Tag Archives: NTRO

SUKMA: PMO spy agency pulled out UAV mid-way, unannounced; Hurt our ops, CRPF to MHA

 

Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on December 3
Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on December 3

 

On Monday afternoon, learning about the death of their men was not the only horror facing the top brass of the Central Reserve Police Force(CRPF). Despite their best efforts at convincing, the spy agency National Technological Research Organisation (NTRO) insisted and succeeded in pulling out its surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle(UAV) deployed over Sukma at the time the operation was on.

This ditching, being viewed very seriously as hampering the force when it needed all possible efforts has propelled the CRPF top brass to complain formally to its parent body, the Ministry of Home Affair (MHA). A senior IPS officer posted in the CRPF, confirming the development, said, “We are not going to take this lying down anymore. The MHA has been, in a very strongly worded manner, informed about this. It is now up to them.”

According to information accessed, the operations directorate of the CRPF placed an advanced ‘indent’ (read requisition) for UAV deployment over Sukma from 8am to 5pm for Monday, December 1. It was learnt that this was done keeping in mind the Maoist build up and the operations which were on for a fortnight. From Sukma, the Israeli-made Heron UAV was to fly to Jharkhand to provide an assessment of the Maoist presence since the state was to go for polls on Tuesday. Only then was it to return to its base at the Begumpet airport.

“The UAV arrived over Sukma only by noon. By around 1:30pm, it was gone. The NTRO’s point was that the fuel supply was nearly exhausted and it needed to fly more than 90 minutes to reach Hyderabad,” said a source. What bewildered the CRPF top brass was the sudden change of plan. “Given what was happening, we told NTRO to cancel flying to Jharkhand and maintain presence over Sukma. What we got in return baffled us. If you have been informed of a job as critical as this, how can you just walk away,” a source stated.

The UAV, despite its limited visual penetration of the thick foliage over jungles of Bastar is of immense help to the security forces since it beams live images of the location over which it flies. In a limited way, the UAV also helps forces to track, detect and react to any possible build up of the insurgents.

The NTRO’s UAV is operated by personnel from the Indian Air Force (IAF) who are on deputation to the spy agency. The spy agency is facing a crisis of pilots and observers and one set of pilots and observers can’t work for over four hours and NTRO has barely two set of people at the best of times. As a result of this, the Heron UAV which can actually operate for over 18 hours, effectively is not utilized beyond eight hours at the most. What makes the matters worse is that the NTRO only flies one UAV at a time and that too for a limited duration owing to the manpower crunch. Its pay, mandated by the government rules, also is too meagre for it to be able to attract fresh recruitment. When reached for a comment, Air Vice Marshal Arvind Verma, chief of UAV operations of NTRO heard the entire issue and said, “You should speak to the right authority. I can not comment.” When asked who should be reached, he did not reply.

It is not for the first time that the CRPF and NTRO have had a run in. In the past, former Home Secretary and now BJP MP RK Singh had put it in writing the need to stop relying on NTRO and developing own fleet of UAVs. Apart from that, for years now, the ground forces have pleaded the NTRO to shift out of Hyderabad and operate from Jagdalpur or Bhillai or any other air strip in the vicinity but NTRO has refrained. “Imagine the constraints that the NTRO already faces. In that by insisting on operating out of Hyderabad, you end up wasting considerable flying time in merely reaching over places in Bastar or Jharkhand. You have barely reached and it is time to head back, exactly what happened in the Sukma operation,” explained a source.

While the CRPF reports to the MHA and the police to their respective state goverments, the NTRO comes directly under the National Security Advisor’s secretariat and thus under Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

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UAVs for Anti-Naxal Ops: Agencies can’t coordinate so will duplicate

Troops fighting Naxal violence continue to be denied the technological edge already paid for by the govt. On the other hand, an ‘upset’ Home Ministry will duplicate assets and splurge thousands of crores because the spy agency NTRO rides roughshod with them

NTRO operates the Heron, a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAV from its base out of the Begumpet airport, Hyderabad. Photo credit: Image credit: SSGT REYNALDO RAMON, USAF
NTRO operates the Heron, a High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) UAV from its base out of the Begumpet airport, Hyderabad. Photo credit: Image credit: SSGT REYNALDO RAMON, USAF

Sitting 50 yards away from the site of the deadly encounter which claimed the lives of nine of his ‘boys’ in Latehar, Jharkhand, in the first week of January, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) officer said, “But for a UAV, the tables would have turned. We would have spotted their ambush and planned accordingly.” This commander’s suffering is neither new nor unattended to. Yet it is unlikely to be adequately addressed anytime soon.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the National Technological Research Organisation (NTRO), which operates the UAVs across central India for electronic intelligence, are unable to match steps. So much so that the Home Secretary RK Singh now wants CRPF to ‘reduce its dependence on NTRO/Indian Air Force’ by raising an entirely new fleet of UAVs – a complex, costly & time-consuming task.

Why the UAVs are so important

Flown and controlled from Hyderabad’s Begumpet airport, NTRO’s UAV (Israeli-made HERON) relays live images of the situation back to the control room with the help of a high-resolution camera on its belly and satellite networking, which is then shared with the troops.

For the CRPF, the entry of UAVs changed the game. Not only could the forces know the exact area of the Maoists’presence, but could also asses the topography and execute an operation – an edge they NEVER had. Seeing the utility of UAVs the CRPF is now working on establishing an Air Surveillance Unit (ASU) to ‘continuously monitor’ the movements of the insurgents. This even as there is growing clamour from within to fly more number of these assets from larger number of bases for all round coverage.

The then Director General of the CRPF, K Vijay Kumar wrote to the Union Home Secretary RK Singh in December 2011, commending the UAV’s role in the first-ever UAV-aided operation in Chattisgarh, but also warning, “The UAV almost took three hours to reach from Hyderabad and could effectively be utilised only for 3-3 1/2 hours for the area of operation.” He advised Singh to take up the issue and make NTRO shift to bases closeby.

Why the game-changer lost steam

Notwithstanding the initial success, issues have remained particularly in terms of the manpower the NTRO provided for UAV operations and unpreparedness to shift out of Hyderabad.

On November 17, 2011, the Chairman, NTRO informed the then Home Minister P Chidambaram of ‘certain logistical problems’ in shifting out of Begumpet. Not to give up, in December, Chidambaram wrote to the National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon to whom the NTRO reports. Terming the operations from Begumpet as ‘extremely limited and skewed’, Chidambaram stated that the ‘deficient crew inhibited operational efficiency’.  This author in fact learned that of the 110 requests placed by the CRPF for UAVs to fly in 2012, the NTRO flew them only on 26 occasions.

A senior CRPF officer narrated, “In February 2012, we were told that two additional bases were being expeditiously created for UAV operations.” That there was no change was evident when an exasperated Chidambaram warned the NTRO in a meeting on April 20, 2012 to shift out of Begumpet ‘within two months’. “Yet even today, they continue to operate only from there,” said a source. Out of the total nine states affected by the Maoist insurgency, Begumpet base barely ensures a coverage of only Odisha, Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh leaving out Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand.

The road ahead
The CRPF has made it clear that UAVs will have to continue flying, with or without the NTRO. The MHA has given the go ahead to the CRPF to acquire ten mini-UAVs and also firm up their Qualitative Requirements (QRs) for regular UAVs like Heron. All of this may mean incurring more than Rs 1000 crore, besides duplication.

NTRO’s defence
A senior officer from the NTRO informed that work is already in progress and within a couple of months they will begin operations from an additional base in Chattisgarh. “Our UAVs are biggest-ones available, the High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE). Thus it is not very easy to simply shift them and start operating. A lot of related infrastructure which includes an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) and specialization goes in. It takes time,” he said. It was not clear if with an additional base, the NTRO was also deploying an additional ground station.

It is learnt that the entire UAV operations of the NTRO are controlled by an Air Vice Marshal (AVM) from the Indian Air Force (IAF), who is on deputation with his office in New Delhi. Further, the entire staff he has is also from the Air Force. An IAF spokesperson confirmed this by adding that the Air Force staff reports to the Chairman NTRO and not the Air Chief, which according to informed sources made things complicated. “Why do you think the army was forced into acquiring their aviation wing and now attack helicopters? We face similar problems with them. No effort is made to understand the ground situation. All they do is operate as per the book,” said a MHA official.

The spy agency, a creation of the post-Kargil K Subrahmanyam committee, has no independent cadre like the Research and Analysis Wing (R & AW) does. It is thus staffed by men on deputation.

ALSO

VIEW my report on subject, which was aired on HEADLINES TODAY on March 5, 2012: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/video/anti-naxal-operations-drones-uavs-union-government-crpf-ntro/1/252697.html

READ related reports

Why MHA’s UAV mission may just be impossible

(As appeared on indiatoday.intoday.in)

Stonewalled for over a year and a half by the spy-agency National Technological Research Organisation (NTRO), the  Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has tasked the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) with procuring the vital Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for anti-Naxal operations. While fully justified in being upset with the spy agency, there are not many takers for the MHA’s move to duplicate assets.

Sources say the MHA proposal will face a tough scrutiny when it reaches the Finance ministry. Notwithstanding that, the opposition to this comes from not just on the exorbitant price tags but also on account of the complexity of the task involved.

Adding a yet another question mark to this move, sources within the NTRO said that there was a reason behind the delay. “For over a year now, we have been working on creating the right infrastructure for a base in northernChattisgarh. It is a location which suits the CRPF which had a problem with us flying solely out of Hyderabad. Today, it is possible to operate out of that base in a couple of months, which means your problem is largely solved,” said a source. If the spy agency is to be believed, it has re-shuffled its fleet of UAVs to ensure that the planes dedicated for anti-Naxal operations can be doubled by the end of the year.

Elaborating on the complexity of maintaining and operating UAVs, a senior officer mentioned, “To operate a full-fledged UAV, the set up required is quite daunting right from satellites, encryption experts, data analysts, controllers etc. Even the NTRO, which is under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is struggling to find trained manpower which is why they are relying on the Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel on deputation to man their UAVs.”

NTRO, an officer said, had additional duties too apart from anti-Naxal issue. “We would be glad to be relieved of this as there are other missions that are suffering but we can’t help but feel that this will be a suicidal one.”

Major General (Retd) Dhruv Katoch, Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) mentioned, “I am all for providing the man of the ground with mini-UAVs which are of tactical use and can be carried by the troops. MHA should allow the CRPF to procure that. But beyond that, it is the NTRO which has the capability. The CRPF has little use investing in such high-tech systems.”

‘MHA’s acquisition is on-track’

Documents accessed show that the Home Secretary (HS) is firm on acquiring these assets. In a review meet held on December 21, 2012, RK Singh had in fact termed the UAVs as ‘inescapable need for anti-naxal operations.’ HS had further stressed that, ‘sufficient numbers of UAVs be acquired so that we are not dependent on others. These UAVs should be operated by the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) themselves.’ A senior officer on the condition of anonymity stated, “We are at an advanced stage of executing what the HS has told us to do.” Major General RK (Retd) RK Arora, Editor of the Indian Military Review (IMR), mentioned, “CRPF needs more than mini-UAVs. There are operations when you need to simply hover over an area and maintain a vigil. Thus a tactical UAV capability is a must.”

CRPF mini-UAV acquisition hits a road block

It was reliably learnt that under the HS’s order, the CRPF was trying to acquire two mini-UAVs Israeli-made Skylark. However, the defence Public Sector Undertaking (PSU), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which will import and assemble the mini-UAVs has quoted a very high figure above the import cost, causing the proposal to raise too many eyebrows.