IAF special forces operative Sergeant Milind Kishor’s ‘bulletproof’ helmet was pierced twice by the shots of Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists fired during a week-long encounter in Kashmir where he and another soldier lost their lives after killing two jihadis and injuring three more.
The incident comes amid a major push by the government to modernise India’s armed forces with security personnel frequently having to engage in close-range combat with terrorists and guerrillas in areas such as the Valley and the Northeast.
‘Two AK-47 bullets fired by the terrorists pierced the bulletproof helmet worn by Sergeant Milind during the fierce encounter where the attackers were trying to escape spraying bullets at the cordon laid down by the Garuds and 13 Rashtriya Rifles,’ sources in the security forces in Kashmir told Mail Today.
Two teams of Garud commandos have been attached with the Army’s 13 Rashtriya Rifles branch in Kashmir for gaining experience in counterinsurgency operations and dealt a severe blow to the terrorists in their maiden encounter there.
Sources said the helmets are still being used by the troops in operations but there is doubt over their effectiveness and the Air Force may hold further trials of the headgear to see whether it can be used in the future or not.
Asked to comment on the issue, IAF sources said the protection provided by the bulletproof helmets was limited by their weight as increasing the protection may make it too heavy for the commandos to wear.
‘The helmets have to be equipped with other tools such as night-vision devices during operations and cannot be made very heavy. This may be a reason that’s making them vulnerable to bullets fired at a particular range and angle during close combat situations,’ they said.
Security personnel who operated with the Garud special forces in the Rakh-e-Hajin village said the bullet-piercing marks on the helmets could be seen clearly after the bodies of the two soldiers were recovered following the operations.
Sources say senior officers in the IAF are aware of the incident but so far Mail Today has not received any official response to the queries sent by it.
The helmets have been manufactured by a local company and delivered to the IAF in January 2015 for use by the Garuds.
The IAF special forces teams deployed in different parts of the country are also using the same helmet since then.
Sources in the security forces said recently a bulletproof jacket of a CRPF soldier was penetrated by a terrorist’s bullet during operations in Pulwama. Reports suggest that the Jaish-e-Mohammed jihadis may have used armour-piercing bullets supplied by the Pakistan army.
The bulletproof helmets used by the IAF, theoretically, provide all-round protection to the heads of the troops against bullets as opposed to the patkas used by the Army that are thin at the top.
However, during an operation in Kupwara, one soldier named Gunner Rishi Kumar was saved from AK-47 bullets by his patka.
After the Pathankot attack on January 1, 2016, the Indian Air Force has made a big push to increase the number of Garud special forces personnel to close to 2,500 in a bid to secure the airbases and also to carry out operations in enemy territory and air fields during conflict.
The first major action seen by the Garuds was in Pathankot when its commando Gursewak Singh started engagement with the terrorists in a yard at the base and earned the first Chakra gallantry medal for the force in counter-terrorist operations.
The Garuds are the youngest special forces in the country after the Army special forces and Navy’s marine commandos, and are gaining experience and training with courses in Israel and the US.
The Garuds are also playing a vital role in providing reinforcement to the Air Force’s helicopter operations in support of paramilitary troops in anti- Maoist operations.