UAV/India – Maoist Insurgency and UAVs


A very useful article on the employment of UAVs in anti-Naxal operations. In the forested environment of Naxal affected area, the mini and small UAVs will be restricted in operation due to forests and foliage. Pure EO sensors will have severe limitations. IR sensors will be essential. Also foliage penetration radars and underground detection radars, which are in evolution in the West, need to be introduced here. The medium altitude UAVs are likely to provide the best result. Using Searcher type of UAV would be optimal. The multiple sensors give phenomenal amount of data. To extract intelligence out of this maze of data, software automation is essential. It would be facial recognition, change of scene detection and so on. While it is easy to procure UAVs and sensors, the most challenging part is to acquire and adapt automated software for our conditions.

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This article is published with the kind permission of „Defence and Security Alert (DSA) Magazine“ New Delhi-India
Defence and Security Alert (DSA

Maoist insurgency in 232 plus districts is a socio-political problem needing efforts in multiple fronts for a solution. Socially the entire population has to be engaged in inclusive growth schemes dealing with the occupational enterprises like agriculture, handicraft, mining, foresting etc. Politically they need to be weaned away from bankrupt Marxism. They need to be educated in suitable form about the demise of communism in former Soviet Union, the changing face of Chinese market oriented communism and closer home the experience of communist regimes in Kerala and West Bengal.

For the above to take place, it is essential for security forces (police force, paramilitary force) to create and sustain a safe environment which will permit implementation of socio-political plan without the violence unleashed by Maoists affecting its implementation. Quite obviously the bedrock of success for security forces plan would be the correct and timely intelligence on Maoist leadership, organisation, political indoctrination camps, camps for arms training and their sources of intelligence, finances, arms procurement, external support etc.

UAVs can contribute a lion’s share in this intelligence collecting. Indeed UAVs are already being used as reported in the press. The press report stated that UAV operations are being planned since April 2010 after deadly Maoist ambush in which 75 CRPF personnel were killed. The report mentioned the use of mini UAV Netra – something similar as shown in the movie “3 Idiots”. Also larger UAVs collected SIGINT capturing rebel’s telephonic conversation and spotted Maoist cadres during their move from one place to another. The press report further states Home Ministry’s plans to induct more UAVs for the Security Forces.

Maoist terrain

Most of the Naxal affected area consists of tropical dry deciduous forest containing many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The area is pastoral with arable terrain. Electrification is sparse. The affected combined forested area in states of MP, Maharashtra, Odisha and AP is approximately 3,42,000 sq km. The area has Bauxite, Iron ore and plentiful coalfields. Agriculture is predominantly rice and oil seeds cultivation. Industrially it is a poorly developed area. Population density varies from 101-300 per sq km. There is less penetration of television and radio.

Needless to say there must be a well orchestrated plan for integrated Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) effort. However, the following suggestions / explanations are offered more for general awareness and understanding. ISR is undertaken by various government organisations. These initially evolved as vertically organised, separated from each other similar to smoke-stack industries in the past. The lateral interaction and co-ordination was a periodic activity, the frequency of interaction deciding on the timeliness of integrated intelligence. But the world has witnessed massive communication change in the last two decades.

In the forested environment of Naxal affected area, the mini and small UAVs will be restricted in operation due to forests and foliage. Pure EO sensors will have severe limitations. IR sensors will be essential. Also foliage penetration radars and underground detection radars, which are in evolution in the West, need to be introduced here. The medium altitude UAVs are likely to provide the best result. Using Searcher type of UAV, psychological employment can definitely put the naxals at disadvantage. This must be capitalised on.

UAVs are more demanding in operation than normal manned aeroplanes. It is a full time job and soon to be a lifelong profession. Airmanship, a core competence of Air Force is also a requisite competency for UAV operations. Therefore, proper UAV operations are best undertaken by Air Force. No matter how sincere the effort, the other paramilitary forces will be sub-optimal in this art and science of flying. The UAV operations room needs to be manned by experts in Intelligence analysis and the operational experts to select the suitable armed response

The modern world is FLAT and so seamlessly interconnected, that if connecting network fails, there is economic chaos. An apt example is anybody’s ability to use an ATM card anywhere in the world for either economic transactions or withdrawal of instant money. However, this kind of integration in ISR is the dream of all countries. USA, Israel and some others are in the vanguard of this integrated ISR pursuit. Others are following at various stages depending upon the effort made.

How is modern ISR integrated in a seamless manner? Obviously by connecting all agencies in real time and processing the enormous information gathered by intelligence experts making copious use of software algorithms. Let us see one such model in detail.

Small UAVs will continue to be operated more in decentralised fashion. It is their ISR data which needs centralisation. This is inevitable and is the only way for success

Satellites

Satellites with their EO / IR / SAR sensors constantly map / sense the area over which they pass in each orbit. Their orbital time varies between 90 minutes to 120 minutes and each orbit covers a new swathe. A combination of many satellites could increase the frequency with which they can cover the same area. Their digital information is stored and transmitted to suitable ground station. If programmed the satellites can detect desired object / area / information and pass it in real time to ISR operations room. Also it could cue lower flying UAVs to the designated area for a closer look on detected activity.

UAVs

UAVs of varying size from micro (wing span less than 15 cms) to very large (wing span 100 feet plus) size are already in use. A brief look at different types follows:

High / medium altitude UAVs (HALE / MALE)

These UAVs namely Global Hawk, Reaper, Predator, Heron, Hermes etc. fly at 20,000 to 65,000 feet. The higher the UAV, larger is the area it can see but the size of the object that can be seen increases. To see maximum details and small sized objects, like a human being from the top, UAVs need to fly lower. So the UAV could be used either in isolation or in a networked manner. Satellites cueing can take the UAV to the immediate area of interest to examine the data in greater detail. These UAVs having endurance varying between 24 to 50 hours enable good persistence. But then these also need a proper operations room manned and equipped suitably to handle the vast amount of data. When multiple sensors are networked / integrated then operations room also needs suitable upgradation.

Smaller UAVs

There are a number of UAVs from size range in few cms to few meters and of lower endurance as well as lower operating altitude. These are mainly for the security forces out on patrol, own convoy protection, IED spotting, route clearance, urban area ISR etc. However, these could be integrated with operations room in order to pass significant intelligence. More so in time of critical targeting this link becomes essential not only with the operations room but also with armed strike aircraft / armed UAV or an armed helicopter on alert.

Area of search

While the ISR network can watch over a wide area 24 hours a day, the reality is not so simple. Pure search without any other intelligence is a highly time consuming, painstaking, monotonous work resulting in quick fatigue to the sensor operator. As per one source it requires about 8 hours of UAV work to fully search an area of 5 sq km. But with suitable intelligence inputs this search can be expedited. Hence the inescapable need of all agencies being networked and in as real time as possible.

Automated processing

The multiple sensors give phenomenal amount of data. To extract intelligence out of this maze of data, software automation is essential. It would be facial recognition, change of scene detection and so on. While it is easy to procure UAVs and sensors, the most challenging part is to acquire and adapt automated software for our conditions. It is only with constant usage and experience that this software can be developed and refined.

Centralised operations

If each agency is going to work in near isolation then the magic of UAVs would be missing. UAVs are more demanding in operation than normal manned aeroplanes. It is a full time job and soon to be a lifelong profession. Airmanship, a core competence of Air Force is also a requisite competency for UAV operations. Therefore, proper UAV operations are best undertaken by Air Force. No matter how sincere the effort, the other Paramilitary forces will be sub-optimal in this art and science of flying. The UAV operations room needs to be manned by experts in Intelligence analysis and the operational experts to select the suitable armed response. Then we need the support of armed UAVs / aircraft / heli-borne teams to deal with actionable intelligence. The brilliant success of Israelis against terrorists, the Americans’ drone strikes in Afghanistan-Pakistan area are all a result of painstaking yet revolutionary networked approach as described above. Except their efforts are far more complex to utilise larger ISR resources available. Centralised refers to the process of centralised processing of data and arriving at required decisions promptly. The execution, therefore, has to be decentralised as per the resources and demands of the site. Similarly small UAVs will continue to be operated more in decentralised fashion. It is their ISR data which needs centralisation. This is inevitable and is the only way for success. Shown above is schematic of an ISR operations room, which is a part of an Air Operation Centre.

About the Author
Air Vice Marshal A K Tiwary VSM (retd) – The writer commanded a MiG-29 Squadron in late 80s. His various command and staff appointments like Chief Operations Officer at a major Wing, operational planning at Command level, Director Concept Studies at Air HQ, Command of a major flying base, Head of the Training Team (Air) at Defence Services Staff College and Senior Directing Staff (Air) at National Defence College have conferred a rich practical experience. The air staff course at DSSC Wellington (TN), Command and Air War Course at the Air University, Maxwell Airbase, Montgomery (USA), all inducted and accelerated his interest in air war studies. After premature retirement he now flies as Commander on Boeing 737-800 NG.

Note by the Author:
There are a number of UAVs from size range in few cms to few meters and of lower endurance as well as lower operating altitude. These are mainly for the security forces out on patrol, own convoy protection, IED spotting, route clearance, urban area ISR etc. However, these could be integrated with operations room in order to pass significant intelligence. More so in time critical targeting of this link becomes essential not only with the operations room but also with armed strike aircraft / armed UAV or an armed helicopter on alert

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