Digital transformation of defence Part II

We live in times of transformational change when bold decisions regarding technology (such as those involved in the digital transformation of defence) can yield asymmetric value, at the operational level. At the higher echelons of power, where decisions are normally taken, individuals may not be able to appreciate the application and impact of those decisions fully.

In this second paper of the series, we continue to describe current operational realities in the form of scenarios and then attempt to describe those same scenarios in the future, after the technology has been applied. The intention is to provide decision-makers with an insight into the profound impact those decisions will have. 

Scenario 4: Commando Operations 

The Situation 

In the early hours of the morning, the Indian Army Commando team reached the proximity of the target area. For several months, the Army was in search of Tarun Gokul, a ULFA leader, accused of multiple crimes, including ambushing an Army convoy. 

Based on credible intelligence and a guide, the commando team had crossed the Brahmaputra on boats and arrived at the target on the North Bank. Further information is scanty; Tarun Gokul was expected to be accompanied by two or three armed militants, and they had taken refuge, in an isolated building, in the midst of farmlands. 

The Commando Team leader briefed his team that Tarun Gokul should preferably be captured alive, but he was armed and unlikely to yield easily. There were three entrances to the building and possibly four or five rooms. On the pre-arranged signal (single rifle shot), Buddy teams A, B and C would storm the entrances, breaking down the doors. Any individual found would be apprehended, but in case of armed resistance, the commandos should fire for effect. After the initial rooms were cleared, the adjoining rooms would be searched and contact established with the other breaching buddy teams. 

The Present    

Commandos Prem and Anil constituted Buddy Team A. On the signal, Prem would lead the breach and Anil would follow. Both the commandos backed up next to the front door. They observed that the door appeared locked from within but was structurally weak and could easily be breached.

A single shot was loud in the stillness of the early morning, Prem stepped in front of the door and landed a powerful kick, in line with the latch. The door shutter burst opened, and he was inside the room. One man lay on the floor, awakened from his slumber, Prem told him not to move, while he covered him with his rifle. 

As per the drill, Anil moved ahead to search the room. As it was lit dimly, Anil moved cautiously and with deliberation. On the inside wall, another door was found. Anil was examining the door when suddenly it burst open and he saw a rifle barrel. He instinctively opened fire with a controlled-burst. One of the three bullets found the mark, and he heard a man grunt and fall. In the dim light, he saw the camouflage uniform of a fellow soldier. He had accidentally fired and hit Commando Dev of Buddy Team B. Fortunately, Dev was wearing a BP vest, and the bullet had hit the ceramic plate, but the impact had thrown him off his feet and knocked his breath out. Commando Anil was mortified at having shot his team member but relieved that Dev would survive. 

Though preoccupied with these thoughts, he noticed that another door in the room was slowly opening. Before he could respond, a militant stepped out with a pistol and fired. Commando Anil was hit in the head, below his helmet and he fell to the ground, bleeding profusely. 

The Future   

Commandos Prem and Anil entered the room through the shattered doorway. Prem found the man awakened from his slumber and covered him with his rifle. Anil moved ahead searching the darker confines of the room. He was standing in front of one of the inner doors when it burst open. Seeing the barrel of a weapon, he pressed the trigger, but the rifle locked. The IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) beacon Commando Dev was wearing, automatically locks weapons of the commando team, when they are fired in the direction of the beacon. 

Anil also realizes the target is friendly because the aiming graticule in his head-up visor display indicates the locked status of his rifle. He now observes another inner door in the room slowly opening. Without moving his head, Anil turns his weapon towards the door; the weapon automatically unlocks, and the image of the door comes into the aiming graticule of his visor. When the militant emerges from the doorway and is raising his pistol to aim, Anil is already prepared. He presses the trigger and all the bullets of Anil’s controlled burst, plummet accurately into the militant. 

Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System 

The Situation 

Despite fighting three wars with Pakistan, India continues to suffer from cross-border terrorism. Pakistan trained terrorists have repeatedly attacked targets in J&K, disrupting normal life and creating mayhem. The most popular route for infiltration from Pakistan, is across the Line of Control (LOC), on the Indo (J&K)-Pakistan border. 

In 2003, the Indian Army completed an ambitious project, constructing almost 900 Km of fencing along-side the LOC, called the Anti Infiltration Obstacle System (AIOS). It extends from the riverine plains of the Chenab, past Rajouri and Poonch, spans the Pir Panjal Range, crosses the Uri River (Jhelum), runs alongside the Neelam River (Jhelum), ascends the slopes of the Zanskar Range, past Kargil to NJ-9842. Passing through underdeveloped mountainous terrain, it was an ambitious engineering undertaking. Also, significant portions of the AIOS gets destroyed due to snow and avalanches every year and requires to be rebuilt. 

For the most part, the AIOS consists of two parallel barbed wire fences, rolls of concertina coil and a cobra-wire (electrified wire). The fence is certainly not infiltration-proof but has succeeded in reducing the quantum of infiltration and increasing difficulty, for those attempting to cross the LOC. 

The Present    

Afzal, 52 years is from Muzaffarabad and is reputed to be the best guide across the LOC. As a young man, he escorted scores of people, through the opposing Pakistan and Indian armies, primarily for smuggling and also for meeting relatives separated by the partition. Before the Indian Army constructed the AIOS, it had been an easier task to escort people. Now, he works with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), smuggling young men into Indian Kashmir. 

It is well past midnight, and there is no moon. As the temperature falls, the fog has formed reducing visibility to barely 50 meters. Afzal has led a group of four well-armed and trained LeT terrorists to the LOC. They are accompanied by two porters, who assist in carrying the heavy backpacks. Afzal’s job is to get the four terrorists across the LOC and AIOS, after which he and the two porters will return to Pakistan. The four terrorists are to cross the AIOS undetected, meet up with their Indian handlers and thereafter carry out planned operations in the Kashmir Valley. 

Afzal knows where the Indian Army Posts are located, and at this hour, soldiers are expected to be less alert. Afzal peers into the darkness, he sees the silhouette of the AIOS about 30 meters ahead. The Indian Army patrols the Indian side of the AIOS. But at the isolated section, the patrols are more infrequent. 

Afzal creeps forward towards the AIOS, and the other six follow him. This is Afzal’s speciality; using some handcrafted tools, he will get the four terrorists across the AIOS, in less than 10 minutes. The Indian Army had acquired thermal imaging devices and surveillance radars, but the numbers are inadequate, and the devices are less effective in the dense fog. 

Thirty minutes later, the four terrorists have crossed the LOC, met up with two Indian handlers and on their way to a safe house, near Uri. Afzal and the porters are making their way back to Muzaffarabad. The next day, Afzal will meet with the mullah at the LeT camp and will be rewarded for his role in yet another successful LOC infiltration. 

The Future 

As a pilot project, the Indian Army has super-imposed a 5-G enabled surveillance network, on a 50 Km stretch of the AIOS. Officers of the Indian Army’s Corps of Signals have completed the project in a record six months, and it is field-tested. 

Comment

5-G mobile communication technology is a futuristic technology, not yet available in India and currently being tested by some leading telecommunication companies, in China and the US. 

5-G antennae are placed at every 100 meters of the AIOS, and they support a range of high resolution, low visibility, infra-red and thermal cameras. The wire-less feed-back from the cameras is fed to an operations room, which is monitored 24x7. The operations room is co-located with the brigade HQs, where mobile reserves are located, specifically to ambush infiltration attempts on the LOC. 

As Afzal and his compatriots approach the AIOS, their activities are noticed in the operations room. 5-G devices not only pick up faint signals in low-visibility conditions, but the images are also high-resolution, enabling facial recognition of the terrorists. Having detected the breach, silent UAVs (quad-copters) with night-vision cameras are dispatched to the location of the breach. Unknown to the terrorists, the Indian Army operations room is now able to monitor their activities, in real-time. The quad-copters are also able to observe the meeting with Indian handlers and the movements of the group.  The Indian Army, empowered with reliable intelligence, now plan to ambush the terrorists and their Indian handlers, before they reach the safehouse near Uri. Also, the identity of Afzal, the best guide across the LOC is revealed, and the Indian Army can pass on his details to the R&AW, to impede his activities. 

Conclusion 

In this second serial about the Digital Transformation of Defence, we illustrated the impact in two combat operations; namely, the conduct of commando operations in low-intensity conflict and improving the AIOS along the LOC, in J&K. Each operation was described in the present, with inherent shortcomings and in the future, explaining how technology could be used to overcome these shortcomings. In subsequent serials, we shall attempt to describe other applications in the digital transformation of defence. 

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