The state police terms it as ‘Anti Landmine Vehicle’ whereas the paramilitary calls it ‘Mine Protection Vehicle’ (MPV). Though there prevails confusion over what to call it, there is no confusion about what to NOT expect from it – protection from landmines. Yes, in a theatre where 70 percent of casualties are attributed to landmines, our best foot forward – a dedicated MPV is a proven vulnerable platform. Shockingly, such is the state of mind of our soldiers that they would rather walk for miles on end in cruel heat but travel in these coffin-on-wheels MPVs.
It is said that the Maoists never repeat a mistake. It can be said for our leadership that we never learn from our mistake. Failure of MPVs to inspire any confidence among its users is a case in the point.
When I broached this topic with a young IPS officer, lets call him S, posted in the ‘hot’ zone of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, what he said came across as a slap on the face of our leadership. S said, “We never use these MPVs. They offer no protection. The Maoists know very well by now what is the intake capacity of MPVs and often pack in more explosives to rip these vehicles apart.” The slap doesn’t end there. “Yes, under the cover of darkness we sometimes use these MPVs but only to transport logistical stuff and rations. Since it is useless otherwise, we can at least use its space and transport rations,” he reasoned. What S did not say was that he and his men are forced to use MPVs as trucks!
All along, our government continues to march on.
On July 29, 2009, Minister of state for defence, Mr. Pallam Raju, while replying to a question asked in the Parliament said that Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) has manufactured 243 MPVs between 2004 to 2009 (http://www.pib.nic.in/release/release.asp?relid=51156). Very efficiently, he also added that all of these MPVs have been distributed across 10 states which are battling Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in different proportions with Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh getting the maximum number of MPVs for obvious reasons. He also added that these MPVs could protect personnel sitting inside against explosives upto 14kg of TNT.
He however did not explain as to why a model of MPV manufactured in 2004 looked and had the same features as does a model which has rolled out in 2009. While we may be seeing the Maoists adopting a spectacular new tactic with every operation of theirs, for our babus in OFB or home ministry the Maoist too are caught in a time warp.
When I asked the Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Mr. Vikram Shrivastava, if he had ever questioned the government on the mindless production and usage of the MPVs for his force, he was not too keen on answering me. “There are internal mechanisms to voice your feelings if you feel any asset is not appropriate. Such public discourse of technical matters may not be proper,” he said after I persisted. However, another senior CRPF officer was forthcoming. An IPS officer, he said, “I have questioned these MPVs. It is silly that our men are being led into this machine which does not offer protection. It is a grave error to give your forces a false sense of security.”
Well, the Home Minister Mr. P Chidambaram presented his ministry’s report card five days ago. In it, the section related to Anti-Maoist expenditure, there was no mention of study/modification/update/procurement of MPVs.
The Motor Transport (MT) wing of the police or any security set up is required to upkeep all the vehicles it has in its fleet. It obviously implies that they ought to have a better understanding of not only Mahindra Bolero that the force uses, but also of MPVs, if they have any. The police force in Bastar has many. Said V, a police constable working in the MT wing there, “Maoists have done a great detailed study of these MPVs.” I asked him to explain. With more than 25 years of service in these troubled regions, he had a lot to. “In 2004-05, when MPVs were new, it took them (read Maoists) a while to understand. They slowly started laying landmines on the road and would detonate them whenever an MPV would pass. Gradually, they started learning that if the mine is blasted under the front portion of an MPV, the vehicle won’t sustain much damage. Apart from a small shake-up, the vehicle would continue plying. And throughout this period, Maoists had to simply waste their explosives just to know the capacity and weakness of an MPV,” V explained. Within a year, they understood. And they started scoring hits after hits, even as security personnel were lulled into believing that MPVs would offer them all the protection they wanted.
V then gave out a very crucial piece of experience he came to learn, Maoists now pack in more than 25kg of explosives and often detonate it below the rear wheel of MPVs. When they follow this combination, the MPV tosses up like a toy and by the time it lands, most parts of it have disintegrated. And even though the personnel inside may not die of bullets or explosives but this violent movement causes them serious head and spine injuries. Serious enough to kill.
What Pallam Raju told the Parliament in 2009 about the capacity of an MPV against an explosive, the Maoists came to know of in 2005.
And yet the government marches on.
Feedback from ground zero
Done with speaking to the officers, I was now eager to speak to the actual users of these MPVs, our jawans. So, I managed to locate two of them who have experienced the functioning and failing of an MPV. The common issue both brought out, albeit after assuring and re-assuring them that their identities won’t be revealed, was that the MPV needed a device which could act as an early warning mechanism thereby detecting a mine before actually setting itself on it. And given the plethora of mine detectors available in the market, am sure our researchers can make such modifications.
Americans & Landmine warfare
Recalling the 2003 Iraq experience of the US’s elite Marine Corps, General James Conway, Commandant, Marine Corps in a memorandum to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff committee in March 2007, wrote, ” The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (the American cousin of our MPV), vehicle has a dramatically better record of preventing fatal and serious injuries from attacks by IEDs. The Commander of Multinational Force West estimates that the use of MRAP could reduce the casualties in vehicles due to IED attacks by as much as 80 percent.” By April 2007 there had been 300 IED attacks in Iraq against the MRAP since it was introduced in 2006, and not one death in those attacks. According to Marine Corps BG John Allen, Deputy Commander of Coalition Forces in Anbar Province, there had been an average of less than one injured marine per attack on the vehicles, while attacks on other types of vehicles caused more than two casualties per attack, including deaths.
I am television journalist so when I was last in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh and Iwas working on this report, I approached many senior officers of the police and the paramilitary to give me a sound byte on the topic. Not surprisingly, not one agreed. Won’t blame them. It would be suicidal. They were very supportive and gave me lots of time to discuss this issue. One of them even ordered his men to bring their MPVs out of the garage so that my cameraman could shoot them for my report!
Tragedy and MPVs go hand in hand I guess. Because the day my completed report was to appear on air i.e May 22, 2010, also happened to bring with it the Mangalore air crash tragedy. Since it happened right at the start of the day, my report on MPV got no visibility at all.
This is thus just a small effort to highlight what I felt strongly about.