This sense of urgency among the Indian armed forces to buy BPJs for its personnel has been witnessed just ahead of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense on Aug.13, 2015 slamming the government for the inordinate delay in procuring and supplying soldiers and security personnel with the much-required personal protection gear.
Superintendent of Punjab Police Baljit Singh is killed in a terrorist strike at Gurdaspur on July 28, 2015. He went to fight the gun-toting terrorists, who had taken over a police station. But, Baljit Singh was without a Bullet Proof Jacket or Helmet for personal protection.
18 Indian Army personnel from 6 Dogra Regiment killed and another dozen injured as they are ambushed by a North-East insurgent group in Manipur on June 5, 2015. Most of the soldiers, being de-inducted from operational deployment, were without a BPJ that day, leading to high casualty figures.
Seven Indian Army personnel of 16 Cavalry killed in a three-man suicide squad attack by militants, who crossed over into Samba in Jammu and Kashmir on Sep.26, 2013. In particular, the unit's second-in-command, Lt.Col.Bikram Jeet Singh, was without a BPJ when he rushed to take on the attacking militants that day and was killed with two shots to his stomach. The commanding officer, Col.A,Uthaiah, too was injured, with bullet wounds on his chest and shoulder.
These casualties of the Indian Army and other security forces are clearly avoidable - if only they had used a proper body armor. While, it is a fact that several military men's nonchalance have led to them not using a BPJ to ensure personal comfort over security, it is undeniable that lack of adequate number of BPJs have led to casualties, as was witnessed during the July 2015 Gurdaspur terror strike, when Punjab Police personnel were fighting terrorists, who were using sophisticated assault rifles to target them. In July 2015, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar told India's parliament that the procurement of 186,138 BPJs is at the trial stage and the case of 50,000 under a fast-track mode is at Technical Evaluation Committee stage.
In its report on Aug.13, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense stated in bold letters that it was "NOT AT ALL SATISFIED" with the way the Indian government has been procuring the BPJs.
The committee observed in the report that "it is the duty of the government to provide proper gear to their soldiers before sending them to counter-insurgency or war-like situations."
Perturbed over the "MORE THAN SIX YEARs" taken by the government to carry out the trials of the BPJs, despite the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) approval in October 2009, the committee was flabbergasted over the Defense Ministry taking over a year to do the trials and evaluate the BPJs, "despite knowing the importance of such a crucial life saving item" and the Director General Acquisition approval coming in January 2014.
"The Ministry should come out of (its) slumber and make the procurement of BPJs in fast-track accountable mode to make up (for the) present and near future shortages, so as to save lives of thousands of soldiers," the committee said, asking to be apprised of the action taken to procure the BPJs within a period of two months.
It also desired that steps be taken to develop the industry in the country, so that dependence on foreign sources can be minimized. The Committee also desired that the Ministry give priority to procurement cases such as the BPJs.
The Indian Army can hold a total of 353,765 BPJs, as per a government letter issued in March 2004. The Army currently holds 122,624 BPJs, and the October 2009 DAC approval was for procuring 186,138 BPJs, which will cater to the 12th Plan period ending in 2017.
However, the Army RFP issued soon after the DAC nod was retracted due to General Staff Qualitative Requirement (GSQR) issues in December 2011. The GSQR was subsequently amended and a fresh RFP was issued in December 2012.
After the acceptance of Technical Evaluation Report in January 2014 and validation of the velocities achieved by the various types of ammunition at Terminal Ballistic Research Lab (TBRL) in Chandigarh, the trials of the BPJs were to commence shortly thereafter. However, the Defense Ministry informed the committee that trial samples were submitted to TBRL-Chandigarh on Feb.16, 2015 and trials have commenced on Mar.9, 2015. "In addition, the immediate requirement of 50,000 BPJs based on old GSQR is being made through Revenue Procurement," it said.
"The procurement of Bullet Proof Jacket through the Capital Route is a priority case and accordingly all efforts are being made to ensure speedy progress of the case. The primary cause of the delay was due to the requirement of conducting ballistic evaluations of the ammunition, prior to commencement of trails," it said.
"As and when the current procurement fructifies, the future requirement based on deficiencies will be addressed through Revenue (procurement) route," it added.
Interestingly, India has achieved self-sufficiency in BPJ manufacturing with several Indian enterprises engaged in production of these personal protection gear, achieving international standards. Some of these firms include Kanpur-based MKU, Bengaluru-based Tata Advanced Materials and New Delhi-based SM Group.
Most of the Indian BPJ-makers have received perfunctory orders for their products, particularly those panic buys in small quantities done under the localized procurement powers of Army Commanders in Jammu and Kashmir or the Northeastern States, two areas where the Indian armed forces are active in counter-insurgency operations.
MKU is a $40-million (Rs.250-crore) turnover company, but has begun supplying to armed forces of NATO nations. With a capacity to produce over 60,000 BPJs annually, it has already bagged order for 42,000 body armor from Ecuador, 8,000 from Egypt and 16,000 from a West Asian nation, all in the last few years. It has previously supplied to customers in Europe and West Asia, making its exports form a majority of its revenues.
MKU had a few of years ago acquired a German company near Hamburg, renaming it as MKU GmbH, to obtain a critical capacity in its efforts to produce best quality BPJs -- a world-class Research and Development facility to test its products through live ammunition firing. It also established a production facility in Ras-a-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates in 2014.
In June 2015, MKU received the ASSOCHAM Innovation Excellence Award in Defense for Instavest, a quick-release BPJ developed by the company in response to challenges faced by the armed forces in special situations globally. The company holds the patent for this product in U.S., Europe and India.
"We expect that unfortunate incidents like the Gurdaspur (terror attacks) will give enough reason for fast-track purchases of Bullet Resistant Jackets and Helmets by the State police forces. They are, in fact, the first responders to such crisis and hence, need to be adequately protected," MKU Chairman Manoj Kumar Gupta said recently, in response to Arming India's queries.
MKU was one of the first companies outside of the U.S. to get its products certified to the most stringent standards like the NIJ 0101.06, he said.
In 2011, MKU won and supplied 59,000 Bullet Resistant Jackets to the Central Armed Police Forces under the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs. "We have been supplying body armor to many of the police and para military forces in the country. Currently, tenders are going on in the Ministry of Defense and the Home Affairs for these protection products. We have also supplied armor for many of the naval vessels engaged in coastal surveillance," Gupta noted.
"We feel the Indian requirements for body armor are huge. We want that the evaluation processes should be time-bound and once the winner is decided, the contract should be awarded without further delay so that stores get delivered on time.," Gupta concluded.