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Flaming row over drone use on Maoist terrain

New Delhi: Even as the post-mortem of the Maoist ambush in Bastar, Chhattisgarh has barely begun, one aspect is set to create a storm. The issue relates to the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) of the area that is about 11,000 square kilometre in size.

The National Technical Research Organisation – functioning under the National Security Council - operates the Israeli-manufactured ‘Heron’ drone that appeared to have proved incapable of getting an ISR data picture of the Maoist strongholds. Most crucially, it failed to pick up the details of the large Maoist gathering, which attacked the group of Congress leaders.

Reports that have emerged on Monday say that NTRO deployed drone, operated by the IAF from Hyd, reach those Maoist areas only at the outer edge of the flight envelope. As a result, there is little loiter time left to gather ISR pictures and data. Result: the Heron flown that day failed to pick up the sizable gathering of the Maoist forces at the location called Darbha in Bastar.  And thereby lay the tale. There are some reports that have blamed the IAF about the efficacy of flying those drones from as far away as Hyd, thus defeating the purpose of the drone deployment.

When pointed out, the IAF sources reacted with obvious outrage. They claimed that they used to fly the drones from Raipur, state capital of Chhattisgarh, or Jagdalpur or even Nandini town of Durg district, about 210 kms away from Bastar.

The sources say that was till the IAF kept control over the drones and the NTRO had not usurped their operations. Now, the IAF provides assistance in the form of training and augmented specialist manpower for operations at any base the NTRO operates from.  ‘The IAF recommends and is fully supportive of the move to operating bases closer to affected areas and allegation that it is reluctant to the proposed shifting is factually incorrect,’ a source commented.
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