By Colonel H R Naidu Gade – Indian Army Veteran
According to the Indian National Bomb Data Centre, during the Year 2021, there were around 132 reported Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) blasts in India killing/severely injuring 323 people. It is generally estimated that on an average for every reported IED attempt there were about eight unreported attempts, successfully foiled by the security forces based on timely actionable intelligence. IEDs have been the weapon of choice for insurgents, terrorists and militant groups operating across India’s very broad landscape. Even though the internal security situation in India has vastly improved over the last two decades, the appearance of new militant and terrorist groups in the arena, the innovative technologies adopted by these groups in building a variety of IEDs and use of new media including drones for delivery of these IEDs, pose new and varied challenges to the security forces. Is India fully prepared to meet these challenges to keep its people and infrastructure secure in order to drive development?
The IED threats to India emanate from the ongoing insurgencies, separatist and terrorist activities over some parts of the country. The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir (UT J&K) was on the boil over the last three decades due to hostile activities of separatists, terrorists and militants infiltrating from across the border. The situation in UT J&K has now been controlled through well-coordinated and persistent operations by the security forces. The left- wing extremists’ (LWE/Maoists) insurgency which initially affected 160 districts in Central India – popularly known as the ‘Red Corridor’ has now been contained and is limited to just about 50 districts. The decades old separatist insurgencies in North-East India, especially in the states of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur, have been effectively contained through massive socio – economic development, improved road, rail and air connectivity to these remote areas and strengthening of democratic institutions through fair and free elections. Also, a number of religious radicalised extremist and fundamentalist organisations have resorted to terror through the use of IEDs in urban and semi-urban areas propounding their misplaced causes. Rapidly developing India faces big threats to its internal security from all these elements that use IEDs as a primary means of terrorising people, causing destruction to public properties and disrupting developmental activities. These hostile elements apply great ingenuity and intelligence, and leverage technologies to design a variety of sophisticated IEDs and their delivery mechanisms. They frequently adopt new Tactics Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) thereby unbalancing the security forces, and extensively use real time human intelligence in order to thwart and frustrate any Counter-IED operations undertaken by the security forces.
The complexity of the IED Systems is increased since mobile smart phones, internet and social media provide a low-cost and easily accessible medium for information sharing and the swift adoption of Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs), thereby facilitating the efficient operation of these diverse systems. Such systems can be extremely resilient, invariably hard to target and are, therefore, survivable. Because the IED threat is constantly changing, the Counter-IED fight is dynamic, and maintaining effectiveness remains an enduring requirement for operations development. To counter these fast- changing TTPs by hostile elements, the security forces have also to innovate through adoption of new technologies including Artificial Intelligence.
NATIONAL COUNTER-IED STRATEGY
Presently, India does not have any comprehensive National Counter IED Strategy encompassing the four pillars of Counter-IED operations i.e., Attack the Networks, Prepare the Force, Defeat the Device and Exploit the Incidence. The strategy should have a pan government approach, be a coordinated effort of all applicable agencies of national power, have common understanding of the strategic environment with respect to IED challenges, and build enduring capabilities. Despite enhanced IEDs threats looming large, India has not yet evolved Counter-IED strategy at any level of security establishments and governance. The Indian Army enunciated broad standard procedures and processes to Counter-IED threats mostly related to Counter Insurgency Operations (COIN). The Central Police Forces have over the decade evolved standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Counter-IED operations applicable to various terrains they presently operate in. However, the police forces of most of the states have yet to evolve any standard Counter-IED procedures and still operate in an ad hoc way. Even if a comprehensive Counter-IED strategy is finally enunciated by the central government, the implementation of the above strategies and procedures becomes very difficult in a federal structure of governance as in India, which requires coordination and synergy between multiple agencies at various levels. Nevertheless, India has made good progress in this regard over the last two decades.
COUNTER-IED CAPACITY BUILDING
The Counter-IED capacity building involves – creating suitable organisations; developing requisite training and training infrastructure; adopting innovative TTPs based on threats; providing organisations with suitable equipment through leveraging of technology; establishing efficient and effective intelligence apparatus and building a seamless and wide network for intelligence gathering and timely dissemination; regulating and monitoring supply of materials required for designing and building the IEDs; identifying and elimination of sources of terror finance; creating an adequate first responder mechanism; setting up multiagency coordination centres at all levels with efficient communication networks linking these centres; and undertaking large scale public outreach programmes to educate the general population on the Do’s and Don’ts aimed to minimise casualties on occurrence of an IED event. The capacity building will have to be based on the realistic threat analysis.
INDIA’S COUNTER-IED CAPACITY
Organisations – The Indian Army has special counter insurgency units operating in the UT J&K and the North-East. These units have inherent Counter-IED resources and capabilities. Additionally, special Counter Explosive Devices Units (CEDU) are functional with each of the Operational Commands. These CEDUs have been restructured and equipped for greater flexibility in their deployment into smaller teams. All army field formations have integral combat engineer units trained and equipped for Counter-IED support. The National Security Guard (NSG), a highly specialised contingency force primarily consisting of army units – is deployed at various geographical hubs to respond to counter-terror and counter-hijacking threats. The Border Guarding Forces all along the 15060 kms of international land borders foil any cross-border attempts by militants and terrorists. They have Counter-IED teams located at the Border Outposts (BOPs) in the threatened sectors to take care of any possible IED incidents. The Central Reserve Police Force carrying out the COIN operations in the ‘Red corridor’, UTJ&K and the North-East has well trained sub-units to handle IEDs. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) is deployed all over India to protect national strategic assets and critical infrastructure from hostile elements. The Railway Protection Force (RPF) is deployed to protect the world’s third largest railway network of 67,000 kms and associated infrastructure. All the states in India have dedicated bomb squads/teams as part of the crime investigation departments of their police forces. These bomb squads are trained by the Indian Army/NSG/ CRPF and are reasonably well equipped for carrying out Counter-IED operations. However, these resources are limited and cannot be deployed in a timely manner all over a particular state. Their reach is limited mostly to urban areas. The Civil Defence and Home Guard units in each of the states possess basic awareness of IEDs and supplement the efforts of the security forces where required.
Training – is a continuous process for honing and updating Counter-IED skills. Many decades ago, the Indian army established a centre of excellence – the EDD School as part of the College of Military Engineering. The EDD School trains hundreds of personnel belonging to the Indian and foreign armed forces and the central and state police forces. The Indian army’s field formations run battle schools at the field formation levels to train and update personnel in Counter-IED skills and tasks. The CRPF established an Institute for IED management to train personnel from the central police forces and state police. Likewise, the Border Force run similar institutes to train its personnel on Counter-IED tasks. In addition, most security forces subscribe to various training courses abroad for selected personnel in Counter-IED tasks, procedures and give them exposure to the latest technologies and procedures available around the globe. Each of the security forces have their own canine training establishments for the training of new and refresher for the existing canines.
Equipment & Technology – The Indian security forces and other specialist Counter-IED units are adopting the latest technologies available globally, which not only act as force multipliers, but also reduce the risk to manual operators countering explosive devices. The philosophy and process of ‘defeating the device’ has undergone a radical change. High-tech equipment like the unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, remotely operated vehicles, disrupters, robots, non-destructive evaluation equipment, controlled detonation chambers/ vehicles, RCIED jammers, GPRs, and detection and neutralising equipment are being deployed on a larger scale by the security forces. Requisite funds are earmarked to procure these technologies and equipment from both indigenous and foreign sources. The Defence Research and Development Organisations (DRDO) have been working on a large number of projects to develop technologies for aerial surveillance, reconnaissance, and safe and efficient handling of explosive devices. The private industry is being actively involved and partnered to develop these technologies for the security forces. A substantial quantity of high-tech Counter-IED equipment has been inducted in recent times into the security forces.
As evident from the above, India is slowly but steadily building capacities in terms of organisations, training, equipment, technologies and intelligence gathering to undertake a large number of Counter-IED operations simultaneously over varying terrains and environments. However, there are still certain grey areas to be addressed on a priority. These relate to the aspects of evolving a common national strategy, closer attention to the issue of ‘attacking the networks’, and coordination amongst the numerous security forces. The Indian security forces are fully geared up to take up any challenges to its internal security arising from the use of explosives. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Commissioned into the Corps of Combat Engineers. A Civil Engineer, and Security Professional, with 47 years of rich experience in the field of Combat Engineering, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNe) Defence, Security & Disaster Management and Counter- IED Operations. Is a qualified CBRN and Counter-IED Professional.
Is a former Member of the International Civil Service while working as Chief CW Inspector 1997-2004 with the ‘Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)’, The Netherlands, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2013. Led teams of international professionals on many verification missions to various member countries, to verify the inventory of Chemical Weapons and monitor their destruction.
Presently, Chief Consultant with ‘CBRNe Secure India’ a ‘forum and a knowledge centre’ for bringing awareness in the general public, government and security entities on the threats arising from the use of CBRNe material and their disastrous consequences. A prolific writer and speaker, participated in various international and domestic conferences on CBRN Security, Disaster Management and Counter Explosive Issues and writes articles for professional journals worldwide on these subjects.