Army modernisation is gradually gaining momentum

India Strategic | Apr 6, 2018

Emphasis on 'Make in India': The army's modernisation plans received a major boost when the Defence Acquisition Council, chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accorded Acceptance of Necessity to several weapons systems tor the infantry in February 2018. The modernisation of the army is gradually gaining momentum.

Emphasis on ‘Make in India’: The army’s modernisation plans received a major boost when the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accorded Acceptance of Necessity (AON, approval in principle) to several weapons systems tor the infantry in February 2018. These include the procurement of Light Machine Guns for the three Services through the Fast Track Procedure at an estimated cost of Rs 1,819 crore (S280 million). The balance quantity will be procured under the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ category. The procurement of 740,000 Assault Rifles was approved under the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ category at an estimated cost of Rs 12,280 crore ($1.9 billion). The DAC also approved the procurement of 5,719 Sniper Rifles at a cost of Rs 982 crore ($150 million) under the Buy Global’ category.
From May 2014 to July 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s NDA government accorded approval to defence procurement projects worth over Rs 239 000 crore ($37 billion). In an interview with the author, Mr. Manohar Parrikar, the former Defence Minister, had said that contracts worth Rs 1,13,995 crore ($17.5 billion) had been signed and of these 70 per cent are in the categories to Buy and Make in India or ‘Make in India’. After a decade of stagnation under the two UPA regimes, military modernisation appears to be gaining momentum once again. And, there is a distinct push towards realising the PM’s directions to ‘Make in India’.

Empowering Tank Regiments and Mechanised Infantry Battalions

While Pakistan has acquired 320 T-80 UD tanks and iS ON course to add Al Khalid tanks that it has codeveloped 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 T-90S 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 MBTs 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 Tire 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 army’s 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 (S9.3 billion) 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.

Upgrading Artillery and Air Defence Firepower

Modernisation of the artillery has been neglected for over two decades despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict of 1999, in which sustained artillery firepower had undeniably paved the way for victory. Approximately 400 pieces of the 155 mm/39-calibre FH-77B Bofors howitzers were acquired over 25 years ago.
The artillery is now equipped with obsolescent weapons and equipment like the 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG), the 122 mm Howitzer, the 130 mm Catapult self-propelled (SP) gun and the 120 mm mortars. The artillery requires large quantities of PGMs for the destruction of hard targets such as tanks and bunkers and a potent real-time reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) capability. And, in view of their performance in Afghanistan and Iraq, the time has come to add UCAVs armed with PGMs to the artillery s arsenal. Only then will it be possible to achieve future military aims and objectives, including the large-scale destruction of the adversary’s war machinery.
Under the army’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP) formulated in 1999, the Regiment of Artillery had decided to standardise the calibre of Its guns at 155mm so as to be able to engage targets deep inside enemy lines and to reduce the logistics trail through commonality of ammunition. The artillery plans to acquire a total of 2,820 guns of all types to replace obsolescent guns and to equip the new regiments that will form part of 17 Corps, the Mountain Strike Corps now under raising. The modernisation plan had been stymied by the blacklisting of some firms in the fray.
However, acquisitions are now moving forward. The DAC has accorded approval for the acquisition of 145 pieces of 155 mm/39-calibre M777 howitzer, which has a range of 24 km and weighs 4,000 kg. The weapon system manufactured by the US-based MNC BAE Systems will equip seven regiments in the mountains. The proposed acquisition will be through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route in a government-to-government deal worth $750 million. It will take a few years before all the guns are delivered. This gun will get inter-sector mobility when the C-47 Chinook medium lift helicopter is introduced into service.
Several Indian companies are known to be interested in the indigenous design and development of modern artillery systems in conjunction with overseas partners. Indigenous efforts to manufacture 155 mm howitzers include that by the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) to produce a 45-calibre 155 mm howitzer called Dhanush. This was initially based on the designs for which ToT was obtained from Bofors in the 1980s, but has matured into an indigenous design during development. The gun has a maximum range of 38 km. The DAC has approved a proposal from the OFB to manufacture a total of 416 pieces of 155 mm/45-calibre Dhanush howitzers provided the prototypes successfully meet the army’s GSQR in user trials. The gun is reported to have faced some glitches during technical and user trials, including a bore premature. When these are resolved, 18 pieces are expected to be handed over to the army for the exploitation phase.
The acquisition of 814 truck-mounted self-propelled (SP) guns has also been approved by the DAC and will be undertaken under the ‘Buy and Make in India’ category with the transfer of technology (ToT). While the first 100 guns will be imported, the remaining /14 will be manufactured in India. The total project cost Is estimated to be around Rs 16,000 crore ($2.46 billion). 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. Trials for 180 pieces of 155 mm/52-calibre tracked SP guns for desert terrain have been completed successfully and negotiations are in progress to award the contract to K-9 Thunder, a JV between L&T and Samsung of South Korea. Also, 180 pieces of 130 mm M-46 Russian guns have been upgraded to 155 mm/45-caliber with kits supplied by Soltam of Israel. The maximum range of the gun has gone up from 27.5 to 39 km. India can exercise an option to upgrade another 250 to 300 guns in future as a ‘Buy and Make Indian’ project.
The single largest artillery acquisition will be of 1,580 pieces of towed 155 mm/52-calibre guns over a period of 12 to 15 years. Of these, 400 guns are to be Imported and the remaining 1,180 produced in India with transfer of technology (ToT). Over the last eight to 10 years, several RfPs that were floated for this project were cancelled, allegedly due to the corrupt practices reported to have been followed by some companies. New tenders were floated for these 155 mm/52-calibre long-range guns for the plains and trials are reported to have been completed. The two contenders are joint ventures (JVs) between Bharat Forge and Elbit and L&T and Nexter of France.
The DRDO has embarked on its own venture to design and develop a 155 mm/52-calibre Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) in partnership with Bharat Forge and Tata Power SED, both private sector companies. While Bharat Forge will manufacture the gun, Tata Power SED will provide the electronics. Efforts are also underway to mount a 130 mm gun on an Arjun tank chassis as a replacement for the Catapult, which had a 130 mm gun on a Vijayant tank chassis.
155 mm ammunition is now being manufactured indigenously, but some fuses are still being acquired from abroad.
Progress on the multi-barrel rocket launcher front has been better than that in the acquisition of tube artillery. A contract for the acquisition of three regiments of the 12-tube, 300 mm Smerch multi-barre rocket launcher (MBRL) system with 90 km range was signed with Russia’s Rosoboronexport in early-2006. Each artillery division now has a regiment of this potent weapon system. Three regiments of the indigenously designed 214 mm Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system, manufactured jointly by the Tatas and L&T, have also been inducted into service. While the Pinaka has a range of 37 km at present, the Mark 2 version of the rocket will have a range of 60 km. However, both these weapon systems are not suitable tor employment in mountainous terrain.
The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile (Mach 2.8 to 3.0), jointly developed with Russia, has precision strike capability, very high kill energy and maximum range of 290 km. It was first inducted into the army in July 2007. The number of BrahMos regiments has since gone up to three. The fourth regiment to be inducted will have ‘steep dive’ capability for the mountains. These terrain hugging missiles are virtually immune to counter measures due to their high speed and very low radar cross section. India should consider exporting the BrahMos missile system to achieve foreign policy objectives; for example to Vietnam. The Grad BM21 MBRL regiments, which have been in service tor almost three decades, are being given extended range rockets that have a maximum range of 40 km. These four missile and rocket launcher weapon systems will together provide a major boost to the artillery’s ability to destroy key targets at long ranges. However, a surface-to-surface missile (SSM) with a range of 500600 km, which can be fired from the plains to destroy targets in Tibet, is a crucial missing link in planning Tor 4 future war in the mountains.
The Corps of Army Air Defence has been facing serious problems of obsolescence. This is one area where the army has lagged behind seriously in Its modernisation efforts. The vintage L-70 40 mm AD gun system, the four-barrelled ZSU-23-4 Schilka (SP) AD gun system are being upgraded to modern weapons systems. The SAM-6 (Kvadrat) and the SAM-8 OSA-AK are being kept operationally fit with immense effort and need to be urgently replaced by more responsive modern AD systems that are capable of defeating current and future threats. Lt Gen V K Saxena (Retd), former DG AD has written, “A tri-service project Tor the procurement of VSHORAD to replace the vintage Igla 1M and Strela 2M system, in progress since 2010, is now at the stage of re-trial. There are three OEMs in contention: Russian ROE’s lgla-S, SAAB’s RBS 70 NG and MBDA‘s Mistral… A huge quantity of 5500-6000 missiles is on order worth approximately $1.5 billion.”
The army is procuring two regiments of the indigenously-developed Akash SR-SAM with a range of 25 km and two regiments of SR-SAM are planned to be procured on the Buy Global route with Rafael, ROE and SAAB as the main contenders. A case for a small quantity of QR-SAM -— similar to SR-SAM, but capable of quick reaction — is moving forward gradually. BEL is developing a truck-mounted QR-SAM. After considerable delay, the MR-SAM with a range of 70 km was tested successfully in June and July 2016. The Naval version of the LR-SAM — DRDO-IAI collaboration based on Barak-8 (Israel) with a range of 100 km — has been tested several times, but the project Is behind schedule. It was reported in May 2016 that India is likely to delay the acquisition of the S-400 Ballistic Missile Defence system for some time, possibly in order to fund more urgent procurements.

Army Aviation: Obsolete Helicopters to be Replaced

The modernisation plans of the Army Aviation corps, which has more than 300 helicopters in service, have 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 corps has acquired a small number of Dhruv ALH but still lacks medium lift helicopters that are critical for the mountains. Of the total requirement of ALHs of 150 to 160 helicopters, 60 plus have been inducted so far. 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 Government has approved the induction of 200 Russian Kamov Ka-226T helicopters in a government-to-government deal. These helicopters will be manufactured in India under the ‘Make in India’ programme. HAL will manufacture 184 light Utility helicopters (LUH) in the new helicopter complex to be built in Tumakuru in Karnataka. The overall requirement Is of approximately 500 helicopters of the light observation class. Of this, the army’s requirement amounts to 280-300 helicopters, including those required for the replacement of vintage Chetak and Cheetah helicopters. The army plans to induct 60 Rudra helicopters. Rudra is the armed version of the ALH and the first flight is being raised. Another positive development is that a few army aviation brigade bases nave 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 General Bikram Singh as the COAS, the desire to have attack helicopters flown by army pilots received a new impetus at a time when India is considering the acquisition of new helicopters. According to Lt Gén B.S. Pawar (Retd), “The Army is also looking to acquire a suitable helicopter in the 10-12 tonne class with stealth features for its Special Operations Units as well as enhancing its overall tactical lift capability… With the decision of the MoD on the Ownership issue of attack helicopters in the army’s favour, the army has projected its own requirements of attack helicopters — 39 Apache Mk III for its Strike Corps. The government approved the procurement of six Apache AH-64E attack helicopters for the army in August 2017. It is understood that the latest version of the upgraded Apache Block-IIl (Guardian) is to be inducted into the Indian military… In this regard, HAL’s development of the light combat helicopter (LCH) is said to be a landmark achievement. The LCH is described as “a state-of-the-art attack helicopter with capability to operate at high altitudes (16,000 feet)… would meet the unique requirements of the Indian Army.”

Force Multipliers for the Infantry

The modernisation plans of India’s cutting edge infantry battalions, which are aimed at enhancing their Capability tor 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.
Surprisingly, the army’s plans to replace the basic weapon of an infantryman, a fault-free modern assault rifle, are still hanging fire. The army needs to procure approximately 800,000 assault rifles at a cost of about Rs 16,000 crore ($2.46 billion) for its 450 infantry and Rashtriya Rifles battalions (each battalion has 800 personnel). Till recently it had been believed that the army planned to import 65,678 larger calibre 7.62 mm rifles that are more lethal, with another 120,000 to be made in India. There have been repeated cancellations of ongoing acquisitions in recent years due to various glitches in the procurement process. The salient cancellations include the acquisition of 65,678 assault rifles and 44,600 carbines, in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Lt Gen P C Katoch (Retd) wrote in early 2013: “The assault rifles under consideration were the Heckler & Koch, G 36 modular 5.56 mm assault rifle (German), the Beretta 70/90 (Italy), SAR 21 of Singapore Technologies, XM 8 (USA), Steyr A3 (Austria), Tavor TAR 21 5.56mm and IMI Galil 7.62mm from Israel, Arsenal AK-74 (Bulgaria), Herstal F-2000 (Belgium) and SIG SG 551 (Switzerland) among others.”
In-an interview with Ajai Shukla, General Bipin Rawat, the COAS, had said in November 2017 that he Nad decided to import only 250,000 state-of-the-art assault rifles. These rifles of 7.62 mm calibre would be issued to combat infantrymen who are required to close-in with the enemy. The COAS said, “Since a state-of-the-art assault rifle will cost about Rs 200,000 each in the global market, let us issue these only to frontline infantry soldiers who confront the enemy armed only with their rifles… Let us provide a cheaper indigenous option to other soldiers, for whom the rifle Is Not a primary weapon.” The army is working along these lines.
it was reported in August 2017 that the MoD had retracted the RfP (Request for Proposal) for the acquisition of 44,000 7.62 mm Light Machine Guns (LMGs) on the grounds that “it had become a single-vendor situation with only the Israeli Weapons Industries (IW) left in the fray after protracted trials from December 2015 to February 2017.” Approximately 4,400 LMGs were to be imported; the rest were to be manufactured in India with ToT. All of these acquisitions were cancelled after a long-drawn tendering process and protracted trials. The projects have been delayed by five to seven years.
As the private sector is being gradually permitted to manufacture arms and ammunition and even export these, Indian companies are coming forward to form joint ventures with MNCs. In the field of small arms, among others, Punj Lloyd is collaborating with Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) to manufacture small arms under a technology transfer arrangement. The first plant will manufacture weapons like the Ace, X95 and Tavor assault rifles (Tavor is already in service with India’s Special Forces), the Galil sniper rifle and the Negev light machine gun. As Indian engineers and managers begin to gain experience in the design, development and manufacture of weapons systems, such ventures will contribute to achieving self-reliance in defence acquIsitions.
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, a new assault rifle with an UBGL that will replace the INSAS rifle, a laser range finder, a combat helmet equipped with a head-up display and communications head set, a smart vest with a body monitoring system, a back pack 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 ($3.85 billion) to equip over 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. Stand-alone 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. The army also requires more than 350,000 new bullet-proof jackets but only 50,000 have been ordered so far. The army had requisitioned the jackets almost ten years ago.

Upgrading Command and Control and Engineering Support

Modern strategic and tactical-level command and control and communications 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 nave 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. 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 countered equipment Is being procured and issued to units deployed in such areas.

Concluding Observations

The modernisation of the army is gradually gaining momentum. However, glitches in the procurement process continue to hamper weapons and equipment acquisitions. The slow pace of progress of the replacement of the army’s obsolescent weapons and equipment and its qualitative modernisation to meet future threats and challenges is a cause for concern. The mechanised forces in the plains are still partly night blind and the capability to launch offensive operations in the mountains continues to remain inadequate to deter conflict. The capability to launch precision strikes from ground and air-delivered firepower, which will pave the way for the infantry to win future battles, is much short of the volumes that will be required. The army also needs to upgrade its rudimentary system and graduate quickly to network centricity to optimise the use of Its combat potential.
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. The defence budget must go up from the present 1.60 per cent of the GDP to first 2.0 and then 2.5 per cent. 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, are also necessary. 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.