The army has initiated a project to equip all its infantry battalions with a system that had for long been called the Future Infantry Soldier as a System. The BMS system will be integrated with the Army Static Communications system.
To enable the army to fight and win the nation’s future wars in an era of strategic uncertainty, the government must give a major boost to the army’s modernisation jive. The army’s modernisation plans require substantially higher budgetary support than what has been forthcoming over the last decade. Also required is the speeding up of the weapons and equipment acquisition process and the upgradation of recruitment standards and, consequently, personnel skills so as to be able to absorb high-tech weapons systems. Doctrine, organisation and training standards will need to keep pace with technological modernisation to make the Indian army a 21st century force to be reckoned with. Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd) takes a closer look and brings this exclusive analysis for our readers.
Modernisation of Army had been stagnating for over a decade, but has now begun to gather momentum. It had been reported in June 2013 that, “The army is finally cranking up its modernisation drive. with around 680 procurement projects worth over Rs 200,000 crore for the 12th Plan (2012-17) period, to plug operational gaps as well as ensure ‘capability development’ along both the western and eastern fronts.” The then COAS, Gen Bikram Singh, had identified 31 of the 680 projects as Priority-1. These included assault howitzers, bullet-proof jackets, tank and artillery ammunition and missiles. A project with an outlay of approximately Rs 10,000 crore for the induction of 1,78,000 new-generation assault rifles was initiated.
Rajat Pandit wrote in January 2014, “17 new contracts worth Rs 2,820 crore were signed for the Army in 2011-2012; the figure jumped to 29 contracts worth Rs 7,222 crore in 2012-2013. The tally stands at 17 contracts worth Rs 11,777 crore in the ongoing fiscal (2013-2014) another 23 contracts, worth around Rs 12,000 crore, are in the pipeline. The important ones include the Rs 2,000 crore deal for 15,000 3UBK Invar missiles for T-90S tanks and the Re 1200 crore one for two additional ‘troops’ of the Israeli Heron spy drones. The really critical projects are still stuck in the long-winded procurement process.”
Adding to the Combat Power of the Mechanised Forces
While Pakistan has acquired 320 T-80 UD tanks and is on course to add Al Khalid tanks that it has co-developed with China to its armour fleet, vintage T-55 tanks continue in the Indian army’s inventory despite their obsolescence. Even though the indigenously developed Arjun MBT has not fully met the army’s expectations due to recurring technological problems and cost over-runs, the tank has entered serial production to equip two regiments. Consequently, 310 T90S MBTs had to be imported from Russia. In December 2007, a contract was signed for an additional 347 T-90 tanks to be assembled in India. Meanwhile, a programme has been launched to modernise the T-72 M1 Ajeya MBIT that have been the mainstay of the army’s Strike Corps and their armoured divisions since the 1980s. The programme seeks to upgrade the night fighting capabilities and fire control system of the tank, among other modifications. Approximately 1,700 T-72 M1S have been manufactured under license at the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF), Avadi.
The BMP-1 and the BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, which have been the mainstay of the mechanised infantry battalions for long, are now ageing and replacements need to be found soon. The replacement vehicles must be capable of being deployed for internal security duties and counter-insurgency operations in addition to their primary role in conventional conflict. A project to build 2,600 Future Infantry Combat Vehicles (FICV) costing approximately Rs 60,000 crore has been approved by the government. The 22-24 tonne FICV will be indigenously designed and manufactured. Among others, Larsen & Toubro, the Mahindras and the Tatas have shown interest.
Despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict of 1999, where artillery firepower had undeniably paved the way for victory, modernisation of the artillery continues to lag behind. The last major acquisition of towed gun-howitzers was that of about 400 pieces of 39calibre 155 mm FH-77B howitzers from Bofors of Sweden in the mid-1980s. New tenders have been floated for 155 mm / 39-calibre light weight howitzers for the mountains and 155 mm/52-calibre long-range howitzers for the plains, as well as for self-propelled guns for the desert terrain. As re-trials have not yet commenced, it will take almost five years more for the first of the new guns to enter service. The MoD is in the process of acquiring 145 155 mm/39-calibre M777 howitzers for the mountains through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route from the US in a government-to-government deal. However, the deal is reportedly stuck for want of agreement on the offsets obligations.
Indigenous efforts to manufacture 155 mm howitzers include that by the Ordnance Factories Board to produce a 45-calibre 155 mm howitzer based on the designs for which Transfer of Technology (ToT) was obtained from Bofors in the 1980s, but not utilised. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved a proposal from the OFB to manufacture 144 howitzers of 45-calibre with the option to acquire another 400 provided the prototypes successfully meet the army’s GSQR in user trials.
Meanwhile, the DRDO has embarked on its own venture to design and develop a 155 mm howitzer in partnership with a private sector company.
In the first meeting of the DAC chaired by him on November 22, 2014, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar approved the acquisition of 814 truck-mounted 155 mm/52-calibre guns under the ‘buy and make in India category. While the first 100 guns will be imported, the remaining will be made in India. The total project cost is estimated to be Rs 15,750 crore. Several Indian companies are known to be interested in the indigenous design and development of modern artillery systems in conjunction with overseas partners. Bharat Forge (partner Elbit of Israel), Tata Power SED (Denel, South Africa) and L&T (Nexter, France) are likely to bid for this contract when the RFP is issued by the MoD. However, it will be only after six to eight years that the first indigenously produced suns will roll out of the factory.
A contract for the acquisition of two regiments of the 12-tube, 300 mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) system with 90 km range was signed with Russia’s Rosoboronexport in early-2006. The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile (Mach 2.8 to 3.0), with a precision strike capability, very high kill energy and maximum range of 290 km, was inducted into the army in July 2007. These terrain hugging missiles are virtually immune to counter measures due to their high speed and very low radar cross section. The indigenously designed and manufactured Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system is likely to enter service in the near future. These three weapon systems together will provide a major boost to the artillery’s ability to destroy key targets at long ranges. It is also time to now consider the induction of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) armed with air-to-surface missiles into the artillery for air-to-ground precision attacks.
The Corps of Army Air Defence is also faced with serious problems of obsolescence. The vintage L-70 40 mm AD gun system, the four-barrelled ZSU-23-4 Schilka (SP) AD gun system, the SAM-6 (Kvadrat) and the SAM-8 OSA-AK have all seen better days and need to be urgently replaced by more responsive modern AD systems that are capable of defeating current and future threats. The Akash and Trishul surface-to-air missiles have not yet been successfully fielded by the DRDO. The short-range surface-to-air missile (SR-SAM) and medium-range (MR-SAM) acquisition programmes are embroiled in red tape. The first flight test of the long-range SAM (LRSAM), being jointly developed in collaboration with Israel, was conducted in November 2014. Air defence is one area where the army has lagged behind seriously in its modernisation efforts.
Army Aviation: Urgent Replacement of Obsolete Fleet is Necessary
The modernisation plans of the Army Aviation corps nave also not made much headway. According to the Standing Committee on Defence report tabled in Parliament in April 2012, there is a huge shortage of helicopters with the Army Aviation corps. The army faces a shortage of 18 Cheetah, one Chetak, 76 Advance Light Helicopter and 60 Advance Light Helicopters (ALHs).
The corps has acquired a small number of Dhruv ALH but still lacks medium lift helicopters that are critical for the mountains. The total requirement of ALHs is about 150 to 160. The new NDA government has cancelled the RFP for 197 light utility helicopters and approved the project for indigenous development under the ‘buy and make Indian category. While this decision will give a boost to Indian aviation industry, it is bound to delay the acquisition by at least five to seven years.
The positive development is that a few army aviation brigade bases have been established recently for better coordination of aviation operations, particularly in operational areas like Ladakh where the daily demand is very high. The army’s plans to acquire attack helicopters for close air support, particularly during mechanised warfare in the plains, have been consistently resisted by the IAF that holds all the attack helicopters in the Inventory at present. Under Gen Bikram Singh as the COAS, the desire to have attack helicopters flown by army pilots received anew impetus at a time when India is considering the acquisition of new helicopters. Several modern machines including the US Apache are in the reckoning.
Force Multipliers for the Infantry
The modernisation plans of India’s cutting edge infantry battalions, which are aimed at enhancing their capability for surveillance and target acquisition at night and boosting their firepower for precise retaliation against infiltrating columns and terrorists holed up in built-up areas, are moving forward but at a snail’s pace. The army has initiated a project to equip all its infantry battalions with a system that had for long been called the Future Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS). The new system will be a force multiplier and will include a modular weapon with a thermal imaging sight, UBGL and Laser range finder that will replace the INSAS rifle, a combat helmet equipped with a head-up display and communications headset, a smart vest with a body monitoring system, a backpack with integrated GPS and radio and protective footwear. The new combat system is expected to be built indigenously with COTS components being imported. It resembles the US Army Land Warrior system and is expected to cost over Rs 25,000 crore to equip 350 infantry battalions. Plans also include the acquisition of hand-held battlefield surveillance radars (BFSRs), and hand-held thermal imaging devices (HHTIs) for observation at night. Standalone infra-red, seismic and acoustic sensors need to be acquired in large numbers to enable infantrymen to dominate the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and detect infiltration of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists.
Upgrading Command and Control
Modern strategic and tactical-level command and control systems need to be acquired on priority basis for better all-arms synergies during conventional and sub-conventional conflict. While the Artillery Combat Command and Control system (ACCC&S) has entered service, the Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS) is yet to mature. The communication systems linking these C3] systems, Project ASTROIDS and the Tactical Communication System (TCS), are still in various stages of development and have lagged far behind that of weapons platforms. The TCS is a system that is meant for offensive operations, a mobile system that can ‘leapfrog’ forward as offensive operations progress into enemy territory. The offensive operations echelons of the ‘pivot or holding’ Corps deployed on the international boundary and the three Strike Corps will be equipped with TCS. TCS will replace the obsolescent Plan AREN system.
Requests for Information (RFI) were floated for a Tactical Communication System (TCS) for offensive operations and a Battlefield Management System (BMS) for communication at the tactical level in defensive operations a few years ago, but since then the acquisition process has meandered continuously and this has resulted in prolonged delays in introducing both these systems into service. The BMS system will be integrated with the Army Static Communications (ASCON) system.
It has been categorised as a ‘make India’ system by the DAC. The new optical fibre network being laid as an alternative to the 3G spectrum surrendered by the armed forces will go a long way in providing modern land-line communications in peace stations and to limited extent up to the war-time locations of higher formation HO. According to the Press Information Bureau, a secure network of Very Small Aperture Terminal (V-SAT) has been commissioned for reliable and stable communication in the forward areas. Phase-IlI of the Army Static Communication Network (ASCON) has been initiated and is planned to be eventually extended to Kashmir Valley and the Northeast. Efforts are also underway to replace existing telephone lines with Optical Fibre Cable (OFC). The army will soon acquire the indigenously designed and manufactured Samyukta electronic warfare (EW) system, including a maintenance contract for the next 10 years, for Rs. 1,682 crore. The EW system will be capable of consists of vehicles with equipment for surveillance, interception, monitoring and jamming of all communications and radar signals.
The operational capabilities of army engineers, signal communications, reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) branches need to be substantially enhanced so that the overall combat potential of the army can be improved by an order of magnitude. According to the Press Information Bureau, the production of assault bridges has been indigenised with help from the DRDO. The ‘Sarvatra’ bridge manufactured indigenously is qualitatively superior to its precursor, the imported AM-50 Bridge set. Also, to match the increasingly advanced types of improvised explosive devices (IED) employed by terrorists and anti-national elements, particularly in the insurgency-prone areas, a state-of-the-art counter-IED equipment is being procured and issued to units deployed in such areas.
Since it was voted to power in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s NDA government has approved defence procurement projects worth Rs 140,000 crore. After a decade of stagnation under the two UPA regimes, military modernisation appears to be picking up pace again under the new government. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Interim Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, accorded ‘acceptance of necessity’ (AON)
the first step in the acquisition process to projects worth Rs 80,000 crore in October 2014. Among these is the acquisition of 8,356 third-generation Spike anti-tank guided missile systems of Israel for the Army, including 321 missile launchers and 15 training simulators at an estimated cost of Rs 3,200 crore. The DAC also decided to purchase 362 infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) from the Ordnance Factory Board, Medak in Telangana, for Rs 662 crore. Manohar Parrikar, the new Defence Minister, cleared the long pending proposal to acquire 814 mounted guns of 155 mm/ 52 calibre for approximately Rs 15,750 crore while chairing his maiden meeting of the DAC in November 2014. In keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy to ‘Make in India’, all of the newly approved weapons platforms will be procured with transfer of technology and manufactured in India.
To enable the army to fight and win the nation’s future wars in an era of strategic uncertainty, the government must give a major boost to the army’s modernisation drive. The army’s modernisation plans require substantially higher budgetary support than what has been forthcoming over the last decade. Also required is the speeding up of the weapons and equipment acquisition process and the simultaneous upgradation of recruitment standards and, consequently, personnel skills so as to be able to absorb high-tech weapons systems. Doctrine, organisation and training standards will need to keep pace with technological modernisation to make the Indian army a 21st century force to be reckoned with.