T72 tank in action at the exercise Indra inside the Mahajan Field Firing Range, Rajasthan. Photo: Indian Army
T72 tank in action at the exercise Indra inside the Mahajan Field Firing Range, Rajasthan. Photo: Indian Army

Intriguingly, over references of conducting raids of the type ‘which got Osama’ in a terrain ‘not dissimilar to that in Afghanistan’, the elite detachments of the Russian and Indian armies concluded the combat activities of ‘INDRA – 13’ exercise. Held in the semi-desert conditions on offer in Rajasthan’s Mahajan Field Firing Range, something which did not particularly suit the Russians, given their limited exposure in operating at high temperatures, the effort witnessed the participation of an array of armoured and mechanised forces as well as helicopters in versatile modes.

Operating for the last seven days, under a simulated United Nations ‘peacekeeping enforcement operation’, both the armies jointly plotted taking out rebel held territories, neutralising leaders and destruction of camps in a ‘newly-born nation torn apart by strife’. Towards this, live firing was carried out by T72 tanks, BMP Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs), attack helicopters like Mi35s as well as snipers and other small arms. Both sides pitched a complement of 250 officers and men each in which the Russians were represented by their 11 Airborne Battalion and Indians were by 6 Independent Armoured Brigade.


As appeared in the MAIL TODAY on October 26, 2013
As appeared in the MAIL TODAY on October 26, 2013

Interestingly, despite the exercise focussing on armoured and mechanised warfare, Russians came without any such assets, under a pre-decided arrangement. They were then provided Indian equipment to use for the exercise. It so happens that the Indian equipment that they handled was entirely of Russian origin.

Notwithstanding that or the language barrier between the two sides, there was mutual admiration even informally speaking. “These guys are tough. They are like us. Our men can go on devoid of food and other facilities till such time the task demands. This is not seen with armies that we’ve exercised with earlier like other European and Asian nations. But the Russians are different. They are tougher,” said an officer from the Indian Army’s 11 Armoured Regiment who’s tanks participated in the INDRA 2013. Similarly a senior Russian officer, speaking through an interpreter mentioned how he was impressed with the meticulousness ands maintenance of arms and assets by their Indian counterpparts. The two armies, also long-standing allies, managed to also integrate each other’s troops which meant Indian officers commanded Russian troops and vice versa – something seldom done even in joint exercises.

Special Forces being inducted into the exercise
Special Forces being inducted into the exercise

The affair however was not entirely smooth. It was informed that the schedule of the exercise had to be revised when during the sports activities in the initial days the Russians found it hard to operate in the searing heat of upto 38 degrees. “We are used to operate in temperatures nearing even 55 degrees but the Russians are not. We then re-shuffled our schedule to ensure that during the day time we had more conferences, planning and staff activities whereas post afternoon was when we actually stepped out. This year has been above average in terms of maximum temperature,” said one of the participants. Asked about the differences between the Russian and Indian armies, a senior Indian Army officer mentioned, “Foremost among them all is their approach. Russians believe in deploying overwhelming fire power whereas our approach calls for a very judicious use.”

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This was the sixth edition of the INDRA series which began with an exercise in Agra in 2005.

Russian Army soldier in action at the exercise.
Russian Army soldier in action at the exercise.

Allies of the past

India alongwith Russia and Iran were reportedly the principal backers for the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance which fought the Islamists in Afghanisthan after Kabul was taken over by the Taliban in 1996. A similar arrangement with the Russians, given the common threat from a resurgent Taliban threatening to undo all the gains of the past decade, can not be ruled out.
Army works out with the big five
With this exercise concluded, the army by the middle of next month would have completed exercises with all the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. “While the Americans, British and now Russians have come to India, with regards to the French and Chinese armies, our troops are on their soil,” said an army officer. From November 4-14, Indian troops will visit Chengdu in China for the next round of army to army exercises.

Modernisation of the MFFR
Acquired in 1982 at a cost of over Rs.64 crore, this field range extends to over 3 lakh acres. An exclusive domain of the army, nearly 1 lakh troops visit this range annually for firing practice. “From artillery to tanks to attack helicopters as also medium area weapons and small arms, this range has been neatly divided into sectors where all sorts of firing can take place.  The army is now in the  midst of modernising this range.

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Indo-Russian ties: Emerging scenarios force old allies to train anew

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