FEATURED | Securing Indian Defense Establishments
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FEATURED | Securing Indian Defense Establishments

By Arjun Sreekumar
Industry Analyst – Aerospace, Defense and Security

FEATURED | Securing the Indian Defense Establishments

India has never been a stranger to terrorist attacks, in fact the nation started grappling with the specter of proxy war and external fundamentalist attacks much before the Western world was exposed to it. However the reality of things is that despite this protracted exposure to terrorism, India’s military establishments and installations are still ill prepared to intuitively defend against this threat. This results in higher casualties. The Pathankot air force base attack is a case in point. The high fatality rate of the Pathankot attack has been attributed to the lack of a clear cut command structure and inefficient deployment of forces. This may be true to an extent but amidst all the talk about a national command doctrine and disorganized dissemination of intelligence, we overlook something basic.

The shifting modus operandi of terrorist attacks

Terrorist attacks in India are either bomb/IED attacks or full frontal attacks on civilian, law-enforcement or military establishment. An analysis of attacks over the past decade points to the fact that only 30 percent of the total attacks were full frontal attacks. It should be a cause of alarm that over 70 percent of these full frontal assaults happened in the course of the past three years, pointing to growing proclivity towards full frontal assaults against defense/civil establishments. The last attack happened just a few days back in Pampore on 21st Feb, 2016. The need to secure India's defense assets and soldiers guarding them has never been more.

Pathankot- A breach that could've been avoided

On 2nd Jan, 2016 the perimeter of the Indian Air Force Base in Pathankot was breached by terrorists. The targets were successfully neutralized by security forces but at the cost of seven of India's security personnel. The success of the operation is diminished by this. However what makes it worse is that it seems like all the terrorists had to do to break into the high security installation, housing hundreds of millions worth of military equipment was just to secure a rope on the wall and climb over it. It should never have been so easy to breach a priority military installation. The terrorists should have been dispatched well before they crossed over the boundary and that too with minimal casualties.

Security adoption in India's military bases is still stuck in the middle ages. Today, military installations cannot be secured by doubling the number of patrols or number of personnel at outposts. One cannot beat asymmetric warfare with quantity.

The spending of Defense forces on base security and smart technology adoption in the matter is minimal. If the forces had routed a fraction of the billions they spend on new equipment purchases to adopting smart and cost-effective security solutions in military bases, casualties could have been minimized and India need not have to grieve for the fallen seven. The attackers would've been detected long before they closed in and forces could've engaged them in a tactically smarter fashion.

What if Pathankot housed modern security features?

Imagine a situation where the Pathankot Air Force Base had embraced modern security features. Infra-red cameras would've detected the terrorists as they approached. Smart surveillance systems can sense new or lingering objects in the field of vision, identify it as a threat and prioritize what needs to be displayed to the viewer in the control room. Had the terrorists disabled the surveillance system, somehow their presence would've been detected by motion detectors or laser fences and the possible point of breach could've been pinpointed. An Automatic Weapon System piloted by an operator in the control room would have been used to engage and mow down the terrorists before they climbed over. Early detection also gives operators inside the base time to secure high value assets. Thesedays terrorists use army fatigues to avoid detection and infiltrate our installations. Adequate biometric verification systems at check posts and strategic locations could help in such a case. A modern security set up could've dissuaded or neutralized attackers.Adoption of such security technology also accentuates the vulnerability to cyber-attacks and thus a cyber-security element should also be built into the set up.

Protecting India’s Security Personnel

Now, consider a worst case scenario where a cyber-attack takes out the surveillance system and base defenses and the terrorists do break into the perimeter. The terrorists have to be engaged in the conventional manner. What could improve survivability of India's personnel?

Here again the solution lies in technology. The spending on protecting soldiers varies widely from country to country, usually depending on how much conflict the country is exposed to. The U.S soldier's combat kit costs $ 17,500 and comes equipped with modular tactical vests and ballistic plate inserts. An Indian soldier's combat kit costs a tad more than an iPhone 6s Plus, the costliest equipment being the primary weapon. In a country like India where the threat of terrorism is ever looming, security personnel, especially those guarding strategic locations needs adequate protection. Survivability of the soldier is greatly enhanced if they are provided with modular tactical vests with ballistic plate inserts and this technology must be given as standard issue to security personnel in charge of guarding high value targets and conflict prone areas. The defense establishment should peg the value of lives of security personnel commensurate with the value of assets they guard and invest in them accordingly. India is a country which can afford to do it.

The Economics of Security

New security technology adoption by India’s defense forces is in a state of languor because of the huge spending involved. Cumbersome purchase overruns and procurement issues being the norm in the establishment, forces focus more on high value offence equipment purchases. My conservative estimate shows that it will cost upwards of $10 million to secure a base the size of Pathankot with the aforementioned technology.  With over seventy air force bases, that’s an investment of over $700 million; also we haven’t factored in army and navy defense installations. Thefact that many defense deals have gone awry make it easier for the forces to shove security technology investment into the back-burner and adopt a semblance of augmented security through increased manpower deployment. Discounting the moral argument, it perhaps makes more economic sense to compensate for the life cycle cost of a few fallen soldiers than invest millions of dollars in new technology.

The solution lies in SME, frugal engineering and foreign expertise

The good news is there is a way to get over the defense establishment's nemesis in terms of security investment. Indian SMEs prowess in surveillance, security and integration is really high in terms of innovation and economy. There are myriad establishments in India delivering customized security solutions in the civilian space, especially to banks, ATMs and corporate offices. A small and obscure company of innovators in India has developed a frugally engineered ATM surveillance system which warns people in different languages if the sensors and camera detect that line of sight are being blocked on purpose.If the ATM user still does not heed the warnings, a notification is sent to the nearest police station. The cost of this system is only a fraction of the cost of its western equivalent. The technology to be used for securing military installations is quite similar, the components need to be tweaked a bit to adapt it to military purposes. India's SMEs need to be leveraged by the military to develop an in-house economical solution.

At the same time there are established defense contractors such as Elbit Systems of Israel, which has extensive expertise in advanced security solutions. The company has deployed security solutions in the US and Israeli borders which is similar the ones required for military installation security. India should use its fast burgeoning defense relationship with Israel for consulting and tech sharing. Involving a company like Elbit in partnership with proven Indian SME will help in developing indigenous security capability in base defense. A model base should be chosen and security deployments should be made with the aforementioned relationship. Once India's SME attains impressive deployment proficiencies, it can be solely used for Indian base security solutions. Apart from developing indigenous capability, this will increase employment and if proven it could be a significant foreign exchange earner for India by exporting its tech to other countries.

This will be a true “Make in India" model. Instead of foreign defense players making ancillary components in India, which require more manufacturing expertise than tech proficiency, we will have a holistic security industry with all components made in-house. This can lead to development of customizable consulting, integration, manufacturing and managed service solution capabilities in India itself.

Changing attitude towards security is Imperative

The Modi government has shown itself to be less Spartan in its approach to defense procurement by bringing in new innovative means of defense acquisitions. The Indian government and defense establishment is on the verge of increasing spending on base security as a knee-jerk reaction to frontal attacks. The establishment should leverage Indian SMEs proven security capabilities and nurture it under guidance from foreign experts so it can burgeon into a well-developed indigenous industry rather than purchasing temporary off the shelf solutions. The defense establishment should wake up and realize that casualties are not the norm anymore. Perpetrators of asymmetric warfare often have surprise on their side but our preparedness in terms of technology and training should be high enough to effectively thwart an attack with no or minimal casualties. Empathy towards the Indian soldier and faith in Indian SMEs is the need of the hour in developing a permanent solution to thwarting offensive terrorist strikes.

*views are my own

About The Author:

Arjun Sreekumar (TR RID: M-2366-2015) is an Industry Analyst – Aerospace, Defense and Security in a leading Research Firm. 

Cite This Article:

Sreekumar , A "FEATURED | Securing the Indian Defense Establishment" IndraStra Global 002, no. 02 (2016): 0066. http://www.indrastra.com/2016/12/FEATURED-Securing-Indian-Defense-Establishment-002-02-2016-067.html |ISSN 2381-3652|