Strong shield

Protection against nuclear, biological and chemical attacks is practically non-existent in India in the context of the urban target. So as far as the rural ambiance is concerned NBC protection is being provided only to troops that would be expected either to secure an area after an attack or launch counter-attacks on the enemy in the retaliatory strike concept.

In the light of the devastating consequences a nuclear attack will have, one can only expect the possibility of anyone to survive to fight another day is at a distance away from ground zero and that too well after the worst of the firestorm and radiation effect has dissipated.

Occasionally there are reports that medical staffs have executed drills to deal with the consequences of a generically described ‘NBC attack’ without pinpointing which of the three kinds of weapons and their separate consequences they were preparing for.

In the case of a nuclear attack the worst should be expected and one should learn from what happened at the only places where nuclear weapons were dropped-Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The space where the bombs exploded (about 2000 ft above the ground in what in aviation parlance is known as airburst) everything except well-designed (in keeping with Japan’s known earthquake proclivity) cement-concrete structures was pulverized. The rest of the cities were engulfed in fires and those human beings who survived that died of the effects of radiation sickness and burn injuries. Modern day nuclear weapons are many times more powerful than those used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Space crunch

India, which has chosen a nuclear posture of “no first use” but “massive retaliation” should be prepared to deal with the enemy’s first strike in a manner which allows the politico-military leadership to survive to launch the retaliatory strike. Delhi, the capital of the country, is one of the most densely populated cities and a very obvious nuclear target. One sees no signs of preparation for a nuclear attack. Setting up bomb shelters could induce a psychology of dread and fear. In the normal course of events it should be expected that a responsible government in the neighboring country would signal the possibility of use of nuclear weapons. But given the nature of the polity in Pakistan one cannot expect a jihadi mindset to act within the norms of international relations in a warlike situation. A nuclear attack could happen without warning.

In an urban environment like Delhi it is possible for the political and military leadership to operate from such basement facilities as at Rashtrapati Bhavan and the North and South Block. For the rest of the population the subways and metro tunnels can serve as bomb shelters but there should be gates and doors that will restrict the effect of heat and radiation reaching the underground structures. Although the premier institution for dealing with manmade and natural disasters, the National Disaster Management Authority has its headquarters within half a kilometer of a metro station there are no signs that  this basic requirement has been catered for.

Also, space within the metros should be earmarked for stockpiling of food and medicines and efficient toilette facilities. Given that most hospitals are overcrowded and above ground level it should be expected that not many doctors and nurses will survive to do the kind of drills that are said to have been conducted.  In Indian towns and cities, especially the metropolitan centres there is very little space left to construct NBC centres for the eventuality of an attack.

While much of what has been stated so far deals largely with a nuclear attack, the consequences of a biological and chemical attack are entirely different and insidious. To be able to detect and isolate a location where a biological or chemical attack has taken place requires totally different methods of detection.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation has developed tracers that can detect the presence of such agents, many of which are invisible and do not emit any distinguishing smell. It could be argued that since both Pakistan and China have signed and ratified international instruments banning the production, stockpiling and use of NBC or Chemical, Radiological, Biological and Nuclear (CRBN) weapons India should feel reassured.

Would that the fact of such signatures could induce reassurance but it is also a fact that Pakistan in particular has all the facilities with which such weapons can be constructed at short notice and given the jihadi nature of its politico-military mélange, it would be better to be safe than sorry. Every so often India is threatened by no less a personage than the Prime Minister of Pakistan that nuclear weapons will be used against it.

Detecting CRBN traces

With regard to the urban setting the Government of India has been erecting underground bunkers made out of pre-fabricated semi-cylindrical shaped metal structures in areas adjoining Pakistan. This is supplemented by a tracked Infantry Combat Vehicle of the BMP-2 class that has been converted to the NBC reconnaissance role. With the crew well protected it is able to detect CRBN traces and mark out the affected areas with staves. It can execute its mission cross country and over long distances well in front of an advancing mechanized infantry column looking for and marking affected areas and act as a road opener for follow on forces.

The underground shelters are planted deep enough so as not to be affected by the concussion effect of a nuclear explosion, remembering always that chances of survival at ground zero of a nuclear explosion are zero. Thus the locations have been carefully chosen so as not to be too close to a populated urban centre which would be an obvious target of a Pakistani NBC attack.  Each independent shelter can hold 30 troops. They are air conditioned with filters for the air intake and decontamination sections to wash down troops returning from patrol duty. Food, water and entertainment should be an integral part of the shelter. Troops will enter the shelter at the first signs of hostility and will remain there till asked to execute their pre-ordained duties which could be patrol and reconnaissance or the beginning of an offensive operation.

Given that only 30 can be accommodated per shelter it will require at least 33 to accommodate a battalion-strength force and multiples of that figure to be able to give protection to an independent Brigade.

Work on the structures has been going on for the past three years and it is believed that several hundreds have already been laid down and are operational. While they fulfill the worst case requirement in an NBC scenario they also serve a very useful purpose in enabling a rapid deployment in such emergency conventional operations as during Operation Parakram after the terrorist attack on Parliament in 2001.

The Indian Army has been trying to obviate the need to bring in its tanks from home bases in central India to the border. These shelters can form the nucleus around which a strike corps of tanks and mechanized infantry can be constructed and retained in situ within easy reach of the International Border and the Line of Control.

The whole idea is to have a force in waiting for any eventuality.