“In the future we should anticipate seeing more hybrid wars, where conventional warfare, irregular warfare, asymmetric warfare and information warfare blend together, creating a very complex and challenging situation to the combatants. Therefore it will require military forces to possess hybrid capabilities, which may help deal with hybrid threats.” ———- Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono
The attack on our CAPF in Chhattisgarh which took the lives of 22 personnel and gravely injured 32 more in April, sent shock waves through the country. While attacks by Maoists in the Red Corridor have been witnessed over the years, this was the second biggest casualty figure ever, in the protracted conflict.
Many comments and articles have followed in the aftermath of this recent attack and given the porosity of social media, the comments vary from eulogising the CAPF who lay down their lives to incisive castigation of the same troops to have fallen prey to this dastardly ambush. The latter, in fact, gets more specific to find faults in TTPs (Tactics, Training & Procedures) and/or the leadership and their commitment.
Whatever be the case, the underlying factor of the inadequacies of our combined efforts, from the political to the tactical, lie exposed. The fact that it is virtually a continual process, makes one wonder if the issue is being suitably addressed, has the address moved with the times and changes in technology over the years and is there adequate emphasis or need to find a persistent solution, if the permanent is too distant to visualise? The fact that ideology is the basis for insurgency and its various avatars in the form of guerrilla warfare, asymmetric warfare, irregular warfare, hybrid warfare, whatever, the less than war situation festers like a cancer and is difficult to dislodge.
Someone very aptly put up a quote by Henry Kissinger in an article recently published, wherein the diplomat said, “The conventional army loses, if it does not win. The guerrilla wins, if he does not lose.” The prophetic words should remain as a backdrop for our elements to absorb and understand the ethos of the movement and its underlying strength.
The added advantage of terrain, support from the local populace, engagement at the time and place of their choosing, boost the morale of the insurgents with the added bonus of capturing modern weapons carried by the CAPF, to add to their arsenal and growing inventory.
For quite some time, the use of airpower was not considered because of the likely disproportionate use of force with a reasonable chance of collateral damage which could, in turn, alienate the local populace even further. But the Dantewada massacre of 2010 was too much to accept and the government of India finally intervened to task the Indian Air Force to assist the state paramilitary forces.
‘Op Triveni’ started with a detachment of two Mi-17 helicopters which increased to six, with two helicopter units dedicated to provide support to the CAPF, state police and the administration, when required. The purpose or role of the IAF was to support the CAPF for logistics and CasEvac when required. Visual reconnaissance was also a commitment given to the force.
There is no doubt that addressing guerrilla warfare or irregular warfare requires a comprehensive approach across many domains, from the political to the economic, legal, intelligence and military or para-military action.
But the apparent asymmetry the helicopters provided, albeit unarmed, was rudely put to question when an IAF helicopter on a rescue mission to evacuate two CRPF jawans were shot at and damaged, so much so that the helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in a field in the densely forested area of Sukma in Chhattisgarh district. Fortunately, the left-wing extremists (LWE) could not follow up and destroy the helicopter before reinforcements secured the area.
The firing on the helicopter, apparently by machine guns, indicated the progressive enhancement of the armoury in possession of the militants and it would not be difficult to assume that more effective air defence weapons would follow in the pipeline. The vulnerability of the helicopter became more pronounced in the light of this likely eventuality.
There is no doubt that addressing guerilla warfare or irregular warfare requires a comprehensive approach across many domains, from the political to the economic, legal, intelligence and military or paramilitary action. While the psychological aspects or winning the hearts and minds of the population take prime importance, punitive action against the extremists must continue in a bid to break their resistance and succumb to the government.
There is a need to target their networks relentlessly. Their leadership, their sources of financing, communication systems/nodes, weapon caches and their acquisition network, all need to be determined and targeted to achieve progressive success.
As military men, we are aware that such planning and action needs information and intelligence, both timely and accurately. The induction of the UAV into the arena was a welcome move, providing greater flexibility to the authorities in terms of near real-time intelligence and better response times. But the traction is not yet obtained, or so it seems and we still seem to be far away from taking adequate measures in response to such sources of information and intelligence.
In air power application, because of the speed of operations, the OODA loop plays a dominant role. From the first ‘Observe’ to the last ‘Act’ the process has, through technology, graduated to what is now known as the ‘Sensor-to-Shooter Loop’. As the sensors have proliferated as also their accuracy/clarity of information, the sensor-to-shooter loop which defines ‘Reaction’, has progressively shortened.
The unblinking eye
Precision weapons on the ‘shooter’ have also added the factor of highly reduced collateral damage and precision strikes on leadership and hide-outs have paid rich dividends over the years, especially in US’ Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
But the key to the effectiveness of the sensor-to-shooter loop lies in the availability of actionable intelligence. The latter, as we are all aware, is a product of persistence and perseverance. Given the nature of guerrilla warfare and its dispersed operations, the need to have a proliferation of sensors cannot be contested. UAVs today can carry a variety of sensors and possess long ‘on station’ endurance in most cases. So there is an in-built element of persistence. But it requires much more effort and dedicated platforms with different sensors to take out and weed out the extremists, their hideouts and trace their networks.
If this country is to address the Maoist problem and the Red Corridor , the State governments with the help from the Centre need to invest in and deploy a plethora of sensors on various platforms and create a dedicated cyber warfare set-up to penetrate the militant’s core.
No doubt the rise of the cyber domain has really opened up vistas both for the protagonist and the affected party. Following up on cyber-related information to track networks and communication sources are of paramount importance. But operating the sensor platforms, monitoring and sifting through the enormous quantum of data for relevant information, is an astronomical task. This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to play a big role. Speed of data analysis and shortening the decision matrix considerably are some of the key elements of AI.
If this country is to address the Maoist problem and the Red Corridor which is threatening not only the states but eating into the fabric of this country, the State governments with the help from the Centre need to invest in and deploy a plethora of sensors on various platforms and create a dedicated cyber warfare set-up to penetrate the militant’s core. Superimposed should be AI, woven into the matrix to enhance data analytics. Extensive procurement and deployment of armed drones acting in conjunction with sensor drones will provide the persistence so essential in such operations.
Real-time data provided by the sensors will be sifted by AI installed in Command & Control (C2) Centres to provide the solution for rapid decision making and punitive action. The LWE must not be allowed a moment to rest. ‘The Unblinking Eye’ will see all.