New bases being set up in worst Naxal-hit States

Amid growing concerns over increasing casualties in the Naxal heartland, the Union Home Ministry has drawn ambitious plans to unleash the power of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to assist security forces fighting Maoists deep inside jungles and remote locations.

To begin with, the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), which has been undertaking UAV operations from Begumpet airfield in Hyderabad to support State police and Central armed police forces fighting on the ground, will start executing UAV missions of duration of about 20 hours of flying by this month-end.

Another important tactical improvement to the anti-Naxal operations would be introduction of at least two more UAVs by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) to the current strength of around 10 UAVs being operated by the NTRO.

“Presently, UAV operations are limited to missions of 8-10 hours duration and restricted to areas up to a range of 450-500 km. But with the increase in flying time, they will be able to cover a larger area with more precision. These missions will cover much larger areas of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha and Maharashtra ... the plan is to focus on 26 worst Maoist-affected districts in these States,” a senior Ministry official said.

These UAVs would directly send real-time inputs to operation rooms in these States, from where security forces would be immediately alerted about the ground situation and movement of Maoists for swift action against them. Earlier, the UAVs were not being utilised properly as they had limited flying time and there was also delay in the relay of information, but now the UAVs would give extra edge to anti-Naxal operations, the official added.

Noting that the increase in the operational hours of UAVs would invariably extend beyond ATC watch hours at Begumpet airfield, the official said: “The NTRO has already taken up the issue with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Airports Authority of India for requisite clearance for extending areas of operations and the need for extended watch hours for ATC Begumpet provided to Central armed police forces.”

The NTRO recently set up its first base in Chhattisgarh which is linked to satellites to monitor UAVs’ operations. It has trained CRPF’s communication wing officials and deployed them at the Centre for smooth coordination with ground forces. “The five V-SAT terminals that have been activated by the NTRO would provide extra edge to our operations,” the official added.

Similarly, the CRPF has also decided to acquire 16 ‘Nishant’ UAVs from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), being developed in association with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which will operate in tandem with Israeli ‘Heron’ UAVs. While India’s biggest paramilitary force will get two UAVs soon, the DRDO has assured supply of remaining 14 ‘Nishants’ within a year.

Efforts are also being made to set up another UAV base at Bhilai in Chhattisgarh.

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