Praveen Swami

Modernisation programme built around outdated, inappropriate weapons

MUMBAI: In the wake of November 2008 carnage, the Mumbai Police promised the people that it would soon arm itself with the equipment it needed to evolve into a credible counter-terrorism force.

In the next few weeks, the police will receive the first of the new guns it desperately needs. But experts in India’s elite forces and military have told The Hindu that the four critical weapons systems do not in fact pack much of a bang. Ordered without competitive field trials, the weapons are being criticised as technologically suspect and inappropriate to local needs.

M4 Colt 5.56 Carbine

The Mumbai Police planners have chosen this assault weapon, which had been in service with militaries and special forces around the worldjust as it is being phased out.

During the Vietnam War, the United States troops discovered the limitations of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation-standard 7.62 x 51 millimetre rifles and in response to their needs, Colt designed the now-classic M16 rifle.

For special forces’ use in urban counter-terrorism contexts—situations where accuracy can be sacrificed for ease of use in confined spaces—the M16’s designers produced a variant with a short barrel and folding stock – the M4 carbine.

Despite its distinguished pedigree, the M4 suffers from several problems inherent to the gas-optimised system that powers its firing mechanism: among them, jamming and heavy component wear and tear.

Given that the M4 will serve the Mumbai Police for three decades and more, the choice of technology is debatable. Even as the police prepare to take delivery of the Carbine, some of its users are switching to more modern systems. The United States’ Marines have chosen the Fabrique Nationale Herstal Special Forces Compact Assault Rifle, while the crack Delta Force has picked the Heckler and Koch M4.

Sub-compact version

In service with crack forces such as the Special Protection Group (SPG) and National Security Guards, the Brügger & Thomet MP9 is a sub-compact version of the classic MP5 A4 and MP5 A3 machine-pistols.

Designed to be concealed inside the clothes of close-protection guards assigned to VIPs, the MP9 has a retractable stock and the magazine is fitted inside the grip. Like other weapons of this kind, it trades accuracy for size.

The Mumbai Police planners are thought to have ordered over 200 MP9 units—a surprise number, given that responsibility for protecting the State’s VIPs lies with a special unit of the Maharashtra Police. Moreover, it has ordered none of the more accurate MP5 series.

Experts in the armed forces believe that the Mumbai Police ought to have evaluated newer weapons systems before making a purchase decision.

For a variety of technical reasons, the 9 millimetre ammunition used by the MP5A4 is known to be less than optimally efficient at generating the neurological shock that kills or incapacitates targets. Designers have sought to compensate for the design flaws in the 9 millimetre system by creating what are known as hollow-point bullets.

But many crack forces have switched over to newer ammunition systems.

The SPG, for example, uses the 5.27 x 8 millimetre Fabrique Nationale Herstal P90. Built around what designers call a ‘Bullpup’ frame, the P90 is compact without compromising on accuracy.

Smith & Wesson M&P 9 Millimetre Pistol

This is a new weapon designed to break into a market dominated by European manufacturers Glock, Heckler and Koch and Sig Sauer. It has so far had little success. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for example, rejected the home-manufactured Smith & Wesson in favour of Europe’s Sig Sauer and Heckler and Koch.

Most police forces in India, including the Maharashtra Police, have purchased the popular Glock 9 millimetre. But Mumbai Police sources said the decision to purchase Smith & Wesson was made because of problems reported with the Glock from Punjab and elsewhere.

However, the problems are believed to be the result of sub-standard ammunition and not faulty design.

M82/M107 Special Application Rifle

This weapon, earlier known as the M82, is the most powerful small arm in the world; anything larger counts as a canon. Its 50-calibre shells can punch through Level 8 ballistic glass, the strongest available, and puncture armoured vehicles—this, at ranges upwards of 2.5 kilometres.

In theory, this power is useful for shooting terrorists through concrete walls, after identifying their locations with thermal imaging systems.

But the risk of collateral damage to civilians is immense, not in the least because the Mumbai Police personnel do not have a firing range on which they can be trained in the use of the M107 SAR.

Given that Mumbai will soon have a dedicated NSG unit at Kalina on call for situations where the weapon might be needed, the rationale behind the purchase is all the more mystifying.

No police force in the world uses the M107 SAR in counter-terrorism jobs, where civilians may be at risk. New York’s police Special Weapons and Tactics team uses the SAR to blow apart vehicle engines in high-speed chases as a last resort.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police, India’s most experienced counter-terrorism force, use nothing more powerful than the Soviet-designed 7.62 millimetre sniper rifles.

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