NEW DELHI: Almost four years after Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorists attacked the Pathankot airbase to punch gaping holes in the security set-up of military installations, which also triggered a sharp downturn in ties with Pakistan, the new “virtually impregnable” perimeter system at the frontline station will soon be fully operational after several delays.
“The pilot project of the integrated perimeter security system ( IPSS ) at the Pathankot airbase will be completed by November-December. It will then be replicated in other bases,” says IAF chief Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria.
Top sources say IAF plans to install the IPSS, which is a “comprehensive multi-sensor, multi-layered, hi-tech surveillance and intrusion detection system”, at 23 “sensitive and high-risk” airbases. Concurrently, the force is also pushing the case for “electric smart power fences” for 19 other air stations.
The Navy in January this year inked a Rs 700 crore contract with defence PSU Bharat Electronics (BEL) for the airfield integrated security system at half-a-dozen naval air stations, which house valuable assets like MiG-29K fighter jets and Poseidon-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft, as was first reported by TOI.
But the much larger programme to bolster security at the 54 main flying bases of IAF, which could cost Rs 100-150 crore per airbase, will take much more time and funds. For now, IAF is pushing BEL to complete the IPSS pilot project at the Pathankot airbase, which has been plagued by long delays.
The IPSS includes “a smart perimeter fence” with different types of electro-optic and motion-detection sensors, surveillance and thermal cameras, along with a command and control centre that gets “a composite 24x7 live video feed” to ensure breaches can be detected immediately.
“The IPSS electronic eye will help in quickly launching the appropriate counter-measure to thwart an intrusion as soon as it is detected. With airbases being inherently large in terms of area, it’s simply not possible to physically man each inch of the perimeter,” said a source.
It was on January 2, 2016, that the four heavily-armed JeM terrorists had easily slipped into the Pathankot airbase to launch the attack, which came soon after PM Narendra Modi made an unscheduled trip to Lahore to attend the wedding of Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter there.
The security forces took almost three days to kill the terrorists, while losing seven of their own personnel amidst command and control problems. The terrorists did not penetrate the critical “technical area” of the airbase, where the fighters, missile units and radars were located, and were eventually neutralized in the “domestic area” by NSG commandos.
The need to urgently revamp the security infrastructure around military installations and bases has been reinforced by the series of terror strikes on Pathankot, Uri, Nagrota, Akhnoor and other camps in recent years. The attacks exposed several chinks in the existing set-ups, ranging from the lack of proper perimeter security and upgraded standard operating procedures to the absence of regular security audits and seamless coordination between intelligence and security agencies.