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Warning Shot


Most Air Force bases in India were originally established away from populated areas. They were surrounded by sparsely populated villages, which acted as the first line of defence as residents would notice any activity by outsiders and inform the authorities. Over time, however, all these villages have become urbanised and populations have grown manifold. Uncontrolled construction has taken place that creates several security complications. The IAF has even had to reconsider deployment of certain aircraft at such airports. Hindon is an example of this. Sometimes pilots’ lives are lost because of the delay as they try and steer their aircraft away from populated areas before bailing out if there are technical snags. To make things worse, setting up new bases is very difficult because the land is simply not available.

It is such factors that have made it easier to carry out ‘bomb’ attacks of the kind that took place at Jammu Air Force Station on Sunday. It is believed the ‘IEDs’ were delivered by, either, drones or balloons. It would seem the terrorists are taking pages out of the Hamas playbook on low tech penetration of sophisticated defences designed to counter conventional weaponry. These are literally ‘below the radar’ tactics made possible by the presence of the perpetrators in proximity to the bases. It is not even necessary that the attacks were carried out at the behest of the Pakistani dirty tricks departments, and may just be an initiative on its own by some terrorist group. For them, it may be a warning, a declaration of their presence, or a test of their ‘weapons’, but it creates a fresh dimension of threats for such establishments. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for the Air Force to evaluate afresh its preparedness for such threats.

It is significant that the attack took place in Jammu soon after the talks held between the state’s mainstream opposition and the Prime Minister. It may be an attempt to show that the separatists are not entirely out of the equation and still have nuisance value. This will also sour relations further between India and Pakistan, as the ISI’s involvement cannot be ruled out. A couple of suspects have been arrested and, if they were involved, their interrogation will reveal what actually lies behind the attack. The immediate signal, of course, is that security needs to be ramped up in equally innovative ways for such defence establishments.