A vital asset – one closest to the scene of the dramatic December 31 Coast Guard operation – that could have helped identify and elicit more information about the ‘terror’ boat was with the Navy’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) squadron at Porbandar. Yet, on December 31, the squadron had no information whatsoever nor was it pressed into action even after the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) tracked a communication between a Karachi-based handler and crewmembers of a boat said to be carrying terror operatives from Pakistan.
If sources in the Navy’s Western Command are to be believed there was little information available to them to launch an operation similar to the one carried out by the Coast Guard on December 31.
Indian Navy's Heron UAV. The UAV present at INAS 343, Porbandar was not pressed into action. (HT Photo)
INAS 343 – the UAV base – when commissioned at Porbandar in January 2011 was considered to be a shot in the arm for the Indian Navy considering Karachi’s proximity, about 450 kilometres from Porbandar, and particularly the presence of Pakistan’s Special Services Group (SSG) in the Pakistani city.
The UAV squadron with Israeli Herons and Searcher MK-II was well suited to carrying out a reconnaissance, identifying and even intercepting any further calls being made by the crew of the ‘terror’ boat that sank about 356 kilometres off the Porbandar coast. Though one of the UAVs had crashed in November last year, the Navy had three more capable of gathering both electronic and imagery intelligence. Navy sources said that the Searcher MK-II – a third generation UAV – is equipped with a sophisticated electro optic camera and with equipment to gather communication intelligence (COMINT).
The NTRO-Coast Guard operation also raises serious questions about the standard operating procedures laid down by the cabinet committee on coastal security (CCCS) after the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike. To avoid a fiasco of the magnitude of 26/11, the CCCS had appointed the Indian Navy as the nodal agency for coastal security. The decision saw INS Angre in Mumbai being designated as the Joint Operations Centre (JOC) for the western maritime frontier.
Hotlines to coordinate with various agencies, and state-of-the-art rapid messaging service technology to communicate with ships were installed to thwart any threat in real time. The JOC (West) was to operate under the command Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C) of the Western Naval Command.
“If the JOC was alerted about any such actionable intelligence, the Navy would have definitely moved its assets,” said a navy official, requesting anonymity. The criticality of the region, the unresolved border issues near Sir Creek coupled with Pakistan’s escalation of firing on the Line of Control (LoC) had seen the Western Command deploy its assets in the region, the official said.
Video: Pak boat blows itself up after being intercepted by coast guard