Exclusive: Combat veteran highlights drawbacks of conventional bullet proof jackets
India's security forces serve in conditions which are not only hostile but also diverse in terms of geography, terrain, and type of enemies they face. So, it is imperative that they must get best of combat equipment to perform at their best which is of utmost importance for nation's internal security.
The main focus of this write-up is to get a clear understanding of the role that bulletproof jackets play in combat situations. The heavier conventional bulletproof jackets weigh around 15 kgs that significantly affects the swiftness with which troops can move and retaliate the attacks.
To fully understand the role this particular piece of equipment plays in combat zones, OneIndia spoke to combat veteran K. Arkesh, former CRPF IGP for Kerala and Karnataka sector, who has led many critical operations across the country during his decades-long career. His combat experience ranges from batting the terrorists in Kashmir to dealing with insurgency in the North East. He was also involved in Punjab and anti-Naxal operations in Andhra Pradesh.
His views on the conventional bulletproof jackets, which are still widely used, were not very encouraging. He opined that the conventional ones used by the CRPF were not very effective to cope with the challenges of the modern day battlefield situations. Mr Arkesh said that they have been demanding modern, sophisticated and lightweight armour that gives more protection to soldiers' body for many years. In other words, the forces need body armours which are suited to cope with needs of modern warfare where the enemies have far more lethal means to attack the forces than what it used to be a couple of decades back.
The veteran commander who has served in many hostile situations told OneIndia that on many occasions the troops would choose not to use that body armour as it was extremely uncomfortable to don them in extremely hot and sultry conditions. Which means that these conventional bulletproof jackets are so cumbersome (or ineffective) to use that the troops are willing to risk their lives instead of using them.
In layman terms, he described these jackets as two heavy metal plates that would cover only the parts of the torso and the back, leaving neck, face and ribs exposed to bullet attacks. The heavy armour may be suited to specific operations that get over fast, but when it came to patrolling an area for days then the 15 kg bulletproof armour becomes a burden.
Another main drawback that he pointed out was that the conventional bulletproof armour was not very effective against the attack from an automatic weapon. Even the headgear - bulletproof patka - is not effective against a grenade attack.
"After 2-3 hits from an automatic weapon, the bulletproof jacket becomes brittle and crack. It cannot withstand further and makes soldier vulnerable," he said.
Mr Arkesh said that he has not seen the new lightweight armours that are being issued, but pointed out that it must provide more cover to vital body parts. It must be able to withstand a barrage of bullets fired from an AK-47 and grenade attacks, he added.
The new armours must be more than metal plates covering just the chest and the back, and ought to provide more comprehensive protection. He minced no words in saying that the CRPF has suffered a lot of casualties because ill designed bulletproof jackets that were in use for decades.
The Bhabha Atomic Reseach Centre (BARC) has developed a new bulletproof jacket for the Central armed forces, which is not only cheaper but also much lighter. Lighter bulletproof vest means that the troops would be able to move faster even on difficult terrains.
At present, Central armed forces use heavy steel-armoured jackets that weigh between 10kg to 17kg. Using technology developed at BARC, scientists have brought the weight down to anywhere between 3.1 kg and 6.6 kg.
The retired commander, Mr Arkesh, said that even 6-7 kgs is heavy and they expect even lighter jackets.
BARC has developed a special process to strengthen high molecular weight polyethene resulting in high ballistic performance composite sheets (called BARC Nano-Sheets). Bhabha Kavach made up of BARC Nano-Sheets are lighter in weight with reduced trauma level with respect to the existing jackets, said the BARCH website.
How effective will these new armours be is something that can be answered only after troops use it is the battle situation and give a feedback.