According to Reuters, the Chinese government is very upset with India over a recent crash of an Indian drone in Chinese territory.

Indian Drone Hits China
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The Indian Drone

According to the Indian Army’s official statement, the drone was on a training mission when it lost contract while crossing the Line of Actual Control in the vicinity of Sikkim.

Republic World, an Indian media outlet, reported on the events.

The defense ministry in India argued that the army followed protocol when it came to this unfortunate crash, immediately alerting the Chinese while working to locate the Indian drone. They later provided the exact location of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The ministry recently provided a statement detailing exactly what happened, echoing the events listed above. China’s ministry was less forthcoming with information, simple stating that the Indian drone had crashed in “recent days,” without any additional specifics.

Despite a cryptic response from the Chinese defense ministry, Zhang Shuili, a military official in China’s western battle zone command, was much more critical of the crash. “This action by India violated China’s territorial sovereignty. We express strong dissatisfaction and opposition.”

Indian / Chinese Conflict

China and India have a history of conflict regarding a disputed border, which resulted in a military conflict in 1962. The animosity has recently heated up between June and August of this year, even leading to one instance of an all-out-brawl, as soldiers from the two countries fought each other on the heavily contested border area. The unintentional drone crash has been taken as an act of aggression and a violation of China’s territory, and is escalating tension between the two governments.

Details on the Indian drone aren’t clear, but many believe that the drone could have been a Searcher MK 11 or a Heron — both of which were bought from Israel. These recent additions give India, for the first time, access to drones capable of cross-border strikes. This advancement in military technology definitely raises concerns over the possibility for a war between the two countries.
Avm Nahoan Bahadur, editor of the Indian publication The Print, elaborated a bit on why exactly the loss of any drone is a problem:

“First: it is the loss of an aviation asset that is difficult to come by…Second: while we would be one UAV less, it is the loss of a reconnaissance capability that would hurt operationally…Third: if it has fallen into unwanted hands, it is really worrisome…Last, but most importantly, why did the ground control lose command of the UAV?…was it shot down from ground or by a Chinese aviation asset – fighter or helicopter? If yes, it would imply that its position was compromised by a radar/acoustic or visual signature – all things that the court of inquiry would be looking into.”

Inklings of War

If the analysis above is to be believe, it’s clear that both sides are worried by this recent unfortunate crash. India, because the reason for the crash seems to implicate Chinese interference; an unfriendly country now has access to cutting edge Israeli weaponry that is seriously expensive to re-acquire. China, because the intrusion of an Indian drone threatens a territory near a border that is hotly contested; the fact that India was running missions inside Chinese airspace has the country on edge.

The best case scenario is that the drone had some sort of technical malfunction, such as an engine problem, that made it lose height and removed the ability to return back to base automatically. Alternatively, it could have crashed with such an impact that the electronics in the UAV were completely destroyed. Unfortunately, both scenarios are looking rather unlikely. The Chinese protecting their territory by shooting down a drone wouldn’t be surprising, and both sides have a bone to pick in this situation.

Are these the beginnings of a war? Tensions are rising, and as mentioned above there’s already conflict around the disputed border. While this one isolated event is likely not enough to spark a devastating conflict, it adds yet another issue between two countries that are already very unhappy with each other.

It wouldn’t be the first time a war happened between the two countries, but with the last conflict all the way back in 1962, it’s likely to be a completely different situation this time around. With advancements in weaponry and other military technology, we could see two powerful countries with incredible capability for destruction going head to head.

At the end of the day, it’s in both countries best interest to avoid escalating this into a serious problem. Disputes over territory can stir up some sour feelings, however. Let’s hope that both countries have the foresight to forgive and forget, and work towards a more amicable relationship.