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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