Brig Khutab Hai, MD & CEO Defence Land Systems India, hands over the key to the first MPV-I to Jharkhand Additional DG Police, BB Pradhan
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Aug 11
For a decade, hapless jawans travelling across the Naxal belt in shoddy mine-protected vehicles (MPVs) built by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) rested their hopes for survival on a single bizarre test. In this, a live pig was strapped into an MPV, which was then subjected to a mine blast at a MoD facility near Chandigarh. The pig survived and so too, it was assumed, would the jawans.
Beginning today, these policemen have more to pin their hopes on. At its production facility near Palwal, Haryana, Defence Land Systems India (DLSI) handed over to the Jharkhand Police the first of 6 modern mine protected vehicles for that landmine prone state. Designed by South African vehicle protection specialist, OMC, the Jharkhand Police’s new Mine Protected Vehicle – India (MPV-I) has been tested in South Africa to global standards, using million-dollar mannequins, and found capable of protecting passengers even when subjected to a blast from 21 kilos of TNT.
DLSI, a joint venture between the Mahindra group and UK-based BAE Systems (Mahindra 74%: BAE Systems 26%), anticipates a burgeoning market for protected vehicles. The Mahindra group began its charge into the defence market with protected vehicles, selling about 1500 smaller models since 2001, including the Rakshak, the Marksman and the Rapid Intervention Vehicle (RIV). But the big money is in MPVs, each of which costs close to one crore rupees. In that, there has been little headway until this first order from the Jharkhand Police.
“The equipping of police forces in the Naxal-affected states with 300 MPVs will reduce casualties by some 90%,” argues Brigadier (Retired) Khutab Hai, who heads Mahindra’s defence business. This year alone, almost 300 security personnel have been killed or injured in blasts from 76 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the crude but powerful devices that insurgents have mastered.
But in the Maoist heartland of Chhatisgarh, MPVs have disappointed. In early 2005, there was euphoria after all 17 policemen travelling in a MPV survived a Naxal IED attack in Narayanpur, in Bastar. But that enthusiasm was short-lived as the Naxals modified their tactics. In their next attack, in Bijapur district in September 2005, they replaced the 10-kilo Narayanpur IED with a massive 40-kilo IED, targeting an MPV procured from Ordnance Factory, Medak. The force of that blast threw the MPV up in the air, killing 24 CRPF jawans whose bodies were barely recognisable. After that, the security forces in Chhatisgarh shrink from travelling in MPVs, except on blacktopped highways where no IEDs can be buried.
“An MPV makes an attractive target for the Naxals and, as we increase the armour, they just increase the explosive in the IED. In Chhatisgarh we use MPVs only for activities like convoy escort, where they can be used as mobile pillboxes from where policemen can fire on insurgents that are attempting an ambush. But for off-the-road movement, the security forces have to rely on smaller, less conspicuous vehicles or, better still, move on foot,” says Brigadier (Retired) Basant Ponwar, who heads the Chhatisgarh government’s Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare (CTJW) college in Kanker.
As recently as 10th June, near Dantewada in Bastar, 10 policemen who were travelling in an MPV at night, were killed in an IED attack.
But the Jharkhand Police, which has already bought 150 smaller protected vehicles from DLSI, is confident that its new MPV-I will serve their purpose. Says BB Pradhan, Additional DG Police, Jharkhand : “Our first responsibility is to protect our men from the explosions of landmines. There is no real foolproof protection from landmine attacks, the world over. But technology is improving everyday…. I am very optimistic that the MPV-I will prove successful.”
Besides purchases by Naxal-affected states, DLSI hopes for orders from the army, a potentially large user of MPVs. There is a viewpoint that MPVs could serve a dual purpose: for counter-insurgency operations in peacetime and to convey jawans into enemy territory during war, for attacks on enemy strong points or important towns. While no army requirement has been formalised, or tender issued, the acceptance of this viewpoint would make the army a major buyer of MPVs.
The MPV-I traces its design back to the redoubtable Casspir MPVs, which the Indian Army used extensively in J&K. The special armoured steel for the MPV-I’s protective body comes from Sweden; it is built into a monocoque body using kits imported from South Africa. The engine and chassis are from Russian Ural vehicles that are manufactured at Haldia, West Bengal. Using these inputs, DLSI has the capacity to build 100-120 MPV-I per year.
The Tatas and Ashok Leyland have also tried to crack the MPV market, but without success. Their MPVs are significantly lighter than DLSI’s and are designed to withstand just 8-10 kilos of TNT, compared to the 21 kilo blast-resistance of the MPV-I. The six-wheeled MPV-I also provides greater safety than the four-wheeled Tata and Leyland MPVs.