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Rockets in Maoist Arsenal

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Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI (Maoist)], or Maoists in short, have been using rockets in their assaults on the security forces since the past, at least, eight years. Confirming this, Minister of State for Home Affairs RSN Singh informed the Lok Sabha, in reply to a question, on May 6, 2013, that the Maoists were “manufacturing improvised hand grenades and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) in units that have come up in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh”.

More than a year earlier, on March 4, 2012, the West Bengal police arrested Sadanala Rama Krishna, the head of the Maoists’ Central Technical Team, in 24 North Parganas district, and seized rocket launcher manufacturing equipment, Rs 36 lakh in cash and documents from his flat. Two days later, on March 6, in a joint-effort between the police forces of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh, police in the Chhattisgarh State capital Raipur recovered 80 boxes containing material/equipment for manufacturing rockets and mortars. At that time, Senior Superintendent of Police of Raipur, Mr Dipanshu Kabra, said: “There is no doubt that the seized material was meant for the Maoists. It is surprising that such hardware equipment for rocket launchers and mortars was stored in a busy area of (the State capital).”

The story of rockets being present in the Maoist arsenal is ten year’s old. Speaking to the media on May 26, 2003, the then Director General of Police, Andhra Pradesh, Mr P Ramulu, said that for the first time the police recovered the designs of an RPG during a raid on a dump of the then Communist Party of India [Marxist-Leninist (People’s War)], PW in short –– the earlier avatar of the Maoists –– in the Kalimela forests, along the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border.

In fact, a few years later, on January 10, 2007, police in Bhopal busted an arms making-cum-R&D unit of the Maoists, on a tip-off provided by the Andhra Pradesh police. During the raid, Madhya Pradesh Police recovered designs of cross-sections of RPGs and rocket launchers.

A year earlier, on September 7 and 8, 2006, in raids in Mahabubnagar and Prakasam districts, Andhra Pradesh, the police unearthed and recovered 875 empty rocket shells and 30 rocket launchers. Investigations led the police to the Ambattur industrial estate, a suburb of Chennai, where these were manufactured in seven separate industrial units/workshops. The complex trail of manufacturing and transshipment of the empty shells and rocket launchers involved five States, viz. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.

The complete story of the effort to design and manufacture rocket launchers and rockets is quite interesting. The Maoists, in their earlier avatar as the PW, constituted a technical team comprising Sande Rajamouli @ Krishna, a member of the Central Military Commission, who was later killed in an encounter, Akkiraju Hara Gopal @ Rama Krishna, Central Committee member and the then secretary of Andhra Pradesh State Committee, Sakhamuri Appa Rao @ Ravi, who later became the chief of the Maoist’s Military Intelligence Wing and was also killed in an encounter with the police, Matta Ravi Kumar @ Sreedhar, who, too, was killed in an encounter with the police. The technical team nominated Thota Kumara Swamy @ Tech Madhu, a native of Warangal district, Andhra Pradesh, to carry forward the effort to design and manufacture rocket launchers and rockets.

The first such piece was tested in the Malkangiri forests, Odisha, in 2003. After this, Tech Madhu was asked to proceed to Chennai and get the rocket launchers and rocket shells manufactured. The Maoists envisaged executing “Project Rocket Launchers” in two phases –– “Rocket Launchers – I” and “Rocket Launchers – II”.

“Rocket Launchers – I” was a pilot project undertaken ahead of elections to the Andhra Pradesh State Legislative Assembly in 2004. The plan was to manufacture 25 Rockets with launch pad (rocket launcher) at a cost of Rs 950 per rocket. In the process, five rockets each were distributed to Anantapur, Guntur and Nallamala. Five others were tested at Burugundala, Yerragondapalem mandal, Prakasam district, and five more were set aside for further trials in order to develop the next version.

“Rocket Launcher – II” was a project for the development of shoulder-fired rockets and launcher. These were tested in September/October 2004, again at Burugundala, by fastening the rocket to a tree in order to gauge its effective range, accuracy and impact. As one senior IPS officer told this researcher, in an interview in Hyderabad, in February 2007, “the Maoists, following the trials, were of the opinion that the rockets were neither effective enough nor accurate, but had nuisance value”.

After the second set of trials, Tech Madhu was instructed to have 1,600 rockets and 40 rocket launchers manufactured. Accordingly, he headed to Chennai and got 1,550 rockets and 40 rocket launchers manufactured. Tech Madhu was given Rs 35 lakh to execute the plan.

These rockets (RPGs) might, presently, be having mere nuisance value. However, when the Maoists acquire the versatility to manufacture rockets which could be fired with accuracy, then their lethal impact would be enormous and mind boggling. Many strategic and static locations would come under threat with disastrous consequences.

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Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) here .
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