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Smart bombs and spy satellites

Nandkumar M Kamat

Smart bombs like the Israel made SPICE-2000 and earth observing spy satellites like India’s Cartosat, RISAT-1 and 2 have recently caught the public imagination. RISAT 1 and 2 are constantly watching the Indian subcontinent and can take images using made in Israel X band synthetic aperture radar systems even through thick clouds two to three times a day. This data is provided to security agencies. Two Pakistani spy satellites were also launched by China to keep an eye on India.

These technologies are beyond the grasp of the common man. In a superstitious country like India, for a common man, technology is like magic and they are not in a position to understand how even a simple mobile handset functions. The Indian army is not in a hurry to educate the whole nation on its secret weapon systems and provide micro details of its covert operations.

Wars are not academic exercises. The micro details of these technologies are proprietary and secret items. India would never be able to provide details of data acquisition and navigational programming of the SPICE-2000 smart bomb. These were fitted by IAF on Mirage 2000 aircraft fleets years ago but very few knew about their capabilities. The controversy on the multirole French manufactured Rafael aircrafts has also missed the details of India-specific weapons suite which make these flying multi-weapon platforms powerful force multipliers for the Indian Air Force.

The Balakot operation has already revealed what such “India specific weapons suite” means. Since there is very little chance of India and Pakistan or India and China engaging in a prolonged conventional war, the air force has created non-conventional scenarios like ‘hot pursuits”, focused operations like Kargil pinpoint air strikes and deep surgical “pre emptive, non military” air strikes. No country gives secrets of its warfare strategy because then the element of surprise vanishes. That’s one reason the government has withheld sensitive information on what happened at Balakot on February 26 morning. It took more than a year to get the full operational details of September 2016 surgical strikes across LOC. Indian electronic and social media is now animatedly discussing the modern warfare technologies. The Indian Air Force (IAF) strike on terrorist dens in part of Jammu and Kashmir illegally occupied by Pakistan woke the country up to the effects of 21st century’s modern warfare technology.

Indians never took so much interest in the past in weapons suite possessed by the Indian defence forces. Their curiosity and knowledge was limited to the display of various tanks, armoured vehicles and missiles during the Republic Day parade but it changed after the February 26 air strikes in so called POK. Terms like superbombs, smartbombs, precision munitions, satellite images entered the popular lexicon. Smart bombs are like destructive compact flying computers where optoelectronics takes precedence over the explosive payload. These bombs can never miss their targets because any static object cannot move once the longitude and latitude is accurately programmed. If there is a failure, it cannot be failure of the smart bombs like SPICE-2000 but of programming which is based on intelligence provided by local informers and spy satellites, special spy aircrafts and drones.

SPICE-2000 caught the public imagination because never in any previous operation had people heard about such precision weapon systems. In simple terms SPICE-2000 is like a guided missile which accurately homes in and drills through the target before exploding and it creates unprecedented shock waves to eliminate specific objects like the enemies. One can imagine the hitting of the Balakot terrorist camp with such pinpoint accuracy that in the impact that was made it is not possible to count even the incinerated bodies because these smart bombs produce instantaneous high temperature heat flux. So it is futile to waste time in discussing the body count. What matters is the success of the trajectory of these smart bombs and the way these were launched under the cover of darkness from a distance of at least 60 kilometres by the IAF.

If the IAF is responding to the media debate now then it is purely a temporary response because revealing all the precise cartographic and spy satellite details at this point is dangerous. Very little information is made available by ISRO or India military about the constellation of India’s 15 spy satellites and capabilities of RISAT series. It is suspected that India possesses powerful spy satellites with resolution of less than half a metre so that even a small weapon on ground can be photographed from more than 500 kilometres in space. SPICE-2000 is an older smart bomb and the modern weapons suite for which ex Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar bargained with the French negotiator reportedly includes a more powerful smart weapons suite.

A positive fallout of Balakot air strike is that this operation has considerably enthused India’s talented students, especially those who dream of becoming aerospace or aeronautical engineers or joining the IAF or think of designing smart bombs and better systems for spy satellites. Any country would build on these positive sentiments which advance indigenous understanding of modern science and technology. So, we need to thank the IAF for providing much more than the precision strike in terms of relevant topics for national discourse. The dust will soon settle on Balakot aftermath but the interest it has ignited on smart bombs and spy satellites will help the country to develop talented scientists, engineers and technologists.

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