Yesterday, Maoists blew up a mine-protected vehicle (MPV) in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, killing nine Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans and injuring three more. The troops travelling in the vehicle were returning to their camp in Palodi from Kistaram — an area cut off from the rest of the state where the armed insurgents have almost complete control.
Organised days after 10 ultras were killed by Greyhounds personnel (India’s elite anti-insurgency force), the ambush is a chilling reminder that the Maoist’s tactical counteroffensive campaign (TCOC) is underway. Conducted every year from March to June, this is an attempt by the rebels to inflict maximum damage on security personnel during this period.
The deeply distressing news has also brought the spotlight on not just the threat represented by Naxalism – but also questions the preparation, equipment and strategy of the CRPF bearing the brunt of this fight.
This is especially true in regard to Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) attacks, the biggest challenge India faces in its counter-insurgency operations in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region.
Commonly used as roadside bombs, IEDs is basically an explosive that is constructed and deployed in ways other than in conventional military action. In recent years, the Maoists have become increasingly dependent on remotely triggered IEDs of increasing sophistication and explosive power to further their asymmetric terrorism against the Indian State.
In fact, as per the figures of the Chhattisgarh police department, as many as 66 security personnel were killed and 205 injured in the IED blasts between June 2010 and June 2017. Over 1,200 IEDs have also been recovered by security forces in different pockets of Bastar in the same period.
The main reason for this is that direct contact battles are deadly for the terrorists, especially considering the firepower, jungle warfare training and patrolling of the paramilitary forces .
As such, India’s security apparatus urgently needs to focus its energies on directly and effectively countering this deadly threat through strategic as well as technological solutions.
Here are some ideas that could help do this:
1. Directly countering the proliferation of IEDs
Research by security agencies has found that an easily available ‘detonating wire’ (commonly used in mining operations) is the primary catalyst behind the numerous deadly IED blasts in the red corridors of the country. Called Cordtex, it is easily available and can trigger IEDs containing as many as 250-300 locally made bombs in one go — a phenomenon given the deceptive name of ‘daisychain’.
Keeping this information in mind, counter-insurgency authorities need to restrict/regulate the sale and usage of Cordtex wires. While this may not stop IED attacks in entirety, it can definitely help in the mitigation of these death traps.
2. Strategic research team dedicated to IEDs
After insurgents used IED-driven tactics to cause disproportionate casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States Department of Defense set up the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) to specifically redress IED attacks. The organization was aimed at bringing together a range of ideas under a single umbrella, from procurement of good quality equipment to cutting-edge research into this critical area.
Accordingly, JIEDDO’s mission comprises of three principles: ‘Attack the Network’, ‘Defeat the Device’, and ‘Train the Force’.
Given the worrying magnitude of the problem, India’s war on IEDs may require a similar effort, with the army, the various paramilitary forces, the intelligence network, DRDO and domestic industry working in sync.
That said, if India goes ahead with such an agency, it must keep in mind the lessons learnt by JIEDDO on its journey, such as rivalry between security agencies and duplication of effort.
3. Ramping up R&D on counter-IED equipment
DRDO does have a directorate engaged in researching technologies relevant for low intensity conflicts. Though it has made some progress in creating counter-IED equipment, much more must be done. There are multiple solutions that need to be further developed and customised for the Indian scenario, from IED-destroying lasers to UAVs that detect buried explosives.
Also, the mine-protected vehicles (MPVs) being used in the Maoist strongholds of Chhattisgarh right now are suitable only for small arm fire and against conventional mines (upto 1.5 kg) such as the ones found along the Indo-Pak border in Rajasthan. These armoured carriers cannot withstand the massive impact of IEDs, which are often 20 kg and above in the heavily-mined forest of Bastar.
This is why these MPVs are blown up high in air when trapped in heavy explosions, killing the personnel inside despite them wearing seat belts and helmets. Its high time India learnt from these
lessons and engaged guerrilla warfare experts in designing an MPV that can protect its counter-insurgency personnel.
Furthermore, there is a need for developing ‘reactive’ electronic equipment to counter radio and cellular mechanisms used for remotely triggering IEDs. The countermeasure systems in use right now are mostly ‘active’ i.e they are perpetually on and keep jamming the frequency bands till they are manually turned off.
This makes even friendly radio communications difficult, often hindering the transfer of urgent intel on imminent attacks. Reactive systems, on the other hand, can ‘listen’ for incoming signals and swiftly diagnose if something is out of the ordinary before jamming it.