Managing the Land Borders
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 (MAVs), forward-looking infrared (IR) and hi
INDIA HAS A LAND border with six countries over varied terrain, totalling about 15,072 km; 5,852 km combined with China-Nepal-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 in addition to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 102 million sq km. We have an unstable neighbourhood and Pakistan as the epicentre of global terrorism has subjected India to cross-border terrorist strikes over the past two decades both across the land border and coastline. Difficult terrain and hostile weather make border security difficult. Infiltration and illegal immigration occur at rapid frequency. The land borders are manned by a mix of forces like the Army, Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Assam Rifles (AR), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), etc—all not operating under the Army or for that matter under the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The coastline and EEZ are guarded by the Navy and Coast Guards. Then there is the issue of guarding the airspace to prevent recurrence of incidents like the clandestine arms drop at Purulia.
India began fencing the 190-km border with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) during 2001. In 2001, some 40-km of fencing was laid and the overall task as per government officials is likely to be completed over the next two years. However, there are many impediments because of firing by Pakistanis and infiltrators using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to make entries for infiltration and clandestinely laying mines to hinder construction. Portions of the fence gets annually destroyed in avalanches, requiring relaying. 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 tunnelling under the fence for both purposes of infiltration and smuggling. On the IndiaBangladesh front, of the 3,000-km 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 cultivation in many areas permitted right up to the border and locals residing in close proximity to the border.
In foreign countries, border 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 ageold 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 on 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.
In India, the unattended ground sensors (UGS) are mostly imported but being primarily meant for guarding houses/premises, are rendered ineffective with snowfall. Unfortunately, we have indigenously 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 do exist. 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 successful mix. Use of UAVs for border surveillance is being done but 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 the ground that can prevent the breach or intrusion. The UAV picture goes to the ground control station and only then the information is conveyed to the cutting edge 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 (MAVs), forward-looking infrared (IR) and high-resolution imagery capable of identifying objects at extremely long distances. America’s MQ-9 Reaper UAV used for domestic operations, carries cameras that are capable of identifying an object the size of a milk carton from altitudes of 60,000 feet, and has forward-looking IR that can detect the heat from a human body at distances of up to 60 km. Britain is working on plans to build a fleet of surveillance UAVs ranging from MAVs to UAVs capable of carrying tasers for crowd control or weapons for killing enemy combatants, latter implying a weaponised drone invaluable against terrorists infiltrating across 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
In India, the unattended ground sensors (UGS) are mostly imported but being primarily meant for guarding houses/ premises, are rendered ineffective with snowfall. Unfortunately, we have indigenously not been able to come up with one suitable for snow conditions.
complex surveillance of borders and battlefields. Aside from a laser weapon they can also be armed with incapacitating chemicals, combustible payloads or even explosives for precision targeting.
While our Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is also developing UAVs and MAVs and has produced the ‘Razzler Dazzler’ for crowd control, it would be useful to mate ‘Razzler Dazzler’/ laser weapon with the MAV ab initio rather than looking into this aspect after a few years later. Interestingly, there is a whole range of micro mini-UAVs available off-theshelf that can tremendously boost surveillance capabilities at the cutting edge. For example, the lighter than air surveillance (LTAS) systems have almost unlimited flight time, can carry up to 200 pounds (plenty for a point-and-click SLR camera or full-size high-definition video camera) and can reach up to 2,500 feet in the air. Then there are a range of fixed-wing and rotarywing MAVs that are also available in the world market. For effective coastal surveillance, the coastline necessarily must have a no gap radar and electronic surveillance, satellite cover and also own vessels, Navy, Coast Guard and civilian must be fitted with radio frequency identification (RFID) and geo-location devices, RFID being the wireless non-contact use of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data, for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects.
In addition comes the aerial surveillance cover combined with sea patrolling. The requirement really is not only to optimise technology but more significantly coordinating and matching the technology with the human resources deployed at the border. It goes without saying that considering the expanse of our borders, it is undoubtedly an expensive affair. Large defence firms are ready to provide the ‘virtual fence’ that applies software structures to the security system but at an exorbitant price. In our case, a holistic assessment of what technology should be applied where and in what measure must be weighed vis-à-vis national security requirements. It would be prudent to focus on: early induction of the BSS and BMS to enable provision of real-time information at the cutting edge; fielding of MAVs and micro mini UAVs with the infantry; mating indigenous MAVs under development with the ‘Razzler Dazzler’/laser weapon, progressing to a weaponised MAV; develop/provision appropriate UGS for snow conditions; review scaling of night vision devices (NVDs), night vision googles (NVGs) and hand-held thermal imagers (HHTIs) should be reviewed. Faced with infiltration, cross border terrorism and illegal immigration since the past several years, protecting our borders is a vital requirement for our national security. As the asymmetric war is likely to heighten with the implosions within Pakistan and fallout of post-2014 withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan on the region, there is an urgent need to upgrade our border security, using the best technology. Our DRDO and private industry should focus on this aspect. The policy-makers need to review this critical requirement holistically.
NAL Golden Hawk 450 MAV