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Tuesday, 8 October 2019

No lessons learnt! Orange alert and terror threat but Pathankot airbase is still not ‘secured’

Terrorists attacked the Pathankot airbase on January 1, 2016. It took three days to neutralise them. They were part of a Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide squad and were well-armed. This was days after Prime Minister Modi's visit to Lahore.


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The terrorists killed 8 people including a civilian, injuring 25 others.

A decision to provide state of the art security measures was taken shortly afterwards. Pathankot would be the first to be made “secure”. It would be a pilot project. Work on other bases would begin after Pathankot security systems became operational and many of these bases are close to the border. Today, nearly 3 years later, while there is an Orange Alert, security measures aren’t ready. Bharat Electronics (BEL), which was supposed to have finished the work in September, now says the entire process will be ready by mid-December. The Indian Air Force, already upset by the delays, is not so sure.

This is the story of BEL's slow progress.

In May, the IAF reminded BEL about the work on the IPSS or the Integrated Perimeter Security System. It is a multi-layered system with an intrusion radar, vibration sensors, cameras, a perimeter fence with sensors, a 24-hour power supply and a central command centre.

BEL won the contract over TCIL, ECIL and TCL. It was considered L1.

In May, the IAF pointed out that BEL had promised to begin 'civil work' by 5 May 2019, but no work had begun.

It asked BEL to keep the IPSS monitoring cell of the IAF aware of what it was doing and when. It also reminded BEL that it was still waiting for the IPSS monitoring software to ensure what was happening and when.

Weeks later, the IAF again pointed out that the pilot project was to have been ready by 30 September. It asked BEL to expedite matters. Civil work had to be hastened because of the monsoons. So, additional men and material needed to be deployed.

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In June, IAF complained that the surveillance cameras were yet to be purchased and even the purchase orders had not been placed. Nor had BEL handed over the IPSS system.

There were further problems. Some of the 'sensitive' equipment was to have been bought by BEL from Gallagher. But it was not meeting the commercial terms and conditions, including delivery. So, BEL was considering Nemtek, another firm. But BEL did not explain to the IAF what the problems with Gallagher were. BEL should have been able to tell if Gallagher would be able to supply adequate numbers or not. IAF was not happy with Nemtek as there had been no earlier discussions about Nemtek's suitability.

So, the proposal was 'not in conformity.' Nor would the IAF agree to delays.

The IAF got increasingly desperate. The civil works, to have been ready by 31 July, didn't look to be ready by early August.

The "ESPF", an important part of the perimeter security system, was being ignored by BEL. The IAF complained it wasn't even being mentioned by BEL.

BEL had not provided the project management too. The C2 software, also essential for perimeter scrutiny, was not up to the mark.

None of the essential equipment would even be delivered by September 15. These include the cameras, radars and infrared illuminator. BEL had not handed over the 'acceptance test procedure'.

Delays, the IAF pointed out, could lead to penalties and even cancellation of the contract.

The IAF asked BEL to do everything to ensure the work was completed by September as mentioned in the contract.

Now, BEL has informed the IAF that everything will be ready by December. In this era of orange alerts, the IAF is waiting.


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