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Sunday, 20 September 2015

From Today's Papers - 20 Sep 2015

Gallantry display at Barki
Then a young Lt, a retired Brig — who commanded 4 Sikh during its centenary year, 1987 — recounts the determination and grit shown while capturing crucial areas in Pakistani territory
The Indian Army responded to the Pakistani offensive of September 1 by launching a three-pronged attack with three divisions towards Sialkot, Lahore and Khem Karan-Kasur. The 7 Infantry Division was tasked on the Khalra-Barki-Lahore axis. The International Border was to be crossed at 4 am on September 6; 4 Sikh of 65 Infantry Brigade and 6/8 GR of 48 Infantry Brigade were to secure firm base along the road. The 48 Infantry Brigade was to advance to capture Barki by last light.

4 Sikh, of Saragarhi fame, had been moved to Ferozepur in August. The CO, (the late) Lt Col Anant Singh, an outstanding leader, tasked two companies — ‘A’ under Maj Shamsher Singh Manhas  (VrC, the late Brigadier) and ‘B’ under Maj DS Sidhu (the late Brigadier), who captured two enemy observation posts. At the same time, 6/8 GR cleared the barrier; a secure firm base was established across the border.

The 48 Infantry Brigade, supported by a squadron of Central India Horse, cleared the Hudiara drain area, about 4 km from the IB. The enemy was having a field day with the Indian troops advancing in an open area. The troops dug up slit trenches after every advance and a lull, but casualties were mounting due to artillery fire. The 65 Infantry Brigade was now tasked to capture Barki and secure the eastern bank of Icchogil canal, 9.5 km from the border.

On the morning of September 8, 4 Sikh advanced and its ‘D’ Company, led by me, then a Lieutenant, captured Brahmnabad village, suffering casualties because of the severe airburst shelling. By late evening, 9 Madras and 16 Punjab had captured Barka Kalan and Barka Khurd villages. 4 Sikh was moved north of the road the same night.

The formidable defence at Barki and Icchogil behind it had 11 concrete pillboxes, besides other fortifications. Each pillbox was equipped with a medium machine gun, a light machine gun, one or two rifles or Sten guns and an ample supply of ammunition and grenades. To the left of the road was a police station, strengthened by sand bags.

A deep ditch was expected before Barki. Icchogil’s rear bank was 3 feet higher than the front, with solid fortification. Tanks were sheltered behind the canal, 150 feet wide and 17 feet deep, filled with water, which could be controlled.

After last light, the Central India Horse, equipped with Sherman tanks, was to assault Barki with lights on, firing all its armaments, followed by 4 Sikh to physically capture Barki in the first phase of the brigade attack. Ichhogil canal, which was expected to be 500 to 700 yards behind, was to be captured by 16 Punjab in the second phase.

As per the 4 Sikh plan, the ‘A’ and ‘C’ companies, the latter under Sub Sadhu Singh, formed up on the right side of the road at 7.50 pm for assault. ‘B’ company was in the rear as reserve. ‘D’ company was asked to move behind the tanks in civilian trucks full of wooden planks, to be lowered in Barki drain for the crossing over of tanks.

After this task, it was to clear the police station area. ‘D’ company formed up at 7.30 pm. Somehow the tanks did not arrive till 8 pm. The CO of 4 Sikh, confident of the tanks coming, ordered the assault companies to move at 8 pm. The artillery pounded the enemy positions. The enemy illuminated the entire area, turning it into daylight. This spurred the jawans to reach the objective as fast as possible.

After 20 minutes of the assault, the CO ordered me to complete the assigned task. The company moved at a fast pace, hardly for 15 minutes, when the tanks arrived, firing towards the objective. Assaulting troops therefore were subjected to firing from the rear.

I climbed atop the nearest tank, and the fire was then switched to the left of the road. Contrary to the plan, they had not put on their lights, which proved to be a boon for the infantry ahead.

The enemy’s intense artillery fire was augmented by direct firing weapons and tanks from behind Ichhogil canal, pillboxes and fortified positions from housetops and the police station. Our companies inched forward through fire and move tactics with grit and determination, till they were 100 yards away from the pillboxes. They shouted their war cry, “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”, and pounced upon the enemy, men crawling and lobbing grenades.

Once the forward crust was pierced, there were hand-to-hand fights, bayonets crossing bayonets. The enemy was crushed. The survivors abandoned their positions, running to the safety behind Ichhogil, wading through it since the bridge had been demolished.

After a stiff fight, ‘D’ Company captured the police station area; the enemy’s tanks brought in devastating fire from across Ichhogil, 150 yards away.

I conveyed to the armour not to leave the road or move forward as the objective had been captured. While this message was being passed, a 4 Sikh recoilless gun jeep with the CO of CIH, Lt Col SC Joshi, came rushing along and was blown off near the police station.

The assaulting companies found Ichhogil only 150 to 250 yards from Barki, scrambled up and secured the east bank. Maj Shamsher Singh and Capt SS Duggal (later Colonel), the Adjutant, were wounded and evacuated.

Phase II of the brigade attack thus was completed during Phase I itself, within two hours of the assault. 16 Punjab was assigned the task of capturing the area along Icchogil further north.

The enemy had fired 3,000 bombs within half an hour. Maj Aziz Bhatti, tasked to defend with two companies, was conferred Pakistan’s highest gallantry award posthumously.

4 Sikh had 39 killed and 121 wounded. It was awarded Battle Honour ‘Barki’ and Theatre Honour ‘Punjab’, besides one MVC, three VrCs and one SM.

Ironically, the defender of Barki got his nation’s highest gallantry award, but the CO of the battalion capturing those formidable defences got nothing.
Determined to wipe out NDFB-S rebels:_Army
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, September 19
Centre is closely monitoring the situation in the Bodoland areas of Assam and there would be no let-up in the operations against banned NDFB (Songbijit) till the time the “outfit is wiped out”. Lieutenant General Sarath Chand, GOC, 4 Corps, today said the ‘Operation all-out’ inflicted a severe blow to the NDFB-S as most hardcore terrorists of the outfit were either neutralised or apprehended.

The ongoing operations have also succeeded in nullifying the activities of the outfit in terms of kidnapping and extortion.

The GoC said additional troops were inducted with the prime aim of decimating the NDFB-S and to instill faith in the local population and bring normalcy in the region.

Around 3,500 troops of the Indian Army along with Assam Police, CRPF and the IAF have launched a massive operation against NDFB-S, covering Manas National Park, Ripu, Chirang, Sonai Rupai and Behali reserve forests, in Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Sonitpur districts.

“The operation was primarily launched to eliminate remnants of the group by protracted and sustained operations for an extended period of time. The troops on the ground have been sensitised about not to cause any inconvenience to the local population and carry out intelligence-based operations. The need is to continue with the operations against the notorious NDFB-S till they are wiped out,” the Army officer said.
Indian Army To Test Indian Assault Rifle
NEW DELHI — After canceling a $1 billion 2011 global tender  to buy assault rifles, the Indian Army will hold trials of the Indian-made Excalibur assault rifle — but analysts and Army officials said they doubt the rifle will go into production soon.

Defense analyst Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Army brigadier general, said the Ministry of Defence may  eventually have to float a fresh tender in the Buy and Make (India) category for the assault rifles.

"At present, indigenous design capability for a next-generation assault rifle has not been demonstrated by the Defence Research and Development Organisation [DRDO]; what is in the pipeline is an improved homegrown Indian Small Arms System [INSAS]," Bhonsle said. "At the same time, the Army's inability to derive viable qualitative requirements [QRs] for the same is also one of the challenges faced by the DRDO. After evolving viable QRs, a Buy and Make in India [weapon] may be a good option."

In 2011, the Indian Army floated a global tender for the purchase of 66,000 assault rifles, which included transfer of technology to the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). The tender was canceled in June because none of the competitors could meet the QRs, an MoD official said.

The competitors included Italian company Beretta, US company Cold Defense, Israel's Israel Weapon Industries, Switzerland's SIG Sauer and the Czech Republic's Ceska Zbrojovka.

The rifle would replace the INSAS 5.56mm assault rifles, which the Army has not found satisfactory. The INSAS has been used since the 1990s, though there have been Army complaints of technical failures. One complaint was that the inferior quality rounds  had caused a number of  guns to jam.

Arun Sahgal, director of The Forum for Strategic Initiative and a retired Army brigadier, said the Excalibur rifle could be pushed on the Indian Army. "As per inputs, this rifle does not meet critical standards but is being pushed by the Infantry Directorate and the hierarchy to cover up the mess they created in producing shoddy QR and an over-ambitious request for proposals."

On the testing of the homemade rifle, Sahgal said, " It appears that Army and OFB are on the same page as far as Excalibur is concerned, but testing agencies such as the Directorate General of Quality Assurance and other certifying agencies are resisting introduction of a sub-standard rifle. There is every likelihood of re-tendering with improved and more down-to-earth QRs, which I am told are being finalized."

But Anil Chait, a retired Army lieutenant general, is optimistic about the Excalibur rifle.

"The Excalibur is a 5.56mm rifle designed by the DRDO, and the prototype produced by the OFB, as reported, is presently undergoing testing," Chait said. "If found suitable in all respects, it has every prospect of becoming the next rifle for the Indian armed forces."

An Army official said the Excalibur is only a retrofitted version of the INSAS assault rifle.

"Assault rifles are to be used mainly in the counterterrorism role and requirements entail short barrel, short range, rapid automatic-burst fire with high reliability," Bhonsle said. "On the other hand, for conventional battles a long-range, accurate, semi-automatic or automatic weapon to ensure fire discipline with a higher lethality over ranges of 400 to 500 meters is necessary. Optical or night sights are also envisaged. Post-2011 tender, there appears to be a view in the Army after trials that the concept of having a single weapon for both roles is not feasible."
It’s time to analyze OROP with our head, not our heart
Few government professions in India enjoy as much public goodwill as our defence forces. Mention the Indian Army (for the purpose of this article, Army includes all forces — Air Force and Navy as well) and our chests swell with pride. The Army works well, stays quiet, is apolitical and does a great job protecting our borders from some of our not-so-friendly neighbours. Even in times of domestic trouble, such as riots or floods, the Army is called in and things begin to get better. In times of war, or during terrorist acts, our soldiers lay down their lives or suffer grievous injuries in the line of duty. With all this selfless sacrifice, it is not difficult to see why the Army enjoys so much support from our civilian population. Our local culture, films and songs show the Army in a positive light (unlike the police and politicians). Media coverage, too, focuses on their sacrifice and hard work.
While this positive image is great, it can cloud an objective analysis of how we manage our defence resources in certain situations. One such issue is the OROP scheme. While OROP means ‘one rank, one pension’, it is a bit of a misnomer. It actually means one rank, the latest, highest pension for that rank, irrespective of when you retired. Army veterans essentially want an upward pension revision system for all past veterans or their surviving spouses, estimated to be around 3.2 million in number. There are several reasons why their demand is justified. Pension discrepancy between an officer who retired in 1990, versus an equal-ranked officer who retired in 2015 can be dramatic. A certain consistency was required, especially since the Army intrinsically believes in the concept of rank, and even allows one to keep it after retirement. Most political parties had also promised OROP in their election manifestos, so the government had to deliver at some point. Popular and social media also sided with the veterans, with arguments ranging from “they guard our borders so we should give them what they want” to “how can we disrespect our soldiers?”
Somewhere in all this, things became too simplistic. The Army was good and the veterans were always right. The political class and the government were all stingy, greedy and insensitive. After all, those who protect our borders must be treated well. OROP was seen as something that meant soldiers were treated well. Hence, you better give OROP, and now!
People who wanted to do an objective analysis had to scurry and hide in a corner. For nobody could hear a word against OROP, and with the veterans protesting in the Capital, even the government was pushed to a corner. OROP was announced. The government estimated a liability of around Rs 12,000 crore per year to just implement this one recommendation. However, the veterans were not happy. As you read this, other protests are being organized as the veterans feel many of their demands are not met.
What should we do? Should we still maintain the ‘Army Good, Politician Bad’ argument? Should we still say ‘give them whatever they want because they guard our borders’ (by the way, the Border Security Force, or BSF, does not get OROP)? Or should we now at least look at various aspects of OROP and, dare we say, its pros and cons?
We should. For, in a country of limited resources like India, an expense as big as OROP must be examined carefully, and kept in limits. At present, our defence budget is Rs 250,000 crore. In addition, we pay defence pensions of around Rs 60,000 crore per year. OROP will add another Rs 12,000 crore to it annually. Note that these pensions are, by definition, for services already rendered.These funds are given out with no output obtained in return. While we all agree we should treat Army personnel well, what’s better? To pay the veterans more, or to pay new hires in the Army more? To pay the officers more or the jawans more? To pay more to get better talent, or pay more and create more jobs? Should more money be spent on pensions, or more hospitals for veterans? Should war-affected veteran families be paid differently from those who retired safe and sound? As a solution to increased pension expense, can veterans be re-hired in certain jobs useful to the economy? Also, if we have OROP for defence, why not for our paramilitary and police? Can we afford to pay them all?

All these issues make OROP more complex than it seems, and it is about time we have a sane, objective debate about it  rather than an emotional, army-is-amazing-so-just-give-it-everything one. Forget OROP, many sectors don’t even have pensions. Sure, a certain form of rank and pay equalization needs to exist so things don’t fall too far apart. However, it has to be done in the context of what is possible, affordable, and after analyzing what alternative welfare those funds can provide and the precedent it will set for others. Only then will we reach a good conclusion on OROP. We love our Army with all our heart, but it’s time we also think about issues related to it with our head.
Indian, Chinese Armies to hold "Hand in Hand" next month
 The fifth edition of military exercise between the Indian and Chinese Armies will be held at Kunming, the southern military region of China's Peoples Liberation Army(PLA).

The fortnight long exercise will begin on October 11, with an inaugural ceremony, which will be attended by the top brass of both the armies, sources in the Defence Ministry told UNI. The exercise, which is code named as "Hand in Hand" comes exactly a month after both the sides were locked in a brief stand-off in Burtse region of northern Ladakh along the disputed border over the issue of a watch tower constructed by the Chinese Army ,which was brought down by the Army troops as the other side did not heed to objection raised by the Indian side. Situation was resolved after two simultaneous meetings were held between the local army commanders of two sides at Burtse and Chushul border post.

This is the third time that China is hosting the Indian Army for a battalion level exercise after it started in 2007. The annual exercise is held in India and China on rotational basis. The exercise had remained terminated for four years over the issue of stapled visa, which China was insisting on issuing to people of Arunachal Pradesh, claiming it to be a disputed region.

Finally, the exercise was restored in 2013 after China blinked and terminated the practice of issuing stapled visa.

The exercise is crucial part of the confidence building measures the two countries have been putting in place time to time to maintain peace at the their more than four thousand km long disputed border.

India has been pushing China for the verification of the LAC, which witnesses frequent transgression by the Chinese army. UNI MK RSA AE 1447

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