Analysis: How protected are Mine-Protected Vehicles?

On Tuesday, Maoists in Chhattisgarh detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) under a Mine-Protected Vehicle (MPV), destroying the vehicle and killing nine CRPF personnel. Since 2005, as many as 12 vehicles and 150 men have been lost to IED attacks. And yet, these vehicles have their uses.

Written by Deeptiman Tiwary | Updated: March 15, 2018 8:48:00 am
CRPF, mine-protected vehicles, CRPF weapons, central reserve police force, chhattisgarh, sukma district, naxalite, crpf maoist encounter, maoist attack, naxal attack, indian express MPVs are by and large designed to withstand ‘pressure’ IEDs that use 5-7 kg of explosives. Maoists, however, target them with ‘trigger’ IEDs stuffed with at least 20-30 kg of explosives.

Are the vehicles ‘soft’

In 2011, an exasperated K Vijaykumar, then CRPF DG, described the MPVs as “coffin on wheels” — but he also acknowledged their effectiveness in moving troops and fending off ballistic ambushes. Vijaykumar’s successor Pranay Sahay forbade the use of the vehicles; the next DG, Dilip Trivedi, ironically allowed their use only on roads that had already been cleared of mines.

MPVs are by and large designed to withstand ‘pressure’ IEDs that use 5-7 kg of explosives. Maoists, however, target them with ‘trigger’ IEDs stuffed with at least 20-30 kg of explosives. A 50-kg IED is suspected to have been used in Tuesday’s attack, which completely wrecked the MPV. Such a large IED can toss even these massive vehicles several feet into the air — and even if the MPV is not ripped open, its occupants die of head injuries, shock and neck fractures.

Read | CRPF back to same quandary on armoured vehicles: to use or not?

When did their use start?

The first MPVs were developed during World War II when Allied forces faced the massive task of removing mines from the African desert. Significant innovations were made during the Rhodesian Bush War (1972-80) when the Rhodesian government developed a suit of MPVs that could withstand Soviet TM-46 anti-tank mines. The US and European powers worked on these vehicles to develop the modern-day MPV.

The Indian Army first used MPVs in Jammu and Kashmir in the late 90s. South African Casspir MPVs, inducted in early 1998, were highly effective in moving troops and protecting them from ambushes and pressure IEDs used by militants. In the early 2000s, Casspir MPVs were pushed into Maoist zones in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. But the Maoists quickly learnt their limitations, and by late 2005, casualties began to be reported from IED attacks on them.

Click to scale illustration

Read | Chhattisgarh attack: Nine CRPF personnel killed as Maoists blow up vehicle in Sukma

What was India’s own MPV?

Based on Casspir, DRDO developed ‘Aditya’ in 2001. But it was only in 2007 that the MPVs began to roll out of the Ordnance Factories Board’s manufacturing facility in Medak. Like Casspir, Aditya could withstand the impact of 14 kg of TNT IED under the wheels and 10 kg TNT IED under the hull and side walls. It is very effective against ballistic attacks — its armour blocks a range of bullets from a distance of 10 m.

An MPV such as the Aditya typically has a body reinforced with solid steel or alloy, with a floor of extra thick steel sheets. It has a V-shaped steel monocoque hull that directs the force of the blast away from the vehicle’s occupants. Field experiments have shown a V-shaped hull will be propelled in the air to only a third of the height compared to a flat hull exposed to the same force of blast. The monocoque technology ensures that the wheels, which are expected to take the first impact, are separated from the chassis, preventing the crew compartment from being thrown high in the air.

The vehicle can seat 12 soldiers, and has a provision for a remote weapon station or a mounted turret for a light or medium machine gun.

So, is it worth using MPVs?

Most force personnel engaged in anti-Naxal operations say MPVs are best suited for urban warfare, where they can run on blacktop roads. “They are extremely good for mobility without the fear of being ambushed. We drive them at 50-60 km/h, and they provide great protection against ballistic attacks,” said CRPF DIG Moses Dhinakaran, who survived an IED attack on his MPV in Dantewada in 2012. Only one of his men was killed in that attack — the IED, Dhinakaran says, was relatively small.

“MPVs are very effective if the IED is not over 20 kg. Such IEDs merely throw the vehicle a few feet in the air and if the crew is well-fastened, they escape with minor injuries. MPVs are extremely effective in rushing reinforcements and in rescue operations. After all, Maoists can’t plant massive IEDs everywhere,” Dhinakaran said.

Are improvements underway?

The Ordnance Factories Board has developed an improved version of the Aditya MPV, called the Yukti Rath MK III. It has better blast protection up to 42 kg TNT equivalent under the tyres, and 35 kg TNT equivalent under the hull. The acquisition of 350 MPVs for the CRPF has crawled despite the proposal having been cleared back in 2009, partly because successive DGs have asked for better-fortified vehicles.

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