Thursday, July 4, 2013

Drones for anti-Naxalite ops to fly out of Bhilai

  • Decks have finally been cleared to set up the base for the Indian Air Force's (IAF) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at the Steel Authority of India's airstrip at Bhilai. The UAVs will be used in anti-Naxalite surveillance programme in Chhattisgarh.
  • Though the move to shift the base of the UAVs from Hyderabad to Bhilai was under consideration for some time, the recent massacre of Congress leaders on May 25 in Bastar hastened the process, with the Centre acting as a mediator between SAIL and IAF. If insider's are to be believed, an understanding has reportedly been reached between SAIL and the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), which will operate the UAVs. According to sources, the process for setting up the base is in final stages and it's only a matter of time that the UAV would start doing daily sorties for monitoring Naxalite movement. Vijay Mairal, DGM of public relations of the Bhilai steel plant, confirmed that a high level team of the NTRO visited the plant on Monday. He, however, refused to divulge any further details saying that discussions were still going on.
  • He also refused to comment on whether a formal MoU had been signed between SAIL and NTRO for using SAIL's Nandni airstrip.
  • As of now, the UAVs had been operating without much success, primarily due to the long flight distance from Hyderabad, where it is currently stationed. The 12 Israeli-made Searcher tactical UAVs imported last year for tactical intelligence gathering in the Naxalite areas of Chhattisgarh and Orissa were to be actually stationed at an airstrip at Jagdalpur.
  • However, reports suggest that Air Force authorities refused deployment of their men in Jagdalpur due to poor living conditions and demanded shifting of the base to SAIL's plant in Bhilai.
  • With this, the UAVs flying distance to sensitive areas of Jagdalpur would reduce to almost half from the present 500km from Hyderabad, sources said.
  • While none of the officials were willing to come on record as to when the UAVs would finally start flying out of Bhilai, additional director general of police (Naxal Operation) R K Vij admitted that it would be of great help in tackling the Naxalite menace.
  • Vij told TOI that the shifting of the base would lead to better coordination as state's officers would be able to visit Bhilai easily for interpretation of data collected.
  • Earlier, officers were sent to Hyderabad and it was time consuming. "All coordination issues will be sorted out if they are in the vicinity," he said.