India has paid a heavy price in human lives both on its borders as well as in the internal security situation to mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) deployed by the Pakistan army on the borders and the Line of Control and by its agents in various crowded localities all over the country. There could be some respite and a great psychological turnaround in counter-insurgency operations in the device created by a laboratory of the Defence Research and Development Organisation that can help detect hidden IEDs and neutralize them with appropriate doses of directed energy from a ray gun.
The device, publicized during the recent Defexpo in New Delhi, is vehicle mounted to help rapid deployment ahead of troops/tanks and mechanized infantry on the ground. Its effectiveness is to locate and neutralize landmines, anti-personnel mines in cross country operations and improvised explosive devices in counter-insurgency sweeps.
Mine detection and clearance is a very time consuming task and therein lies the efficacy of a minefield to slow down the progress of an attacker and possibly break up the attack altogether. India has suffered from Pakistani landmine strategy when its major tank thrust into the Sehjra Bulge giving access to Lahore was halted at the Basantar River in 1971.
The ability to detect a minefield well in advance of the main armored/
mechanized infantry thrust will enable the local commander to plan a detour that does not lead him into an enemy ambush or reorganize the battlefield to his own advantage. This is part of what is known as “situational awareness” and is the product of all the instrumentalities that are available to the commanders at every level from the battalion to the Corps.
With the increasing use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, now commanders can interpret the enemy deployment to be in ambush mode and thus predict the presence of a minefield in front of that deployment. Once a minefield is suspected the new device developed by the DRDO can scan the landscape and pinpoint the location of the mines and prepare to deal with them immediately using acoustics as well as directed energy-lasers-to either defuse the mine or blow them up so that the path is cleared for the armor/mechanized infantry force to head for its military objective.
The singular advantage of the DRDO device is early detection of a minefield. There have long been available other methods of destruction of minefields available to the Indian Army. The Bangalore Torpedo is one such. It is also known as a Line Charge. It is a pair of explosives filled flexible pipes that are launched by a rocket across a suspected minefield and blown up. The explosion creates a sympathetic explosion of the mines laid underground thereby clearing large portions of the minefield. The current practice in vogue is to lay very long and wide minefields. This would require that Bangalore Torpedo would have to be launched in relay so that at least one wide passage is created across the width of the minefield.
Operational logistics would thus require that each advancing tank column be accompanied by more than one line charge carrier so that time is not wasted in setting up the two well-packed rolls of explosives and prepare them for launch. It is in this that the new device can operate as a single clearance machine of a two track lane across the entire minefield. It needs to be tested for these qualities if it is to be able to replace the Bangalore Torpedo in the battlefield. Perhaps two of the directed energy machines could be deployed side-by-side to clear the minefield.
As demonstrated at the Defexpo the directed energy mine clearance machine is mounted on a Jabalpur Vehicles Factory armored squad car which enables the laser generator to operate from a height of about seven feet. This could restrict the distance at which a mine can be detected and destroyed.
Going by the experience of counter-Maoist operations it has been seen that the so-called ‘mine resistant vehicles’, the huge behemoths bought from South Africa are both high-visibility targets and very vulnerable to the kind of improvised explosive devices created and deployed by the Maoists to great effect against these vehicles in particular. Since it was well publicized that the vehicles can withstand an explosive force of 15kgs of TNT, the insurgents have very disingenuously used packs of up to 50kgs of explosives to destroy these vehicles and leave them in crumbled heaps in every ambush they have laid. Talk of the vehicle being fitted with blast resistant tyres is to no avail if the suspension of the vehicle is totally pulverized and the whole superstructure has crumbled under the blast of a size not recommended for the vehicle.
In this context, it could assist in the survival of the ‘mine protected vehicle’ and the security forces it is carrying if the DRDO device is mounted on top of such a vehicle so that it can detect the danger well before it drives over the IED. It could be in a position to avoid the mine and warn the rest of the group that they are heading into a minefield and possibly an ambush and take appropriate avoidance maneuvers or initiate counter-measures, because of being forewarned. In such a configuration the laser beam that is used to neutralize the IED can also be used as a weapon against the ambushers. Designed as it is the ‘mine protected vehicle’ is a sitting duck in a Maoist insurgency situation.
DRDO officials when confronted with the large number of casualties of these vehicles sounded a confident note and said that in the future this will not happen. They suggested that better technology would be used to construct the suspension system of the vehicle. This would enable it to survive even a 100 kg blast. But that only time will tell.
Perhaps, a situation where the DRDO device is most needed is the urban battlefield where on many occasions terrorists have managed to cause loss of human lives and destruction to property. Currently, places where crowds gather or transit are swept by sniffer dog squads. They are the best means of detection because of their acute sense of smell. It is very rare, and may well be dependent on factors beyond the control of the dog squad that an explosive has escape detection.
It is in the post-detection phase that the DRDO device can be used for in situ neutralization of the explosive packet. If defusing is not possible then the possibility of reducing the destructive effect can be contained by placing a bomb blanket beneath the IED and smothering it with other bomb blankets so that the dispersal of bomb fragments and deliberately included shrapnel like nails and steel balls intended for maximum destruction and kill effect are confined within the blankets.
India is well on its way to being able to handle the “whole spectrum” of mine warfare.