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IAF needs Rs 8,100 crore to upgrade security at 54 air bases

Suhas Munshi | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:35 IST

The plan

  • IAF is trying to learn from the Pathankot episode
  • It now wants to better secure 54 air bases

The tab

  • IAF needs Rs 8,100 crore to beef up security
  • But the defence ministry is already cash strapped

More in the story

  • Major expenses staring at MoD
  • What does IAF plan to do?

The Pathankot attack, no doubt, left the country rattled. As a fallout, the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Wednesday issued shoot-at-sight orders at 25 Western Command flying bases in case any intrusion is detected. It also proposed a Rs 8,100-crore comprehensive security plan to upgrade the security at 54 sensitive air bases across the country.

"All bases in the Western Air Command have been put on high alert. Shoot-at-sight orders have been issued against anyone attempting to enter the base by scaling the perimeter wall or through unauthorised access," a senior IAF officer said.

Also read - IAF issues shoot-at-sight orders for frontline bases under Western Air Command

The force asked the government to strictly impose the ban against any construction within 100 metres of any air base and within 900 metres of ammunition depots.

The senior officer described the Pathankot attack, in which Pakistani terrorists scaled the wall of the cantonment and remained undetected inside the air base for more than a day, as a "learning experience".

"The Pathankot incident was not a failure, but it has shown some of our weaknesses. We're trying to work on them now," he said.

How the ministry prioritises its budget will be interesting to see

A report reviewing 950 flying bases across the country in the wake of Pathankot, submitted to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), has proposed that airbases be given smart perimeter intrusion system, close-circuit televisions, motion detectors, quadro drones etc to secure vital installations.

The officer said the security upgrade will cost between Rs 100 crore and Rs 150 crore for each base. Most proposals have been put before the ministry, but remained pending due to financial constraints.

"These proposals were already in the pipeline. Because of financial constraints, we are doing it in a phased manner. Our first focus was to protect the main assets and then move to the perimeter wall."

Air Force has also demanded 1,000 more Garud commandos to secure air bases around the country. At the moment the force has about the same number of commandos in active service.

Security at stake

Investigations into the Pathankot incident reveal just how ridiculously porous and vulnerable defence installations have become. Based on a tip-off by central intelligence agencies, the Punjab police recently arrested a man from whose possession they recovered photographs of very sensitive installations within the Pathankot cantonment.

Notably, Irshad Ahmed, the accused, wasn't caught while entering off-limit zones or photographing them. Reportedly, he used to click photographs and send them over to a person named Sajjad, who was recently arrested in an arms case from Jammu.

Pathankot probe revealed how ridiculously porous and vulnerable defence installations are

The police have found evidence of Sajjad sending the photos to Pakistan.

The security at the air base seems to have been compromised much before the six terrorists breached the outer periphery of the cantonment.

Also read - India looks set to buy those Rafales. But it's not a good idea

Getting priorities right

Despite the huge outcry over the Pathankot incident, spending Rs 8,000 crore on upgrading Air Force bases across the country may not be the ministry's top priority.

The ministry is already facing flak from the three service chiefs over the Seventh Pay Commission. They briefed Defence Minster Manohar Parriker about how the morale of the forces will plummet if civilians' salaries overshadow that of Army officers after the pay correction.

But the defence ministry is cash strapped. Even without considering a pay hike for the three services, it will have to grapple with increased costs as it sets out to implement one-ran-one-pension for ex-soldiers.

Upgrading security will cost Rs 100 crore-Rs 150 crore for each air base

At the same time, the government also has to finalise the Rafale deal, at a current estimated cost of $12 billion (about Rs 80,000 crore). And there are some more defence purchases in the pipeline.

How the ministry prioritises its budget will be interesting to see.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

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First published: 4 February 2016, 7:38 IST
Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

He hasn't been to journalism school, as evident by his refusal to end articles with 'ENDS' or 'EOM'. Principal correspondent at Catch, Suhas studied engineering and wrote code for a living before moving to writing mystery-shrouded-pall-of-gloom crime stories. On being accepted as an intern at Livemint in 2010, he etched PRESS onto his scooter. Some more bylines followed in Hindustan Times, Times of India and Mail Today.