Real sentinels: Indian military should deploy more dogs in war zone

Military dogs are more protective towards their territory than the military itself. It is all over the history as how military dogs performed in the battlefield. It started with legendary Mongol warlord Zhengis Khan who deployed more than 30,000 Tibetan dogs in his quest to conquer Europe. Indeed, US military may not have survived in Afghanistan without military dogs as Taliban used to launch attacks in the night. It is the dogs who used to first report the presence of intruders much before the thermal imagers could intensify the pictures.

The appearance of dogs among the Chinese intruders in the Demsang-Daulat Beg Oldi segment of Ladakh has had an electrifying effect on Indian observers and the death of Anuradha the Delhi police dog after a lifetime of service draw attention to the inadequate use of these force multipliers in both the Indian military and civil security network.

The military dogs in the Chinese platoon that made a 19-km deep penetration in the Ladakh sector indicates the lessons the Chinese have learned about how to deal with Indian troops in eyeball-to-eyeball positions as happened at Nathu La in Sikkim in 1967 and at Sumdurong Chu in Arunachal 1986.

The Chinese troops suffered bloody nose in 1967 when a Chinese soldier became physical with a Gorkha trooper by kicking his foot off a disputed rock outcrop. The Gorkha sliced the offender’s hand off with his khukri.

Clearly, the Chinese have done their homework and would now prefer to let dogs do their dirty work rather than confront Indian soldiers directly.

It needs to be recalled that only a platoon strength of Chinese soldiers (about 30 men) executed a penetration that had India on tenterhooks for about three weeks.

The dogs were there to literally give teeth to their claims because any movement forwards by Indian troops would have caused the dogs to react violently to their perception of territorial jurisdiction.

The Indian troops would first have to contend with the dogs-their attention will be divided about whom to tackle first the dogs or the Chinese troops.

Not long ago a military officer said that Pakistani attempts at infiltration of terrorists are being stopped at the Line of Control “but some may have got away”.

For those who wonder why India appears to be a “soft state” here is the reason why. For every infiltrator that gets in, it will take between 20 to 50 security personnel to chase and neutralize one terrorist depending on the lay of the land and socio-political conditions in the area of operations.

It is not a luxury India can afford any longer given the very likely possibility of a two-front war with Pakistan and China together.

It will be horrendous to have highly trained Fifth Columnists with experience of the war in Afghanistan operating behind Indian lines in Jammu and Kashmir to harass Indian troops, hit Indian logistics and lines of communication and generally interfere with the Indian Army’s war effort.

If, as admitted in this case, the Indian Army and other security forces like the Border Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (which was responsible for the defence of Ladakh sector where the Chinese made their 19-km deep penetration) and the Assam Rifles that is dealing with insurgency in the North-East of India allow Indian borders to be so porous, then fighting a two-front war could become a very difficult proposition.

Force multipliers

Indian security forces should be able to more effectively use such force multipliers as dogs to assist them in the rather arduous task of detecting an attempt at infiltration and neutralizing the infiltrators.

It is important to check intruders at the LoC, IB and LAC opposite the Chinese People’s Liberation Army all along the northern Himalayas across Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, otherwise things will become very difficult to sustain a vigil along India’s long borders with Pakistan, China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan (not to mention Nepal).  

In hindsight much of the travails of the Kashmiris could have been reduced if the Indian Army had paid heed to the recommendations of its own Remount and Veterinary Corps made as early as 1958 that dogs have superior sight and smell capabilities and can be employed in both the military role as well as in counter-terrorism.

The Army has been singularly tardy in resorting to the use of dogs as facilitators for detection, neutralisation and tracing of terrorists in the several violence-ridden States on the periphery of India.

The usefulness of dogs in reducing the drudgery of counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency imposed on the men in what is essentially a manpower-intensive operation has been recorded many times over. Their role as stress-busters could help bring down stress-related cases of fratricide in the armed forces.

The Border Security Force which is also deeply involved in the protection of the international border from anti-national elements has had its own dog training facility at Tekanpur in Madhya Pradesh but in every department inclusive of police forces around the country where dogs could have been of great assistance in unconventional warfare waged against the State the progress has been patchy because not enough trained dogs are being produced.

The Remount and Veterinary Corps itself has only a couple of years ago increased its output to about 250 dogs per training session of nine months.

For an Army so extensively committed to counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism/proxy war its employment of dogs as a force multiplier is grossly inadequate.

How could anyone escape into India during an encounter if there is a proper mix of man and dog in the first-response team that confronts an infiltration attempt?

Handling situations

Knowing the problem caused either by large numbers involved in the infiltration attempt coupled with the Pakistan Army’s interventionism in support of the attempt-providing covering gunfire with small arms-or the nature of the terrain on both sides of the Line of Control there are ways of handling a situation.

If some among the infiltrators manage to break through the barrier and hide in the forest or in built up areas they can be tracked by dogs and re-engaged in a running gun battle.

The whole operation would be localised to within a few kilometers of a breakthrough point instead of it festering into a terrorist module deep inside Kashmir.

An illustration of this is in the many encounters between terrorists and Indian security forces beginning from the seize of the terrorists who burned the Charar-e-Sharif mosque and managed to escape from the cordon laid by the Indian Army and returned to Pakistan to be hailed as heroes on television.

If there had been enough dogs as part of the cordon their sight and smell capabilities would have helped the manpower deployed to at least know where the breakthrough is being attempted. Indians only came to know of the breakout several days after the actual shooting stopped and the terrorists were well on their way back to Pakistan!

After that there have been many encounters where terrorists holed up in hideouts under seize have managed to escape. This should not have happened if the kind of ferocious German Shephard shown holding a well-protected “infiltrator” on television to demonstrate the prowess of Army dogs were actually deployed in enough numbers on the border and the Line of Control itself.

If nothing else at least one terrorist can be caught alive by one such dog and the whole operation would be localised.

When Bhutan decided to rid itself of the United Front for the Liberation of Asom (ULFA) and other North Eastern terrorist groups that had converted southern Bhutan into a safe haven it informed the Indian authorities about the impending operations.

But in spite of Indian security forces being deployed to prevent a breakthrough into India the ULFA cadres managed to travel several hundred kilometers across India into Bangladesh and Myanmar to link up with the Chinese in whose lap Paresh Barua, the military commander of ULFA, is still sitting.

Something radically wrong happened at that point of time or we should have neutralized the ULFA when the Bhutanese Army went into the offensive named Operation All Clear in December 2003. India could have killed the movement eight years ago if enough dogs had been deployed to prevent the ULFA from re-entering India.  

Clearly one is beginning to see the emergence of a contra-logic about how many dogs need to be deployed at any given point. Let us take a walk back in history. There is historic evidence that warlike peoples have raised and trained dogs in essentially the same formations as are the echelons of a modern Army-sections, platoons, companies, battalions, etc.

In the modern context it would boil down to about a dozen in the smallest echelon to about a thousand at about the battalion strength.

Trained to kill

Their masters can make up the rear to hold ground in a defensive operation or ready to break out with the whole horde of baying and biting canines in an offensive role, one role melding into the other just as easily to form an offensive/defensive phalanx.

So how do they fit into India’s modern-day military requirement? For those dogs deployed on the well-defined international borders as well as the Line of Control with Pakistan and the Line of Actual Control with the Chinese the training should be undiluted ferocity to maim and hold the intruder either on voice command or high pitched whistles which can only be picked up by a dog.

As for numbers the ratio between man and dog can be 2:1-one dog for every two men operating in buddy mode per battalion.

The result will be that one battalion can be strung over a larger area which, given the looming connectivity planned for the Futuristic-Infantry Soldier As System (F-INSAS) and network centric warfare, would be an improvement in border management.

With man and dog having a nudging relationship with each other the collateral consequences of the man-dog narrative would be less stress among the men deployed in difficult terrain, climate and terror-infested conditions.

This relationship would be necessary to ensure that the dogs can differentiate between friend and foe in close combat situations (quite apart from the therapeutic effect it has on both man and dog).   

As far as anyone escaping from the scene of an infiltration or encounter here are two example of what a dog can do.

As recounted by Colonel Anil Shorey in 1998 there is the case of Rock, the Labrador deployed in the dangerous and rugged Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir who tracked terrorists over snow covered and rugged land for four kilometers.

It helped the Army to catch four Pakistani terrorists and recover four AK-47 rifles, two radio sets, an improvised explosive device (IED) and 170 rounds of ammunition.

And then there is Rocket, another Labrador, who tracked a group of terrorists over 12 kilometers after an encounter near the Banihal Pass after sniffing a bandana (headscarf) dropped by the fleeing terrorist.

Rocket helped recover a cache of weapons left by the terrorists to save their lives-one universal machine gun (which is a heavy weapon), three AK-47s, two AK-56s, one sniper rifle, two 9mm pistols, seven radio sets, 11 IEDs, 26 hand grenades, 37 detonators and 1500 rounds of ammunition.

Better coordination

If man and dog are positioned at the same place at the same time it will take just a few minutes after the shooting has ended for the dog handlers to let the dogs sniff the area and collect the enemy scent and rush off in the direction he has taken.

Within an hour Indian security forces would be in contact with the fleeing terrorist who could be brought down by the dogs themselves.

It is not that the Indian Army and the Border Security Force do not know this and that is why it is amazing that no attempt has been made to raise dog squads in their thousands rather than in the hundreds as at present.

It has been suggested that retired Army dog handlers be given the facilities to breed dogs for military service even if pedigreed German Shepards and Labradors are not available.

In 2008 at a seminar examining the work of the Remount Vetinary Corp Centre and College at Meerut delved into the possibility of mounting a camera between the ears of a well-trained infantry dog so that when the dog sees an intruder the image is transmitted to shooters supporting the dog.

That was five years ago but nothing is seen of such a device that could show an imaging infra-red presence in the dead of night.  

Much the same tardy progress is seen in the deployment of dogs by police organisations throughout the country even though it is noticeable that dogs are now being inducted in the first-response teams deployed in counter-terror operations.

However, in the absence of a good police anticipation of likely targets of terrorist attacks the deployment of police dogs happens post ipso facto after the terrorists have struck-as in the case of the bomb blast at the Delhi High Court recently.

If sniffer dogs had been present in the area where litigants assemble to gain entry into the court nobody would have been able to place the explosives in their midst because the dogs would have got a whiff of it even through the container or from clothes of the terrorist who had planted the explosives and raised an alarm or attacked the man.

Here again, the question of how many dogs needs to be deployed comes up. One would say one per policeman deployed for several reasons. For a dog to remain fully alert during patrol its effective deployment time should not be more than three hours either in walkabout mode or static sniffing.

With more than one dog on the premises there can be a quick turn around of fully alert dogs on duty.

Also the handlers get a respite from looking for telltale signals from the dog and being ready to respond with their own small arms if a terrorist is seen.

Otherwise most policemen (except those on spotter duty on the lookout for known terrorists whose photographs are available) just lounge about looking vulnerable as in Pakistan after the Lal Masjid episode where a suicide bomber just walked into a clump of policemen and killed most of them. Finally, the deployment of a dog squad itself is a deterrent to a terrorist attack.