The Indian Army is still nowhere near getting desperately-needed modern helicopters, howitzers and air defence weapons, or even new assault rifles and carbines, to plug its critical operational deficiencies. But its infantry soldiers are now finally poised to get some basic protection gear after decades of neglect. Defence ministry sources on Monday said a contract for 1,58,279 light-weight ballistic helmets, worth around Rs 170 crore, is on the anvil now.
”The deal would have been inked much earlier after the CNC (contract negotiation committee) was completed. But there has been a complaint, as also some financial queries…these are now being addressed,” said a source.
If the contract for the new helmets is indeed inked, it will be the second such deal to ensure better personal protection for infantry soldiers, who are often forgotten in the clamour for sophisticated weapon systems. As was first reported by TOI in March, the Army had inked the Rs 140 crore contract for “emergency” procurement of 50,000 new bullet-proof jackets from Tata Advanced Materials Limited after a delay of over a decade.
Similarly, the proposed purchase of the ballistic helmets -with 13mm trauma protection pads -is slated to take place from an Indian manufacturer, MKU.The helmets for “commanders” will also be equipped with integrated communication headsets. The Army has been demanding light-weight ballistic helmets for almost two decades now because the existing ones are not only bulky, but also provide protection from only splinters and rocks. “Head injuries are a major problem in both conventional as well as counter-insurgency operations. We want ballistic helmets that can stop 9mm bullets from around 20 metres.
It should also be possible to mount night-vision sights, protective goggles and other devices on them,” said a senior officer.Such helmets would be a great morale booster for soldiers, who make do with old, heavy helmets that only give limited protection to the top of heads and not the sides,” he added. Consequently, soldiers generally prefer to use the lighter bullet-proof “patkas” during counter-insurgency operations.”But they too weigh around 2.5 kg and protect only the forehead and the back of the head,” said another officer. In contrast, soldiers in advanced countries wear ultra-light helmets made of high-tenacity composite and polyethylene materials. Some helmets also integrate video cameras, thermal, chemical and biological sensors, along with visors which act as “heads-up computerized display monitors” in front of the eyes.