In BSF of the future, balloons with cameras, unmanned aircraft

Balloons floating above the Sunderbans marshes on the Bangladesh border, unmanned aerial vehicles scanning the land border with Pakistan. These are part of the BSF's vision for the future, each fitted with a camera to relay images back to the paramilitary force, which hopes to use new technology that will vary from border to border, depending on what best suits the area's features.

At Sir Creek in Gujarat, for instance, the plan is to use what is known as SOPs, or stabilised observation platforms, rather than the balloons planned for the Sunderbans in west Bengal.

The shift from a "one size fits all" concept, which marks a "paradigm shift" according to BSF officers, comes after a visit by a team to Israel last month to study the border management systems there. The team met officials of the Israel defence forces, Shabak (Israel's internal security wing) and its border security wing. Its vision includes not only technologies in use in Israel but also some in use by the US Army in Afghanistan.

"We are taking a quantum jump from just fencing and putting floodlights along the border areas," said a senior BSF officer. "We have around 400 kilometres of a challenging border on the west and around 1,100 km on the east. We are looking at emerging technology."

The BSF has submitted a report to the home ministry, which has floated a global expression of interest asking companies to come up with border management solutions. At least 39 companies have bid so far, including some from Israel.

"There is no plan for any integrated centre yet," said an officer. "We don't want to control everything from our Delhi headquarters. The company headquarters near the respective borders will be the nodal centres for all activities. The data is too huge to be controlled from Delhi."

The BSF guards borders of 2,289 km with Pakistan and 4,096 km with Bangladesh. Officers said the Bangladesh border alone has 875 gaps that require urgent attention, but fencing is not possible everywhere.

Apart from the camera-fitted aerostat balloons and unmanned aerial vehicles, the BSF's futuristic vision includes electro-optical imaging cameras, and special platforms for observation as well as reconnaissance.


Aerostat balloons

Each fitted with a high-resolution camera, these would float around five to seven kilometres above the water surface. The BSF is looking at introducing them in the Sunderbans, where the areas around the border are too marshy to allow fencing. Currently, speedboats man the rivers along the Bangladesh border. If aersostat balloons are introduced, the cameras will send out live feeds to the BSF control room so that the nearest team can, whenever necessary, foil an infiltration or smuggling attempt.

Electro-optical cameras

These will be for manning the land borders. The BSF was looking for a technology that could capture any movement from a distance of at least five to seven kilometres. "Currently we have thermal imagers, which are not effective enough. Our observations are limited to what the human eye can detect," said an officer. "Electro-optical cameras can detect any threat moving in the area." The hand-held thermal imagers in use have a limited capacity, and images are not clear beyond 500-700 metres.

Unmanned aircraft UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are a possibility for for the Pakistan border. Primarily aircraft without a pilot, these will be of help in detecting suspicious activity and relaying the pictures.

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