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Laser light on terror war

Lucknow, April 6: A laser technique that can be used to map terrain with high accuracy, penetrating even dense foliage, could help India boost its war on terror and guerrilla groups hiding in forests, experts and former defence officers have said.

Aerial surveillance based on the light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology may help security agencies track down terror cells in deep forests more easily than conventional aerial photography, experts attending a LIDAR training programme at IIT Kanpur said.

“This is a technology to create very accurate 3D maps of terrain very fast,” said Bharat Lohani, associate professor of civil engineering at IIT Kanpur, who had organised the five-day training programme.

The technology will be a “boon to anti-insurgency operations” in the forests of the Northeast, Bastar, Andhra Pradesh and in the mountainous terrain of Jammu and Kashmir, said R.C. Padha, a former defence officer who participated in the training.

LIDAR technology can be used to pinpoint militant activities in deep forests which are often favoured hideouts of terror and guerrilla groups, including Naxalites, an expert at the programme said.

The LIDAR system placed on an aircraft sends laser pulses to the ground 400 times a second. These strike the surface and bounce back to the source, allowing operators to create a detailed 3D image of the terrain.

The laser pulses can yield detailed information about terrain altitudes, measuring even the height of grass in an area. Scientists say this capacity of the LIDAR may be used to identify forest pathways that have been eroded by human footfalls.

Security experts point out that Naxalites in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have managed to resist police and security forces by staying put in the thick jungles. Heavy foliage has been a major bottleneck in the police attempt to bust Naxalite cells.

“Conventional aerial surveillance cannot achieve this,” said an expert. “But a LIDAR can go through foliage and help create maps of areas with dense vegetation.”

Detailed 3D maps of specific locations could also help security agencies prepare in advance for attacks against terror groups, the expert said. “Security personnel could be far better trained when they go in.”

But IIT Kanpur’s Lohani said the focus of the workshop was civilian applications. “Any long-term urban planning would require detailed topographic images, but there aren’t enough of such maps being generated in India,” he said.

LIDAR facilitates extremely fast map generation, Lohani said. For example, he pointed out, the entire city of Kanpur could be covered by an aircraft flying over the city for just two days, and all terrain data could be processed for storage within four weeks.

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