|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
On October 18, 2019, Major General Anil Oberoi (Retd) of SMPP Pvt Ltd told media that 40,000 bullet proof jackets have been supplied to the Indian Army (IA) for its troops carrying out anti-terror operations in the Kashmir valley. The jackets are being supplied to the Central Ordnance Depot (COD) in Kanpur from where they will be sent to Jammu and Kashmir and other violence-affected areas. Last year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had awarded the contract to SMPP Pvt Ltd for providing more than 1.8 lakh bulletproof jackets under the ‘Make in India’ project for the IA. It may be recalled that in an article titled ‘Bullet Resistant Vests’ in April 2017, it was reported in these columns that Amrita University, Coimbatore was offering highly advanced technology bullet proof jackets (BPJs) and the proposal titled “Development of Hyper Velocity Impact Resistant Ultra Light Weight High Temperature Resistant Thermoplastic Polymer-Carbon Fiber Composite” was lying with MoD. The University had claimed that this bullet resistant vest had passed the most up to date National Institute of Justice Standard 0101.06, and offers protection from full contact shots, since many times professionals accidentally get shot by their own firearm from extremely close range.
Amrita University had sent the proposal to DRDO and the joint propel TDF-DRDO was then sent to MoD. Dr Shantanu Bhowmik, Head Research & Projects, Department of Aerospace Engineering, Amrita University, Coimbatore had also written to then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that the proposal needed to be progressed expeditiously since similar research was ongoing by foreign companies like Boeing, EADS, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Bombardier etc for developing high performance thermoplastic-carbon fibre composite for various applications in aviation and defence, and that Amrita University is in the forefront of this technology globally. He had, however, pointed out that delay in implementing this technology in India, would result in these foreign companies exploiting the Indian market. At that time, India was spending some 1.5 lakh per jacket used by the Military and para-military forces (PMF). Initially, Bhowmik didn’t make much headway but then he sent a joint proposal to MoD through DRDO and finally obtained government approval-empowered committee of the MoD approved the jacket, which is made from indigenous ultra modern lightweight thermoplastic technology. It was included in the Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India’ project, leading to first time in 70 years that the IA would have a bullet-proof jacket manufactured completely through indigenous technology. Dr Bhowmick’s jacket was to cost about 50,000 per jacket. Besides, the present bullet proof jackets being used security forces weigh anywhere between 10-15 kgs.
These new light weight jackets weigh 6-8 times less at just 1.5 kg. It has 20 layers and the carbon fiber in it will enable the jacket to work in 57 degrees Celsius also. Dr Bhowmick had dedicated his invention to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The contract for manufacturing these indigenous jackets was apparently awarded to SMPP Pvt Ltd. Oberoi claimed that the bulletproof jackets can withstand hardcore steel ammunition fired from an AK-47 rifle, saying. "Our jackets are so strong that they can take on the most dangerous ammunition from AK-47. It is known as the hard steel core ammunition which has got great penetrative power. Our jacket can absorb its impact." He also added, "We have also produced helmets that can protect soldiers against AK-47 hard steel core ammunition. It will also have a facial visor. We will save the life of our soldier from head to toe." He said that that the company's helmets were already in India by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
The requirement of good bullet proof jackets for every security forces fighter operating in counter insurgency and counter terrorist environment is the basic necessity. The fact that requisite BPJs in terms of numbers and quality have not been provided to our security forces is ironic, reflects inadequate focus at the cutting edge – the foot soldiers that are fighting every day. It is not known at what cost the 40,000 jackets have been supplied by SMPP Pvt Ltd though the Bhowmik jacket was to cost 50,000 per piece. But it would certainly be cheaper than importing these. The significant issue here is that by 2017, IA’s shortages of bullet proof jackets had already shot up beyond 3,50,000. The government, therefore, needs to look into increasing production lines of SMPP Pvt Ltd or contract another indigenous firm in parallel to not only meet the requirements of modular bullet proof jackets of the IA but also other forces forming part of the security sector.