India is mourning the tragic death of the Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, along with that of a team of brilliant officers, in a helicopter crash last week. But it also raises questions about technology and connectivity.
For instance, there was a long period of suspense and worry last week when the helicopter was untraced—all kinds of search and rescue operations had to be organized. Finally, a few sorties and a digital trace helped locate the helicopter.
However, during the period of suspense, we heard a lot of comments about the need for better connectivity in VIP helicopters and aircraft. YSR’s case has highlighted the need for a satellite phone, other than the regular communication and navigational aids in the aircraft. At the same time, some expressed need for better remote sensing technologies across the country: Open claims that the helicopter disappeared in a Naxal-infested area show how much work needs to be done in enhancing digital footprints in these trouble-torn regions.
Investigations into the black box recovered from the debris should lead to information about what actually happened. Likewise, why the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) from the helicopter failed is something to be investigated—this could also lead to questions of whether we need a revamp of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) airworthiness certificate mechanism. There were some confusing moments about the airworthiness of the aircraft as the DGCA website carried old information that had already been disseminated to the public and media.
So the time is ripe to re-examine VIP communications once again, particularly when ministers or officials travel to remote locations in the country. It is very important to have all forms of communications available for VIPs even on the move.
Today, technology enables voice, data and video connectivity while on the move and, more specifically, while in air—this has to be also utilized for VIP communication and security purposes. Every such aircraft should today carry a satellite communication device that can be set up in little time. For instance, the VIP has to be in constant touch with the base station. Even for security, it will be easier to remotely observe movements from a control room and provide instructions to the closest security outposts in the event of emergency. Moving vehicles carrying satellite communication equipment as part of the VIP convoy could also easily be transmitting live pictures to the control room for better grasp of the situation. Already, there are companies in India offering such solutions.
The most unfortunate aspect here is that such decisions in our country are usually not taken on a proactive basis—they are rushed after an incident, once realization dawns upon authorities. The Bureau of Police Research and Development under the home ministry should be able to regularly update India’s various security forces with the latest evolving technology. The process of incorporating technology should be fast-tracked, without any bureaucratic delays.
The modernization programmes for our security forces are heavily dependent on Central funding, but most of the allocated money is spent on vehicle purchases and police station construction and repairs. There is very little focus on communications and surveillance capabilities being enhanced, despite the fact that terrorists and insurgents have made the best use of such technology. A special drive for police communications enhancement is thus essential.
Over the last few years, communications technology has matured to real time video and image availability, transmission and their management from remote locations. And with a very adept home minister, we can hope that India will see some moves on this front.
Subimal Bhattacharjee is country head in India for General Dynamics. These are his personal views. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org