Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.

War and Peace: Analysis of BSF’s role


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: BSF

Mains level: Paper 3 -Wartime role of BSF

The BSF came into being in the wake of the 1965 India-Pakistan war. So, its ‘innate’ tasks involves both wartime and peacetime roles. This article is written by a retired IPS officer who has been ADG of BSF.  Our aim is to provide you with on-ground experience of issues in this security force. Focus of the article is on the preparedness of the BSF for its wartime role. From the exam perspective, focus on issues and possible solutions.

Role of BSF

  • Officially, its role is defined in expansive terms like ‘security of the border of India and matters connected therewith’.
  • The tasks of BSF are divided into peacetime and wartime.
  • 1) The peacetime tasks include preventing smuggling and any other illegal activity, and unauthorised entry into or exit from the territory of India, etc.
  • 2) The wartime tasks of the BSF include holding ground in less threatened sectors, etc.

Unpreparedness in wartime role

  • The BSF, in terms of its defences, equipment, weaponry and training, is not at all prepared for its wartime role.
  • This means that in the eventuality of any military assault, our ‘first line of defence’ would simply crumble.
  • Falling back on army’s mobilizations for a counterattack may take up to several days.
  • Retreat and loss of territory in this period is a possible scenario.
  • The report titled ‘Border Security: Capacity Building and Institutions’ of the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, submitted to the Rajya Sabha on April 11, 2017:
  • Does not talk about the wartime role of the BSF even once.
  • It talks only of its peacetime role including fencing, floodlights and roads along the borders, development of integrated check posts, and construction of strategic roads.

The fallacy of infantry attack

  • The founders of the BSF, including the committee of secretaries, had a wrong presumption that the assault on the ‘first line of defence’ will be by the enemy’s ‘exposed’ infantry.
  • This assault, they imagined, would be repulsed by BSF soldiers wielding similar arms.
  • But that presumption is a folly.
  •  Now, as a rule of thumb, infantry assault, whether supported by armour or not, or even a purely armour assault on any position is preceded by as heavy and as accurate artillery bombardment as possible.
  • If the attacking nation could afford it, such as the US during the 1991 Gulf War the bombardment could be aerial also.

Unprepared to withstand shelling

  • Our ‘first line of defence’ does not have any defensive structures or fortifications that could withstand artillery bombardment even for a minute.
  • According to photographs available in the public domain, most BSF observation posts on the international border are ramshackle structures of tin sheets and sandbags erected on small mounds of earth.
  • Adding to that, the mounds are in full view of the enemy and their locations are known to them to the last centimetre.

 Uninspiring weaponry

  • The photographs of the 105 mm Indian Field Gun and their staple, the 7.62 mm medium machine gun are available in public domain.
  • The 105 mm Indian Field Guns have been placed under the operational command of the army, and BSF would not be able to use them when the enemy makes first contact with them.
  • That leaves them with their 51 mm and 81 mm mortars.
  • The 51mm mortar, with just 109 grams of explosive per shell and a maximum range of  850 m is as good as useless in a war.
  • The 81 mm mortar bomb with an explosive charge of 750 grams has a maximum range of 6000 m.
  • The enemy artillery would in any case be firing from way beyond that range, thereby making effective retaliation through mortars impossible.
  • Even when enemy IFV/APC or armour would come closer and in range, the smooth-bore 81 mm mortar is inherently not accurate enough to hit a moving vehicle. (smoothness of bore reduces accuracy)
  • Even the NATO rifled 120 mm mortars have a CEP (circular error probable) of 136 m.
  • As for the 7.62 mm medium machinegun, it is an anti-personnel weapon with the armour penetration of the M80 bullet being just 3 mm at 500m.
  • That makes it useless against even lightly armoured vehicles.
  • This means that the BSF outposts will not be able to deliver any effective fire at all on an enemy assault.

IPS leadership issue

  • Since the BSF’s inception, the force’s Indian Police Service (IPS) leadership has not focused on the wartime role of the BSF.
  • The IPS officers in top positions in the BSF lack knowledge of military science that could enable them to appreciate and address the wartime role.

Way forward

  •  The only defence feasible against artillery bombardment is to go sub-surface—in the form of deep concrete dugouts and fire trenches.
  • Then we also need elaborate anti-tank ditches.
  • To deliver effective fire on enemy armoured and lightly armoured vehicles, and infantry operating under their protection, the BSF needs weapons which carry enough explosive payloads to tackle armour, both light and heavy.
  • Portability, manoeuvrability and accuracy are important considerations in the ‘first line of defence’ attacking armour.
  • A veritable battery of ATGMs and cheaper yet accurate options like the 80 mm Breda Folgore RCL are available.
  • Using them effectively would require defensive fighting positions interconnected by communication trenches.
  • Research needs to be done to mount weapons like the Shipunov 2A42 30 mm autocannon on platforms faster than the BMP-2.
  • Similarly, MMGs/GPMGs need mobile platforms like Humvees to increase their survivability as well as effectivity.

Consider the question “The BSF, which is often hailed as India’s ‘first line of defence’ has tasked with wartime and peacetime roles. Though it is quite adept in peacetime role, its wartime preparedness needs an overhaul. Comment.”


These issues with the BSF could result in a  situation where there is every possibility of rout and retreat in the early days of the war. This issue needs to be urgently addressed by the government.


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