India upgrading border defense with high-tech headsets

India upgrading border defense with high-tech headsets

Mandeep Singh

After a year that included the bloodiest border conflicts between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and India in more than four decades, New Delhi is developing augmented reality head-mounted display (ARHMD) technology to improve its land-based air defense missile systems.

The system overlays radar and thermal imaging displays for the operator, thereby increasing the effectiveness of weapons and helping defend against airborne border incursions. “The proposed system intends to enhance the engagement capability during night [operations] and conditions of inclement weather,” according to India’s Ministry of Defence.

That capability could prove vital along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory in the Himalayas, where heavy cloud cover and snowfall limit visibility.

“An enhanced anti-aircraft capability of our forward troops on the LAC is absolutely essential to deter the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] from interfering with our defenses and defend our lines of communication, fortifications … and logistics assets against PRC provocations along the India-China border,” Dr. Tej Kumar Tikoo, a retired Indian Army colonel, told FORUM.

Tensions along the India-China border have been on the rise for the past six years, culminating in a June 2020 clash in Galwan Valley that left 20 or more Soldiers dead on each side, according to the BBC. It took place where India’s Ladakh region meets Chinese-controlled Tibet. (Pictured: An Indian Army convoy traverses a road bordering China in September 2020.)

The most recent minor clash occurred in late January 2021, farther east along the 3,440 kilometers of disputed border in Naku La, which separates the Indian state of Sikkim from Tibet.

Beijing and New Delhi agreed in February 2021 to a “simultaneous disengagement” of their forces at Pangong Lake on the Ladakh-Tibet border, South Asia analyst Dr. Daniel S. Markey wrote in an April 2021 report for the Council on Foreign Relations. That peace may be short-lived.

“Looking ahead,” Markey said, “the likelihood of persistent China-India tensions and simultaneous disputes remains high.”

PLA helicopters are a common sight on the side of the LAC controlled by Beijing, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. They were observed flying sorties near the border in May 2020, just weeks before the Galwan clash.

ARHMD technology, with its mix of augmented reality and thermal imaging, promises to boost Indian border patrols, according to the Defence Ministry.

The Indian Army announced in February 2021 that it would procure 556 ARHMD units. Vendors were solicited to develop a prototype under the Defence Ministry’s Make-II initiative for the indigenous design, development and manufacture of equipment and weapons systems.

The headsets are intended for use by operators of man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) and anti-aircraft autocannons, according to the ministry.

“MANPADS are eminently suited to take on airborne platforms, particularly helicopters,” Tikoo said, adding that the equipment is essential to anti-aircraft capability.

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.