Fortnightly Review & Analysis – Defense, National Security and Terrorism (Vol 1 Issue VII)

(September 16-30, 2016)

Defense Related Developments

The three key developments this fortnight related to India’s Rafaele contract, Launch of Marmugao and India’s test firing of its new long range Surface-To-Air Missile (LR-SAM).

Rafale Fighter Aircraft Contract Signed

India has signed a contract for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France at a cost of approximately Rs 59000 Crore. Rafale is a technologically potent Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) and will augment IAF’s capability and air superiority significantly. India will get the first Rafale in three years and the full complement will be in service within 67 months. The fighter jets will be delivered in flyaway condition by the manufacturing company Dassault replacing the ageing Russian MiG-21s.

The aircraft will add to IAF's firepower and deep-strike capabilities. It will be equipped with state of the art 150 km range Beyond Visual Range air-to-air missiles, a long-range air-to-ground missile of 300 km range, helmet-mounted displays, advanced missile warning and synthetic aperture radars and the Thales manufactured Active Electronic Scanning Array (AESA) radar with a multi target detection range up to 130 kilometers. Rafale will also be integrated with a new missile launch detector and an Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) sensor, improving target detection and identification performance of the aircraft. In addition, the contract guarantees performance-based logistics support, which means that 75 per cent of the fleet will be airworthy at any given time.

Though with another major defence import by India, the ‘Make in India’ initiative will suffer, it is imperative to understand that India's huge arms imports are due to its failure to build a local industry to produce weapons and critical technologies. The present outright Rafale purchase was required to meet the critical need of the IAF. This notwithstanding, Dassault is looking to build its industrial presence in the country and has offered to support the 'Make in India' drive by being open to manufacturing the Rafale in India should the company secure additional fighter aircraft contracts from India.

The flip side is that maintaining a fleet of just 36 fighters will have its logistical and operational complications besides the high cost of maintenance on account of no economies of scale. Rafale will add to complexities of an already diverse fleet being maintained by the Indian Air Force (IAF) which has been seized with the issue of narrowing its inventory to optimize utilization and bring down the cost of operations.

Launch of Mormugao

The Indian Navy’s indigenously designed Project 17B guided missile destroyer, Mormugao, was launched on 17 Sep 16 at the Mazagaon Docks. The Mormugao is the second ship of the class, after Visakhapatnam, the lead ship. The ship has a designed displacement of 7,300 tonne and a maximum speed of over 30 knots. It is equipped with surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles and anti-submarine rocket launchers. The warship can carry two anti-submarine warfare helicopters. The government has sanctioned four Project 17B ships to be built at a cost of Rs 29,700 crore. The ship will now be outfitted with its equipment and will subsequently carry out trials in harbour before proceeding to sea. Considering the size and the vast amount of complex equipment including the weapon and sensor suite, this entire process will take about 3 – 4 years before the ship is inducted into the Indian Navy.

The Project 17 B destroyers are part of the Indian Navy’s massive modernisation drive where more than 45 ships are on order. The indigenous aircraft carrier, being built at Kochi, is also due to be inducted in the near future. The first of the Scorpene class submarines has already commenced her sea trials and is likely to be commissioned in the immediate future with the next boat to follow at an interval of about a year. However, the Navy will have to contend with gaps in its capabilities, in the near term, due to the inherent capacity shortfalls of the indigenous industry. The ageing submarine inventory of the IN is a case in point where acquisition plans have been languishing for nearly 15 years. The Make in India initiative, launched in 2014, is intended to address this challenge but building up a Military Industry Complex to meet India’s requirements, in a hitherto underdeveloped environment, will possibly stretch well into the next decade. Consequently, India will need to rely on its erstwhile foreign partners to fill the hardware and capability gaps in the short term.

India Test Fires New Long Range Surface-To-Air Missile (LR-SAM)

In a bid to boost its air defence capabilities, India has successfully test fired its new long range surface-to-air (LR-SAM) missile on 21 Sep 2016 from the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) base at Chandipur. Like its earlier medium range variant, this missile too has been jointly developed by India and Israel. While, the trials at sea of this LR-SAM had been earlier carried out by the Indian Navy in December 2015, the trials of the medium range variant of this surface to air missile had been undertaken during late Jun/early July of this year.

Besides the missile, the LR-SAM system includes a Multi-Functional Surveillance and Threat Alert Radar (MF STAR) for detection, tracking and guidance of the missile. Thus the system provides a complete package for neutralizing all kinds of aerial threats. These missiles are likely to be inducted in all the three services after completion of the trials. What is most encouraging to note is that, many Indian industries like BEL, L&T, BDL, and TATA besides other private industries have significantly contributed to the development of a number of subsystems of this missile system. India’s missile development capabilities have never been in doubt, the successful testing of this LR-SAM just reinforces what we have known all along.

International Terrorism

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Although the scale of attacks by ISIS in Iraq has declined, the outfit’s activities in some parts of the country, including Baghdad and Mosul, are still considered to be a major threat. As a sign of resistance against the increasing coalition military operations, ISIS conducted three suicide bomb blasts on 25 September in Baghdad that killed 11 people and 34 were wounded. Attacks of this nature have been going in and around Baghdad for the last several months. Most of them were aimed at Shia-dominated locations, indicating the highly sectarian nature of the ongoing conflict not only inside Iraq but also in different parts of West Asia. Given the rising assaults against ISIS militias inside the country, the terror outfit is likely to carry out more attacks by individuals by blowing themselves up or using vehicle bombs.

ISIS’s leadership too is coming under pressure with the loss of several leaders in recent times. Reportedly, in the last one month, the US-led coalition has killed around 18 leaders comprising military commanders, propagandists and a few recruitment activities. As a result, the effectiveness of the terror group’s command and control has been disrupted.

Meanwhile, preparations for operation to liberate Mosul are going on with US deciding to send 600 more troops to Iraq to advise, provide logistical support and intelligence. ISIS terrorists are also preparing for a long showdown. While ISIS operatives are reportedly digging trenches filled with oil as a defensive mechanism, there is rising concern about the plight of the civilians who are likely to be used as human shields.

Mounting Concern of Returning Foreign Fighters

Number of foreign fighters joining ISIS has been on the decline since early 2015. Now, with the constant territorial and financial setbacks facing by ISIS in both the West Asian countries, there is a growing global concern, particularly in Europe, about the likely backlashes from some of the fighters returning home. This threat is also felt in other countries like Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Turkey and Jordan from where a sizeable number of foreign fighters are in the ranks of ISIS. On 27 September, US FBI Director James Coomey, expressed his concerns about “terrorist diaspora” that will “occur globally in a few years after the Islamic States loses control”. While there is the possibility of ISIS fighters taking the route of insurgency in West Asia, equally alarming is the terror activities some of these returnees are likely to conduct in their native countries. These concerns were shared by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and European Union (EU) counterterrorism Chief Gilles de Kerchove. A network of radicalized people are reported to be coordinating with some of these returnees, and they have succeeded in carrying out attacks in Paris and Brussels in the recent months. The problem is getting acute with the rising cases of lone-wolves attacks in Europe as well as in the US. The presence of these elements is going to be a major challenge for the law enforcement agencies.

Terror Attacks in USA

As much as the US security and intelligence agencies are concerned about the potential threats from the returnees from the ISIS warzone, they are equally worried about the rising activities of lone-actors/wolves inside the country. The recent bombings in New Jersey and New York on 17 September by one Ahmad Khan Rahani raised several debates in the US about who actually these lone-wolves are, what their objectives are and whether all of them have affiliations with any overseas terror organizations. Attacks of this nature carried out by Rahani also brought to the fore the issue of self-radicalization through terrorist propaganda which are widely available on internet.

While ISIS has claimed responsibility for many of these attacks in the US and Europe and claimed the perpetrators as its “soldiers”, the case of Rahani is under investigation to determine whether he was influenced by ISIS or by Al-Qaeda. Given his visits to Pakistan in 2005 and 2011, and Quetta, where he stayed for nearly a year until March 2014, and another visit to Afghanistan, he was believed to have been more inspired by Al-Qaeda. The security authorities in the US are closely examining the angle of home-grown extremism through a radicalization process in the country itself. Furthermore, the stabbing attack in a mall in the state of Minnesota by one Ahmed Adan, a young Somali immigrant, on 17 September has triggered a concern whether ISIS is radicalizing and recruiting youths from this immigrant-rich state in the US. Whether these attacks have been actually directed by ISIS or not, or are carried out by inspired/radicalized/mentally unstable individuals, they are increasingly becoming a major challenge for the intelligence community.

Internal Security

Terror Strike at Uri Brigade Headquarter in Kashmir

Indian Army’s Brigade Headquarter at Uri Sector in Kashmir was attacked by terrorists belong to the Jaish-e-Mohammad/Lashkar-e Taybba in the night of September 18th 2016. Four militants attacked the headquarters close to the Line of Control in a pre-dawn ambush and started the gun battle by firing nearly 17 grenades in three minutes. During this attack 17 Indian army personnel were killed and the intense gun battle continued for nearly six hours. The operation concluded when the four terrorists were neutralized.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has taken over the investigation of this incident and collected DNA samples of the terrorists and look at the commonalities in the Uri and the Pathankot air base attacks in January. Barely two days after this incident the Indian Army foiled two infiltration bids made from across the border in the Nowgam sector where 10 terrorists were killed in an encounter. Simultaneously, Pakistani troops also violated ceasefire along the LoC at a number of places by opening unprovoked fire at Indian positions.

On 24th September, in a joint operation by the BSF and the Army two men were arrested while trying to infiltrate into India. The preliminary interrogation revealed that the two had been recruited as guides to infiltrate militants across the LoC. NIA identified them as Ahasan Kursheed, of Mohalla Kidri in Muzaffarabad’s Hattian Bala tehsil and Faisal Hussain Awan, resident of Halka 4 in Potha Jandgran also in Muzafferabad. The duo has been remanded to 10 days’ police custody for further investigation.

In response to the Uri attack, India mounted diplomatic offensive in the neighbourhood and beyond. It received massive support leading to Pakistan’s near total isolation. Finally, in a surprise move Indian Army’s Special Forces on September 29th carried out a four hour Surgical Strike against 7 militant launching pads across the LoC, the first such punitive response by India against terror infrastructure in PoK/Pakistan.

Pakistan quickly denied the surgical strike, describing it as unprovoked firing across the LoC in which 2 Pak army personnel were killed and some injured. Clearly, the army establishment did not want to retaliate immediately and has kept its options open.

Rising ISIS threat in Kerala and Tamil Nadu

In a series of raids conducted by the NIA (September 26-October 01, 2016) the Agency and the Kerala Police busted Islamic State inspired terror module and arrested six youth for conspiring to carry out terror acts. While five of them were at Kanakamala hilltop in Kannur district, the sixth was arrested from Kuttiyadi in Kozikode district. Explosives and electronic devices were recovered from them. Follow-up searches are being conducted by the NIA in Chennai, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu and Kannur, Kozhikode and Mallapuram in Kerala. The NIA has registered a case at its Kochi branch on October 01, 2016 under IPC sections for criminal conspiracy, collecting arms, etc. with the intention of waging war against the GOI and sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

It may be recalled that NIA had earlier registered a case in connection with the 21 missing youths from Kerala who are believed to have joined ISIS terror group in Afghanistan and later moved to Syria and some other countries. These arrests supported with recovery of war material highlights the uncomfortable reality of existence of well-knit network of terror organisations in the state of Kerala. The arrest of Dinesh Alias Riyas native of Mananthayady in connection with Pathankot Air Force Base terror strike in January 2016 marks the wide operational spread of terror networks in the state.

NIA De-radicalizes ISIS accused

According to reports, NIA is deradicalizing youths who have been arrested recently from all over the country. The NIA is using soft methods with the help of Muslim clerics. Sources working with the NIA believe that in 90% of the cases, counselling given by the clerics have had the desired impact on the youth. Instead of treating the accused as hardcore criminals, the NIA undertook a liberal approach towards them.

Online Radicalization

There have been reports of an online recruiter using money, jihadi dreams and religious guilt to recruit youths from India. Shafi Armar, 29, a resident of Bhatkal in Karnataka, is a former Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative and a self-acclaimed India media Chief of IS. In 2015, he briefly worked for Al-Qaeda and Taliban before proceeding to Syria. The recent charge sheet filed by the NIA that Armar facilitated two Hyderabadi youths to travel to Syria in 2015. He provided bomb-making documents to other three accused. Armar was also regularly in touch with around 300 youth online, between 2014-2016. He also floated online, a new group affiliated to ISIS by the name of Junood-ul-Khalifa. Armar radicalized Nafees Khan 21 from Hyderabad, Mudabbir Shaikh from Mumbai, Mohammad Aleem from Lucknow, Imran Khan from Aurangabad, and an 18 year old Ashik Ahamed from West Bengal besides several other men from all over the country. Ahamed informed the investigating authorities that they were instructed to travel to Syria, perform Hizrah and thereby bring Khilafat to India.

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