Friday, May 11, 2001,
 Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Man, machine withstand gruelling exercise
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

Hansera, (Thar Desert), May 10
The man and the machine have been put to the ultimate test under the soaring temperatures of the Thar Desert in the backdrop of nuclear and chemical warfare environment as part of the ongoing wargames, “Poorna Vijay” (total victory).

Although the top commanders of the country’s armed forces acknowledged that the nuclear threat had come to the very doorstep of the country but expressed satisfaction that both men and the machines had emerged with vital experience and endurance under the extreme climatic conditions.

“We have been made conscious of the deficiencies which are not so critical. We know exactly what happens to machines in such climatic conditions,” said the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Central Command Lt-Gen Pankaj Joshi, at the makeshift base while supervising the exercise, about 150 km from the international border with Pakistan.

Over 40,000 troops and 400 tanks, including Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICVs) besides other elements, are taking part in the week-long exercises, which are the biggest since the Brasstacks of 1987 and which are to conclude tomorrow night. The importance has been at providing the troops with experience of fighting a war in the nuclear backdrop.

However, Lt-Gen Joshi shot it off saying: “Preparation for a nuclear conflict means nothing at the level of troops”. He said the troops had the wherewithal though to survive a first nuclear strike in terms of protective gear and equipment. Asked whether, the nuclear backdrop could lead to changes in tactics and drills of warfare, he said. “We are not expecting a tactical nuclear strike (by Pakistan). We do not believe these can be used as weapons of warfare.”

Lt-Gen Joshi said force multipliers like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), communication system, VSAT terminals and Information Technology tools were extensively tested in field conditions during the exercise during which senior commanders conceived and carried out large scale “operations” on ground.

He told reporters here that any future conflict would definitely have a nuclear backdrop but discounted the use of nukes itself saying international pressure would make it extremely difficult to use such weapons. India’s nuclear strategy was defensive in nature.

Asked if New Delhi had come up with the wherewithal to survive nuclear attacks, he replied “Yes and no”.

Gen Joshi said armed forces did not differentiate between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons adding that in his estimation the country’s neighbourhood had not witnessed development of tactical nuclear weapons delivery system.

His top armoured commander, Maj-Gen I.A. Satur, leading the blitzkreig on the notional enemy land said “my mechanised columns are moving in BMPs (troops carriers) proofed against NBC”.

The General, who claimed to have moved his tanks, mechanised columns, heavy artillery and other force multipliers almost 190 km in six days, said his well spread out troops moving in divergent pincers had “de-containment teams” which along the way were making men and warmachines fortified against chemical and biological warfare.

“We have some equipment and we are acquiring some more sophisticated systems”, Gen Satur told newsmen at the temporary headquarters at Kaunlasar, about 140 km southwest of Bikaner towards the international border.

Taken aback by a barrage of questions on nuclear preparedness, Gen Joshi said the biggest foe his troops had encountered during the last six days was the heat and dust-storms.

“The boys and machines had to contend with temperatures soaring to 52 degrees C and inside tanks and infantry combat vehicles it was even 5 to 7 degrees higher. But the soldiers and warmachines performed exceedingly well”, the General said.

On the exercises, the Army Commander said “some deficiencies had come to the fore, specially about spares”, but added that these were not on critical items which could cripple such future vital operations.

He said the new equipment tested in the wargames which involved 40,000 personnel, more than 500 tanks, hundreds of infantry combat vehicles and pieces of artillery were the unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles (UAVs), highly sophisticated communication systems, including V-Sat terminals and IT wartools.

However, top commanders were tightlipped when asked if 150-250 km long surface-to-surface Prithvi missiles with nuclear warheads had been deployed in the wargames.

On why Arjun main battle tanks had not been deployed, Gen Joshi said though some of these tanks had been inducted, no one regiment was fully equipped with these tanks, to enable their testing in such wargames.

“Four armoured regiments have received these tanks. But they are still in the stage of building it up to deployment level”, the General said.

The armoured division commander, Maj-Gen Satur, leading the rapid offensive, on use of UAVs said “They add quite a punch which we were lacking earlier. It makes battlefield more transparent”.

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