For the longest time, Pakistan has had the ambition of owning and operating armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like the CIA’s Predator and Reaper.
Previously, the refrain in the local drone manufacturing industry and armed forces was that Pakistan didn’t have a satellite of its own. Thus, it was next to impossible to even think about acquiring or building such complex aircraft.
However, with the first anniversary of Pakistan’s first ever fully functional communication satellite, the Paksat-1R, on August 12 – is the ambition still a pipe dream?
lthough Paksat-1R is a commercial satellite used widely by media houses and telecom companies, can it – if the need arises – be used for military purposes?
“The focus of communication satellites such as Paksat-1R is to contribute towards the socio-economic development of the country,” Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) Chairman Ahmed Bilal told The Express Tribune.
However, he doesn’t dismiss the possibility completely. “You can use a knife to cut vegetables, but it can also be used to … (points towards his throat).”
The Suparco chairman chose his words carefully when asked whether Paksat-1R could support any future local drone endeavours of Pakistan. “Satellites don’t give us anything in real time. But the technology can complement a number of [other complex] systems.”
Bilal also clarified that contrary to popular belief, Pakistan Army was not the biggest client of the Paksat-1R, adding that the telecom sector and media houses were its major customers.
Need for satellite links?
Modern drones are designed to fly autonomously, which means they can be preprogrammed to fly a route until fuel and batteries run out.
Locally manufactured unmanned aircraft in Pakistan face limitations beyond a 200-kilometre radius from their point of control. Ground stations stop receiving any video or data from the drones which also affects the ability to control and manipulate cameras, sensors and armaments on board the aircraft.