|
|Ecosystem||Vibrant but less mature and competitive||Vibrant and more mature and competitive|
|Strategic advantage||Higher due to geopolitical location and security interests||Lower due to geopolitical location and security interests|
|Import dependence||Higher for high-endurance and combat-capable platforms||Lower for high-endurance and combat-capable platforms|
|Cybersecurity threats||Higher due to hostile actors and weak systems||Lower due to hostile actors and strong systems|
|Ethical and legal issues||Higher due to autonomous targeting and accountability concerns||Lower due to autonomous targeting and accountability concerns|
India has a growing UAV and drone technology industry that is diverse and innovative in various domains and a supportive policy framework and a vibrant ecosystem of drone startups and companies. But with rapidly failing nations as neighbours, India must ensure all border security organizations are adept and capable of utilising these drones to maximum capability.
When Gorkha Regiment Roars: “JAI MAA KALI, AYO GORKHALI”
If a person says he is not afraid of death, he is either lying or he is a Gorkha
These were the words of Field Marshal Sam Bahadur Manekshaw, in admiration of the fierce Gorkha regiment of the Indian Army.
But who are these brave soldiers? And how much do we know about their sacrifices for our motherland?
Let’s dive deep into the history and accomplishments of the Gorkha Regiments.
Brief History of Gorkha Regiment
Recruited from the Gorkha community of Nepal, the Gorkha soldiers have a long and illustrious history of military prowess. The Britishers first encountered the Gorkhas during the Anglo-Nepalese War. Gorkha was a feudal hill village in western Nepal. During the Anglo-Nepalese war, the Britishers encountered the mighty soldiers of this city and its king Prithwi Narayan Shah for the first time. And they were so impressed that they started recruiting Gorkhalis in their army.
The British raised the first Gorkha regiment – the Nasiri Battalion in 1815, that later adopted the title of the 1st King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment). The British continued to recruit Gorkhas and raise new regiments, until 1947. After India gained independence in 1947, the existing Gorkha regiments were split between the British and Indian armies.
The Indian army raised the 1 Gorkha Rifle and the 3 Gorkha Rifles. In 1962, in the aftermath of the Chinese aggression, the 7th and 10th Gorkha Rifles and the 8th Gorkha Rifles were raised. Over the years, the Gorkha rifles have established themselves as some of the most fearless regiments of the Indian army, participating in all major wars and conflicts that India has been involved in.
Today, the Indian army has 11 Gorkha regiments consisting of around 35,000 soldiers. They have fought in all major wars and counter-insurgencies that India has participated in since independence. Be it the 1948 Indo-Pak war, the 1962 China war, the four wars against Pakistan, or counterterrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir, the Gorkha soldiers have always upheld the highest traditions of bravery and sacrifice.
Identifying Gorkha Soldier
The Gorkha soldiers are characterized by their tilted hats and traditional Nepali kukris (knives) that they carry with themselves. Their war cry ‘Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali’ (Hail Goddess Mahakali, the Gorkhas are here) is known to strike terror in the hearts of their all enemies. Their loyalty, determination and fighting skills in high altitude and mountain terrain make them invaluable to the Indian army.
The Gorkha rifles have proven themselves as formidable fighters, upholding the highest traditions of courage and sacrifice. Their battle exploits are legendary and a source of pride and motivation for new soldiers. They remain an invaluable arm of the Indian army, protecting the nation’s freedom with unparalleled bravery and heroism. They have etched their names in golden letters through selfless and courageous service to the nation. They inspire valour and patriotism through their glorious history of battlefield heroics. The country is proud of its brave-hearted Gorkha regiments and their contribution to protecting India’s freedom and integrity.
Some Gorkha Battles & Gorkhalis that all Indians Must Know About
Battle of Naushera in Jammu and Kashmir in 1948
Major Kulbir Thapa of 2/1 Gorkha Rifles led his regiment to capture a crucial ridge from the enemy.
1962 War Against Chinese Aggression
1, 3 and 4 Gorkha Rifles were deployed in North-East India. Despite being outnumbered, they inflicted heavy casualties on the Chinese. Rifleman Ganju Lama of 1/1 Gorkha Rifles bravely took on Chinese troops and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest gallantry award.
Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971
Gorkha Regiments were deployed on both the Western and Eastern fronts and contributed to the victories in the war.
Kargil War, 1999
- Rifleman Sanjay Kumar displayed exceptional courage in climbing a steep snow-covered peak and neutralizing enemy bunkers. He was also awarded the Param Vir Chakra.
- Rifleman Thaman Bahadur Thapa of 1/2 Gorkha Rifles neutralized enemy bunkers at point-blank range and captured crucial peaks. He was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra.
- Captain Manoj Kumar Pandey of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles led his men to recapture a crucial ridge from the enemy. Although wounded, he continued fighting and pushing the enemy back until he succumbed to his injuries. He was also awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously.
2009, Operations against Naxalites in Chhattisgarh
Major Mohit Sharma of 1 Gorkha Rifles sustained grievous injuries while trying to ambush insurgents. But he continued leading his men and eliminated the target, before succumbing to his injuries. He was awarded the Kirti Chakra posthumously.
2012, Operations in Jammu and Kashmir
Naik Chandrakant Rana and Naik Rajendra Rawat of 2/8 Gorkha Rifles neutralized 3 hardcore terrorists in a fierce close-quarter battle. Both were awarded the Kirti Chakra for their exemplary courage.
2015, Terror Attack in Punjab
Rifleman Jagdish Chand of 3/3 Gorkha Rifles sustained bullet injuries evacuating civilians. Despite being grievously injured, he continued fighting the terrorists until reinforcements arrived. He was awarded the Kirti Chakra for his exceptional bravery.
2016, Counter – Insurgency Operations in Jammu and Kashmir
Havildar Hangpan Dada of 35 Rashtriya Rifles fought terrorists and sacrificed his life saving his comrades. He was awarded the Ashoka Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award.
Apart from these, the Gorkha Regiments have been engaged in continuous counter-insurgency duties in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir for decades. And these are just a few tales of extraordinary courage displayed by Gorkha soldiers in recent times.
Their fearlessness and bravery continue to motivate their comrades and inspire young soldiers to follow in their footsteps.
Chemical Warfare & Its Implications On Humanity
There are days when you wake up to news that leaves you in deep introspection. One such day was 3rd February – when a freight train derailed in Ohio. The incident did set off evacuation orders, a toxic chemical scare and a federal investigation; but it set my mind in a whirlpool of thoughts and emotions…all of which revolved around weaponizing chemicals as a future of war.
We can’t go on much longer morally. We can’t go on much longer scientifically. The technology that was supposed to save us is ready to destroy us.
– Billy Graham
What is Chemical Warfare? The use of toxic properties of chemical substances as weapons is called Chemical warfare.
When was Chemical Warfare First Used?
Fritz Haber, is considered the ‘father of chemical warfare’ for his work in developing and weaponizing chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War I.
But was it first used only during WW1?
- Some evidence of chemical warfare in western literature dates back to Ancient Greek myths, where Hercules uses poisoned arrows.
- In the Hindu epics Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’, chemical warfare is mentioned in some of the earliest surviving passages. Poison and fire arrows are forbidden in the “Laws of Manu,” (also called the Manava Dharma Shastra) a Hindu book on statecraft written around 400 BC.
History, Development and Use of Chemical Weapons in Warfare
According to ancient Greek historians, Alexander came into contact with poison arrows and fire incendiaries during his siege in India in the fourth century BC. There are also stories that Chinese were acquainted with arsenical smoke as far back as 1000 BC, and Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” (about 200 BC) recommends the usage of fire weapons. In the West, chemical warfare first appeared in writing in the fifth century BC, during the conflict between Sparta and Athens. During the Roman-Persian War, the oldest archaeological evidence of chemical warfare was discovered in the form of Bitumen and sulphur crystals. According to historian David Hume, quicklime, another name for calcium oxide, may have been employed in mediaeval naval battles, during the regime of Henry III in England.
Modern Era (World War I & II and in-between years)
Technically the French army first used toxic tear gas in WWI. In October 1914 Germany used dianisidine chlorosulfonate against British troops. Again, in January of 1915, it used xylyl bromide at Russian forces near Poland. On April 22, 1915, Germany orchestrated its most deadly gas attack in WWI. It released chlorine gas from canisters and with the help of wind the gas was carried into the trenches of French, Canadian and Algerian soldiers.
After WWI several countries started developing and stockpiling chemical weapons in the fear of chemical warfare.
- Allegedly in 1920, British troops used chemical gas in Mesopotamia against the Iraqi revolt, on the order of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Noam Chomsky, a historian, claimed that Winston Churchill at the time was keen on chemical weapons, suggesting they be used “against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment”, and that he stated to be “strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes”.
- The Soviet Union used poison gas against the Tambov rebellion in 1921 in the order of Lenin. Again, it used mustard gas in Central Asia against Basmachi Rebels. In 1934, during the invasion of Xinjiang province, the Soviet forces used mustard gas from the air at the battle of Dawn Chang.
- From 1921 to 1927 the Rif war was fought between Spain and Morocco. Spanish forces used phosgene, diphosgene, chloropicrin and mustard gas against the civilian population, markets and rivers, with the help of 127 bomber aircraft. These attacks marked the first widespread employment of gas warfare in the post-WWI era.
- In January 1928, Italy used several poison gases with mustard gas against Senussi forces in Libya. Under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, Italy fought the 2nd Italo-Abyssinian war from 1935 to 1939 with Ethiopia. In these years Italy used chemical weapons on a massive scale, ignoring every treaty and international pressure. In February and March of 1936 Italian forces launched the most devastating attack not only on Ethiopian troops but also on the civilians, rivers and crop fields.
- Germany in the years after WWI accelerated itself in chemical warfare. In the 1920s it collaborated with the USSR in developing chemical weapons. However, chemical warfare was revolutionized by Nazi Germany’s discovery of the nerve agents tabun (in 1937) and sarin (in 1939).
Nazi Germany & Transformation of Chemical Warfare
Nazi Germany did not use chemical gases frequently to attack the Axis power in the fear of retaliation. However, it extensively used them on its minority citizens to feed and sustain its propaganda of “supreme race theory”. During Holocaust (a genocide committed by Nazi Germany) millions of Jews, Slavs, and others were gassed with carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide included with Zyklon B. This remains to be the most devastating use of poison gas.
The Nazis experimented on prisoners from concentration camps extensively – and some of these tests included the study of the effects of the nerve gas, Tabun. Not only were these prisoners used as guinea pigs for chemical testing, but Hilter also used them as his labour force to manufacture the gas in secret.
The western allies did not use Chemical weapons on the battlefield, and also avidly against their uses, except Winston Churchill. He on several occasions promoted the use of it but failed due to the discouragement of his allies.
Post-modern Era – The problem right now!
After the war, Britain and the US started developing much more potent nerve agents than Nazi Germany. However, those were thankfully never used in a war.
The most extensive post-World War II use of chemical weapons occurred during the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), in which Iraq used nerve agents such as sarin and tabun, as well as riot-control agents and blister agents like sulphur mustard.
Iraq’s chemical weapons strikes claimed the lives of about 100,000 Iranian soldiers. Mustard gas struck many people. The children and relatives of soldiers, many of whom have experienced blood, lung, and skin ailments, as well as the civilian population poisoned in neighbouring towns are not included in the official estimate. According to the Organization for Veterans, 20,000 Iranian soldiers were instantly killed by nerve gas, according to official reports. Out of the 80,000 survivors, 5,000 consistently needed medical attention, and 1,000 still required hospitalisation for serious, chronic illnesses.
Prevention & Hope for a Safer Future
The first action taken to address this issue was a proposal that was passed Hague Conference in 1899. This proposal was followed by the Second Hague Convention, which forbids the use of “poison or poisoned weapons” in combat, become operative on January 26, 1910. Then came the Geneva Convention of 1925, which put forth and established severe prohibitions against the use of chemical weapons in war.
But the most significant decision came in April 1997, with the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)—the world’s first multilateral disarmament agreement. Under CWC, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was formed as an intergovernmental organisation and the implementing body. With 193 members, this organisation pledges to destroy and prevent the manufacturing of their chemical weapons.
India was the only country to meet its deadline for the destruction of chemical weapons and the OPCW inspection of its facilities by the year 2005 out of the six countries that had revealed their possession of chemical weapons. India was given an extension to destroy all of its chemical weapons and material stockpile by April 2009 after having already destroyed more than 75% of them by 2006. India informed the UN on May 14, 2009, that its chemical weapons stockpile had been eliminated.
There are still massive amounts of chemical weapons present at disposal of several countries. Though we see less and less use of chemical weapons in warfare nowadays, living in this volatile time, we still have a long way to go for a world free of Chemical warfare.
When a Chinese Spy Balloon Made UFOs, a Matter of Grave Concern
A year back, if someone told you that they spotted a “mysterious looking, white, balloon-shaped object” in the sky…you would have probably rubbished it, right? But what about today…how would you react to a news of ‘mysterious balloons in the sky’? With a lot of concern, I presume…and rightly so! In this article we have discussed the incident of Chinese Spy Balloon aka Unidentified Flying Object.
From January 28 to February 4 this year, a giant white balloon was sighted across various parts of the North American airspace. This balloon, that was said to have traveled across South Korea, Japan, Alaska, Canada, and the contiguous United States, was later accepted by the Chinese government to be one of theirs – a Chinese ‘Meteorological’ Balloon that had drifted off-course due to the westerlies.
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course.”
– Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson’s Remarks on the Spy Balloon on 03 Feb 2023
But the American and Canadian intelligence services had different opinions – they claimed that the balloon was an instrument of surveillance which were endangering peace and security of these nations. On February 3, USA’s Department of Defense reported that a second Chinese balloon was flying over Latin America, which China also claimed as its own. Following orders from U.S. President Joe Biden, the US Air Force shot down the balloon on February 4 in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina.
But peace was not restored. The spy balloon incident has opened the pandora’s box and the intelligence agencies now find themselves thinking on many fronts.
Before we dive into this, let’s talk about China’s “Civil-Military Fusion” program, under with such emerging technology is being developed.
China’s National Strategy of Civil-Military Fusion (CMF)
“China encourages joint building and utilization of military and civilian infrastructure, joint exploration of the sea, outer space and air, and shared use of such resources as surveying and mapping, navigation, meteorology and frequency spectra. Accordingly, military and civilian resources can be more compatible, complementary and mutually accessible.”
– China’s Military Strategy, May 2015
To fulfill the Chinese goal of becoming a “world class military” by 2049, the Chinese government accelerated its program of CMF in 2015. Under this program, advanced technologies like Quantum Computing, AI, Big Data, nuclear, space and near-space technologies would be developed by exploiting both civilian and military capabilities. The importance of this Military Civilian Development Program can be identified by the fact that the President of the country, Xi Jinping, himself controls and oversees its progress.
But why has the CCP government opted for this civilian-owned militarily empowered program? The reason is quite simple –
If Caught – The government has the option to claim innocence by citing civilian–error and proving that there is no relation to the government or military.
If Successful – The government successfully has access to the sensitive data of adversary and may weaponize this information as and when required for their benefit.
Now let’s take another look at the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson’s Remarks on the Spy Balloon –
“The airship is from China. It is a civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes.”
There should be no doubt that China’s recent ‘meteorological’ balloons are a by-product of it’s Civilian-Military Fusion program. The claim that the balloon’s purpose was to spy on military installations in the Pacific region, cannot and should not be swiftly rejected.
In the past few weeks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command has shot down four objects, and there are rumors of another balloon floating over the Middle East. What was once claimed to be a “civilian airship used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes”, is now recognized as a component of a vast surveillance program.
Regardless of the quantity or caliber of the balloon’s data gathered while flying over the United States, the controversy surrounding it has grown into an international incident, with multiple claims of similar “UFO” sightings all over the world – Japan, India, Taiwan, Colombia and list goes on.
What damage could the China’s Spy Balloon inflict on the countries? Should we be bothered?
Let’s answer the 2nd question first, should the spying balloon matter to us?
YES, it definitely should.
It is no surprise that most members of Generation Z are unconcerned about data privacy, since they are so accustomed to being watched. In fact, a prevailing thought during a discussion about the balloon was, “Oh, the U.S. probably has comparable programs in China.” The idea of a foreign competitor power gathering surveillance data on them therefore doesn’t seem that terrifying to young people since.
But, let’s not forget this balloon was flying over the country’s military areas, significant bases and important sites.
Now let’s come to the first question, what is the extent of damage that this balloon could cause? – Well, for this we leave you with two opinions to deliberate and make your own judgement.
First, the chances of electronic surveillance to identify and possibly disrupt sensitive military communications cannot be ruled out at all. Second, is the possibility of cyber espionage or sabotage. With the cyber-skills and hacker army available with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), it is a possible that this ‘balloon-voyage’ was a mere precursor to a full-fledged hybrid war. Third, the spy balloon could be a test, aimed to establish the reaction ability and potential of intelligence agencies worldwide.
Human brain is wired in a way to look at a shocking event with fear and assume that worst has happened. Therefore, had the Chinese diplomat in USA immediately met POTUS to explain China’s position and taken strict (and public) against the civilian owners of this balloon, the matter would have been resolved peacefully without USAF interference. Diplomatic dialogue, should have been China’s response, and not escalating the situation with threats – let’s be clear ‘cold-war’ scenario, does more damage than good.
What’s Next For China & USA Relations?
Chinese spy balloon illegal intrusion into USA’s airspace has further deteriorated relations between the two countries. With Secretary of State Antony Blinken indefinitely postponing his trip to China, all prospects for a detente between the two superpowers seems to be eliminated.
The incident has also heightened tensions and has accelerated alliance formation, not very different from the pre-Cold war era of USA and USSR!
“I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.”
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