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India's paramilitary modernisation requires an indigenous focus
The Indian Central Armed Police forces (CAPF) - as the main paramilitary forces under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) are officially called- have been doing a lot of heavy hitting in the internal security domain for the past two decades.
It is also clear that the CAPFs have to undergo shorter modernisation cycles given the varied and evolving tactics adopted by insurgents and terrorists operating within India. The modernisation process, however, must look to now leverage domestically developed technology as a cost effective and smarter way to multiply force capability.
The Maoists it seems are still game for mass ambush-shooter actions. For the security forces the need to detect movements by Maoist teams therefore continues to be an operational imperative, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), India's largest CAPF which has been at the forefront of the anti-Maoist battle needs all the help it can get from new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) technologies even as it builds a human intelligence network (HUMINT) in the forested areas of Central India.
In the past five years, a great deal of foreign equipment has sought to be imported for CAPFs in general and the CRPF in particular. But unfortunately not all of it works as advertised in the trying conditions extant on the Indian insurgent trail. What is instead required is specific technology tailored to Indian conditions. Home grown equipment however often exhibits those peculiar considerations that make it suitable for use within India.
Take the example of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) use by the CRPF for instance. For long the CRPF had been overwhelmingly dependent on just one medium altitude long endurance (MALE) Heron UAV of Israeli origin operated by the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO) for substantive surveillance flights over its areas of operation in the Maoist belt.
Beyond the ludicrousness of operating just one MALE UAV to support the CRPF in its anti-Maoist efforts, it seems that even this particular facility was not always available on demand due to red tape issues.
Now, however, the CRPF is turning towards the Defence Research and Development Organization's (DRDO's) Nishant UAV. CRPF officials have found that the Nishant, if deployed in numbers offers them much superior value than a single or a few MALE UAVs and that too without the need to set up substantial ground based infrastructure to support the same. Additionally they have learnt that DRDO was in a position to deploy a couple of UAV's with immediate effect for operations against the Maoists.
The Nishant after all was designed from the ground up to be a truck launched UAV with a low logistical footprint precisely so that it could be pressed into action quickly on India's mountainous and wooded frontiers.
That same capability will prove very valuable for CRPF which needs to operate from harsh terrain in Central India and has to keep its static ground presence optimal.
Nishant was of course developed on the basis of a GSQR issued by the Indian Army(IA) for battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance purposes during both day and night. It has a top speed of 185 km/hr and is capable of undertaking missions that span up to five hours. Recovery is by parachute.
As such CRPF is currently looking to procure up to 16 Nishant UAVs with HAL being engaged in the production of the same. Nishant will however not be the first homegrown to be pressed into service by a CAPF. The DRDO developed Netra vertical take-off and lift mini-UAV is already in service with CRPF.
Given India's security environment, technologies for low intensity conflict have emerged as a thrust area for DRDO. In the first decade of the 2000s, DRDO set up a division specifically dedicated to the exploitation and development of technologies for LIC operations. One project under this division holds forth the promise of being a true game changer for Indian CAPF's involved in jungle warfare against Maoists and other insurgents.
Under Project 'Divya Chakshu' DRDO is developing' Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to detect buried mines and IEDs, Through Wall Imaging Radar (TWIR), to detect the monitor movement of human beings behind walls for counterterrorist/ hostage rescue operations; and Ground-based Foliage Penetration Radar (GB-FPR), to detect moving men obscured by bushes, tall grass, fields, and vegetation.'
The GB-FPR once proven in the field will be especially useful in countering the greatest asset that the Maoists thus far possess – jungle cover. The Maoists ability to use jungle cover means that CAPFs on patrols have to constantly secure their own flanks from any ambush. GB-FPR will naturally make that effort simpler. Moreover, a UAV mounted FPR is currently in the developmental stage and has to overcome weight issues.
This airborne FPR program if successful may even deliver a system that can be carried by DRDO's Rustom-I MALE UAV, to which the IA is currently lukewarm. CRPF it seems is currently looking to float global tenders for 10 MALE UAVs but depending on their experience with the Nishant they could decide to wait for the Rustom-I instead which is basically ready to be productionized today, if it gets sufficient orders. Given the way Indian global tender procurements play out the modernization cycle will be much better served by opting for domestic equipment especially when they have the potential to confer quite a few advantages.
Servicing for instance comes to mind immediately. Moreover a continuous improvement process through feedback channelled to domestic developers is also very much on the cards. Indeed this is one of the ostensible reasons for DRDO setting up the LIC division anyway. And of course no one can deny affordability.
Taking into account life cycle costs and the need to get timely spares, the indigenous route far outweighs whatever apparent benefit buying 'global' brings.
The counter-IED effort in particular needs a concerted domestic push. Like the GPR, new 'reactive' jamming technologies are also being pursued. Across the board, CAPFs are inducting various kinds of electronic countermeasure equipment to counter radio and cellular mechanisms used for remotely triggering IEDs and these usually cover three primary frequency bands which are generally used by insurgents.
However, most of the systems being brought in are so called active systems and keep jamming until you turn them off manually. A move forward would be the induction of reactive systems mounted on patrol vehicles that 'listen' for incoming signals and diagnose if something is out of the ordinary before jamming it. An active system that is perpetually operating on patrol is likely to make friendly radio communications rather difficult. DRDO's LASTEC laboratory has also developed a counter-IED laser that deflagrates IED's in order to disable them.
Now as the CAPF ISR and counter-IED effort ramps up, the focus is also on the well-being of the trooper himself. CAPFs commanders often say that they lose more people to malaria then they do to insurgent bullets. Indeed the need to keep mosquitoes at bay in jungle terrain cannot be understated. What is worse, commercially available mosquito repellents proved to be too conspicuous for use against the Maoists who could smell these in the forest. At the moment new DRDO developed repellents are being issued that are odourless. Simple developments such as this make a world of difference. More involved products from DRDO for human systems include 'sustenance tablets' that greatly increase soldier endurance during 'seek and destroy' missions.
In the works for the future are munitions that reduce collateral damage, a range of small unmanned ground vehicles (which are nearing the end of their test phase) and better armour. While many of these technologies were initiated at the behest of the army it is not surprising that they are drawing the attention of the CAPF's as well.
The CAPF's today are basically engaged in guerrilla warfare against insurgents with substantial foreign input. When you look at CAPF budgets and responsibilities today one immediately gets the sense that force multiplication is the need of the hour. And this force multiplication is available domestically. There is hardly any need to look for it elsewhere. And since the DRDO-CRPF relationship is not really afflicted by any historical baggage, perhaps adoption and use by civilian security operators will make DRDO products more attractive to a wider audience. Either way, whether it is preparing for a 'two-front war' or a 'two-and-a-half front war', with the 'half' being fought by CAPFs against Maoists, there is no greater force multiplier than indigenisation itself.
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