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COMM OPS: SATCOM is Critical for Real-Time, Accurate Information
by Prashant Butani, Satcom Analyst, NSR

The tragic terrorist attacks in Mumbai on the 27th of November killed nearly 200 people including a large number of Indians, as well as nationals from the U.S., Germany, Canada, Israel, Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore. This horrific incident has been suggested as a tactical shift in terms how terrorism will be carried out in future attacks. For one, terrorists can now call out and target specific nationals travelling to countries where security measures may not be as tight as measures back home. Americans or Britons may feel safer in their own countries, but Mumbai showed that an American, Briton, German and others can be easily, and more importantly, selectively targeted while on vacation in another land.

The other noteworthy change or shift was that the Mumbai operation, which was carried out in the heart of India’s commercial capital, appears to be an emergence of a new kind of terror tactic. Prior to Mumbai, attacks on 9-11 in the U.S., bombings in Bali, 7-7 in the U.K. as well as continued attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, involved suicide missions or vehicles armed with bombs that have been the common tactic thus far.

In Mumbai, a small army was dispatched in the center of an urban setting and turned it into a battlefield. From operations that have been purely carried out by bombings and suicide missions lasting a few seconds, this new brand of terrorism lasted days and took the form of urban guerilla warfare where the number of casualties could have increased by the minute had the situation not been contained. The disruption and paralysis of everyday life including economic activities also became uncertain in terms of the length of time, as well as the loss of life and damage to property the terrorist attack will ultimately achieve.

Greater Coordination Required
This new brand of terrorism requires more in terms of resources and capabilities out of counter-insurgency operations. In suicide attacks, emergency units, police and military personnel are dispatched to contain the situation and provide emergency support for the injured or for personnel trapped in the areas affected by the attack. In this new urban guerilla operation, emergency units, police and the military personnel have to stay engaged for prolonged periods of time, in not only fighting the insurgents but in protecting innocent lives in the line of fire including journalists in the field who are covering the scene while the situation develops.

In terms of equipment terrorists have access to, The Statesman reported on November 30th, “the tech-savvy terrorists used satellite phones to ensure there was no record of conversations between them and their handlers.” This goes to show that in this urban guerilla battlefield, the enemy is just as well equipped in the area of satellite communications as the country’s defense units. Moreover, security requirements for public places may now fall within the purview and domain of militaries where in the past, this was within the jurisdiction of the police. As terrorists can now target virtually any public place for prolonged periods of time such as hotels as in Mumbai, malls, coliseums, cinemas or even hospitals, security measures will have to be boosted where military-grade solutions may have to be implemented in order to secure public premises.

Here, the underlying change in terrorist tactics will now require greater cooperation and coordination between the military and civil agencies, including local authorities. Indeed, the NSR Analyst in Mumbai, Prashant Butani, who experienced first-hand events of the attack, believes that no longer are a country’s borders the only regions that warrant protection. The new face of war is not aimed at drawing trained soldiers to the battlefield but taking the battlefield into the homes, offices and gathering places of the common man. Combating warfare of this genre requires training civilians in emergency response, collaboration of military and civil defense agencies and finally equipping them with the right training, technology and information.

Civilian Empowerment
Satellite communications equipment is in the hands of military entities, terrorist groups and other forces on both sides of the conflict. Those who are increasingly caught in the line of fire or are inadvertently forced to be engaged in terrorist conflicts may need satellite communications equipment themselves for safety measures as well as for helping fight the enemy in case of an attack.

In its latest market research report, Government & Military Demand on Commercial Satellites, 5th Edition, NSR outlined the number of in-service units required to support government and military activities around the globe. Despite calls for troops to return from Iraq, growth of in-service units is expected to increase at a steady rate as other activities around the globe such as Afghanistan increase, as promised by President-elect Barack Obama. With the Mumbai bombings and the recent activities in Pakistan including bombings carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), activities within South Asia for both military and counter-terrorism measures should further boost demand for communications units to better address a situation that may continue to deteriorate and become protracted over the near term. And with the new phase of terrorism, requirements towards civilian empowerment could lead to development of new application suites. These applications could include at a minimum, back-up communications capabilities when terrestrial services become unavailable if or when terrorists strategically knock-off terrestrial communications facilities. A select group of civilians may also be called upon to alert military and civilian authorities that a terrorist activity may be unfolding where a special feature in a dual-mode terrestrial/satellite mobile phone with GPS capability could immediately alert authorities to send troops or civil agents to a potential hotspot.

In Mumbai, it was reported that paratroopers from Delhi were sent more than nine hours after the initial attacks took place, a situation that has angered many of India’s citizens due to the slowness of its government’s response. As civil groups continue to become frustrated with government response, proactive measures may indeed become necessary in preparing for the next attack. It was reported that many people around the globe and in and around the scene of attacks sent and received text messages, BLOGs and other forms of messages. The information relayed may not be 100 percent accurate but it was instant. In Mumbai, some put a premium over instantaneous information ahead of accuracy. In the future, accuracy and real-time information will be critical.