Integrating Geographic Tech in Conflict: India’s GPS solution?

The Times of India recently ran an article on a proposal to fit the weapons of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel with GPS units. The proposal comes on the heels of a bloody ambush of the CRPF conducted by Maoist (colloquially called naxalite) guerrillas in the country’s interior. The CRPF hopes that by including GPS units on their weapons, they will at least get some tactical information on the whereabouts of guerrillas when they loot the weapons. However, I doubt that this will be much of a solution for the CRPF and India.

The article, and the CRPF, both state that the current battery life of GPS units available to fit are woefully inadequate – less than a day’s charge. As the CRPF notes, the insurgents tend to move on foot and so a few day’s worth of data is necessary in order to build a somewhat reliable pattern of direction and speed.

In addition to this technical aspect, there are two geographic hurdles to this potential solution. The first is physical, looking at Google Maps, Latehar (Jharkhand state) is close to the Gotang Forest, which is marked as Maoist. Assuming that my GPS watch is a normal representative of GPS unit, it has significant difficulty (and this is documented) in acquiring reliable signals amongst tall buildings and trees. Since its likely that the Maoist are actually in the Gotang Forest, the accuracy of the GPS units will likely suffer though I couldn’t say by how much. Looking at my runs in the city though, even running down a street in a straight line can cause my plot to fall on top of buildings or on the other side of the street (so maybe a 50 foot circle of error).

The other geographic hurdle is human. This whole idea is the typical (Western) state response to difficulty – get technology! As the article (and an astute commenter) point out, the CRPF has a poor intelligence network in the Maoist areas. This is partly due to coordination deficiency with other Indian agencies (not geographic) and partly due to the local “tribals” supporting the Maoists, rather than the state. Interestingly, the article points to the “lack of state penetration in tribal areas” as the cause. I believe this statement subtly hints at the real problem. Rather than laying the onus for Maoist support on the tribal communities, it lays it on the state. The Maoists are, according to this statement, fulfilling a governance vacuum – they are an insurgent state. In other words, the Maoists are the state. The Indian government is the encroaching, foreign intruder.

And therein lies the real solution to the ease of ambushing the CRPF and the larger conflict with the Maoists. Win over the local communities, through good governance and opportunity growth, and demonstrate why your state is better than the current one.

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