Tavor is one of the fanciest looking guns that I have ever come across. Being an Army brat, I often get bombarded with pictures of guys serving in the Army holding fancy toys in their hands. Toys— atleast that’s what I thought soldiers treated their weapons as, until a soldier told me about his passion for guns, and the reason why Tavor is one of the best suited guns for the operations carried out by Indian defence forces in an urban setup. This is an interview of a soldier I did recently.
Me: Soldier, I saw your pic holding a Tavor in your grip. The pic looks good. Could you…
The first question is interrupted by the soldier…
Soldier: Yes Mam, Tavor lets you hold it tightly. The weapon is such that it is easy to hold, and when it’s held, it feels like a part of your body—the weapon merges with you.
Me: I see, what makes Tavor so user-friendly?
Soldier: In assault rifles, center of mass of the weapon plays an important role. To engage an enemy at a long distance, say 300-400m, you need a weapon that is accurate and stable. Tavor has both the traits as it is a bullpup.
Bullpup is the firearm’s configuration, in which the action is located behind the trigger group, alongside the shooter’s face. The bullpup reduces overall size and weight of the weapon when compared to guns that have barrels of similar size like an American M4 carbine. The best thing about the configuration is that it doesn’t compromise the power of the weapon. Apparently, the bullpup configuration reduces the length of the weapon by 25%.
Me: Yes, I have heard about Tavor being a bullpup. Does it increase the comfort level the soldier has with his weapon?
Soldier: Absolutely. The advantage of a bullpup configuration is that the weight lies towards the rear of the weapon, so when the operator places the gun on his shoulder, it feels natural. Imagine having a gun with its concentrated weight towards its front or center? The weight in front would make it difficult for the soldiers to swing the weapon up and around.
In Tavor’s case, the weight towards the rear also assists in controlled one-hand shooting. I have yet to come across another weapon which gives that ease to the operator.
The most commonly used Tavor is TAR 21, which stands for Tavor Assault Rifle of 21st century. TAR-21 usually weighs about 3.27 Kgs, add to it 150 rounds that an infantry guy carries with him, with so much load strapped to him the operator’s mobility is impeded. As you know, a soldier has to move around a lot, so reduced weight of the weapon increases his efficiency. A weapon’s reduced weight is also a life saver.
Me: Life saver? How?
Soldier: With a reduced weight and shorter length, Tavor is easier to maneuver.
Guns are usually pointed in a downward direction when not in use and during an ambush i.e when you are not expecting an attack, your reduced reaction time to bring the gun to your shoulder and to fire it, works as a life saver.
Infact during an operation you really do not have the luxury to take your eyes-off the target, and under such circumstances, effortless and quick tactical reloads, without taking your hand off the grip is a huge advantage to the operator. In Tavor’s case the ease of changing magazines is such that you can just flick the mag release with your thumb, and quickly insert the new magazine with your support hand.
Most of the time in places like Kashmir, it’s a FIBUA like situation.
Me: What is FIBUA?
Soldier: It’s an acronym for Fighting in built-up area. Commonly known as urban warfare.
Me: Do you mean Tavor is an apt weapon for places like Kashmir?
Soldier: Yes. A lot of times during CASO (cordon and search operation), we have to fight terrorists in places surrounded by buildings for a long duration, sometimes for as long as 18hours. Under such circumstances, we have to keep our hands stretched for hours at length, and while the operation is on, any fatigue can cause death. This is when one realizes the importance of having a powerful yet lighter gun like Tavor. In places like the valley, we are on constant move, we prefer having a gun which is easy to store in the vehicles we travel while commuting from one place to another. Tavor, the Israeli weapon, is custom made for such challenges posed by the urban warfare. An Israeli soldier, day-in and day-out, has to fight his enemy in a built-up area.
Me: How are the situations in Israel and India similar?
Soldier: This is not just about India and Israel, modern warfare is fought indoors– in confined spaces– and in & out of vehicles. There have been times when we were fighting the terrorists while it was raining and we had nothing over our head to prevent water from drenching us and our guns. On other occasions, we have had to carry out operations under scorching sun, at places where it was windy and dusty.
Thankfully, Tavor has a completely sealed mechanism that makes it mud and water proof. Well, almost! The weapon has apparently been tested by submerging it first in water and then in dirt, yet it managed to fire accurately without effecting its efficiency.
During the initial days of Tavor, somewhere in early 2005, about 350- 400 Tavors were supplied to India’s special frontier force (SFF). After field testing the guns they declared the performance of the weapon “operationally unsatisfactory” due to problem with its foldable butt. Then the gun was worked upon and when it gave good performance on the Indian terrain, the weapon was cleared for delivery.
The point I am trying to make is –the weapon is just right for the present circumstances under which we are operating.
Me: Now that we are discussing FIBUA, is it true that in the urban areas chances of close quarter battles (CQB) are high?
Soldier: Yes mam, in urban warfare not just the chances of a CQB are high but also of a casualty. The casualty ratio in FIBUA is 3.57:1, which means for every 3-4 terrorists killed, we have a casualty on our side too.
Me: That’s pretty high.
Soldier: Yes, this why it is of paramount importance to conceal the weapon. A lot of times, we are not in our uniform while patrolling in the valley and we do not like to alarm the civilians living in an area. If our gun is spotted then it also alerts the terrorists. Casualties in the valley, are high also because the terrorists use a 7.62mm bullet.
Me: How is a 7.62 bullet different from others?
Soldier: A long barrel chambered gun usually uses 5.56mm and 7.62mm. A 5.56mm is used for incapacitating a person. We might use it on an enemy whom we want to capture alive, as we want to injure him and not kill him. Au contraire 7.62mm can kill you, this is why terrorists have no qualms in using a 7.62mm. Sniper guns use bigger bullets, as it needs to cover a longer distance and needs more kinetic energy.
Me: So why don’t we use 7.62mm ?
Soldier: We do use 7.62mm. Just that we may not use it as often in FIBUA. There are many reasons, and one of the most practical reason is– that for the same amount of weight, we can carry 3 times more 5.56mm bullets than the 7.62mm bullets. Next, we need heavier weapons to fire 7.62mm.
Also there’s this feature of 5.56mm that through a barrel of 16” to 18” length, it achieves great amount of kinetic energy such that it can hit the target accurately, without a drop in its velocity. The 5.56mm bullet when hits the target undergoes fragmentation, damaging the tissue around the wound severely and incapacitating the enemy immediately.
Tavor that uses 5.56mm is made for CQBs where we kick down doors, swing through windows and hallways, and fire while on the run. Any amount of extra weight whittles down our agility.
Me: Understood. So how do you go about your operations in FIBUA?
Soldier: Mam, the operational strategies change with every operation, and for obvious reasons it cannot be disclosed, but the most commonly adopted procedure is dividing the sub-unit of about 10 people into an assault group and support group. The support group engages the terrorists first and the fire/assault group moves in to annihilate the enemy.
It is the guy in the fire group who usually carries UBGL (under-barrel grenade launcher). We call him a bomber man.
Me: What is UBGL?
Soldier: UBGL is under-barrel grenade launcher, but let me explain the different types of Tavor used by Indian Army, to help you understand the different variants of Tavor.
Basic Tavor : TAR-21 (9mm parabellum), this has a 457mm long barrel
UBGL: GTAR-21 (G for grenade), it has a 40mm long under barrel grenade launcher
C TAR-21: Compact TAR-21, this one has a shorter barrel length of 380mm, specially used by the SF (Special Forces).
S TAR-21: Sniper TAR-21, this is a designated marksmen rifle (DMR). It has a bipod and optical sight.
M TAR-21: This is micro Tar-21 or also called X 95. It uses 5.56x 45 NATO cartridge and 5.56 x 30 Indian cartridge, can be modified to use 9x19mm cartridge too.
We call it Zittara in India.
Me: Interesting. So what is the best thing about Tavor?
Soldier: That I can hold it like a woman’s waist.
Like a true soldier he said it with a stoic expression on his face and then continued…
Every Soldier is very passionate about his weapon. Over a period of time the weapon becomes a soldier’s best buddy that saves him from many perils. This kind of association is possible only if the soldier develops a certain amount of comfort while holding his weapon. The ease of holding a Tavor is such that I can also fire it with a single hand. This is why Tavor is used by about 15-16 countries around the world.
Me: What are the other rifles for similar purpose?
Soldier: The TAR-21 equivalents already in use within Indian Army are—German company Heckler & Koch’s MP5, MP7, MP9 , and the Swiss SIG Sauer 716.
In India, Punj Llyod manufactures Tavor, under the license of IWI (Israeli weapon industries).
In the pic: Evolution of Tavor design
Me: Are there any short-comings of Tavor?
Soldier: Yes, for an infantry man who still practices a Dhava (a style of attack with his gun’s bayonet), during an overhead attack or an under sling attack, he needs a knife at the front of his rifle, so that he can bring down an enemy even when he runs out of bullets. The bayonet also helps in maintaining a decent stand-off distance. In case of Tavor, this is not a possibility because it does not have an option for a bayonet to be attached.
Me: Is Uzi also from the Tavor family?
Soldier: It is also a weapon produced by IWI but it’s not a Tavor. Micro Uzi can fire accurately upto 100m, and it can fire upto 600-900 rounds per min. With that kind of fire power the gun is used to suppress fire from the enemy side. Usually the member of the assault group who carries a rocket launcher also carries a micro Uzi as his personal weapon.
Me: I think the one’s giving protection to VIPs also use Micro Uzi.
Soldier: Right. It can also be used by intel operators. But they are usually issued pistols instead of BNT 90 or a Micro Uzi.
After some pause the soldier continued…
Had Ankit Sharma been carrying even a pistol as an int operator, he could have used it to fire a shot in the air, that could have caused chaos among the mob charging at him and he could have possibly escaped the predicament. Though I know he was just a GD, a guy on ground duty, so they don’t carry weapons.
An emotionless statement by the soldier, but it came after ruminating. He meant it seriously.
Me: That was an unfortunate incident. Where do you think we go wrong?
Soldier: Definitely in the acquisition stage. Every year wasted in acquisition of weapons creates a lacuna in our defence forces weapon armoury, while terrorists have no such disadvantage. They pop-up in front of us with better gadgets and weapons with each passing year, while we fight against them with the same old weapons, we really cannot afford to loose our soldiers to them. If you wish peace, then prepare for war.
The soldier ended his interview surmising his thoughts in crisp words and sentences. It is their style to not mince their words.
To me this interview was not just about Tavor and it’s operation, but it also illumined me on the close bond an operator shares with his gun. Only a person who has seen death up close can worship his weapon, I discerned.