Are MPVs safe enough in anti-Naxal ops ?

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 14 Mar 2018 10:51:04






By Mukesh S Singh

It was a tragedy that could have been surely averted had the rank and file of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the top brasses, ensured a thorough compliance of Standard Operating Procedures (SoP), by their Anti Naxal Ops troopers on the killing plains of Kistaram in restive Sukma district. The fateful day was a fallout of blatant violation of SOP, usually the security forces are expected to adhere in response to Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC) being observed by the Maoist guerrillas.
However, the blowing up of CRPF troopers-laden Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) – also once upon a time negatively referred as ‘Coffin on Wheels’ by the then CRPF Director General K Vijay Kumar – brought to fore the horrific and devastating picture of April 13, 2015 Cholnar in Dantewada in which the rebels triggered a powerful blast targeting the MPV, leading to death of four security forces (SFs) personnel and injury to seven others.

If a precise reference is to be quoted, in the backdrop of today’s ambush, the Maoists targeted an MPV after two years and 11 month. For their own reasons, even CRPF had reduced the use of MPVs in operations against the Maoists as reported way back in October 2011.  
As explained by some security analysts and counter insurgency experts, MPV does not guarantee security of lives in Maoist-afflicted areas. “The 11-tonne armoured vehicle is designed to withstand low-yield conventional mines and not IEDs. No MPV, at least for now, can weather IED explosion of such a huge intensity.

Security forces personnel, both from State and Centre, in Chhattisgarh have been supplied MPVs by Vehicle Factory Jabalpur (VFJ) – a unit of Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) in Madhya Pradesh and Madek (Andhra Pradesh). Three years ago and for the first time, Tata Motors, the private automobile giant of the country, supplied 12 MPVs to be used by the security forces. The MPV targeted by Maoists in Kistaram today was the one manufactured by OFB Madek. “It would not be an exaggeration of facts if I had to underline that the massacre of nine bravehearts of 212nd Battalion in today’s ambush was ‘height of gross negligence’ on multiple counts and levels in the light of undeniable and irrefutable facts the Maoists have targeted MPVs over a dozen times since 2005,” a senior IPS, who has served in Special Intelligence Branch (SIB), told The Hitavada.

Insiders revealed that though the CRPF troopers inside the MPV in today’s incident had strapped safety belt and also wore protective head gear, they could not sustain the shock wave generated from such high-magnitude IED blast. “It seemed that the Maoists used nearly 80 kg of explosives, which tossed the ill-fated MPV in the air and its shockwave led to spot-killing of the nine troopers on board,” they maintained. According to the insiders, the MPV has been designed in such a way that it can withstand 21 KG of TNT equivalent explosions under any wheel, and 14 KG of TNT equivalent explosions directly under crew compartment. “But in today’s incident, the way the axle and wheels were thrown away to considerable distance from the body-frame of MPV are enough indications that Maoists used TNT weighing over 80-kilograms. The blast impact also ripped through the armoured body shell of the MPV,” they observed.

Unconfirmed reports also stated that some of troopers killed in the today’s ambush had recently returned to duty from leave while some of them on board were learnt to be returning after getting rations. Another significant question raised by another IPS officer of State Police was as to who allowed the CRPF 212nd Battalion troopers to move in a MPV amidst the peak of TCOC being observed by the Maoist guerrillas. This was contrary to a glaring fact the guerrillas have acquired in-depth knowledge of MPVs weaknesses. According to a senior Intelligence officer, the Maoists have thoroughly analysed the functioning and defects of the MPVs regardless of their varying makes and their deployment in different conflict zones. The above said facts get further reinforced in the light of the recovery of operational manual of left-wing extremist cadre, which CRFP stumbled on a few years ago. These manuals, had a detailed information about how to lay mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) and ambush security forces, including the MPVs. In their maiden attack on an MPV resulting in fatalities, on September 3, 2005, in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh, 23 policemen and a civilian were killed. This targeting of an MPV followed a landmine blast carried out a few days earlier in which another MPV was paralysed.

While this earlier incident involved the use of eight kg of TNT equivalent of explosive material, in the September 3 incident, the Maoists multiplied the quantity of explosive material ten folds!Naxalites also had mined and ambushed a Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) in Bijapur district, killing 24 CRPF personnel. The MPV provided to the CRPF to protect against landmines was damaged. The attack was preceded by a Naxal operation in Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh where an MPV carrying the local SP was ambushed. The MPV was damaged, but unlike the Bijapur attack, it withstood the blast. The SP and two others in the MPV had to be airlifted by Army helicopters to safety. Thus, a pertinent question once again comes up whether MPVs should still be used by the security forces in Anti Naxal Ops?