Over a period the security plus development approach to counter Left Wing Extremism more popularly known as Naxalism has crystallized. A more nuanced strategy of targeting the centre of gravity is also evident with an interaction by the Ministry of Home Affairs with Superintendents of Police of 30 plus critically affected districts in the country as against the generalized 220 plus matrix that was perceived a few years ago. The Rural Development Ministry is also possibly likely to follow a similar bottom up exercise for administering development. Meanwhile deployment of army units in core heartland of Bastar in a non-combat- containment role is also sending the right message to the rebels.
Yet the challenge is unlikely to be over in the near to medium term and sustained capacity building of the police, central and state would be necessary. In the age of computer simulation, 3 D imaging and instant messaging virtual reality provides a fast track tool for training and familiarization of security personnel. Possible employment of the same thus needs discussion.
Virtual reality (VR) is essentially creation of computer simulated environment projecting the real as well as imaginary worlds. VR provides visual, sound and tactile information to and from one and more locations simultaneously by using simple input devices. This can create a life like experience. Gaming is closest to virtual reality and simulation is lower end of the spectrum where only a portion of realism is depicted.
VR is in essence S2 or Simulation Square environment which combines the advantage of simulators placed in a real time setting. More over it also enables manipulation of the environment as required by the user, thereby providing exposure to varied scenarios simultaneously on a single platform.
The phenomenon of VR is not new in the military. Advanced simulators for fighters, training tools such as Raikes Ranges for mortar firing or Close Quarter Battle Range for room shooting have been used over a period. However advances in computer and communication technologies provide unprecedented potential to replicate near real life scenarios and create conditions obtained in actual combat zones with ease. Some of these technologies are digitisation, 3D multimedia, high image resolution, communication bandwidth and use of intelligent agents or self adapting software which are available in our country today.
Tabletisation of the desk top or lap top computer and introduction of 3G are other innovations which enable an individual to get VR experience on his mobile phone or on I Pad or Tab which is a very convenient and adaptable form for acquiring training and information inputs. Local versions of the I Pad are available at a low cost of below Rs 10,000/- and mass procurement could drive down the costs further.
A seminal advantage of VR is augmented adaptation. Training is a process of cognitive learning. Cognition is essentially acquisition of knowledge and skill by mental processes in the brain. Thus cognitive patterns of physical objects and events are registered and played back when required. VR provides multi sensory inputs based on images from areas where a force is likely to be deployed thereby enhancing level of cognition. VR also enhances realism another essential feature of good training.
The advantages of VR for anti Naxal training would be exponential. Firstly it would enable familiarizing with the terrain environment. The geography of Naxal affected areas varies from southern Gangetic plains and semi urban populated flats of Bihar to dense forests with varied foliage and tree pattern in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. VR will provide an ideal tool for familiarizing security forces which are to be inducted in the respective area by realistically depicting terrain in the patrol through mode. Thus a jawan sitting in Delhi can get a sense of physically patrolling the Abujmadh area in a VR scenario leading to near complete visualisation of the terrain.
In the next step VR can assist in familiarizing with the operational environment of counter Naxal operations with constant fear of IEDs and ambushes. A trooper or a section/platoon will be able to practice various drills of counter insurgency in a responsive environment. Thus in case he violates anti IED or anti ambush SOP a casualty can be depicted thereby providing real time experiential learning. Had such a tool being used earlier, mishaps at Chintalnar or Silda in 2010 could have well been avoided.
VR can also be used by commanders to plan their deployment, assess efficacy of the same and adapt flexibly to changing situations with ease. At another level depiction of the social and cultural environment, identifying civic action needs, themes for winning hearts and minds and language training can also be carried out through this tool.
The use of VR for training in counter insurgency is not new. The US Army extensively uses Games such as Virtual Battle Space 2 or VBS 2 for familiarizing troops before induction to Afghanistan. This has prepared the US soldier well for deployment in an alien country. Even the Chinese have developed a game, “Glorious Mission,” where ironically the apparent enemy is the US military.
India’s vast expertise in technologies related to VR such as software, multimedia imaging, movies and so on combined with counter insurgency can be effectively employed to advantage for creating Anti Naxal training packages in a short time at reasonably low costs. This would provide preparatory and information edge to security forces being deployed for counter Naxal operations be it state or central. For Central Police and Paramilitary in particular who are deployed on an all India basis, VR based training will be a major boost for rapid adaptation.
While it is nobody’s case that VR can be an all encompassing training tool substituting on ground training per se, this has a number of attendant advantages which have been highlighted thereby suggesting introduction.
The basic principle in counter insurgency remains, “to fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla,” by facing the, “virtual guerrilla,” our jawans will certainly be better prepared to meet this challenge.
Brig Rahul Bhonsle (Retd) is a Defence Analyst based in New Delhi
(The views expressed in the article are that of the author and do not represent the views of the editorial committee or the centre for land warfare studies).