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Time to draft technology in nation’s defence

For too long has the nation been dependent on the indomitable courage of infantrymen to keep peace on the borders. While battles will con...

Written by Gurmeet Kanwal |
June 23, 1999

For too long has the nation been dependent on the indomitable courage of infantrymen to keep peace on the borders. While battles will continue to be ultimately won by infantrymen launching physical assaults under withering enemy fire to capture tactically important features, time has come to employ state-of-the-art military technology to reduce dependence on the supreme sacrifice of hundreds of young men to defend India.

The Army’s heroic effort to recapture high-altitude mountain ridges from Pakistan-sponsored intruders in the Batalik, Kaksar and Dras areas of Kargil has highlighted the need for early acquisition and deployment of sophisticated surveillance and early warning devices and precision strike munitions with the artillery and the Indian Air Force (IAF). The much-vaunted revolution in military affairs must be exploited to deliver a devastating punch and reduce armed forces casualties.

The inhospitable terrain of the high Himalayas along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL – at Siachen) with Pakistan and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China cannot possibly be kept under surveillance merely by patrolling. There is an immediate need for military satellites with a one-metre resolution multi-spectral (optical, infrared and radar photography) capability so that they are effective by both day and night. Such satellites would also be useful for providing early warning and attack assessment warning about the launch of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles and for the surveillance of India’s exclusive economic zone of two million square kms in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea.

Till Indian satellites can be designed, fabricated and launched, the needed capabilities should be acquired from friendly foreign countries on a commercial basis – no matter what it costs. Though satellite pictures are available for the asking in the world market today, only anindigenously designed satellite can provide the tamper-proof security required.

Satellite surveillance must be beefed up and an acceptable degree of redundancy achieved through the use of remotely piloted vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles and ground surveillance means such as battlefield surveillance radars, unattended ground sensors in remote areas, regular army aviation reconnaissance sorties to locate intrusions and military activity across the LoC/AGPL and the LAC while flying within our own territory and electronic surveillance to gain information about the plans and movement of regular troops and Mujahideen mercenaries.

The IAF should supplement these efforts through its own reconnaissance flights using long-look optical systems, infrared line scan and synthetic aperture radars. The IAF should acquire additional surveillance assets, where necessary, and provide independent inputs to a national-level intelligence collection, collation, compilation, analysis and dissemination centre. Obviously, humint (human intelligence) means cannot be neglected and need to be appropriately strengthened.

Once a threat from across the borders has been discerned, or the adversary manages to evade detection and is able to penetrate the LoC and establish himself on Indian territory, as has been the case in Kargil, in itself a difficult proposition if a skillfully coordinated surveillance system is in place, his forces have to be destroyed quickly in order to restore the LoC’s sanctity. This task, particularly in high-altitude terrain, can be best performed by the artillery firing 155 mm precision strike ammunition. Today, laser-guided artillery shells can destroy bunkers, bridges and small buildings with a single-shot kill probability as high as 80 per cent.

Though precision strike munitions are costlier than standard high explosive shells, these are more effective as only a direct hit can destroy a bunker. If these are made available in large quantities, artillery can cause much greater destruction and indirectly reduce the infantry casualties when the inevitable assault is finally launched.

The IAF aircraft, planned to be employed for ground strikes, also need to be armed with precision strike munitions to achieve a telling effect.

Free-flight 1000-lb and 500-lb bombs cannot be dropped with the precision necessary to destroy individual bunkers. Just as artillery batteries firing standard high explosive ammunition are designed to `neutralise’ large areas of ground with their inherent dispersion of fire, modern jet aircraft flying at supersonic speeds and constrained by the restrictions imposed on manoeuvre due to the need to ensure that the LoC is not transgressed and hampered by the threat posed by hand-held, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles such as the Stinger, cannot be expected to achieve precision even with rockets and their Gatling guns. Only laser-guided and TV-guided bombs can.

Ideally, the IAF should be equipped with a specialised, dedicated ground strike aircraft of the slower A-10 Thunderbolt variety, enabling greater precision to be achieved in aiming. These can carry several tons of payload per sortie and take a lot of damage from the enemy’s air defence weapons. Such an aircraft would also cost only a fraction of the cost of multi-role aircraft such as Mirage-2000. The risking of costly multi-role aircraft for tactical bombing runs has obviously to be carefully considered.

What is certain is that, in the coming decades, the IAF will continue to be called upon to launch ground strikes with precision munitions in support of army troops. The IAF cannot afford to acquire new dedicated ground strike aircraft with its present budget.

Frontline troops also need to be equipped with passive night vision devices and night sights, based on thermal imaging techniques and imaging infrared. An accurately firing medium machine gun can eliminate enemy troops holed up in a bunker at night without having to close in within assault rifle range and can, thus, prevent many unnecessary casualties. Rocket-launchers with night sights can destroy bunkers from a safe distance. Infantry units also need to be given long-range anti-tank missiles for bunker-busting.

Light-weight, portable radio sets and pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals would considerably reduce the load that has to be carried up steep mountain slopes where each forward step is a physical achievement. Various other items of equipment like better helmets, light bullet-proof vests and durable snow-boots would reduce the jawan’s burden.

If these proposals spell a big increase in the defence budget, so be it. If `eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’, the price of vigilance need not be paid by sacrificing the nation’s youth when technology can perform the job as well if not better.

The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

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