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They are a counter-insurgency/anti-terrorist force made up of soldiers deputed from other parts of the Indian Army, who receive special incentives while serving in the Rashtriya Rifles. One half of the RR come from the Indian Army's infantry, and one half from the rest of the Indian Army. The force is deployed in 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 essence however, they are a crack force completely composed of Indian Army personnel, who undergo pre-induction training and operate in a grid structure to deal with terrorism at high altitudes.
The Rashtriya Rifles crest consists of Ashoka Chakra, two crossed rifles with fixed bayonets. Beneath, in a banner, is emblazoned the motto of this force – Dridhta aur virta.
It was raised by General S F Rodrigues and moulded by General B C Joshi in 1990 into a force dedicated to fighting insurgency in Kashmir and to complement the weak local security forces in the area. By 1994 it had 5,000 troops, all of whom served in Jammu and Kashmir. Some observers expected the force to grow to thirty battalions, with around 25,000 personnel. In March 1995, Indian television referred to the Delta Force of the "fledgling" Rashtriya Rifles. It was reported that the force was operating against terrorists and foreign mercenaries in Doda District in south-central Jammu and Kashmir.
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 a 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 trouble makers. 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, two RR battalions were made an integral part of each of the infantry regiments and other arms. Now not only are majority of troops of the two RR battalions drawn from the other units of the Regiment, but their Commanding Officer or the 2IC, is from the same regiment. This ensures not only functional cohesion but also the regimental esprit-de-corps. This experiment has produced excellent results even while the units were deployed in the most difficult areas.
- RR Sector locations
- Sector 1 – Anantnag
- Sector 2 – Kulgam
- Sector 3 – Manasbal
- Sector 4 – Doda
- Sector 5 – Baramulla
- Sector 6 – Poonch
- Sector 7 – Kupwara
- Sector 8 – Kupwara
- Sector 9 – Kistwar
- Sector 10 – Baramulla
- Sector 11 – Banihal
- Sector 12 – Badgam
- Some known RR battalion affiliations
- 1 RR- Mahar
- 4 RR – Bihar
- 7 RR – Punjab
- 10 RR – Rajput
- 11 RR – Dogra
- 12 RR – Grenadiers
- 13 RR – Kumaon
- 14 RR - Garhwal Rifles
- 15 RR – 1 Gorkhas
- 17 RR – Maratha
- 21 RR – Guards
- 22 RR – Punjab
- 32 RR – 3 Gorkhas
- 36 RR – Garhwal Rifles
- 48 RR - Garhwal Rifles
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 modernization programmes.
Further it might not be a bad idea to modify two full-fledged units of each of the regiments for the RR role for a period of two or three years instead of troops from different units of a regiment teaming up to form the core of the RR battalions. This will ensure greater cohesion since most men and officers would have known each other for a long period. In case of a full-fledged war, the same units on CI role can be used for rear area security. The army did have a system earlier where regular infantry battalions were raised on a reduced counter-insurgency establishment. These modified infantry battalions were used in the 1971 war with minimal reorganization. This system avoids the current hybrid composition of the RR battalions. Care is needed to ensure that troops of other arms/regiments/units deputed to a RR battalion are properly assimilated and don't feel left out. In one case, the accused in a serious act of indiscipline who was not from the parent regiment, put down discrimination against men like him for his actions.
The last decade of the 20th century was particularly bloody for Kashmir. By May 1990 it was clear that Kashmir valley was in the grip of an insurgency of intensity not seen before. It started out in the urban areas and then spread to the countryside. The army which till then was the guardian of the international border (IB) and the line of control (LOC) was called in to assist in Counter Insurgency (CI) ops. 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. By 1993 the army had got together a doctrine for the low intensity conflict in Kashmir. 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 the whole terrain 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, and so attack helicopters and artillery could be used. This enabled heavy firepower to be brought in to support troops in the grid in minutes. Now the Kashmir valley is very densely populated and there is fear of collateral damage from using heavy fire support. So troops fighting CI had to do without it. To makeup for that the grid had to be more densely packed. This is where the army saw the need for additional forces such as 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 Army Chief, the promise his predecessor – General Sunith F. Rodrigues – made about making the Pathankot-based 39 Division and the Bareilly-based 6 Mountain Division available for Kashmir was pending. He pushed a long-held army view, that India was involved in an extended counter-insurgency akin to the Naga problem in the North-East. Hence a new force – like the Assam Rifles – was needed which could be permanently located in the area to counter the insurgents. And that using these divisions for CI would be playing into Pakistani hands. He instead pushed for setting up 10 more RR sector HQs – 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 Narasimha Rao government gave a conditional go-ahead for a period of three years.
All units of the Army have an organizational structure called the War Establishment (WE). According to the WE are laid down the number of men, vehicles, weapons etc. which the unit is authorized for carrying out it's assigned role. The infantry battalions (inf bns) in the Indian Army have a standard organization called the Inf Bn Standard. Other types of inf bns according to their assigned role are called by various modifications to the Inf Bn Standard 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.
They had four companies and retained their battalion heavy weapons since they were dual tasked. The RR on the other hand has an organization structure tailor made for CI ops. They have six infantry companies and do not have the heavy battalion weapons which the Inf Bn CI carry although RR troops do train on them. Thus they 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 for two years. 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 CI Force HQs. Victor Force looks after Anantnag and Pulwana districts in the south Kashmir valley, Kilo Force looks after Kupwara and Baramulla districts in the north Kashmir valley. Both these forces come under the operational control of the 15 Corps. The Delta Force looks after the Doda district and the Romeo Force after Poonch and Rajouri. These two forces come under the operational control of the 16 Corps. Each force is headed by a 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.
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, EME, Artillery, Armoured Corps. The infantry provides 50%, services 10% and other arms 40% of the troops. In fact the army mothballed a few armoured regiments and transferred their manpower to the RR.
Each regimental center was given the task of raising 1–2 battalions in one year time. During this period, the units were raised and sent to the 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 stabilize and 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.
In raising the Rashtriya Rifles 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 the RR units were even the first to receive bullet-proof jackets and patkas. With manpower drawn from all its arms and services, the Army has had to deal with serious shortages in many of its conventional units, for Rashtriya Rifles battalions are maintained at full authorized strength. However once the teething problems were overcome the RR proved it was worth the trouble.
The Rashtriya Rifles comprises 65 battalions.
The efficacy of an RR battalion arises from the fact that unlike conventional Army battalions, it has six rifle companies instead of four they possess and has kept its heavy weapons—useless in their sphere of activities—back at their bases.
Originally comprising a total of four Counterinsurgency Forces, each responsible for an area of the Kashmir Valley and Jammu, the RR raised a fifth force 'Uniform' 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 and Badgam
- Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) K / Kilo Force – Kupwara, Baramulla and Srinagar
- Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) U / Uniform Force – Udhampur and Banihal
The Rashtriya Rifles in action
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 did contribute 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 has gone up to 82 out of 150 in 1996. Up to February '97, 17 RR officers (including 1 Colonel, 4 Lt. Colonels and 7 Majors), 13 JCOs and 169 ORs have made the supreme sacrifice. The officer to OR casualty ratio for the RR (at 1:9.94 till February 1997) is almost double the average for the army in the Kargil and 1971 war (at 1:20).
By the time the RR celebrated its 8th anniversary it had become the most decorated organization in the Army. They had more that 500 gallantry awards to their credit. 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 by the combined efforts of the Army, RR, and other paramilitary forces, the situation in Kashmir had stabilized 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 '99, 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 Kashmir and 22 in the Jammu region.
Kargil and beyond
The Indian Government has raised 12 more battalions of the RR and 20 more battalions of the Assam Rifles. Also sanctioned were the force headquarters Kilo and Romeo. The Kilo seems to be the current focus of attention with the maximum number of sectors and units under it. Apart from the direct increase in its own strength, the raising of the Assam Rifles battalions will allow the RR battalions deployed in the North-East to move to Kashmir. It was also decided in the post-Kargil scenario, that counter-insurgency operations will be undertaken now mainly by the Rashtriya Rifles in J&K and Assam Rifles in the NE, supplemented by other paramilitary forces such as the BSF and CRPF. The Army is to be used only in extreme situations. However it is to be seen how far this can be really implemented keeping in view the fact that about 100 army units are still involved in CI ops. Either way the Rashtriya Rifles has a job to do and do it they will.
The RR was raised as a para-military 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 para-military forces and central police organisations. However, this never happened and the force has consisted only of regular Army officers and Jawans, especially from the various Infantry regiments, like the Rajputana Rifles, Gorkha Regiment, Garhwal Rifles, Maratha Light Infantry, Sikh Light Infantry, and Sikh Regiment. Both officers and soldiers are sent to the RR on deputation for a period of 2–3 years. 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