Wednesday, June 29, 2011


NEW DELHI: Practice may make perfect but, with increasing industrialization as well as environmental consciousness, the Indian armed forces are slowly but surely running out of their firing ranges to hone their combat skills. The 1.1-million strong Army, the second largest in the world, for instance, is left with just about 40 operational field firing ranges (FFRs) of 104 ranges it once had.

Indian Air Force (IAF) is finding it tough for its fighters to practice bombing in at least four of its seven air-to-ground ranges because of booming civilian air traffic as well as urbanization around them.

Even the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has now raised a banner of protest against the move to establish three ports at Ichudi, Chandipur and Bahabalpur near its strategic missiles and advanced weapon testing ranges in Balasore district of Orissa.

"The proposed port at Ichudi is very near to the (missile) launch complexes. Movement of ships will pose a security threat to DRDO instal- lations. Further, the proposed ports fall within the notified area of DRDO and IAF, where dynamic trial/firing of unproved armament stores are being conducted on regular basis," defence minister A K Antony said in Parliament.

The test ranges at Wheeler Island or Chandipur-at-Sea are crucial for India's nuclear-capable missile programme, which will later this year see the first launch of the 5,000-km Agni-V missile.

Similarly, the FFRs are needed for soldiers to practice use of weapons, ranging from the ordinary rifles to anti-tank guided missiles."Not all units can be sent to the Pokhran ranges in Rajasthan for the drills. Nobody can argue against environment protection but our problem also has to be resolved in a way acceptable to all stakeholders," said a senior officer.

Officials say "notification" of around 55 ranges out of the existing inventory of 92 notified FFRs in different states has expired. "Renotification is a tortuous process, with states required to take clearances from the Union environment ministry for use of forest land for non-forest activities," said another officer.

IAF is also grappling with restrictions on use of air-to-ground ranges at the Dolland Mukh Range (Assam), Tilpat Range (UP), Singpur Range (Gujarat) and Sarmat Range (Madhya Pradesh). "There is civilian air traffic. Houses, factories and industries have also come up," said an officer. The overall situation may not be too "alarming" now but the Army feels if corrective action is not taken, it may become "irretrievable" in years to come.