Seeking Solutions

IEDs remain the most potent threat to security forces

Yunus Dar | New Delhi

Some quarters inside the Indian Army feel that the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have become the biggest enemy of the forces because they result in colossal casualties. IED attacks result in more deaths and injuries than attacks from any other type of weapon except firearms. Easy availability and lethality have resulted in their widespread use in every conflict around the world. Analysts estimate that about half of the world’s countries have currently been impacted by IEDs.

An IED blast topples over a CRPF mine protected vehicle

IEDs are a class of weapons that are simple to design, and whose components remain cheap and easily accessible. These weapons are usually available through criminal networks and porous borders, and as a result of corruption and poor ammunition stockpile management. Consequently, IEDs are being increasingly preferred by anti-national elements across the Indian states. And these weapons will remain a significant threat in days to come because of the advantages they offer to terrorists.

India is among countries which have had maximum bomb blasts – in fact, according to National Bomb Data Centre (NBDC), in 2017, the country had the highest number of bomb blasts in the world, including 337 IED blasts, which was more than even Iraq and Pakistan in that year.

Chhattisgarh registered the highest number at 60 while Jammu and Kashmir saw 31, Kerala 33, Manipur 40, Odisha 29, Tamil Nadu 32 and West Bengal 30. The Left-wing Extremism (LWE) affected states account for about 47 per cent of the IED blast occurrences in India, while the overall rate across the country shot up significantly in the last few years.

IEDs are the biggest challenge for the security forces in the Red Corridor. The IED option has been the most preferred one by the Maoists, which in the last five years has claimed the lives of at least 300 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. The highly talked about Mine Protected Vehicles (MPV), which security forces frequently use, have proved to be a disappointment and failed to protect the personnel. The ministry of home affairs (MHA) often draws parallel with the United States Army in Afghanistan, who, they say were not able to solve the IED problem.

The existing MPVs that the CRPF deploys have been unable to sustain the intensity of IED blasts. The MPVs had been described as ‘coffin on wheels’ in 2011 by K. VijayKumar, then CRPF DG, while also acknowledging their effectiveness in moving troops and fending off ballistic ambushes. The high detonation velocity explosives like RDX often shatter the metallic hull of the MPV whereas the low detonator velocity explosives (used by Naxals) tend to topple it. The toppling of the vehicle increases the casualties inside. The CRPF wishes to acquire MPVs that can sustain high detonation velocities.

The mine resistant ambush protection (MRAP) vehicles come with a V-shaped undercarriage to deflect blast pressure away from the occupants, giving less shockwaves to the troops inside the vehicle. The modern MRAPs weigh much less as these vehicles are made from lighter and stronger steel. These vehicles also feature suspended seats to protect riders from the shock waves emanating from the blasts below.

The private Indian industries such as Tata Motors, Mahindra and Ashok Leyland, have also come up with efficient MRAP offerings, that have been adapted to Indian conditions. The early generation MPVs need to be retired as insurgents can simply overtake them by increasing the amount of explosives used in the IEDs. India needs to induct newer generation MRAPs on an urgent basis. They may not be totally invulnerable, but they do offer better protection than earlier generation vehicles and also increase the cost of the IED war for the insurgents, who will need more quantity of explosives to cause any considerable damage.

The CRPF has felt the need to induct large number of MPVs, while also the urgency to strengthen the technology that can counter IED attacks. The force has also been looking for mine detectors as a key technology to protect from IED attacks. The procurement of high-end deep search metal detectors and explosive vapour detectors is also being sought. The former senses the presence of metal beneath the ground while the latter detects the vapour emanating from explosives used in IEDs. Various handheld devices are currently in service with the CRPF, and there is clearly a requirement for more such devices.

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