Pakistan’s military has, for the first time, used a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA, or “drone”) to strike at terrorists on its own soil. Three suspected terrorists were confirmed to have been killed with the use of a NESCOM Burraq drone, an indigenous Pakistani-designed and built system introduced into Pakistan’s Air Force in 2013.
General Asim Bawjal, the director-general for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations, confirmed the strike via Twitter: “1st ever use of Pak made Burraq Drone today. Hit a terrorist compound in Shawal Valley killing 3 high profile terrorists.Details follow,” he noted early on Monday morning. The Pakistani army has received few other details regarding the strike as of this writing, including the identities and affiliations of the “high profile” targets.
The use of drones by U.S. forces has been a source of controversy in Pakistan, leading to widespread aversion against U.S. military operations in Pakistan airspace and against the use of drones themselves. The use of drones by the Pakistani Air Force to strike at terrorists and militants along the country’s porous border with Afghanistan could stoke additional controversy and possibly drive further radicalization in the region. The United States, a Pakistani ally, has refused to transfer its drones to Pakistan amid fears that the technology could find its way from Rawalpindi’s inventory to U.S. adversaries.
While Bajwal’s comment on the use of the drone specifies that it was used for the first time ever this week, earlier reports suggest that the Burraq drone had been used during military operations in the Tirah Valley earlier this year. Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported that military officials remarked that the Burraq had “turned the tide against militants” during the Tirah campaign, which was part of the broader Pakistani campaign against domestic insurgents and terrorists as part of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. According to that report, the Tirah Valley use of the drone was a “testing ground” of sorts for the Burraq drone.
The Burraq’s capabilities are fairly comprehensive. The drone is equipped with motion sensors and high-resolution cameras for reconnaissance and surveillance applications, and its primary offensive tool is the laser-guided, air-to-surface Barq missile. The Barq was first test-fired in March 2015, according to Bajwal. Pakistan’s chief of army staff, the country’s most senior military officer, oversaw the testing of the Barq.
Beyond the applications of the Burraq in Pakistan’s ongoing counter-insurgency operations, analysts across the country’s eastern border, in India, will be watching closely.