Guest Column | Watchful Eyes

Drones can play an effective role in India’s border surveillance

R.C. SharmaR.C. Sharma

India has vast land and coastal borders with different terrain and weather conditions. The length of land borders is 15,106.70km while that of coastal line is 7,516.6km including island territories. The terrain comprises plains, deserts, marshy wetlands, riverine stretches, forests, high altitude mountains and semi-mountainous regions. It is interspersed with rivers, rivulets and deep foliage. In many places, road connectivity across the borders is dysfunctional due to political divide and perennially strained bilateral relations with the neighbours. Infrastructural problems are compounded by weather extremities which make border life and operations difficult for the border-guarding forces.

Most Indian border regions are densely populated on both sides. Cross border relations amongst population exist since ages. India has de-jure fenced and unfenced borders, de-facto fenced and unfenced borders and even un-demarcated stretches. The characteristics of Indian borders are sour relations with the counterparts, underdevelopment, illegal migration, inadvertent crossings, infiltration, militancy and terrorism, drug trafficking, smuggling of various products for economic benefits.

Security of international borders is responsibility of border guarding forces. The Border Security Force (BSF) guards Pakistan and Bangladesh border, the Nepal and Bhutan borders are guarded by Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and the Myanmar border by Assam Rifles. Border guarding in India is manpower intensive with miniscule technical support. The length of Indo-Pakistan border is 3,323km and Indo-Bangladesh border 4,096.70km. Both borders are volatile, dangerous and difficult to guard due to historical factors and current security environment.

Control of borders signifies sovereignty of nation over its territory. The border-guarding pattern to exercise sovereignty is totally manpower intensive with negligible technical support integrated with manpower. However, to make border guarding impregnable, to reduce stress and for successful operational profile, there is  an urgent need to look beyond manpower. Technological solutions have to be found for effective border security and surveillance. This will deter anti-national elements from violating the sanctity of international boundary, enhance border security, improve economic activity in border areas and increase operational effectiveness. This model will also provide respite to troops from tough and gruelling schedule. Let us analyse how to go for this model and how to implement the model.

Even with technological advancements, BSF makes do with old methods and equipment for border guarding

West and East

The working environment of western and eastern borders is diametrically and drastically different. The terrain, riverine areas, demographic composition, crime and smuggling patterns, economics of smuggling, operational challenges and difficulties are different on both borders. The security implications of border breaches on both sides too are different in terms of gravity and long-term impact on national security. The following security model for western and eastern borders is recommended. The systems will not succeed unless matched by strong technical surveillance support on ground.

Unilateral Security Model: The border threat characteristics on western border are infiltration, espionage, drug smuggling, pumping of arms and ammunition through land and aerial route, violating border agreements to keep the border tense. Pakistan has adopted all innovative measures successfully to push terrorism into India and destroy the youth through indoctrination and drug addiction. Pakistan’s main aim is to destabilise India. Since Pakistan will not join any border security and coordination mechanism to curb border threats supported by technical surveillance, India needs to develop such mechanism unilaterally.

To this end, it needs to carry out an analysis of terrain and state-wise characteristic of international border. It should also do region-wise analysis of drug smuggling and infiltration attempts based upon empirical data. A division of region/ areas in different categories based upon its sensitivity through vulnerability mapping is required. Moreover, one needs to analyse and decide surveillance apparatus and infrastructure for communication of information and reaction on real time basis.

Clearly, surveillance and reaction will have different layers. Limit of penetration for surveillance has to be decided based upon capability of surveillance system and capability to act on ground in the form of command and response centre and its reach to weapon system/quick reaction teams. The process will involve the following:

  • Detection: The depth of detection of targets will depend upon strength of surveillance system, which could be deep inside counterpart territory. Detection could be through radar, aerial observation platforms like drones/UAVs, sensors, cameras, towers and balloons.
  • Identification: The system must have the capability to identify the target whether it is a human being, vehicle or something else.
  • Action: After detection, identification and target acquisition, analysis at command and response centre, the information has to be passed to quick reaction team on real time basis for it /weapon system to act.

For surveillance, which involves detection, identification and action, detailed analysis of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) available for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance need to be done based upon their capabilities and endurance. After selection, infrastructure must be developed for controlling the device, command and response centre fitted with monitors and latest communication equipment for passing information and creation of weapon system /quick reaction teams for real time action.


Bilateral Security Model: The characteristics of border threats on the eastern border with Bangladesh encompass all threat characteristics of western border. The other threat characteristics peculiar to Bangladesh border are illegal immigration and cattle smuggling. Illegal migration has changed the demographic profile of north-eastern states. Cattle smuggling is an economic booster for Bangladesh. There is a need for India and Bangladesh for bilateral security model for detection, identification and for action on illegal activities with joint command and response centres. It involves the following which have to be agreed by both countries:

  • Identify stretches of border and depth areas used by smuggling syndicates for pushing illegal migrants into India and designated/illegal cattle bazaars used as concentration area for cattle before pushing them into Bangladesh.
  • Identify routes from concentration areas to border both unfenced and riverine areas.
  • Identify illegal routes for back and forth movement of temporary migrants coming into India for labour and going back.
  • Fix limits of surveillance penetration for detection.
  • Decide locations of joint command and response centres.
  • Decide locations of quick reaction teams on both sides for action/reaction on identification of target.


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