Fully secure MPV is a mirage

There is no such thing as a mine-proof vehicle since it is linked to the quantity of RDX or TNT that it can withstand

By Author PV Ramana   |   Published: 10th May 2017   12:18 am Updated: 10th May 2017   12:29 am


Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or Maoists blew up a mine protected vehicle (MPV) on May 3 in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra. According to media reports, a C-60 commando of the Maharashtra police succumbed to injuries on his way to hospital, while 19 persons were injured and are recuperating in hospitals at Bhamragad, Gadchiroli and Nagpur — all in Maharashtra.

There were earlier incidents of security personnel being either killed or injured in improvised explosive device (IED) blasts targeting MPVs. On September 3, 2005, the rebels deployed an IED weighing 80 kg. In the incident, 23 CRPF personnel and a civilian driver were killed — the highest, thus far, in an IED attack involving an MPV. In another incident, 13 security personnel were killed and two others were injured when the MPV they were travelling in was targeted in Garhwa district of Jharkhand on January 21, 2012. Eleven INSAS rifles, two AKs and a revolver were looted in the incident.

Lessons Learnt
In their maiden attempt targeting an MPV (preceding the September 3 incident mentioned above), the rebels had set off an IED using eight kg of TNT equivalent of explosive material; the MPV was merely rendered immobile and there were no casualties/fatalities.
In the September 3 incident, Maoists multiplied the quantity of explosive material by 10 times! Thus, the first lesson was learnt! It was: ‘An MPV has the capability to withstand only a limited quantity of TNT equivalent of explosive material’. At present, the website of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) gives in detail the design features, technical data, protection capability among others of the MPV! An MPV can withstand a mine blast of ‘14 kg TNT under wheels and 10 kg under hull’. Earlier, the website had many more details that have been removed.

Task Made Easier
Thus, the Maoists did not have to experiment to know how to defeat an MPV. All the details are available for the asking! The Maoist military machine, the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), is headed by Nambala Kesava Rao alias Basavaraju, an MTech from the National Institute of Technology, Warangal, (formerly Regional Engineering College) which had in the past contributed several cadres to the rebel underground, including the son of Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, founder of the Maoists’ earlier avatar, Communist Party of India –– Marxist-Leninist (People’s War), popularly known as the PWG.

Besides, the guerrillas have made a systematic and thorough study of the MPV that is deployed in anti-Maoist operations. According to a senior intelligence officer from Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists have also analysed the functioning and defects of the various armoured vehicles/tanks (and their varying makes) that were deployed in different conflict theatres across the world. These include Casspir, M706, Alvis Saracen, Ratel 20, Humvee, Abraham and Bradley. They have concluded that ‘no such vehicle is foolproof from an attack’.

The rebels had noted in an internal document in 2005, which this author had the opportunity to read, that “… There is no such thing as a mine-proof vehicle, which had been manufactured anywhere in the world till now. They can only say how much of RDX or how many kilos of TNT blast it can withstand. What does it mean? Doesn’t it mean that it can be destroyed if the explosive is used in larger quantity?”

Expensive Proposition
The Maoists averred that the shell of the vehicle may accord protection and those travelling in it may not get killed, but the vehicle can certainly be damaged and rendered useless –– because the tyres, wheels, gearbox and axle can be damaged. And, even for minor repairs, it has to be sent back to the manufacturer –– in this case, the Ordnance Factory in Medak. Thus, they can effectively enforce the withdrawal of an MPV from deployment. Each MPV costs an estimated Rs 50 lakh. It is an expensive proposition to have large stocks of reserves to immediately replace the damaged ones.

It appears that the Maoists have also understood various other factors that are psychological and operational in nature. For instance, it has been noticed that there is a tendency to pack in more number of personnel inside an MPV than its seating capacity of 10-plus-2. Also, the impact of the blast would render the passengers shocked and dazed, at least momentarily. And as the passengers come out of the MPV, they could be targeted and killed. In case the doors get jammed and the security personnel are stuck inside the vehicle, it would be easier for the rebels to kill them by hurling a cocktail or napalm bomb. Possibly, it is for these reasons that the
security personnel are hesitant to use MPVs.

These lessons appear to have come in handy for the Maoists in the successive attacks on security personnel moving in MPVs, claiming their lives or injuring them.

(The author is Research Fellow – Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)