June 19, 2002


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The Rediff Special/ Josy Joseph

Sensitive to infiltration

Going by the size of machines on battlefields, they are small. But the expectations built around them are magical. Optimists believe that ground sensors are destined to play a crucial role in the relations between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours.

With India and Pakistan taking a step back from being on the brink of war, attention is now turning to the ground sensors offered by the United States for checking infiltration along the 740 kilometre Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The LoC begins in the Chhamb sector in Jammu region and ends where the Siachen Glacier begins. Since the Siachen Glacier is not demarcated, it has turned into a battlefield, held by India and sought after by Pakistan.

Though India's experience with sensors have so far have not been encouraging, New Delhi is hopeful that the sensors offered by the US might 'electronically fence' the LoC and alert the security forces about infiltrators, who could then be tackled.

Sensors entered the world of border disputes sometime in the early 1970s. The most successful deployment of sensors thus far has been in the Sinai, along the border between Israel and Egypt. The amazing success of the sensors in ensuring peace between Israel and Egypt contributed to the Camp David summit in the late 1970s that saw Tel Aviv and Cairo sign a historic peace deal.

Sensors have been extensively and successfully used on battlefields to check enemy movements, in supermarkets to check shoplifters, in industrial plants for leaks, and in numerous other areas.

However, sensors play a strategic role in managing illegal crossing along international borders. Sensors have been placed along parts of the United States-Mexico border to check illegal migration and are being placed along parts of Poland's eastern border to stem the entry of illegal migrants from Asia, including India. The European Union is partially funding the Poland border project to install the sensors so sensitive that they can reportedly detect the weight of the object that is crossing over. Sensors are being placed along the Thailand-Myanmar border to stop the massive smuggling of narcotics from Myanmar into Thailand.

Israel, which has successfully developed and deployed sensors along its borders, also manufactures sensors, based on US military technology. Recent Israeli military delegations visiting India have evinced a keenness to sell Israeli sensors to New Delhi, claiming that they are highly effective. However, after four years of discussions and extensive field trials, the paramilitary Border Security Force has informed India's home ministry that the Israeli sensors are unsuitable for Indian conditions.

According to BSF officers, field trials were carried along the Punjab and Jammu border, where the region is flat and sees little activities, unlike the LoC. A senior BSF official told rediff that during field trials, the sensor alarms went off "even when wild grass or animals moved around" and failed to perform during heavy rains.

According to reports, the government paid $325,000 for the sensors and their mother stations for covering just five kilometres. But finally found them unfit, and "it wasn't worth the money," says the senior BSF official.

A senior Indian Army officer said though the Israeli sensors failed to meet India's requirements, the American products were "providing encouraging results." The army has for sometime now been carrying out field trials of American sensors in the Drass and Kargil sectors in Kashmir along the Line of Control, as well as in certain parts of Jammu, all of which are mountainous terrain.

Lieutenant General J B S Yadav, General Officer Commanding, 16 Corps, based in Nagrota, said the "infiltration detection rate had gone up by over 20 per cent" after the US sensors were deployed.

However, Lieutenant General V K Sood (retired), former deputy chief of the army, warned that even the most advanced sensors "could only act as force multipliers" and cannot replace actual troop patrols and constant observations. He suggested a combination of ground sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, regular satellite images and battlefield surveillance radars for "improving the detection of infiltration."

Several senior officers at Army Headquarters, New Delhi, admit that such electronic surveillance and joint patrols are no guarantee against infiltration. A former commander of a Kashmir-based corps said for such electronic deployments to be successful, there should be no firing along the LoC or movements of troops or even wild animals.

The sensors' weakness is that they cannot distinguish between animals and humans, or even between humans and a falling tree branch. But, said some army officers, there are various kinds of sensors available and a "judicious mix" of the different varieties would be the best bet, including sensors that depend on thermal imaging, seismic-acoustic and infra-red passive sensors. Some of them are stationary, some mobile. These sensors send signals to its mother station, where it is constantly monitored.

"What you get ultimately is a signal that there is movement within the range of the sensor. Once you get the warning, your fast reaction teams stationed at the control station rushes into intercept the infiltrator," explained an army officer.

The sensors are normally buried a few inches beneath the ground with its slim antenna propping out of the ground for sending out signals back to the control room. In the case of the Israeli sensors that were tested by the BSF, they were not remote controlled but connected by cable that was laid underground from the sensor to the mother station. "And that is cumbersome," said a BSF officer.

The sensors that the US is offering are expected to be remote controlled, highly sensitive and more sophisticated than the Israeli ones. Ministry of external affairs sources claimed that the US has offered the latest sensors produced by the Sandia Laboratory, a world leader in sensors and which also designs the non-nuclear components of US nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, whatever the merit of the sensors, ultimately an end to infiltration is possible only if Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf decides to stop it. "And if he wants to send men across, then they can breach any sensor, any security," warned a senior army officer.

General Sood recalled the ingenuous methods adopted by East Germans to breach the Berlin Wall or cross over to the then West Germany. He said the LoC, by comparison, is easier to breach. But he added that the sensors would increase the interception of militants, enabling the security forces to kill or capture more of them.

Declared a senior army officer, "As long as terrorist camps churn out terrorists from Pakistan occupied Kashmir, we will suffer infiltration." He added, "The army is interested in the sensors but we are not going to celebrate their arrival. We would like to see an end to infiltration."

That is an honest admission from the Indian Army that has lost more men to terrorist operations in the past decade than in all its wars against Pakistan and China.

Concluded General Sood, "If General Musharraf is sincere about stopping infiltration, then we don't need any such surveillance."

Terrorism Strikes in Jammu and Kashmir: The complete coverage

Design: Dominic Xavier.

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