Home Shoot to Kill Versus Shoot to Injure :A Soldier's Tactical Perspective

Shoot to Kill Versus Shoot to Injure :A Soldier's Tactical Perspective

History of warfare is as old as mankind; in fact ‘wars’ have actually been responsible for creating ‘history’ itself. Dying in the battle field has been accorded the highest honour in the theory of ‘Karma’ as per holy book ‘Gita’, which has recorded the dialogue between Lord Krishanaand Arjun, the warrior. Victorious you shall rule the earth and in death ‘thy shall go to heaven’, no questions asked. Loaded with such heritage wealth and wisdom, one will tend to find this whole debate regarding shoot to kill or injure/incapacitate, baseless. Apparently this could be one of the main issues for discussion during this month’s Army Commanders’ conference (April2016). In battlefield one can calibrate the response to a threat but not the degree of injury that can be caused to the enemy. While one may argue in favour and against with equal ease, in the comforts of the drawing room under the shadow of the values of human rights; the same does not hold good when seen in the milieu of the battlefield, where it will always be simple - ‘Shoot to kill,’; after all a soldier has been best trained for this acid test ‘EkGoli-EkDushman’. It is written all over the training areas and the shooting range from day one, when the soldier’s conversion from a civilian to a combat soldier actually began.  

Let me start the debate by a very basic assumption that, every soldier who goes to battle must have this very strong belief   that he will come out of it victorious by destroying the enemy with his superior tactics and skillful use of weapon. If he does not have this confidence, he simply will go weak in his knees and not able to launch himself into battle with any kind of motivation or leadership that may be available to him. After all he has trained well in peace-time tosave blood in war. His sole aim is to close-on to the enemy without getting killed by using techniques of field-craft and battle-craft, with total focus on destroying the enemy before the enemy can destroy him and his mission. Now in these situations can there be any other thought process than the complete destruction of the enemy forces out to kill the soldier on a mission?  Remember there are no losers in war!    

The small arms are at the lowest end of the spectrum, when we think of the range of weapons available for destruction of the enemy in order to decimate its ‘will’ to resist the subjugation. At same time, the Infantry which is to inherit these small arms Infantry Small Arms System (INSAS) is at the cutting edge in the battlefield.How are they to be given weapon only to ‘injure’ and not to kill the enemy?

When in any given situation without doubt, he is likely to be killed by the enemy without remorse; in split of a second. We cannot send a soldier to the battlefield without empowering him to completely destroy the enemy opposite him, for that would amount to committing a ‘hara-kiri’. Would the enemy too have followed the same philosophy for equipping its forces? There is absolutely no reason to think so.

In fact at the other end of the spectrum, there are weapons of mass destruction and whole range of autonomous platforms meant for destruction of the enemy with least losses to  self. Since times immemorial, the battlefield has not changed its outcome, where there are no runners up in war.

Let us not forget the emerging threats of sub-conventional conflicts. In our experience we have seen terrorists getting away any number of times with more than ten bullets on their body from the present mainstay weapon called 5.56 mm INSASRifle produced on the philosophy to ‘injure’. Finally the terrorist was neutralized with 7.62 mm AK-47Rifles!There cannot be more demoralizing anincident than this,for a soldier in combat?

Now, moving on to the concept of change of barrel, for switch over from one type combat to another, that is from sub-conventional to conventional. This is the second issue of INSAS to cater for the entire spectrum of threat facing the soldier. Well you can change the barrel but who will change the mind-set of the soldier? In sub-conventional a soldier is required to hold back the fire in order to kill the enemy at point blank range, in a split second engagement. While in conventional operations he needs to engage it by exploiting the maximum range of the weapon to cause heavy attrition on to the enemy. One is rather skeptical that such quick change over in the system, even with some orientation may not be a good idea at all, which appears more like a mid-course correction. It takes time for a personal weapon to become part of the body to act in unison in an extreme ‘Danger’ situation.In any case we do not have very healthy ‘kill ratios’ from WW-II, in case of ‘Shoot to Kill’weapons; where barely 20% soldiers could use their weapons on an advancing enemy. Now it is hugely a negative logic to suggest that weapons based on philosophy of injuring rather than killing could ever be the ‘Winner’ in war.

Now the issue of larger number of troops getting engaged to take care of injured colleagues. This in itself is aflawed sense of presumption. Even in the days of Mahabharata, the injured were attended to at the end of the battle of the day, after retreat- never during the battle. The process of tending to the sick and wounded model of WW-II is too old and out dated to be followed in the present day context.

The philosophy that will lead us to evolution of General Staff Policy Statement (GSPS) and further lead on to General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR), cannot have any other basis than the very sound foundation of science of warfare as it has evolved over the centuries.The use of force as a tool for decision making itself is the weapon of last resort, where no pity is warranted on the adversary who has ill understood the logic of war. No one is going to risk losing ‘war’ simply to look after the injured!

Views expressed by the Author are personal. Author is Distinguished Fellow at CLAWS.

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Rameshwar Roy
Chair of Excellence
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