One of the ingenious methods of smuggling counterfeit currency and arms and ammunition into India through its porous borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh is to sling the contraband on the backs of livestock and then let them stray into India.

Once this task is achieved, infiltrators sneak in as nomads, carrying nothing so as not to arouse any suspicion. They pick up the contraband later from their local contacts.

Paramilitary forces, including the Border Security Force (BSF) that patrol the borders are aware of this modus operandi, but are unable to check it to the desired levels. But now, thanks to a Bangalore-based company, the effectiveness of the BSF's surveillance could see a marked improvement.

Indo-Israeli venture

On a Rs. 50-crore order placed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Alpha-ITL Electro-Optics, a $1-million Indo-Israeli joint venture, is supplying 340 hand-held cooled thermal detector sights to the BSF and other paramilitary organisations.

The thermal detectors, called Drushti, are light-weight night vision binoculars for long-range ground observation.

They will be used by platoon commanders to detect the movement — human or otherwise — in a range of 2-8 km.

Until now, the forces were dependent on heavy (5 kg) monocular devices. This, the troops complained, caused strain to the eyes. These devices, having 240X1 In Sb FPA (Indium Antimonide Focal Plane Array) detectors, also were expensive (each costing Rs. 20 lakh.)

Alpha-ITL Electro-Optics chairman and managing director Col (retd.) H.S. Shankar told The Hindu that besides having the advantage of being a binocular, the Drushti, weighing under 3 kg, had a more powerful (320X256 InSb FPA) detector and the cost was only Rs. 13 lakh.

While the Indian arm of the joint venture has provided the optics, printed circuit boards, power system, video cards, software, eye piece assembly and outer casing, Israeli firm SemiConductor Devices has chipped in with the crucial ‘coolant dewar detector.'

The thermal imager could also be used, with modifications, as a tank sight, underwater, or even on helicopters as an aerial sight, Col. (retd.) Shankar said.

The all important detector for such systems was available from only two countries: France and Israel.

“The U.S. does not permit export of this technology to India. That is why only four companies [Thales and Sagem from France and a collaborative effort between Bharat Electronics Limited and Israel's ELOP] took part in the tender.”

Tested by BSF

Interestingly, besides vigorous vibration and quality-control tests, each thermal imager is tested by BSF personnel at night at the Nandi Hills here, checking to see whether livestock could be easily identified, before it is approved for use.

While the Ministry of Home Affairs has floated another tender to buy 750 more thermal imagers, the Army could look to buy 5,000 such sights.