Helicopter-mounted radar to tackle Naxal IEDs - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 1 July 2010

Helicopter-mounted radar to tackle Naxal IEDs

An IED-protected vehicle developed by Ashok Leyland, one of the many such offerings on display at the Defexpo 2010 in New Delhi in Feb 2010.

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd July 10

India is deploying cutting-edge technology to defeat a simple insurgent weapon that J&K militants and Naxals are using to lethal effect: the Improvised Explosive Device, or IED. Swedish company, Saab, has offered to partner India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) in fitting Saab’s CARABAS radar on India’s Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), which would allow the scanning of wide swathes of territory to detect IEDs well before they can be exploded.

Naxal IEDs --- explosives that are detonated with a timer, or with signals from a mobile phone, to blow up jawans or vehicles --- are blamed for over 60% of all casualties caused by the Maoist group. In only the most recent example, on 17th May, a Naxal IED, buried inside a metalled road, blew up a civilian bus in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh killing 36 people, including 12 Special Police Officers. Any movement of security forces in Naxal areas must be preceded by a painstaking manual search for IEDs. Many casualties have been caused during these search operations.

In the new system being evaluated, a Saab CARABAS radar, fitted in a Dhruv helicopter, does an aerial scan of the area in which security forces will be operating. The CARABAS radar is specially designed to detect metallic components of an IED, even when it is buried 5-6 metres below the ground. A computer quickly compares the image of each flight with the images of the previous flight over that area; any new metallic objects are highlighted, and their exact location mapped. Armed with that information, a bomb disposal team is sent to defuse the IED harmlessly.

Best of all, the exceptionally low frequency waves from the CARABAS radar ignores vegetation, reflecting only off man-made objects. This is especially useful in jungle terrain, where the dense foliage provides both visual and electro-magnetic cover. Naxal IED tactics involve burying IEDs several feet deep, sometimes under tarmac roads; such a system would detect even the deep-buried IEDs, which conventional, hand-held scanners, and even sniffer dogs, often cannot pick up.

“We have provided a radar at the request of the DRDO”, says Inderjit Sial, the India head of Saab International India AB. “The DRDO will integrate it on the Dhruv ALH and then evaluation trials will be conducted. There is also a lighter version of the radar which can be flown on a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).”

The helicopter-mounted CARABAS radar weighs about 150 kg. The smaller version of the radar, which has been developed for UAVs, weighs just 50 kg.

Saab believes that this surveillance platform has a very high potential in India. The company has indicated that, if India chooses to deploy the CARABAS/Dhruv platform, Saab would set up its global manufacturing hub for the radar in India.

The DRDO, is carefully evaluating Saab’s offer. Confirming to Business Standard that it is evaluating a foreign foliage penetration radar, the DRDO spokesperson stated, “We are seeking foreign collaboration in this field. Talks are actively on… but we have not yet made a final decision.”

A key challenge the DRDO faces in integrating the CARABAS low-frequency radar on a UAV, or on the Dhruv helicopter, is the unusual shape and large size of the radar antennae, which look like two long poles. A place on the flying platform will have to be found for these antennae.


  1. I am surprised that Indian Security planners cannot think like the enemy and understand enemy's movement. Unless, we have 24-hour surveillance on the movements of maoists, any amount of surge in ground forces or deployments is not going to be useful to contain the maoists. At the most what the Indian CRPF is doing is laying a seige to the maoists strong-hold, and that too not an effective one. So unless the CRPF can pinpoint the positions of maoists cadres movement, while their own movement is tracked, its going to be a self-defeating affair for CRPF.

  2. Why can't this project be developed by our IIT's or IISc or other prestigious National Institutes or Private companies. I am sure we have sufficient Research Scientists and Engineering Professionals to easily accomplish such a trivial task. It is humiliating to seek foreign technology and definitely an affront to DRDO and allied defence institutes, if they cannot develop this on their own. Why does the Indian government tolerate incompetence in its defence industries is what I don't understand? Maybe the Ministers themselves are incompetent to handle their portfolios, which I am sure is the case.

  3. This is interesting. Seems the Naxalzone is going to be live test lab for India's electronic warfare capability building. But DRDO will probably insist on a bite of Saab's technology before allowing the Swedes on the table.

  4. Hello Ajay,
    Yesterday I was watching news that Naxals killed again. After that I was thinking are they Ghost, who can not be seen and detected? why we can not use any Radars for them?
    Now today in morning after reading your article, I am feeling better.

    But I hope this will not take too much time, we need it to as fast as possible.
    Also why private sector is not supported for R & D ? I think companies like Reliance, Tata and L& T can do very good in many areas, where DRDO is struggling. I am not asking that there sould be a competition. There should be deep collaboration. Like private sector make Jet Engines (which can do far much better than DRDO ) and DRDO works as integrator. If you see right now they are nothing but a integrator and better I call installer.

  5. It is a right step in right direction. I wish it to be successful and within proper time frame.

  6. @Avenger,
    Yeah I agree with you completly, but if that will happen how ministers in GOI and DRDO officials will eat up money. Have you heard anytime income tax check for DRDO people ? or ministers ? Why we always buy weapon from Russia ?
    You are right, private people have caliber and potential for doing these basic tasks, I think even better than any other nation. I do not say DRDO is sh*t, I think MOD needs to be open and let private sector take part in this festival, they will do far better and can be very helpful for DRDO.
    Private sector companies know better how to do business these Russian, Swedish or US firms.
    Why not some INDIAN private firm buy R & D firms outside INDIA ?

  7. Dear Colonel,

    Technology can do what men can not perhaps do but who will do what men can do and are supposed to do?

    When there were two parties for the road opening and one allowed to go past the Killing Zone why could they not return back or fired on the ambush?

    Why did they rush to the camp for reinforcement? And why the reinforcement took three hours for three KM? Where was the Quick reaction team? Where were the officers?

    Roads in jungles or mountains is first picketed and then searched.

    When will CRPF do what they can do?

    There are equiments and electronic devices which can realtively keep the road free of the IED are available with police.

    Now they need helicopters for opening the roads? The counter insurgency operations must have a cost relative to the cost of insurgency? CRPF wants to explode nuclear bombs to face the Gonds and Bustars? Do we think the operations are in Helmund or Narayanpur ? The country has not been able to provide subsistence to the tribals of Bustar and you are argueing for Helos to the CRPF. Will it not aleinate the tribal, overawe them and then push them further from the state?

    Counter insurgency is an operation with a face, to be conducted amongst faces and not mechanised helliborne operations inside your own country.

    Come off it, Colonel! People have tried these hellos enough. Please come to the ground.

    Someone is thinking of fast bucks.

  8. How many people need to die,
    before we get this radar.
    How many years need to fly,
    before we end this farce.
    The answer my friend is blowing in the wind,
    The answer is blowing in the wind.

  9. Well you can use the Naxal problem as a test bed for some sensor type systems, and also learn to optimize communication between elements.

  10. The govt seems to be doing nothing with regard to maoists and naxals. They keep growing and growing. Tehre will come a point when they control large swathes of land if nothing is odne about them. Sending police to fix this problem is pointless. The army should be sent in. It will give them plenty of target practice.

  11. Dear Ajay,

    And the Gerenals of the Armed Forces.

    The way things are going, it appears there would be no option for you all but to but to deploy. That is the way things are being delibertely orchrasted.

    First reason is that IPS is quite cabale of creating such conditions that you would be forced to deploy even if it means hundreds of lives. that is necessary to save their bloody empire.

    Politicos are secondary..

    Third, is that Uncles Sam's requirement of enabling a massive operations by the Pak Army in FATA, NWFP and Punjab to serve their purpose and give a certificate to Obama to salvage himself is the need of the hour.

    But that can only be possible for Pakies to do if five divisions of Indian Army get committed for Naxalaism (as reported in the press). Then only Paki Army will do partially, ans slimingly, a favour to Obama and Uncle Sam.

    That means India's deterrance in terms of cold start goes for a six ( I mean India is bowled out). Then it will be a cold start for the Pakies instead of the Indians, for a small price of Pakies committing five division just 150 Km around the borders to please Obama. Pakies are past masters in selling themselves and killing the buyer.

    When will we Indians start thinking of us as a Nation rather than "us" as a priviledged IAS / IPS group, priviledged elite civil service or a priviledged political party? When will we stop selling ourselves to protect our parochial selfish interests? Have not we seen and learnt from history and recent past?


    I request Mr ChIiamabram and other political leadership not to fall in US and Paki trap by deployment of Army. Army's well thought out card of detterance will be negated and you will have bigger problems tha naxalism..

    This an upstart and small forum of Ajay shukla. I, therefore, hope someone takes Note.

    Thank you.

  12. I am not aware how the system works. But,if the system compares new image of the area to the previous image of the area then it may not be that effective, because the mines may be already buried. So the new image will be same as the previous image (both having the mines buried).
    I may be wrong, apologies in advance.

  13. @ ajai sir

    US armed forces already have Apache or Black Hawks armed with radars mounted on top of the blades.

    So I think this should not be a problem for Indian armed forces. If they still have problem they can consult the black hawk builders to help in integrating the radars.

  14. Govt has ordered the radar


  15. @ Ajay

    A question on a different topic

    The Vayu Shakti excercise saw a live firing of a missile (I believe R 73) from a su 30 MKI.

    The missile snared / hit a flare as intended. The flare was the target.

    Is that a failure or succes of the missile? What do you think?

    Most people would say it was a success as it hit its target


    We all know most fighters planes of PAF and PLAAF would have flare dispensers to dodge such missiles in real close combat situation. So does it help to carry such missiles which can be easily distracted by a flare?

    Or am i missing something?

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Anyone else?


  16. Ajai Sir, we're waiting for the big spread on HAL that you promised. Still have a lot of unanswered questions. What gives...?

  17. @Lungikawasta,

    Am not an expert.But I think such missiles do have IRCCM (InfraRed Counter-Counter Measures).They are supposed to discriminate between IR sources.In the air-Demo there was just the heat source of the flare dropped prior.When two such sources are in close proximity(ie when flares are being dispensed by the targeted aircraft)tje IRCCM is supposed to be able to discriminate the varying IR sources and hopefully lock on to theIR source of the aircraft.

  18. Ajai, why give the depth to which the radar can detect the IED? Do you think the Naxals cannot access the internet, and wont know that they need to bury their IEDs even deeper to avoid detection? It may take more explosive, but they'll do it.

  19. Reading some of the comments here is the clinching evidence that military intelligence is at par with military music.

  20. An example -

    A shikari goes on a tiger hunt (not that i approve of tiger hunting) but cant find any tiger that day so in desperation he shoots and kills a goat and believes he killed a tiger.

    @ anon of last post at 13:54 , 4th july, thanks for your insight but its still confusing.

    You see if on a given day an intelligent R 73 IR missile cannot find an IR siganture of a fighter aircraft (and i am assuming that it has IRCCM capability plus the abity to distinguish between a flare and a fighter engine)then it self destructs or fall harmlessly to the ground RATHER than attacking the flare.

    just my thoughts.....anyone care to explain?



  21. Lungikawasta@04.55
    I can only hazard a guess.In an operational scenario the operator would lock on to the target, ie the enemy aircraft with his radar or IRST or HMS or other sight and then fire the IR missile towards it.The seeker of the IR missile then seeks to lock on to the target aircraft. The question of discrimination would come in case there is deployment of countermeasures.
    In training or demo obviously first the pilot will sight the flare itself and there is no other heat source since the aircraft launching the target flare is at a safe minimum distance.So if there is no discrimination to be made or detected there can be two guesses.1)the missile is programmed to home in on to the sole heat source available regardless,if it has to self destruct,then why not at the only available heat source! 2) there may be some sort of training mode for such scenarios where IRCCM is turned off.

    Only guesses.

  22. Anonymous @ 4 July 2010 13:54 and 6 July 2010 10:57 and Lungikawasta @ 6 July 2010 04:55

    Air to air missiles of the genre of R-73 will have to achieve a lock-on to the target before the leave the launcher.

    On board aircraft devices such as Infrared Search and Track,IRST and
    Helmet Mounted Sights,HMS etc can be made to slave the missile antenna to those devices and cue the antenna towards the target while the missile is still on the launcher, but lock-on must be achieved before missile launch(there are reports of a higher class of missiles which are Lock-On After Launch,LOAL, but that is another story).
    Counter measures to the Lock-On before Launch missiles are devised on the principle of,
    1. first break the lock Or/And
    2. force/steer the missile to lock on to a different source moving away from the target of the missile.
    R-73 missile is a path breaker in the sense it has a focalplane array antenna where the Lock-On estabilshed cannot be broken by the existing countermeasures.That lead to the design of eqivalent or more capable fifth generation missiles in the West.
    See link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air-to-air_missile#Performance
    A relevant part is reproduced below:-
    You are right in thinking that the effectiveness of a missile against a counter measure or that of the counter measure against the missile has to be analysed ( by simulation).

  23. variants of j-7 warplane :


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