India goes shopping for security

By Pratap Chakravarty (AFP)

NEW DELHI — As India readies for a major offensive against Maoist rebels, security agencies are trawling the international arms market to upgrade the country’s counter-insurgency capabilities.

“We want to acquire what can be moulded into our own security system,” said top police intelligence officer Shashidhar Reddy of Andhra Pradesh, one of the states most affected by Maoist activity.

Reddy was one of a number of senior security officials perusing the wares offered by 150 arms firms from 15 countries participating in India’s first homeland security fair in New Delhi this week.

“Our priorities are many but we are looking at vehicles, surveillance cameras, et cetera,” Reddy said.

The Indian military has floated global tenders for more than 800 bulletproof vehicles which are likely to be farmed out to security agencies involved in counter-insurgency operations, a senior defence ministry official said.

“Once this contract is through there will be a plethora of orders as these vehicles are a must-have for tackling insurgencies,” said Vivek Mehta of London-based Vectra group, one of the eight contenders for the 5.7 million-dollar deal.

India plans to spend 30 billion dollars on military contracts by 2014 and in August it announced a separate 10 billion-dollar homeland security upgrade to be completed before 2016.

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which lost 11 soldiers in a Maoist raid in April in Orissa state, is looking to strengthen protection for its 110,000 troops who guard complexes such as airfields, refineries and armories.

“The Maoist threat is a new challenge and we want to prepare for better perimeter protection,” CISF inspector general Anurag Sharma said.

“We need database network systems and better access control, and arms bazaars such as these are interesting as costs are lower,” Sharma, the paramilitary agency’s chief trainer, told AFP at the fair.

The Maoist insurgency, which began as a peasant uprising in 1967, is now active in 20 of India’s 29 states and has been described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the country’s “number one” internal security threat.

The Maoists, said to number 20,000, operate mainly in the countryside and stage hit-and-run guerrilla attacks on security teams from forest bases in states like Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai has said the planned offensive against the rebels would start after a set of regional polls ended Tuesday.

“We would wait till the elections are over and then we will launch the operations at the time and place of our choosing,” Pillai told NDTV television on Monday.

Prime Minister Singh has ruled out direct military involvement in anti-Maoist operations but that did not prevent the army’s jungle warfare experts attending the three-day fair.

“We are looking at affordable technology which can be proliferated across security agencies,” an officer from the military’s counter-insurgency jungle warfare school said on condition of anonymity.

He cited laser-guided armaments, light vehicles and drones as priority purchases.

As well as the Maoists, Indian security forces are battling a number of other insurgencies, including long-running armed separatist campaigns in Kashmir and the northeast.

India acknowledged huge gaps in its homeland security apparatus after Islamist gunmen attacked prime targets in the country’s financial hub Mumbai last November, killing 166 people.

Despite the apparent urgency of India’s requirements, some arms suppliers have complained of red tape delaying acquisitions, often by years.

“The procurement procedures are so slow in India that by the time they make up their mind the technology we offer is already obsolete,” R.K. Bhandari, the India sales head of US-based General Dynamics, said.

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