Friday, February 3rd, 2023 02:54:03


Updated: December 6, 2022 1:33 pm

Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) or paramilitary forces in public parlance, have always been considered a critical part of India’s internal security mechanism, without which wars against anti-national elements can’t be taken to a logical conclusion and socio-political order in the country can’t be maintained. While the three branches of the Indian armed forces (army, navy and air force) are expected to counter external security threats at the border, paramilitary organisations such as Assam Rifles, Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), and special forces like National Security Guard (NSG), along with state police forces, are expected to reign in internal sub-conventional level threats emanating from isolated pockets and closely guard the nation’s vital strategic installations from enemies. It goes without any saying that these troopers need better weapons along with cutting edge communication gadgets, to live up to the best of national leadership’s expectations.

NSG (National Security Guard) commandos participating at the 2021 Republic Day Parade in New Delhi

Replacing old assault rifles
Assault rifles are one of the primary service weapons being used by CAPF troopers in sub-conventional level battlefields. Starting with close quarter battle (CQB) engagements with left-wing insurgents in an asymmetric warfare environment and ending with long-range shooting at infiltrating terrorists at the border, the assault rifle remains the standard issue weapon of paramilitary soldiers for countering threats. While the Indian government decided to phase out the L1A1 Self Loading Rifles (SLR) and the highly obsolete Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles from the Indian Army’s armoury during the early 1990s, many of these scrapped weapons were handed over to CAPFs till the advent of INSAS (Indian National Small Arms System) weapons in the late 1990s. Large numbers of AK series rifles were also inducted into paramilitary forces as a stopgap measure until the induction of INSAS weapons.
Three variants of INSAS which included an automatic assault rifle, a carbine and a light machine gun (squad automatic weapon) were planned by the Indian Ordnance Factory Board (IOFB) which entered serial production in 1997. The weapons were displayed during the 1998 Republic Day parade in Delhi.


CISF personnel with canine squads guarding Delhi Airport -CISF

Capable of firing the 5.56X45mm ammunition, the INSAS underwent the first combat use during the 1999 Kargil war during which a lot of issues came up regarding the battle-worthiness and the quality of the weapon system. Indian Army and paramilitary soldiers have frequently complained of the rifle jamming during automatic firing. There are also reports of the weapon firing in fully automatic mode while it was set to fire three-round bursts, thus rapidly draining out ammo during long-range target engagements. Reports of the magazines cracking in cold weather and high-altitude conditions has also come up quite frequently. It is thus proved that INSAS isn’t the gun the Indian Army or CAPFs are looking for in order to meet their long-term operational requirements.

While, there is an increasing thrust on replacing some of the ageing INSAS weapons with the Russian-designed AK series automatic assault rifles capable of firing the highly penetrating 7.62X39mm calibre rounds, the orders are still running short of addressing the massive deficit. With the CRPF itself having almost three lakh active personnel, the union government approved the initial batch of 36,000 AK-47 rifles for quick import and induction into the force. As a matter of great disgrace, the vintage INSAS rifles also remain as the mainstay service weapon of the BSF. With over 2.5 lakh active BSF personnel serving the nation, the availability of AK series rifles is very limited.
Other CAPFs like the ITBP, CISF and SSB also suffers from modern infantry combat weapons shortage and are ill-equipped with the infamous INSAS weapons. There is an urgent need to arm all 14-lakh active duty CAPF troopers with cutting edge AK series rifles at the earliest. In March, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone of a manufacturing unit of AK-203 rifles at the Ordnance Factory in Amethi. More than 7,50,000 rifles are supposed to be initially manufactured in the new plant under full technology transfer from Russian firm Izhmash.

The joint venture project between the OFB and the Russian corporation is also expected to manufacture 13,00,000 additional AK-203 rifles for Indian paramilitary forces in the long run. The new weapon will be capable of firing shots up to an effective range of 500 metres and can be equipped with detachable UBGLs and optical/ infrared night sights. The weapon is considered one of the deadliest rifles in its class and is capable of firing LRDLOS (Long Range Direct Line of Sight) shots up to a maximum range of 800 metres with a firing rate of 600 bullets a minute. But, while the order book of Indian Army to acquire these new weapons are being readied, the order book for CAPFs still hangs in abeyance due to bureaucratic logjams and the union government’s inaction. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently stressing upon ‘Atmanirbharta’, it is time for some solid action in this domain by sprucing up of orders.

Acquisition of newer carbines
While the assault rifles play an important role in long-range target engagements, short-to-medium range targets can be easily neutralised with carbine weapons. Carbines play a pivotal role in effectively hitting terrorists in difficult terrain where the visual range is limited by topographical challenges. Such weapons are also used by special forces during RI (Room Intervention) operations in indoor environments for tackling hostage crisis like situations. As carbines are firearms with shorter barrels, the bullets have limited range while compared to traditional assault rifle rounds. Currently, the CRPF, BSF and ITBP are equipped with limited numbers of Heckler and Koch MP-5 weapons. Some 68,000 Beretta MX-4 Storm carbines are also being procured for BSF for replacing the ageing Sterling submachine guns. Many CISF units guarding public utilities like airports, Delhi Metro stations and vital strategic installations are yet to acquire the newer carbines. While the political establishment of the country can always explore the option of importing carbines from foreign manufacturers, many indigenous options are also on the table.

A new carbine version of INSAS dubbed as the ‘Amogh carbine’ project took shape during the first half of 2000s decade. Being a derivative of the Excalibur project, the new weapon is capable of firing 5.56X30mm MINSAS rounds up to a distance of 200 metres. The weapon was based on a gas-operated, rotating-bolt and long-stroke piston with a rate of fire of 700 to 900 rounds per minute. Amogh was a dual-mode gun (single-shot and automatic) and had fixed iron sights with front sights (post type) and rear sights (aperture type) for accurate shooting. But the project was reportedly scrapped after the weapon was rejected by the Indian Army during user trials in 2017 due to its loud sounds and undesirably huge muzzle flashes. The new weapon can be handed over to CAPFs in limited numbers to test its battle-worthiness.

Another brand-new carbine christened as ‘MSMC’ (Modern Sub Machine Carbine) has been designed by the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) under the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured by OFB which ran parallel to the Amogh project during the latter half of the 2000s decade. The MSMC weapon, also known as the JVPC (Joint Venture Protective Carbine), is designed to fire the same 5.56X30mm MINSAS ammunition as used in Amogh.

The MSMC has a grip-feeding ‘Uzi’- like design which is capable of firing shots up to 300 metres range. It is fitted with a picatinny rail mechanism on the upper receiver for placing of optical/ infrared night sights. Iron sights are also built into the receiver which has made the weapon very effective for CQ engagements. MSMC is well calibrated to play the role of a submachinegun (SMG). Its ergonomics have been improved for boosting the export potential and the rounds were capable of penetrating even soft armour (bulletproof jackets). After three successful trials of the weapon system in 2006, 2007 and in 2009, the weapon was showcased during Defence Expo-2010 held in New Delhi. After undergoing further trials between April and June, 2010, MSMC was handed over to the Indian Army for final user trials in August, 2011. The gun was pitted against foreign-made weapons like H&K MP-7 and FN-P90 during the tests, the results of which were reported to be extremely satisfactory by the OFB.

The Indian Army, however, eventually rejected the weapon as the GSQRs (General Staff Qualitative Requirements) were raised for acquiring rifles capable of firing 7.62mm rounds. But the future of the MSMC/JVPC gun looks very bright as the weapon was formally handed over to the then Home Minister Rajnath Singh by erstwhile Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in 2017 for starting the user trials with Indian paramilitary units. The CRPF has conducted user trials of JVPC and has found extremely satisfactory results.

The Chhattisgarh Police has also ordered 640 JVPC guns for operational deployment with field units. The weapon can also be used by all paramilitary organisations as a primary weapon in the not-too-distant future. The MSMC is considered one of the best carbines in its category by renowned weapon experts and has found its place in a niche first-person shooter video game- Call of Duty: Black Ops-2 which has proved to be an eye candy for global video game enthusiasts. It is time to bulk-produce the MSMC for CAPFs and paramilitary special forces units, along with state police forces, and also explore the export potentials of this highly sophisticated indigenously developed advanced weapon system.

CRPF’s newly-inducted female COBRA commandos during a drill

New pistols for RI ops
A pistol plays a very important role of a sidearm (secondary weapon) of a paramilitary soldier. Due to the frequent ricocheting of heavy automatic assault rifle rounds and high velocity carbine rounds in indoor environments, it is much safer and easier to use low calibre pistols during RI (Room Intervention) operations. RI missions during hostage crisis-like situations demand the presence of special forces units. While pistols like SIG Sauer P226, FN Five-seven and Glock-17 are standard issue firearms for Indian military’s special forces, Indian paramilitary soldiers are issued the ‘Pistol Auto 9mm 1A’ of 1970s vintage. As the 21st battlefield has gone a massive transformation since the turn of the new millennium due to widespread usage of asymmetric warfare tactics by jihadi terrorists and left-wing insurgents, it is quite evident that all active paramilitary personnel must be equipped with a modern secondary firearm for handling a multitude of situations. It may take several hours for mobilising special forces commandos for handling a hostage situation. But if regular paramilitary soldiers are armed with a modern sidearm like the Glock-17 or an underwater pistol like the ‘Heckler & Koch P-11’, CRPF/ BSF/ITBP/CISF personnel can handle the crisis by using the manpower and resources at their disposal at the earliest without waiting for the army to intervene.

Protective body-armours and helmets
The body-armour is always considered a very crucial safety equipment for a soldier which protects him/her from rifle and carbine rounds fired by the enemy. While traditional body-armour being used the Indian paramilitary soldiers consist of a metal armour-plating, modern-day bulletproof jackets (BPJ) are made with a modular design capable of resisting high-energy impacts from both lead-core and steel-core bullets. Recently, the union government has ordered a very limited numbers of modular BPJs for the Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs) of CRPF deployed in Kashmir, whereas the BSF, ITBP and CISF still continue to use the bulky iron-plated BPJs of 1980s vintage.
Other than acquisition of newer BPJs for CAPFs, the government also needs to acquire bulletproof Kevlar helmets for paramilitary soldiers in large numbers which not just protect the heads but will also render additional protection to the neck area of troopers. There is also an urgent need to gear up the CAPF troopers with bulletproof kneepads, elbow pads and groin pads for shielding the body’s vital organs during close quarter engagements with armed terrorists.

Latest electronic gears
Night Vision Devices (NVD) are one of the prominent force-multipliers in the conventional and asymmetrical realms in the tactical-level battlefield. Other than night warfare, NVDs also play a significant role during target engagements in lowlight daytime conditions. At present, CAPFs (especially the BSF and CRPF), are ill-equipped as far as NVDs are concerned. The NVDs held by Indian paramilitary troopers are lagging behind in technology and are too few in numbers. The limited numbers of second-generation devices are more of a hindrance than an asset and very few third-generation NVDs are issued to special forces.

Ideally, each regular paramilitary soldier should be equipped with an NVD. However, even if 50 percent of the CAPF personnel are provided with NVDs, it would be a substantial capacity enhancement. The latest Generation-3-plus or Generaton-3 Omni-7 NVDs should be handed over to Indian paramilitary forces in large numbers and focus should also be on developing fourth generation gated/filmless technology-based NVDs for CAPF troopers. There is also an urgent need to equip the CAPFs with cutting-edge SDRs (software-defined radios). Usage of latest communication gadgetry based on digital technologies is the need of the hour. Widespread implementation of SDR equipment with paramilitary personnel will also prove to be a massive boon in this domain.

It will be very prudent to conclude that Home Minister Amit Shah should find some way to circumvent the pertinent obstacles. Paramilitary and police modernisation has always been considered as a very capital-intensive affair for obvious financial issues involved in execution of such a massive exercise. The union government must make a golden beginning by arranging the funds through widescale privatisation of PSUs. A steady build-up of budgetary resources for modernising CAPFs and state police forces will prove to be a blessing for India in the long run..

(The author is a Delhi-based aerospace and defence journalist.)

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