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Why India needs to ramp up its ‘amph’ quotient

Amphibious ships may not match the glamour of destroyers bristling with weapons or clip at high speed like corvettes, yet it must be remembered that they are ‘off-beat’ and versatile.

Cmde Srikant B Kesnur



INS Jalashwa in all its glory.

Today, June 22, is the commissioning anniversary of Indian Naval Ship (INS) Jalashwa, India’s only Landing Platform Dock (LPD). Jalashwa has been in the news recently for her commendable work in evacuating stranded Indians in the Maldives and Sri Lanka as part of Operation Samudra Setu (Sea Bridge). Jalashwa’s sister ships in our Amphibious Fleet, INS Shardul, INS Kesari, INS Magar and INS Airavat, all of them Landing Ship Tanks Large (LST L), have also been contributing handsomely in evacuation of stranded Indians (more than 3,000 thus far) or as part of Mission Sagar, in delivery of Covid-related relief material in different parts of Indian Ocean, stretching from Iran to Mauritius. Elsewhere, at Port Blair, on 15 May, the Indian Navy also commissioned IN LCU (Landing Craft Utility) 57 of the latest Mark 4 class vintage.

While the range of activities in the amphibious world may elicit curiosity, the infinite variety of amphibious ships along with their tongue-twisting acronyms may often be confusing to the layperson. The anniversary of our largest amphibious ship is a good time to revisit some of the issues there and see why India needs to ramp up its ‘amph’ quotient if we wish to be a player of consequence regionally and globally. To explain in simple terms, Navies fight by either landing ordnance (missiles, guns, torpedoes and such like) on target (enemy coast, installations, ships, aircraft, submarines) using own ships, aircraft, submarines and coast batteries as the vectors or by landing ‘others’ who will then land ordnance on target.

The others include Armies, Marines, Special Forces or even specialised landing or boarding parties who are more adept at fighting on land. The ships that do this are called Amphibious Forces and have special characteristics such as the ability to hit the beach or manoeuvre close to shore to land the troops and their equipment. They also have adequate carrying capacity to embark army troops and their equipment (such as tanks, armoured vehicles, other specialist vehicles, mobile guns). Naturally, therefore, depending on their overall carrying capability of troops as well as other characteristics, the amphibious ships are classified in different categories. Also, as a separate sub-discipline of warfighting, the amphibious domain has seen several developments, doctrinally and materially, in turn leading to continuous improvisations and enhancements, tactically and technically.

 Without being derailed by jargon or detail, amphibious, deriving from the word amphibian, (dictionary phrase of a creature that can inhabit both land and water), simply refers to the ability of a navy to land troops and their equipment at shores and coasts of interest, under the possible overhang of hostile conditions. Before independence, the troops of Indian Army, largely embarked on Royal Navy (RN) ships, were used in several amphibious operations, especially in both World Wars, as part of the colonial enterprise. However, the post-independence Royal Indian Navy (RIN) — we dropped the suffix Royal on January 26 1950 — had only rudimentary amphibious capabilities within a severely depleted force after partition and effects of demobilisation post World War II. Notwithstanding that, the institutional memory and recent experience of war resulted in the amphibious ships being used for Exercise Peace (Junagarh operations) wherein troops, equipment and tanks were landed in Porbandar, Mangrol and Veraval.

However, it was only in late sixties we started building up our amphibious capabilities by procuring Landing Ship Tanks (LST Medium) from Poland. A minor amphibious operation was undertaken in the 1971 war when about 600 troops along with their equipment were landed in Cox’s bazaar. In operational terms, it was not successful or particularly valuable but it taught us some important lessons. It was in Op Pawan, in late eighties, that our amphibious forces were used extensively and to good effect. This Peace Keeping Operation (PKO) in Sri Lanka lasted for three years and saw amphibious ships undertake combat beaching, logistics support, and troop and equipment transportation beside other naval operations. Amphibious forces were also used in Op Tawar (Kargil) and Op Parakram in power projection role. Our operations conducted for liberation of Goa in 1961 involving landing on Anjadip Island (Op Vijay) and in Somalia in 1994 (Op Bolster and Op Shield) when we extracted Army troops from Mogadishu can also, technically, be considered amphibious operations in hostile conditions though other type of warships were used in these endeavours.

Meanwhile, over the four decades from sixties, we progressively started building amphibious ships in India beginning with the Landing Craft Utility (LCU) and moving onto the Landing Ship Tank Large (LST L) of the Magar Class. While the LCUs are largely used for island protection and logistics support in Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep and Minicoy Island chains, the LSTs are used for a variety of roles encompassing amphibious training, maritime security, defence diplomacy, training and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and Non Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO).

While the HADR and NEO role will be elaborated later it would be remiss of us to think of amphibious ships only in that context. It needs emphasis that having an amphibious force provides several advantages. At the grand strategic level, amphibious capability reflects a country’s growing stature in the region and its blue water aspirations. At the strategic level, it is a good tool of deterrence. The mere fact of having the capability will often force an antagonist to think before escalating conflict. As brought out by Gen Robert H. Barrow, former Commandant, US Marine Corps, “Ever since the Phoenicians, the ability to land on defended shores have been a source of strength for those who possess it and a source of concern for those who must oppose it”. At the operational level, amphibious operations are an ‘effective method of deploying balanced forces to prevent a hostile landing, to remove an aggressive force or to support a vulnerable neighbour without actually doing anything, unless required or asked’. In other words, even as a “threat in being” it has combat potential.

A country such as ours with responsibility to protect our far flung trade routes and island territories, with a commitment to preserving peace and stability in the region, with an obligation to provide HADR to other nations with capability deficit and with a resolve to thwart several maritime security challenges from piracy to gun running and human trafficking, cannot afford to ignore the advantages of possessing adequate and up-to-date amphibious capability.

As a natural progression of this thought, India entered a select club of nations on 22 Jun 2007 when INS Jalashwa, the Landing Platform Dock (LPD) was commissioned into our Navy. The LPD is a unique kind of amphibious vessel and not many navies have them. It does not hit the beach or even come close to it, instead it contains within it organic smaller Landing Craft, which carry troops and mechanised transport (tanks, combat vehicles, trucks etc.), that are launched from the LPD far away from the coast through something called a well deck in which the well is flooded to push them out (and recover them). It is these craft which land on the beach disgorging their cargo. The LPDs also have enormous flight decks, almost the size of small aircraft carriers, from which one operates many medium or heavy helicopters that are used to carry troops or equipment for being heli-dropped thus providing an additional avenue of landing personnel and cargo.

 As would be obvious to any navy man, this has several advantages. Firstly, the ship operates far off from coasts or beaches and hence the range from which combat power can be applied dramatically increases. Second, the carrying capacity of troops and tanks increases manifold when multiple Landing Craft are used. Thirdly, helicopters provide an additional vector to insert troops or cargo. Thus, LPD adds a whole new dimension to our capabilities and its induction can be considered as much a landmark event as, say, when Indian Navy entered the submarine club or missile era. In fact, a glance through Janes’ Fighting Ships might reveal lesser number of nations with LPDs than with submarines or missiles in their inventory.

That having been said, Jalashwa happened to be inducted in rather unique circumstances. In the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami, the Indian Navy won accolades all over the world for its prompt response and resolve in providing relief and succour not only in India but abroad in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia as well. However, we realised that while we had the commitment to undertake large scale Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations, the means were limited. This gap between desire and delivery had to be bridged. Amphibious vessels with huge carrying capacity on the one hand and ability to land by either jetty or beach on the other are, naturally, the most suitable for HADR type of operations. So, a huge fillip had to be given to our Amphibious and HADR capability and the LPD was a natural choice. However, since LPDs cannot be built in a hurry, India decided to acquire an Austin class ship the USS Trenton along with six Sikorsky UH 3H Sea King medium lift helicopters from America and thus began the Jalashwa odyssey.

 Jalashwa (Sanskrit for Sea Horse aka Hippopotamus, the powerful amphibian), thus, was a pioneer in the Indian Navy. Apart from being ourfirst LPD, she was also the first ever Indian defence buy from the USA, thus, signifying the growth in bilateral relations between nations and their navies which in time would lead to other cooperative ventures.

‘The Flying Hippo’, as she is known, is huge -at more than 170 metres long and nearly 17000 tonnes full load, she is almost similar to our first aircraft carrier Vikrant – and spacious, with cavernous troop and equipment spaces laid out in-between nine decks. A layman would be surprised by her virtuosity and forgiven for thinking of the ship only in ‘Amphibious’ terms. The vast flight deck capable of operating up to six helicopters makes her a helicopter carrier providing multidimensional capability and flexibility to the Operational Commander. A smart innovation by the Commissioning crew enabled the ship to fuel other ships in company; hence she also functions as a Fleet tanker. An advanced sensor suite and independent Flag bridge along with commodious living spaces makes her an effective Command and Control platform; advanced medical facilities including laboratory and dental chairs implies she can function as a hospital ship. Further, embarked workshop and engineering infrastructure could also enable her to act as a Fleet support vessel at sea. All these facilities together with the massive lodging space (separately for embarked troops and ship’s crew) and four Landing Craft Mechanised (LCM) each with huge carrying capacity implies that such a ship would be super effective not only in conflict but also in benign missions such as HADR or NEO or for that matter for important diplomacy/hospitality/ protocol/shop window tasking. As one defence analyst described Jalashwa “She is like a smart phone with many apps’.

While being young in our navy it needs to be remembered that the ship was born in March 1971 as USS Trenton, hence she is Indian Navy’s oldest platform. She is now “thirteen years young and forty-nine years old” combining the joie de vivre of a young teen with the depth of a mature adult. With a hull that’s still strong and with new lungs (boilers) fitted recently, the ship showcased her good health in recent operations, undertaken amidst the global pandemic of COVID-19. In the process, she also highlighted India’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding her diaspora anywhere in the world. It is noteworthy that even in her earlier incarnation as USS Trenton the ship took part in numerous humanitarian operations such as in Somalia (1991), Liberia (1996) and Lebanon (2006).

 In this context, it is worth noting that in the last two decades India has been involved in several HADR and NEO operations. While some of them involved Jalashwa or other amphibious ships (such as Op Blossom in Libya and Op Samudra Setu), the others (such as Op Sukoon in Libya and Op Rahat in Yemen) did not, owing to factors such as availability, location and context. In each of these operations, Indian Navy ships performed with distinction and earned much goodwill from our international friends and global community at large.

However, without doubt, if indeed we had the required numbers of ready amphibious ships, they would have been the ships of first resort for such HADR and/or NEO missions. As brought out earlier, the enabling factors for this are huge personnel carrying capacity, long legs, greater numbers of onboard crew, inherent flexibility, hospital facilities, availability of LCMs and helicopters and large storage space for water, fuel, rations, clothes, machinery, equipment. Most importantly, all of this can be done without denuding its combat capability as an amphibious ship. Hence, no nation, which possesses amphibious ships and equipment, can ignore their value at a time of manmade or natural disaster. Here, it is worth recollecting what the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Madagascar, Djacoba Tehindrazanarivelo, wrote in the visitors’ book of INS Shardul when she was deployed there, in March this year, in response to the request for assistance by that government after massive floods, ‘Very happy to visit and meet INS Shardul and its crew and grateful to the Government and people of India for this generous donation’.

From the foregoing, it should be adequately clear to us that for the purpose of ensuring that our national interests are not threatened anywhere in our maritime areas of interest and to enable us to fulfil our responsibility as the regional net security provider, we need to have adequate numbers of large amphibious ships as part of our inventory. The vast array of our roles and responsibilities make it imperative to have certain specified force levels. The Indian Navy, in its perspective plans, had pegged these requirements at four LPDs and greater numbers of LST L and LCUs. This would necessitate either fast track indigenous production or procurement from abroad. Until then, Jalashwa and other workhorses of the amphibious force will have to do the heavy lifting.

 To summarise, amphibious forces enable deterrence, influence, power projection, presence and expeditionary capability in their non-benign role and build goodwill and diplomatic equities in their benign avatar. Terms such as power projection and expeditionary must not be seen through political prism where they tend to generate unnecessary and unfounded alarm, but as technical phrases through the lens of capability. The fragile security scenario in our neighbourhood as well as the ‘messy situations’ in IOR and vicinity could necessitate several possibilities of Operations Other Than War (OOTW) occurring, where low intensity conflict, HADR and NEO conditions may manifest themselves simultaneously and concurrently. The fact that forces inimical to us are building amphibious ships and raising dedicated amphibious troops (Marines) should further reinforce these concerns.

 Amphibious forces are unique political, diplomatic and strategic tools. Therefore, as a corollary, amphibious operations are both “scholarship level of military art as well as contingency plans for a situation”. More than two centuries ago, the British General in the Peninsular War, Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) said, “If anyone wishes to know the history of this war, I will tell them that it is our maritime superiority which gives me the power of maintaining my army while the enemy are unable to do so.” More than a century ago, Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Jackie Fisher said: “The British Army should be a projectile to be fired by the Navy.” Seventy years ago, India’s eminent maritime scholar K.M. Panikkar postulated, “Even against a dominant land power supremacy of the sea has undoubted advantages. It can land at any point of its choice, reinforce its troops, transport large masses of men continuously without fatigue and feint at distant points.” It is an advice we need to pay heed to.

Amphibious ships may not match the glamour of destroyers bristling with weapons or clip at high speed like corvettes, yet they are ‘off-beat’ and versatile. An inspiring slogan on Jalashwa’s well deck, “No land too far, no beach too hard, no task too difficult”, would be a perfect description of the “world of possibilities” they offer to higher authorities in myriad ways. They are extremely useful tools in enabling Indian Navy’s commitment to the national effort and in fulfilling Indian Government’s role as the first responder in the Indian Ocean Region.

Cmde Srikant B. Kesnur is a serving officer with interest in Indian naval history. He has also been the Commanding Officer of INS Jalashwa.

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Major push to Make in India in defence sector

Ajay Jandyal



To give a major push to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atamanirbhar Bharat mission, the Indian Army has joined hands with various technology firms to cater to the demands of the present security scenario.

The Army says if it has to remain operational all around, it cannot rely on obsolete technology hence latest advancement in the sector have to be adopted.

“The Northern Command is always combat ready in the times to come, the challenges will continue to increase so we have to rely on advance technology and keep on innovating,” Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi told The Daily Guardian on the sidelines of the Northern Technology Symposium held in Udhampur on Sunday.

North Tech Symposium was organized under the aegis of HQ Northern Command at Udhampur. Technology symposium, exhibition was organised wherein 162 companies from Indian defence industry including MSMEs, DRDO, DPSU, participated and exhibited their products.

In addition, 42 innovative solutions by Army establishments towards enhancement of combat potential of the Army were also on display. Lt Gen BS Raju, Vice Chief of Army Staff inaugurated the first of its kind technology symposium in Jammu and Kashmir.

Addressing the event, vice-chief of Army staff Lt Gen V S Raju said that he would have appreciated if the investors, capital ventures would have also shown interest in the event to boost the new start-up.

“To cope up with the ever-evolving and ever-changing security scenario, we also need to adopt changes and keep on innovating. I am happy that so many companies have shown interest to showcase their products at the North Tech Symposium. I am hopeful that in near future, many of the products would be put in use by the armed forces,” General Raju said.

In the wake of recent incidence of drone dropping in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab from across the Indo-Pak border, various companies have displayed their products including anti- drone system, drone jammer which can strengthen the forces and border guarding forces to thwart Pakistan’s plan of disturbing peace.

Other than drone dropping threats, detection of tunnels on Jammu and Kashmir border is also a major threat for the security forces these days as 11 tunnels have been detected on Indian-Pakistan border in the past few years. There was number of companies which showcased their products to detect underground tunnels by using artificial intelligence and special radar.

The symposium saw active participation from of senior officers from different forces including IDS, Army HQ, HQ ARTRAC, other Commands, HQ Northern Command, and its subordinate formations. This interactive platform for knowledge diffusion through Joint Army-Industry participation was an important step in the direction of the government’s initiative of “Make in India”.

On the first day of the seminar, the participants from Army and industry discussed the policy and procedures for expeditious procurement, Raksha Atmanirbharta initiatives by Indian Army, DRDO and Defence Public Sector Undertakings, how can private sector contribute towards surveillance system, weapon sights, drones and counter drone system and miscellaneous technologies like 3D printing.

The symposium served to showcase cutting edge technologies and innovative products providing solutions to some of the complex challenges faced by the security forces in Northern Command and also acted as an ideal platform for mutual exchange of ideas between the domestic defence industry and the Army. The technologies and products on display covered a wide canvas, the prominent ones being surveillance and situational awareness, tactical mobility, firepower, force protection, communications, combat medical facility, robotics and simulators.

The symposium was a huge success and Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi, AVSM lauded the initiative and innovations of all the vendors. The General Officer expressed his conviction that the plethora of technologies available indigenously can further boost the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” project of the nation. The spirit of Atmanirbharta demands that research and development, the domestic defence industry and Army have work in a synchronized manner to realise the nation’s vision.

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An Indian Army Major lost his life after slipping into a ravine during a counter-infiltration operation in the Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday.

Major Raghunath Ahlawat.

Late Major Raghunath Ahlawat, 34 was leading his team on a counter-infiltration operation based on reliable intelligence input. “To identify a safe approach for the team he led from the front while carrying out reconnaissance on a route through a steep cliff. “Unfortunately, he slipped due to bad weather and slippery conditions and fell 60 meters into a ravine. Critically injured, he succumbed to his injuries enroute while being evacuated to the nearest Army Hospital,” Indian Army officials said in a statement.

The Army paid tribute to the officer in a ceremony held in the Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar led by Chinar Corps Commander Lieutenant General DP Pandey.

Major Ahlawat was commissioned into the Army in 2012 and hails from Dwarka, New Delhi and is survived by his wife and his parents.

The mortal remains of Late Maj Raghunath Ahlawat were taken for last rites to his native place, where he would be laid to rest with full military honours.

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For over USD 20 billion tender for manufacturing 114 multi-role fighter aircraft (MRFA) the Indian Air Force (IAF) would prefer to take the ‘Buy Global Make in India’ route over the strategic partnership policy model to produce the planes within the country.

‘Buy Global Make in India’ is a category of procurement process provided in the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 under Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to smoothen the acquisition of foreign weapon systems and their production within the country under the ‘Make in India’ in the defence programme. Along with the indigenous LCA Tejas and the 5th Generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft project, the 114 MRFA project would also be required by the IAF to maintain an edge over both the Northern and Western adversaries. We would prefer to go in for the Buy Global Make in India route which is preferred by the vendors also who are expected to take part in the programme, government sources said. Three American aircraft including the F-18, F-15 and F-21 (modified version of the F-16), Russian Mig-35 and Su-35 along with the French Rafale, Swedish Saab Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft are expected to participate in the programme. The Indian Air Force had also sought the views of these companies on the acquisition procedure that they would like to opt for in the programme and most of them have shown a preference for the Buy Global Make in India route only, they said.

The sources said that the force has also sought directions from the government on the project.

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Amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, defence supplies from Moscow are continuing as the Indian defence forces have received a shipment of overhauled aircraft engines and spares. However, there is concern about whether this would continue in the near future as a solution for making payment to Russia has not yet been found.

“The defence forces have received shipments from the Russians very recently and it is still on. So far, there has not been any glitch in supplies for our forces,” a government source told ANI.

“However, there are concerns on whether these supplies can continue in the same manner as the Indian side cannot make payments to these Russian firms in view of the sanctions related to their banks,” he added.

The sources said the Indian and Russian sides are working to find a way this issue can be overcome and many options are being explored.

The latest supplies from Russia included overhauled fighter aircraft engines and spares for an aircraft fleet and they arrived through the sea route, the sources said.

India also received the final parts of the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia whose first squadron is operational with its elements deployed to take care of threats from both Pakistan and China.

India is one of the largest users of Russian weaponry including major platforms like fighter jets, transport aircraft, helicopters, warships, tanks, infantry combat vehicles and submarines.

Over the last couple of decades, it has broadened its source base by including equipment from countries like the US, France and Israel in a big way but the dependence on Russia still remains very high.

The Air Force is dependent majorly on the Russian supplies as its mainstay Su30 aircraft fleet is Russian along with its Mi-17 helicopter fleet.

The Army is also dependent on the Russian-origin T-90 and T-72 tank fleet for the armoured regiments.

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The top brass of the Indian Army and Air Force would be assessing the preparedness of their forces and infrastructure requirements along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as the militaries of both India and China continue to remain in a standoff position in eastern Ladakh.

The Indian Air Force brass would be meeting this week from 6 April to discuss the security situation including air operations along the northern borders. The Indian Army commanders led by Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane would be assessing the present deployments along eastern Ladakh and the northeastern sectors from 18 April onwards in the bi-annual commanders’ conference.

The top brass of the Indian Army had jointly discussed the infrastructure requirements and developments required by the Indian side from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh during a conference in Lucknow recently.

India has made several changes in its deployments post aggression shown by Chinese troops in April-May 2020.

India and China have been talking to each other at both military and diplomatic levels to address the issues but so far they have not been able to do so mainly because of Chinese reluctance. In recent talks to address the Patrolling Point 15 friction, they proposed a solution that was not acceptable to the Indian side.

Indian security establishment led by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has been of the view that the issue would be resolved only if the Chinese completely disengaged and went back to pre April 2020 positions.The Indian side has strengthened its deployments manifold all along the LAC. The Indian Air Force has also started building advanced bases in the forward areas including infrastructure to operate fighter jets and attack helicopters from the forward fields such as Nyoma.

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Sharp fall in infiltration of foreign terrorists, stone pelting: CRPF DG



There has been a sharp decline in the infiltration of foreign terrorists as well as in stone-pelting incidents in Jammu and Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 from the erstwhile state, Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Kuldiep Singh said on Thursday.

However, noting the targeted killings in Jammu and Kashmir, the officer said, “Some time there is a spurt in terrorist incidents” and the recent killing in “periodic series” are among those, and “it occurs”. Replying to queries during a press briefing here at the CRPF Headquarters, Singh said, “CRPF immediately try to control terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir soon after it gets inputs. These incidents are not totally controlled by internal terrorist people who are there. On many occasions, it is controlled by those sitting across the border and it is directed whom to be targeted or not.”

The CRPF DG reiterated that “some directions comes from foreign lands too”, and thus, “terrorist incidents some times increase and sometimes decrease” “It does not mean that things are out of hand…You can see that the incidents of stone-pelting are almost nil. There has been a sharp decline in the number of infiltration of foreign terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir. Sometimes, there is a spurt in terrorist incidents but it happens,” he said.

The officer informed that the CRPF has neutralized 175 terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir and apprehended 183 from March 1, 2021, to March 16, 2022.

Meanwhile, the CRPF has recovered 253 arms from Jammu and Kashmir and seized 7,541 ammunition as well as 96.38 kg explosives, 23 Improvised Explosive Device (IED), 232 grenades, and 36 detonators from the Union Territory, Singh said. Further, he informed that as many as 91 encounters have taken place from March 1, 2021, to March 16 this year. CRPF is the premier Central Armed Police Force (CRPF) entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding the internal security of the country. It is deployed across the length and breadth of the country, assisting various state police in the discharge of their duties. CRPF is providing security cover to 117 protectees of various categories, he said adding that 32 women personnel have been inducted into the VIP Security Wing.

A total of 41 VIPs were provided security cover by the CRPF during recently concluded Assembly elections in five states, the DG said adding that the security of 27 protectees has been withdrawn post-elections. The CRPF chief also said that under financial assistance from the risk fund, ex-gratia for personnel martyred in action has been increased to Rs 30 lakhs from Rs 20 lakhs, and for all other cases, the ex-gratia has been increased to Rs 20 lakhs from Rs 15 lakhs.

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