First large order for ballistic helmets for army jawans provides hope to industry - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 19 January 2017

First large order for ballistic helmets for army jawans provides hope to industry

Private Indian firms supply body armour globally, but struggle to meet Indian Army specs

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Jan 17

In April 2001, Sepoy Govind Ram (name changed) was the leading scout of a Rashtriya Rifles patrol, moving cautiously along National Highway 1A on the outskirts of Bijbehara. As the patrol came under fire from a two-story building ahead, a bullet grazed his temple and thudded into the interior of the steel “bullet proof patka” on his head --- improvised head protection that covers only the top of soldiers’ heads. The bullet ricocheted into his skull; he was dead within seconds.

Fifteen years and hundreds of dead soldiers later, the army last month finally signed a Rs 175 crore contract for 158,000 ballistic helmets. Had Govind been wearing one of these Rs 10,000 helmets, he would probably be alive today.

Unlike the bulletproof patka, the ballistic helmet covers the sides and rear of a soldier’s head, and the upper part of his forehead. It is built to US specification NIJ 40, which means it can withstand the impact of a 9 millimetre (mm) pistol or carbine bullet from close range and a 5.56 mm rifle bullet from further. It also protects soldiers’ heads from flying shrapnel from grenades and artillery shells.

Supplying this first batch of ballistic helmets for regular soldiers (a small number were bought earlier for Special Forces) will be Kanpur-based firm, MKU. The company has supplied 200,000 ballistic helmets to foreign armies, but has only now been selected to protect the Indian Army.

The contract is for about 100,000 ballistic helmets weighing 1.3 kilogrammes, and some 50,000 helmets for commanders, with integrated radio headphones. Delivery must be completed within three years, i.e. December 2019.

In winning the five-year-old tender, MKU beat out well-regarded competitors, including Bengaluru-based Tata Advanced Materials Ltd (TAML), and Kanpur-based Shri Lakshmi Defence Solutions; and Integrated Defence Products (IDP).

All these companies anticipate additional orders for helmets. The current order equips less than one-seventh of a 1.2 million-strong army. Of these, some 400,000 soldiers are in operations at any given time.

Besides doing without ballistic helmets, the army has fought insurgency for decades without suitable bulletproof jackets (BPJs). A tender for 186,138 BPJs has made little headway for years; with the army ruling that the jackets offered did not meet the army’s specifications.

To meet its critical operational needs, the army was given a “one time relaxation in existing financial powers of Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS)… to procure 50,000 bullet proof jackets”, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told Parliament on December 22. 

In addition, “Commands have been given approval to procure minimum inescapable quantity of bullet proof jackets through Army Commanders Special Powers Fund to meet urgent operational requirements”, said Parrikar.

Yet, there is no answer to the question of why vendors like MKU, who meet global standards while supplying body armour to foreign militaries, like those of Germany and West Asia, are invariably found substandard by the Indian military.

MKU, whose Kanpur facilities Business Standard visited in 2015, has expanded globally over the years. It even has a ballistic laboratory and a fabrication unit in Sittensen, near Hamburg, in Germany, which it calles MKU GmbH. Since the government of India does not allow private vendors to set up ballistic testing laboratories, this is where MKU proof-tests its protective gear.

The government has overruled repeated requests from private Indian firms to allow testing of their body armour products at defence ministry establishments like the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL) at Chandigarh.

MKU officials say that, although Indian orders remain a trickle --- like an order in 2012 from the Home Ministry for 59,000 BPJs for the central armed police forces (CAPFs) --- a steady flow of international orders keeps the company going. Over the years, MKU claims it has supplied customers in close to a hundred countries.

To discharge its West Asian orders, MKU established a production facility in 2014 at Ras-al-Khaimah, near Dubai.

Yet, the biggest potential customer for MKU and other body armour fabricators remains India. With a 1.6 million-strong military awaiting modern protective gear, the industry’s eyes remain focused on New Delhi. 


  1. This must remain the biggest scam in independent India. We talk of all big things like Rafale, submaries, air craft carriers. But completely ignore the foot soldier.
    Even with these helmets and proposed bullet proof jacekts, the Indian jawan must be the most poorly protected in the world.
    Pathetic is too mild a word.
    I hope all the soldiers of indian Army and Jawans of CAPF are equipped with these quickly . Rafales can wait.

  2. Jara Generals ko bhejna with pagdi and cap only on the LOC....and 1 adult nappy also.

    Shame on Indian Army. Good enough for US Army but not for our Jawaans. Lagta hai "mithai" nahi mili hogi General ko apne desh ki factory se. Ya phir, ab jaake enough "mithai" mili ;-)

    1. The persons who are Generals now were young officers yesterday and have fought insurgency wearing the same inadequate patkas and jackets.
      Kindly desist from displaying your ignorance.

  3. Hi Sir,
    Nice and informative article as usual but the question is : Are the Indian Army standards very specific and high compared to the ones of other nations? Or is it a question of naively not believing in the competence of an Indian product?

    Nilesh G. Naik

    1. Terrorists use 7.62 mm not 5.56 mm. Higher specification not met by any manufacturer.

  4. Why doesn't GoI allow private vendors to set up ballistic testing laboratories?

  5. Why is it that private companies are not allowed to setup ballistic testing labs in India? Doesn't that go against indigenization of defence technology in India!

  6. Why is it that govt does not allow private firms to have testing facilities in India? Doesn't it go against the weapons indegenization efforts!

  7. again, the prestitute is back with is mumbo jumbo..time & again i have been flabbergasted that an idiot like you commanded 4 horse, hell was even commissioned.
    was the sepoy, killed in 2001, who was fired upon killed by an 9mm bullet ?
    i am sure as hell that the bullet was a 7.62mm, & no regular helmets protect from these, not even these new helmets will.
    so keep your stupidity to yourself.

  8. It is a fact that human life has little value in India, as also in Indian army. Taking a leaf out of the video campaigns for better food or soldierly jobs for soldiers, this lack of basic life saving equipment too will change ONLY when people outside of the army talk about it openly. The MOD and indeed the army too, couldn't care less for what the soldiers want. Maybe the army does but what does it matter since it dares not voice its opinion strongly enough. So, let the twitterati get active on this too. Generals will talk of damage to the value systems but the job will get done.

  9. Yes, Colonel, you have certainly not worn or ever seen a bullet proof Pataka if you say this "

    improvised head protection that covers only the top of soldiers’ heads.

    Unlike the bulletproof patka, the ballistic helmet covers the sides and rear of a soldier’s head, and the upper part of his forehead

    and now a days you are developing cold feets in publishing the comments .... that is a sign of deep troble.

  10. @ Anonymous 14:31

    Like so many anonymous critics (who don't have the courage to post under their real names), you're very forceful in criticising my description of a BPP and BPH.

    So how would you describe a BPP? And a BPH?

    Post your description and let readers decide who has seen and worn what.

    And yes, as a matter of fact, I publish all comments that are not racist, obscene or abusive.

  11. @ Varunn

    You forgot to mention why you're so sure the jawan was killed with a 7.62 and not a 9 mm bullet. Do let us know how you know.

    1. Easy. Terrorists in J &K use 7.62 mm AK-47 rifles or same calibre Chinese origin pistols. Never heard of terrorists using 9 mm weapons.

  12. col, i can't be sure..& i apologise..
    when i make a mistake, i own it up, not unlike you congress stooges.Here i realise i am wrong, & i concede.
    But, i will also say that the majority of small arms recovered from terrorists are AK variants that fire 7.62mm bullets, Pika machine guns, again 7.62mm, and occasionally some 9mm pistols.
    Never have i noticed a 5.56mm weapon being recovered.
    So, by the law of probability, i am correct.But, like i said before, i am also sorry for my mistake, afterall, this is what makes me different from an ashamed liar like you.

    Lastly, please tell us, how many encounters did u have with terrorists.Given the rich history of armour corps protecting our northern & eastern borders from militants, i am sure
    you have plenty to share, it would be interesting to know if any of those bullets were 7.62mm variety.
    &, sir, if you ever write a book about your experiences in the army, I would be the 1st to buy it, specially if it would have chapters enlightening the readers about your dare devil exploits in kashmir or NE.

  13. @ Varunn 23:39

    Great, so you've admitted you were talking without knowing anything the hell about what you were talking about.

    So here are a few more questions I would (and I'm sure other readers of this blog would too) appreciate answers to:-

    1. How long did I serve in J&K? And, did my armoured regiment ever do counter-insurgency duties in J&K?

    2. Have I ever served in the north-east? When and where?

    3. How do you conclude I'm a supporter of the Congress Party?

    Waiting eagerly (as are others) for your response.


  14. Unprofessional to comment on a person rather than his/her views. We still need to mature as a community that can use the web professionally. Lawyers go for the
    'Ad hominem' strategy (Attack the person, rather than the logic of his argument) only when they run out of alternatives.

  15. Just another feather in our defective weapons-procurement strategy. Some more below

    - How F-16/MiG-35/F-18/Gripen-E failed to make through IAF MMRCA trials when each is a worldwide leader in its respective category? That too for a Air Force which is basically flying 40 year old aircraft in 15 squadrons.

    - Arjun beating the T-90 in comparative trials but still not good enough for IA

    - A truly defective product like the INSAS rifle has been made the standard IA combat rifle.

  16. It's very disappointing to see that our government has to import helmets for military troops. Can't we manufacture them in India?


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