No ‘Bermuda Triangle’ off Chenai, but a Cyber attack on radar? (Amended)

Certain circles in the military and elsewhere in the Indian government dealing with extremely sensitive matters are abuzz with how the forward air defence radar in Avantipur was knocked out Wednesday, November 23 evening and how it stayed down until the next day, Thursday, November 24, when a slapdash air surveillance system was patched together. This was only the latest in a series of incidents that have left a lot of people really worried about the air defence.

The crashing in March 2015 of a Coast Guard Dornier off Chenai, and a few months later a night-flying Navy Dornier likewise diving into the sea may be attributed respectively to pilot error/technical malfunction and the pilot shutting off an engine mid-flight to practice recovery drill. In the former event, Reliance lent its deep sea recovery vessel to locate and recover the debris from a depth of 980 metres. On July 22 this year an IAF An-32 transport aircraft carrying 29 military and civilian Naval Armament Depot personnel, went down. It was on the Chennai-Andaman run, and as it was, according to defmin Manohar Parrikar, one of the Ukraine upgraded lot of An-32s, it may be safely assumed that technological decrepitude was not the reason. Now why were the debris from the Dornier sea crashes located and recovered, but not that of the Antonov plane?

Simply because while the CG and Navy aircraft all have pingers on-board, IAF has not thought it fit to equip its planes with pingers, equipment that has enough stored power to keep pinging even from deep sea the easier to home on to. It is only after this Antonov accident that IAF brass are talking of outfitting and then only the aircraft designated for the Andaman run with these locaters. Better late than never, I suppose.

But what about the Avantipur radar that left the entire approaches to Jammu & Kashmir, exposed without any air surveillance capability for some 12-15 hours mid-week? There may be nasty business afoot.

Many in the know are beginning to believe that rather than some freak occurrence of Nature, that the downing of the Avantipur radar may be the result of concerted cyber attacks.

These same experts point out that the Indian radar system can be switched off by remote means, such as through penetration via the Net and can even be made to turn on and target national assets by, for instance, mis-identifying IAF aircraft as adversary planes to possibly occasion fratricidal kills. And because the country relies wholly on imported hardware there is every the likelihood, as the former science adviser to the Defence minister and DRDO head Dr. Avinash Chander had publicly warned, of embedded bugs in foreign-sourced and upgraded aircraft being distantly activated, or the system penetration being such as to even spoof information on guidance equipment onboard to misdirect planes.

That the Indian government and military communications systems are entirely penetrated is easy enough to presume. Despite official warnings to everyone in the government, the armed services, the police orgs, and paramils, to not use gmail or yahoo, and to not hold long and sustained conversations on unsecured mobile phones, officers/officials any and everywhere and especially at the highest levels of government and in the PMO are seen routinely do be doing just this. With indiscipline and carelessness as the normal, India’s adversaries — even a lowly Pakistan with minimal cyber warfare/cyber terrorism capabilities, will always have it easy, what to speak of our more capable friends China and the United States. And given the fact that there is no expertise in government or in the Indian military or in the intelligence agencies for “penetration analysis”, and that the capacity of the National Intelligence Agency in all respects is pretty basic at best the country is, to use an American idiom, “up s..t creek”.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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7 Responses to No ‘Bermuda Triangle’ off Chenai, but a Cyber attack on radar? (Amended)

  1. armchair says:

    Dear Sir,
    OUr IAF has already commissioned its own communication network not connected with the internet.Then how the radar is susceptible to be hacked?
    Regarding the disappearance of the planes: any other foreign vessels whether were there at the time of the disappearance of our planes? in the bay of bengal?.If any high energy weapon systems are used by any mobile ship based platforms. Or space based high energy weapons targeting our planes?

  2. armchair says:

    Even if hardware used in defence is believed to be hacked then why we allow mobile phones from china? especially when the european nations are highly restrictive of chinese hardware and subjecting them to stringent checks?

  3. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    If we treat the following as a fact IOW ‘a given’:
    “OUr IAF has already commissioned its own communication network not connected with the internet.Then how the radar is susceptible to be hacked?”

    then what kind of world would one require to support a claim that:
    “Certain circles in the military and elsewhere in the Indian government dealing with extremely sensitive matters are abuzz with how the forward air defence radar in Avantipur was knocked out Wednesday, November 23 evening and how it stayed down until the next day, Thursday, November 24, when a slapdash air surveillance system was patched together.”

    So the great games are now finally being played on Indian soil, overtly.

    So much for Indian nationalism.

  4. Rahul(Kolkata) says:

    The situation was handled most unprofessionally by IAF. Why not the Mig 21’s and Mig29’s based there was asked to go airborne and do CAP missions to find out whether there was any intruding hostile aircraft or not? Why all were in a hurry to go to underground bunkers and move the planes to hangars? Which proves that none of the fighters in the base or the pilots were in a position to takeoff on short notice, which at times of heightened tensions along border and being a forward airbase is criminal anti-national negligence.

  5. &^%$#@! says:

    I would not be worried in the least. I am sure that Indian experts are assiduously working to plug all gaps, and even launch retaliatory surgical strikes on the offenders.

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