Optimising Technology for Border Security
As the asymmetric war is likely to heighten with the implosions within Pakistan and fallout of post-2014 withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan on the region, there is an urgent need to upgrade our border security, using the best technology. Our DRDO an
As the asymmetric war is likely to heighten with the implosions within Pakistan and fallout of post-2014 withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan on the region, there is an urgent need to upgrade our border security, using the best technology.
INDIA HAS A LAND border of some 15,072 kilometres with six countries—5,852 km combined with ChinaNepal-Bhutan, 3,431 km with Pakistan, 1,452 km with Myanmar and 4,337 km with Bangladesh. A major portion of the land border is along difficult terrain and passes through high and very high altitudes. Then there is a coastline of 7,863 km that needs to be guarded, in addition to an exclusive economic zone of 102 million square km with 97 per cent of our trade done by sea. Our unstable and volatile neighbourhood coupled with Pakistan being the epicentre of global terrorism and waging a proxy war against India, we have been subjected to transborder terrorist strikes over past two decades both across the land border and coastline. Difficult terrain and hostile weather make the task of border security difficult. Infiltration and illegal immigrants are occurring at rapid frequency. The land borders are manned by a mix of forces like the Army, Border Security Force, Indo Tibetan Border Police, Assam Rifles, Sashastra Seema Bal, etc—all not operating under, the Army or for that matter under one Ministry. Then there is the issue of guarding the airspace to prevent recurrence of incidents like the clandestine arms drop at Purulia. This article primarily examines the role of technology in securing our land borders excluding the ‘designer technology’ being used by most nations at airports, ports and official land crossings for individuals and cargo.
India began fencing 190 kilometres border with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) during 2001. In 2001, about 40 kilometres of fencing was laid and the overall task as per government officials is likely to be completed in the next two years. However, there have been numerous impediments to laying this fence. Work has been stalled many times due to firing by Pakistanis. Pakistani infiltrators have been using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to make entries for infiltration and clandestinely laying mines to hinder construction. Portions of the fencing get destroyed in avalanches every year and need to be laid again. Heavy snows in North Kashmir during winter also cause major portions of the fence to get buried completely, rendering it ineffective. In the plains sector, Pakistan has resorted to tunneling under the fence for both purposes of infiltration and smuggling. On the India-Bangladesh front, of the 3,000 kilometres fencing sanctioned, close to 75 per cent of the work has been completed but disputes between the two countries have arisen over some 180 sites on the border, where fencing needs to be done up to 150 yards of the zero line. Laying of IEDs or mines along the fence is not feasible because of agriculture in many areas permitted right up to the border, as even locals reside in close proximity to the border. Abroad, in no conflict conditions, fences have extensive provision of floodlighting. Solar panels, rechargeable batteries and diesel generators provide the system with enough power to run off the power grid. Operators can pan and tilt the cameras remotely whenever any suspicious activity is observed. However, such arrangements are not feasible along an active border with an enemy like Pakistan that resorts to unprovoked firing repeatedly.
While the age-old tripwires are very much in use, modern electronic surveillance involves detection of movement and is largely based on seismic, acoustic, inductive sensors and infrared sensors. Seismic sensors detect vibration in the ground and they can distinguish between people and vehicles. Inductive sensors detect metal in an object that is moving, while an infrared sensor can detect human body heat from a distance of up to 100 metres. There are many kinds of conventional sensor technologies, each having its advantages and disadvantages. The unattended ground sensors (UGS) are mostly imported and primarily meant for guarding houses/premises in the West. These are ineffective with snowfall. Unfortunately, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has not been able to come up with one suitable for snow conditions.
The fencing along the border has been fitted with cameras and the consoles are with requisite commanders though limitations exist during adverse weather and visibility conditions. This capability is beefed up with night vision devices (NVDs), night vision goggles (NVGs) and hand-held thermal imagers (HHTIs), but these are always in limited supply and not across the board with every boot on ground. Use of radars as done abroad to detect smugglers as along the US-Mexico border, has the danger of giving away the electronic signatures of the equipment to the enemy. Besides, radars also have a dead zone. Significantly, electronic surveillance with border dogs is a very successful mix.
Use of unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs)/ drones for border surveillance is being done but is in limited numbers due to paucity of resources and restrictions on flying multiple UAVs simultaneously in the same area/zone. Additionally, the induction of the battlefield surveillance system (BSS) and battlefield management system (BMS) in the Indian Army are still a few years away and hence, the UAV picture cannot be delivered directly to the cutting-edge soldier on ground who can prevent the breach or intrusion. The UAV picture goes to the ground control station and only then the information is conveyed to the cuttingedge soldier, by when its actionable value may be lost. More importantly, what has been lacking is the delayed induction of the mini-aerial vehicles (MAVs) that are hand launched and are planned to be inducted into the infantry.
Digital imaging technology, miniaturised computers and numerous other technological advances over the past decade have contributed to rapid advances in aerial surveillance hardware such as micro-aerial vehicles, forward-looking infrared and high-resolution imagery, capable of identifying objects at extremely long distances. For instance, the MQ-9 Reaper, a US UAV used for domestic operations by the Department of Homeland Security, carries cameras that are capable of identifying an object the size of a milk carton from altitudes of 60,000 feet and has forwardlooking infrared devices that can detect the heat from a human body at distances of up to 60 kilometres. Britain is working on plans to build up a fleet of surveillance UAVs ranging from micro-aerial vehicles to full-size drones with MAVs capable of carrying tasers for “crowd control”, or weapons for killing enemy combatants. The latter actually implies weaponised MAVs, which would be invaluable against terrorists infiltrating across the borders. The US military is developing swarms of tiny unarmed drones that can hover, crawl and even kill targets. These micro UAVs will work in swarms to provide complex surveillance of borders and battlefields. Besides a laser weapon they can also be armed with incapacitating chemicals, combustible payloads or even explosives for precision targeting.
If our decision-making remains in limbo and we do not take resolute action, many more intrusions will follow and we will lose much more territory
For the same reason, China literally invested Myanmar and Nepal, claims Doklam Plateau in Bhutan and is practising economic hegemony in Afghanistan, Central Asia and Africa, besides employing water as a weapon against India, blatantly ignoring water sharing norms. It is only in 2006 that China converted its claim from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh to entire 90,000 square kilometres of entire state of Arunachal Pradesh. Even economically, China has invested India akin to the British East India Company. Sixty per cent of the bilateral trade is in China’s favour and it is already adversely affecting the indigenous small-scale industry.
We may hesitate to admit but the intrusion into DBO is a well engineered strategic move orchestrated as part of a military strategy jointly by the CCP and the PLA. It should be seen (in conjunction Pakistan reportedly leasing out Gilgit-Baltistan to China for 50 years and illegal Chinese occupation of Shaksgam Valley and Aksai Chin) as placing the framework for bridging the gap between Gilgit-Baltistan and Aksai Chin. It is in this context that both former Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf and General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani have been pushing for withdrawal from Siachen, the adverse geostrategic implications of which should be amply clear by now. Both China and Pakistan are willfully supporting and arm- ing insurgencies in India, employing cyber attacks and every conceivable asymmetric method to destabilise India.
Besides the physical challenge, the Chinese have also thrown a psychological challenge through the DBO intrusion. It is quite logical that the CCP would have obtained a prior assessment from the Chinese Embassy in India; and given the state of affairs, Zhang Yan, the Chinese Ambassador, would have assessed that India would perhaps not go beyond diplomatic pleadings and rhetoric, which would suit China. Zhang’s assessment would probably have been based on how we handled our smaller neighbours. Some recent incidents like Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik being invited against bureaucratic advice and his anti-India utterances not being responded to; our Foreign Minister rushing off to Jaipur to host the Pakistani Prime Minister on a private visit and the latter heading an anti-India resolution in the Pakistan Parliament soon after returning from India; India’s response to Pakistan in general and in the wake of recent beheading of an Indian soldier; increased infighting between political parties in the wake of coming elections; avalanche of scams; indecisiveness in the absence of a national security strategy and disjointed higher defence structures; may well have been examples for him.
China has thrown the gauntlet through this deep intrusion to gauge whether India can respond beyond diplomatic pleadings at all. It is a psychological challenge. The so-called preconditions laid by China for withdrawing the DBO intrusion (as being reported in the media) is another ploy to put India on the defensive, as these would be unacceptable. It is amusing to see how the Chinese build up pressure. China which very tightly controls social networking within the country has allowed a stream of messages on twitter that claim no PLA troop movement has taken place, that India has completely fabricated the DBO intrusion and that India should be ‘taught a lesson’ for this demeanour. It would not be surprising if these messages are being posted by nominated agents of the CCP.
China’s DBO intrusion will stay, consolidate and expand if we think that mere reliance on diplomacy can wish away the problem. We have failed to convey a strong message even through diplomacy. The External Affairs Minister is treating the issue as routine and not even postponing his visit to Beijing. Should the Indian political leadership not be held responsible for turning a blind eye towards the increasing Chinese influence in the border villages of Ladakh and East Sikkim? Is it not a matter of shame that the Indian Tricolour flies no more at Demchok for fear of the Chinese? Shouldn’t the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Defence Minister explain to the nation why such a state of affairs has been permitted to evolve despite having a 1.2-million-strong military? It should be quite clear that this intrusion cannot be resolved through dialogue alone. There is no need to physically attack this intrusion. We need to create conditions to commensurately respond to this physical and psychological challenge posed by China. China should be clearly told that sitting in our territory they have no business to put forward any pre-conditions in the first place. We need to draw lessons from earlier Sino-Indian standoffs. Even the most intense one at Nathu La (1967) did not escalate into war. Then what are we scared of ? There is no need to attack and throw the Chinese out from DBO—which is giving the jitters of escalation to pacifists. Let a counter challenge be posed to China by establishing an Indian Army post behind the DBO intru- sion in what is our own territory and throw the ball back in their court. Alternatively, such a step could also be taken in another sector. This should not be misconstrued as beating of war drums, as the weak-hearted may.
This is not 1962 and the policymakers must have faith in our military. Surely, the Chinese are not gunning for conflict, for if it does escalate, then they have equal vulnerabilities and they will know that at tactical levels the Indian Army would well match them. Media reports are talking of India having established a post in front of the DBO intrusion. If true, that can be construed by the Chinese of having gained another 19-km of Indian territory. There is every possibility that without resolute action by India, the Chinese will develop a metalled road linking DBO with Aksai Chin, develop defence works, helipads, permanent shelters and plan further expansion. Unchallenged, China may well occupy KK Pass.
The government should once again seriously review the external intelligence mechanism and make the Indian Army responsible for complete land borders. All security forces including Border Security Force, IndoTibetan Border Police, Sashastra Seema Bal on the borders must be put under the operational control of the Army.
Our political leaders must realise that at this point of time the reputation of the country is at stake as the world is watching. If we are going to let the Chinese consolidate in DBO then passing resolutions in the Parliament affirming that J&K is an integral part of India is meaningless. If we dilly-dally, China will consolidate at DBO. If our decision-making remains in limbo and we do not take resolute action, many more intrusions will follow and we will lose much more territory.