A CRPF jawan, among seven wounded in a gun battle with Maoists in Jharkhand’s Latehar district in early January, being taken to a Ranchi hospital. (AFP file picture)
Nagpur, Jan. 21: The Maoists’ success in riddling an air force chopper in Chhattisgarh on Friday may owe to a manual they prepared almost a decade ago to train cadres on how to down helicopters using even ordinary weapons like .303 rifles.
“A helicopter is made mainly for transport and not for assault, so it can be damaged by firing from the field,” says the booklet, Jung ke Hunar (The Art of War), a copy of which the security forces found last year in Chhattisgarh’s Abujh Maadh forests.
“The petrol tank is located centrally below the body.... The body of a chopper is made of thin metal layers to keep the structure lightweight. A normal bullet can pierce its body.”
The manual shows its date of publication as 2003, which means the rebels had long ago anticipated coming up against air power some day and also the probable rules of engagement. Military choppers, being used against the rebels for the past couple of years, are allowed to fire only if fired upon.
Friday’s incident was the first time the Maoists brought a chopper down. The booklet, which has an entire chapter on “how to repulse an air assault”, explains ways of doing this, using pictures and citing experiences from global conflict zones such as the Falklands and Afghanistan.
“Any helicopter can be damaged or brought down if fired at from G3, AK47, SLR, LMG, or .303 or .315 rifles. Tracer bullets may be more effective than regular bullets,” says the booklet’s Hindi version, a copy of which The Telegraph has accessed.
“It is virtually impossible to stop a helicopter from coming down if a tracer bullet hits its petrol tank. An army helicopter, though, has bullet-proof covers underneath. To bring it down, we’ll need a sophisticated weapon with over 50mm calibre,” adds the manual, which, police say, has versions in English, Telugu and tribal languages such as Goendi too.
The thrust is on the effective use of small weapons. The manual says the guerrillas should form “a wall of bullets” by incessantly firing at an “enemy” helicopter.
If the chopper is flying low and fast, they should use an automatic or semi-automatic rifle from at least 200 metres (about twice the length of a football ground). If a chopper is flying low and slow, they should target it from 50 metres with “burst fire” (everybody firing at once).
Chhattisgarh police say that since writing the manual, the Maoists have developed a hand-held rocket launcher and grenade propeller that can be effective against choppers.
Line of fire
If the chopper is coming straight at the cadres, they should use “point firing”: the entire platoon should select a point on the nose of the aircraft and fire at it.
If the aircraft is not heading in the guerrillas’ direction, they should resort to “reference point firing”: raining bullets at a single, pre-decided point on the chopper’s line of flight. Firing from different sides will help.
The manual says small weapons can be used effectively to:
Bring down the chopper or “dent it to such an extent that repairs would keep it out of operation for days”. The chopper hit on Friday took 16 bullets and was extensively damaged.
Force the pilot to fly away from the area for safety.
Force the helicopter to fly high instead of low, reducing its capability to fire at the guerrillas on the ground.
Force the chopper to fly at speed, hobbling its ability to hit guerrillas on the ground.
The area where the chopper was hit on Friday is hilly and forested, a landscape that makes flying and landing difficult. The Maoists may have been hiding on a hillock overseeing the landing site.
The manual has a segment on how the guerrillas should use the terrain to their advantage by concealing themselves during an attack.
The manual also deals with the defensive tactics to be adopted if the “enemy” uses choppers to launch aerial attacks.
It advises cadres on how to hide themselves, sound an alert, and move in divergent directions with at least 25 metres separating any two guerrillas to minimise casualties.
At least one automatic or semi-automatic rifle is needed to counter an aerial raid, the manual says, and such operations should be led by a rebel of at least section commander rank.
The manual uses pictures and diagrams. The section dealing with firing from a kneeling position has a small picture of a soldier in that position. The paragraph on “point firing” and “reference point firing” is accompanied with diagrams.
The Maoists have studied the use of small weapons against aircraft in various global conflicts. The manual says:
US and British special forces have downed enemy fighter jets and helicopters using LSW (Light Sports Weapon) and GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun).
Firing from a GPMG fitted to an anti-aircraft mount is more effective than firing from a kneeling position.
In the 1982 Falklands war, UK forces shot down Argentine jets with small weapons.
Afghan guerrillas used 12.7mm machineguns, positioned on mountain peaks, to bring down Soviet Mi-24 gunships in the Panjsher valley.