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#2765, 25 December 2008
Aerial Security Against Terror Attacks
M Shamsur Rabb Khan
e-mail: samsur.khan@gmail.com

In the wake of devastating terror attacks on Mumbai last month, Defence Minister A K Antony warned the armed forces of possible terror attacks from airborne platforms, similar to the 9/11 attacks in the US. At a meeting with the three Services Chiefs on 2 December 2008, Antony called for greater coordination between all security and intelligence agencies, so as to make the intelligence inputs actionable. Given the kind of novel mechanisms and strategies that terrorist organizations have devised to attack India in recent years, there is an urgent need to renew India's focus on aerial security. However, amidst growing dangers of aerial terror attacks, holes in the state's aerial security mechanism are palpably obvious.

In October 2008, the Comptroller and Auditor General's report revealed serious lapses in the air defense network, because of inadequate and outdated radar surveillance systems operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The report pointed out that the Defence Ministry could not ensure the timely acquisition of three additional high power static radars to provide effective air surveillance over certain sensitive areas. It also revealed that India faces a 47 per cent shortage of radars needed to detect aircraft.

The shortage of radars is a serious shortcoming in view of the significant changes in the security scenario, especially the growing magnitude of potential aerial threats, in terms of sophistication and capability. Depending on ageing MiG-21s for aerial combat, the air force lacks the teeth to mount an adequate air defense for the country. The CAG report is critical of the fact that India's air defense system is based on a model formulated in 1976, which needs an urgent re-look. Even the missile firing capabilities, the report says, are not up to the mark and that the 'watch hours' prescribed by the Government to maintain external surveillance are not being met by the IAF.

Since air defense is critical to India's security, the country is in urgent need of an adequate number of surveillance radars for providing efficient and reliable detection capabilities in the sky. Significantly, an in-depth analysis of India's Air Defence Ground Environment System (ADGES) also shows that the number and type of radars in possession of the IAF is not good enough to cover the entire country. Hence, it has highlighted the need for an immediate upgradation of ADGES, an integrated network of surveillance radars, air defense control centers, and anti- aircraft guns for air and missile bases tasked with the protection of India's vast airspace.

The main objective of aerial security is to safeguard the Indian skies against all types of air attacks, and which includes security at airports to prevent terrorist from hijacking a plane. With terrorists trying novel tricks for executing terror attacks, anti-terror measures need to be focused on a much wider scale. Airport security provides a first line of defence, by attempting to stop the probable terrorists from bringing weapons or explosives into the airport. Monte R Belger of the US Federal Aviation Administration notes, "The goal of aviation security is to prevent harm to aircraft, passengers, and crew, as well as support national security and counter-terrorism policy". Airport security mechanisms must be quick, efficient, and effective, especially given the rise in the number of travellers. For aerial security in India, safeguarding of airports is one major area of focus, since terrorist threats and narcotics are the main threats in Indian airports. Another problem that some airports face is the proliferation of slums around the airport boundaries, such as in Mumbai.

India stepped up its airport security after the 1999 Kandahar hijacking, by deploying the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) to form an Airport Security Group, to protect Indian airports. Since then, every airport has been given an Airport Security Unit (APSU), a trained unit to counter unlawful interference with civil aviation. In addition to the CISF, every airline has an aviation security force as a separate department. Israel is a good example as far as implementation of airport and aerial security is concerned - it is widely agreed that El Al is the safest airline in the world, as there has not been a hijacking of an El Al plane since 23 July 1969, and no plane departing from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv has ever been hijacked. At a conference in May 2008, US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff pointed out that the US will seek to adopt some of the Israeli security measures at its domestic airports. India can seek help from Israeli's who are touted as being "are legendary for their security"

In February 2005, civil aviation minister Praful Patel said that security provided by the CISF to 47 Indian airports is even better than the security at US airports and was "more professional and yet personalised." However, since terrorists may infiltrate India through all possible routes, the sky is the one that merits constant surveillance, as an aerial bombing on vital installations, including nuclear ones, would be devastating, and they are exposed to a serious damaging vulnerability. It is high time the government gave top priority to aerial security.

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