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The Rashtriya Rifles or RR (Hindi: राष्ट्रीय राइफल्स; rarely National Rifles if translated verbatim to English) is a branch of the Indian Army under the authority of the Indian Ministry of Defence. The RR is a counter-insurgency force made up of soldiers deputed from other parts of the Indian Army. The force is currently deployed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Since the RR are under the authority of Ministry of Defence, and furthermore were initially designated "paramilitary" to get around an army manpower ceiling, they are sometimes misidentified as part of the Paramilitary Forces of India. In actuality however, they are a force completely composed of Indian Army personnel, who undergo pre-induction training and operate in a grid structure to deal with insurgents at high altitudes.
The last decade of the 20th century was particularly bloody for Kashmir. By May 1990 it was clear that the Kashmir Valley was in the grip of an insurgency of an intensity not seen before. It started out in the urban areas and then spread to the countryside. The army, which till then was guarding the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between India and Pakistan in the state, was called in to assist in counter insurgency (CI) operations. Based on its experience with low intensity conflicts in Nagaland, Sri Lanka and Punjab, the Indian Army was quite wary of trying to replicate strategy and tactics successfully used elsewhere. In Nagaland for example, the army had learnt that physical domination of each and every village was one way to combat insurgency. Long experience had taught the army the value of the grid system. In this system all terrain in the affected area was divided into a grid. Each node at any given time would have a platoon worth of ready-to-move soldiers, the so-called quick reaction team, which would mutually reinforce other nodes. All would be covered with heavier fire support and have adequate logistics.
However the grid often looked better on paper than on the ground. The obvious reason for this was the terrain. In the Wanni jungles of Sri Lanka where the grid had been successfully applied, civilians and villages were few and far between, enabling heavy firepower like attack helicopters and artillery to be brought in to support troops in the grid in minutes. However, the Kashmir Valley is very densely populated and there is a risk of significant collateral damage from using heavy fire support. Therefore, troops on CI operations had to do without heavy weapons and to make up for that, the grid had to be more densely packed. This is where the army saw the need for additional forces in the form of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR).
The army got the go-ahead to create the RR from the Vishwanath Pratap Singh government in 1990. The initial sanction was for two sectors headquarters (HQs) each of three battalions. When General B.C. Joshi became Chief of Army Staff, the promise his predecessor, General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, made about making the Pathankot-based 39th Infantry Division and the Bareilly-based 6th Mountain Division available for Kashmir was pending. Joshi pushed a long-held army view, that India was involved in an extended counter-insurgency akin to the Naga problem in the northeast. Hence a new force, like the Assam Rifles, was needed which could be permanently located in the area to counter the insurgents. He was of the opinion that using the army divisions for CI would be playing into Pakistani hands. He instead pushed for setting up 10 more RR sector HQs consisting of 30 battalions, or the equivalent of three divisions. It was also felt that in the bargain the army would have three additional battle-hardened divisions, ready for rear guard action during war. In 1994, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government gave a conditional go-ahead for a period of three years. By 1994 the RR had 5,000 troops, all of whom served in Jammu and Kashmir.
After the government gave the go-ahead to set up the RR, the army decided to milk its existing units by 10–20% of their personnel to set it up quickly. The officers and men came on deputation from all branches of the army including the Infantry, Army Service Corps, Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Artillery and Armoured Corps. The infantry provided 50% of the troops, services provided 10% and other arms provided 40%. In fact the army mothballed a few armoured regiments and transferred their manpower to the RR. In raising the RR to full strength, the army also had to dig into its war-wastage reserves, with the best available vehicles, weapons and radio sets going to the RR. In fact, RR units were the first to receive bulletproof jackets and specially designed Indian Army CI helmets known as patkas. With manpower drawn from all its arms and services, the army had to deal with serious shortages in many of its conventional units, as RR battalions are maintained at full authorised strength. However once the teething problems were overcome the RR proved it was worth the trouble.
The initial RR units performed well despite certain inherent weaknesses in their class and composition. They were raised on all India/all class basis with troops from all over the army, the logic being that since the units were going to fight an insurgency, there should be no scope for vested interests in accusing a battalion of bias based on class or regional attributes. Unfortunately, this setup created problems in the field. The initial RR units were like transit camps, with troops coming and going at regular intervals. There was little camaraderie and cohesion among troops. There were also numerous problems of administration and even of indiscipline. COs of infantry battalions who were asked to provide manpower generally used to use that as a chance to get rid of troublemakers. If the initial battalions performed well in hostile conditions, it was mainly due to the professional competence of officers who were asked to lead them.
Keeping this in mind, a decision was taken to alter the basic composition of the RR battalions. Instead of its units being composed of troops from all over the army, at least two RR battalions were made an integral part of each of the infantry regiments and other arms. The majority of troops in those RR battalions, along with the battalion's commanding officer, are from the same regiment. This ensures not only functional cohesion but also maintenance of regimental esprit de corps. Each regimental center was given the task of raising 1–2 battalions in one years' time. During this period, the units were raised and sent to Northern Command where they got another 4 to 6 weeks to consolidate. All of them went through a structured 8 week course in special CI schools. They were then given another month to stabilise and were then sent to the more dormant sectors of Kashmir and to the Punjab. To provide some experience base, 6 RR battalions were exchanged for 6 Assam Rifles units. The entire experiment of drawing RR battalions from individual regiments produced excellent results, even while the units were deployed in the most difficult areas.
The initial RR battalions deployed in the terrorist-infested areas of Tarn Taran in Punjab and Anantnag in Jammu and Kashmir proved to be extremely effective. In Punjab, the deployment of the army and RR units contributed significantly to the turnaround in the situation. Since then the RR has been increasingly fighting the low-intensity war on behalf of the army in Kashmir. Casualty figures indicate that from 3 out of 44 army casualties in 1991 being from the RR, the figure had gone up to 82 out of 150 in 1996. Up to February 1997, 17 RR officers (including 1 Colonel, 4 Lt. Colonels and 7 Majors), 13 JCOs and 169 other ranks had been killed in action. The officer to other ranks casualty ratio for the RR (at 1:9.94 till February 1997) was almost double the average for the army in the Kargil War and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 (at 1:20).
By the time the RR celebrated its 8th anniversary it had become the most decorated organisation in the army, as it had earned more that 500 gallantry awards. In fact, 25% of the units had already been awarded the unit citation by the Chief of Army Staff for their distinguished performances. By September 1997, due to the combined efforts of the army, RR, and other paramilitary forces, the situation in Kashmir had stabilised to the extent that the army decided to de-induct 13 battalions (12,000 troops) including two brigades from the Kashmir valley over a two-year period. In fact up to Spring 1999, the army had already withdrawn nine battalions (8,000 troops) including a brigade from the Kashmir valley without replacements. The last batch of 4 battalions (about 4,000 troops) along with a brigade HQ commenced de-inducting in April 1999 and was supposed to complete by mid-summer 1999. Despite all this the army was still contributing about 58 battalions to the CI ops – 36 in the Kashmir Valley and 22 in the Jammu region.
Another change that was made was to have the Union Home Ministry (MHA) – instead of the Ministry of Defence – take over the burden of funding the RR. Although this was a good step, in reality it existed on paper. In 1997, the MHA owed the army Rs.950 crores for the RR. The budgetary outlay for the force was Rs.263 crore in 1998–99. This was upped to Rs.375 crore in the revised estimates for that year and the outlay for 1999–2000 was Rs.587 crores. Clearly if the funding were to come from the correct source in time, the army could use it for its modernisation programmes.
All units of the Indian Army have an organisational structure called the War Establishment (WE). The WE is used to lay down the number of men, vehicles, weapons etc. which a unit is authorised to use for carrying out its assigned role. The infantry battalions in the Indian Army have a standard organisation called the Inf Bn Standard. Other types of infantry battalions are called by various modifications to the Inf Bn Standard according to their assigned role, like Inf Bn CI, Inf Bn Mountains, Parachute Inf Bn, Para Commando Bn and even (till 1975) Camel Mounted Bn. Till the RR came into the picture, the infantry battalions tasked for CI ops were on the Inf Bn CI.
A battalion on Inf Bn CI had four infantry companies and retained their battalion heavy weapons since they were dual tasked. The RR on the other hand has an organisation structure tailor-made for CI operations. Each RR battalion has six infantry companies and does not have the heavy battalion weapons which the Inf Bn CI carry, although RR troops do train on them. The heavy weapons are left back at bases as they are considered useless in CI operations. Thus RR battalions do not incur the costs of a heavier unit. Also unlike regular army units which were rotated out of the valley regularly, the RR concept was to rotate personnel after fixed periods of deputation. Currently this is 2-3 years. RR personnel receive 25% more salary than regular army personnel and additional benefits, thus often making it a coveted deputation. The RR units are permanently located in "sectors", with each sector being the equivalent of a brigade with three battalions. To create a distinct identity, the RR has its own dress, special insignia and flag logistics.
The RR units come under four "Counter Insurgency Force" (CIF) HQs. Each CIF is responsible for an area of the Kashmir Valley and Jammu Division. There were originally four CIFs, until the RR raised a fifth "Uniform" force in 2003–04:
- Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) R / Romeo Force – Rajouri and Poonch
- Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) D / Delta Force – Doda
- Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) V / Victor Force – Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Budgam
- Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) K / Kilo Force – Kupwara, Baramulla and Srinagar
- Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) U / Uniform Force – Udhampur and Banihal
Victor Force and Kilo Force come under the operational control of 15 Corps. Delta Force and Romeo Force come under the operational control of the 16 Corps. Each force is headed by a general officer commanding (GOC) with the rank of a Major General. In terms of their location and use, each of the units and sectors was seen as being interchangeable with a regular, equivalent army formation. GOC Victor Force in some instances would have 2 sector HQs and a regular infantry brigade in his charge. On the other hand, when 8 Mountain Division moved to Kashmir, it came with 2 brigades which were then augmented by adding a sector of the RR apart from a couple of independent mountain brigades to it.
The areas covered by the Counter Insurgency Forces are themselves divided into sectors:
- Sector 1 – Anantnag district
- Sector 2 – Kulgam district
- Sector 3 – Manasbal Lake
- Sector 4 – Doda district
- Sector 5 – Baramulla district
- Sector 6 – Poonch district
- Sector 7 – Kupwara district
- Sector 8 – Kupwara district
- Sector 9 – Kishtwar district
- Sector 10 – Baramulla district
- Sector 11 – Banihal
- Sector 12 – Budgam district
RR comprises 65 battalions. Known RR battalion affiliations include:
- 1 RR – Mahar Regiment
- 4 RR – Bihar Regiment
- 7 RR – Punjab Regiment
- 10 RR – Rajput Regiment
- 11 RR – Dogra Regiment
- 12 RR – The Grenadiers
- 13 RR – Kumaon Regiment
- 14 RR - Garhwal Rifles
- 15 RR – 1 Gorkha Rifles
- 17 RR – Maratha Light Infantry
- 21 RR – Brigade of the Guards
- 22 RR – Punjab Regiment
- 24 RR - Bihar Regiment
- 27 RR - Maratha Light Infantry
- 30 RR - Mahar Regiment
- 31 RR - Parachute Regiment
- 32 RR – 3 Gorkha Rifles
- 35 RR - Assam Regiment
- 36 RR – Garhwal Rifles
- 37 RR - Punjab Regiment
- 38 RR - Madras Regiment
- 41 RR - Maratha Light Infantry
- 42 RR - Assam Regiment
- 46 RR - Sikh Regiment
- 47 RR - Bihar Regiment
- 48 RR - Garhwal Rifles
- 51 RR - Mahar Regiment
- 53 RR - Punjab Regiment
- 56 RR - Maratha Light Infantry
- 59 RR - Assam Regiment
- 63 RR - Bihar Regiment
The RR was raised as a paramilitary force and it was envisaged that its personnel, like the Assam Rifles, would consist of regular army volunteers on deputation, ex-servicemen and lateral inductees from various paramilitary forces and central police organisations. However, this didn't work out. Instead, each infantry regiment of the Indian Army has at least two RR battalions, and soldiers and officers from the regiment are deputed to the RR battalions for 2-3 years. Thus it is not possible to join the RR directly, as personnel must first join a regiment before they can serve in the RR. RR personnel receive 25% more salary than regular army personnel and additional benefits, thus often making it a coveted deputation.
- P361 The Military Balance, 2010, The International Institute for Strategic Studies