Securing Defence Installations
Vol 10 Issue 5 Nov - Dec 2016
A look at the vulnerabilities and the approach required to take care of the same
Monday, December 5, 2016
For only the second time I am digressing from my avowed intent not to write on General Staff subjects but I am forced by circumstances. When one writes in the wake of a near disastrous situation which occurred in Nagrota (it could have been much worse) there is a need to flag some of the concerns that common citizens seem to be raising and those inexperienced in these type of operations within the Army are also a little doubtful about. The issue is garrison perimeter security of military and police installations which seem to be getting penetrated much more frequently in J&K resulting in fairly heavy casualties.
The public, Army and Police need to be clear that in terror linked situations the initiative always lies with the terrorist and in this case with his sponsors too. As defenders (and we are truly that) our establishments have resources for intelligence, infrastructure, technology and even cerebral thinking. Yet, the human genius of a devious mind can outdo anything when it comes to the need to penetrate two to four men past a line held by hundreds of soldiers. This is a fact of history of warfare which people seldom understand. After the elimination of the six man Fedayeen squad which attempted to penetrate Srinagar airport in 2000 the then IG CRPF summed it up very aptly, – “when a man comes after wrapping his own funeral shroud around his head as his turban there is little you can do except attempt minimizing the damage he will cause to your installation”. That is a negative thought no doubt but actually summarizes the frustration security forces the world over suffer from innovative suicide terrorist actions.
In our case the Fedayeen (I use the term without any intent to glorify the acts of terrorists) phenomenon hit us the first time in 1999. The ability of a small terrorist hit squad, willing to die in the terrorist cause, was demonstrated. A wave of such acts occurred. Deception was the main methodology; the use of police and military uniforms to confuse at the time of discovery and delay our response was always a plus for the terrorists. The need for knowing the internal layout of a camp was imperative but nothing else since the squads were suicidal in nature. They did not come strapped with explosives as they do in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and recently even in Europe; those are suicide bombers. In J&K these were suicide attackers and not suicide bombers and the distinction needs to be clear because we haven’t yet faced the higher end danger of suicide bombers and mercifully so. The spurt in Fedayeen all over J&K forced the Army, JK Police, CAPFs and government establishments to undertake greater security measures and deploy much of their human resources on point security. The methodology was the strengthening of entry points (gates), double barriers at gates to prevent rush by terrorist driven vehicles, elevated watch towers and quick reaction teams to respond to situations. The point which remained the weakest was the perimeter. Resources did not permit the construction of security walls everywhere. Some prioritization took place. Those at lower end of priorities had to contend with wire fences which also came in varieties. Double fencing with concertina came for more important locations and single strand fence for lesser ones. The induction of technology for surveillance remained limited to aging night vision infra-red devices. The new ones to include Thermal Imagers (TIs) were introduced in 2001 but the entire lot since then has always been deployed at the LoC for counter infiltration. No doubt in the priority of things, forward troops need it most and their equipping with TIs had a force multiplication effect. However, for long has the Indian Army neglected and in fact ignored the security of its rear areas. The macho effect always prevails. In fact, nearer the LoC it was fashionable to push everything up to the troops in front ignoring the security of the rear. Senior commanders tended to forget that this was not conventional war but a hybrid one with no rear and no front. A guilt complex always seemed to overcome them if they were not providing everything to the front and facilitating anything for the rear. In the typical Indian Army way improvisation became the order of the day for rear areas. The effectiveness of the TI equipment in the forward areas should have meant a gradual introduction of this equipment in the rear, two, three of even five years later. The Rashtriya Rifles (RR) had the equipment but none else. Suddenly the Fedayeen phase lapsed in 2005-6 or so and the same was forgotten until 2013 when the deep state in Pakistan did its thinking all over again. The relative success the ‘bad terrorists’ achieved through Fedayeen in Pakistan’s own bleak internal security scenario inspired the thinkers, planners and sponsors to reintroduce the same in 2013 in J&K. We witnessed Samba (twice), Kathua, Gurdaspur and Pathankot in succession. The IB was easier to breach because it did not have the layered counter infiltration grid and the execution of a strike on a garrison was much simpler as these lay within a 10-15 km distance from the border. Similar attempts were made all over the Valley as a strategy after the Uri incident and the surgical strikes.
The citizens of India do have a right to question why the Army isn’t being able to secure itself better in the rear areas. The same question is being asked by personnel within the
Army who have not been exposed to such operations or do not have access to expertise on the subject.
I do wish to offset any notion that may enter some minds that there exists a training deficit which is leading to this phenomenon. However, if realization of threat perception is an issue related to cerebral training then surely a training deficit too exists. The first thing is that senior commanders need to shake themselves out from the idea that their attention has to be focused only towards the front. The understanding of the implications of hybrid war needs to be revisited all over the Army. Next is the necessity to return to basics on garrison security. In drastic situations the army always takes drastic measures. The first of these should be the issuance of an edict that any garrison hereafter penetrated by a Fedayeen squad would invite a negative remark against the CO, 2IC and Sub Maj of the unit in their personal record; a larger garrison would have a similar thing done against the security sector in charge, his deputy and Sub Maj. I am afraid, without providing the resources, infrastructure and technology, to commence victimization of command elements is the last thing which is needed but there is yet much which can be done to prevent penetration. I state all this very reluctantly with full knowledge of the limitations of garrison security in a hybrid environment but I also do so with the mind that we are perhaps staring down the barrel of worse to come. If the establishment is not fully shaken up now much worse may follow. The follow up also demands that the powers at Army HQ look at the entire gamut of garrison security afresh. Lt Gen Philip Campose, former VCOAS, headed a committee after the Pathankot attack and framed a set of recommendations. What has happened to them? We need urgent identification of vulnerabilities all over again and immediate measures to bolster the infrastructure and equipment. Let there be garrison security weeks designated every month in which drills must be rehearsed to the tee. In 1999 and beyond the issue of security walls for rear areas did come up but the same got mired in budgeting issues. If the Army has to overcome the mindsets on security infrastructure it will need to get its dealing bureaucracy at the MoD and elsewhere to change its thinking. Fast tracking is the need and that is usually a far cry when it comes to the bureaucracy.
Lastly, we may continue believing that penetration of perimeters in such a threat environment will always be possible but more than ever before we need to drill it into the minds of our officers and troops that it is possible to prevent this through resolute determination, alertness and hard training. We did it in 1999-2005 and we can do it again.