Note from the Editor-in-Chief
Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, Chief of Army Staff was interviewed by BharatShakti’s Nitin A Gokhale and Brig SK Chatterji on a range of contemporary issues of import for our defence forces and national security.
With the Prime Minister having also remarked recently in the Combine Commanders Conference on board the INS Vikramaditya, “At a time when major powers are reducing their forces and rely more on technology, we are still constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces …” the interaction started with reference to the issue. The COAS opined in favour of right sizing rather than downsizing with a threat cum capability matrix being central to it.
Various other issues to include J&K, the requirement of a new design for the border fence along the Line of Control and the Army’s involvement in Internal Security were commented upon by the COAS. The situation in the Af-Pak region and possible incursion of its elements in India and finding traction, were discussed.
Indigenisation of our defence forces’ equipment inventory, another national priority with Make in India initiative gathering momentum, and the continued shortages in the officers cadre were some of the other issues the COAS addressed.
Brig SK Chatterji
Nitin A Gokhale (NG): While most modern armies are downsizing and moving to Capability based models, the Indian Army seems to be expanding, that too in the traditional threat based philosophy. With equipment voids and officer shortages, don’t you think downsizing into a Capability based force is the way to do so?
Chief of Army Staff (COAS): The external threats to our Nation are well defined and are continental in nature. Coupled with these threats, inhospitable and unique terrain along the borders further compound the need to maintain a round the clock vigil. This requires ‘boots on ground’ to guard the frontiers, as I have said before.
Capability Based Approach is suited while preparing for likely long term future threats and when security threats do not exist in the current context. Keeping this in mind, Indian Army is adopting a judicious mix of ‘Threat cum Capability’ based approach catering for current, short, medium and long term capability needs.
I feel that the requirement is to ‘right-size’ the Army with optimal mix of ‘boots on ground’ and high technology enabled weapons, platforms and systems.
NG: In a budget restricted environment that exists in our country, will it be prudent to reduce the overall size of the Army and equip it with cutting edge modern technologies?
COAS: The nation and its leadership understand that security and realisation of national aspirations come at a price.
The rapidly changing nature of warfare, existential threat from nuclear armed adversaries and threats like terrorism spawned by radical extremism require a quantum jump in our operational capabilities.
Besides the multiple threats, inhospitable and unique terrain along our borders further compound the need to maintain 24 x 7 vigil.
These threats and challenges require ‘Boots on Ground’ to guard the frontiers since the available technology may not be able to replace the ‘man’ at all places.
Therefore, I feel that there is a requirement to have an effective and responsive force which is an optimal and balanced mix of size and technology enablers. The optimal force structure must be custom made to our unique geography and long term security challenges.
Brig SK Chatterji (SKC): Internal Security (IS) vis-à-vis Conventional Commitments. What is the current proportion of IS v/s conventional deployment? What according to you is the right mix between IS duties & conventional duties for the Army?
COAS: The armed forces are mandated to safeguard the national interests from external aggression and internal subversion. The evaluation of threat perception is a dynamic process and apportioning forces to cater to various security related tasks whether external or internal, conventional or non-conventional, is also dynamic. Hence, it will be incorrect to lay down any mix and call it as right mix of IS and conventional duties.
When we prioritise our efforts to meet spectrum of threats, our focus remains primarily on conventional war fighting capability to effectively deter ill-intentioned adversaries.
We maintain that the Indian Army should be utilised as an instrument of last resort, after exhaustion of all resources of the state to meet internal challenges. This will be in line with Army being an ‘Instrument of Last Resort’ and will also allow us to focus on enhancing conventional preparedness to deter and defeat external threats.
We however, take pride in being People’s Army and are hence, always prepared to be committed for national good, whenever and wherever called upon.
NG: It is more than 35 yrs that the Indian Army has been deployed in J&K. The dynamics of the Counter Insurgency situation has changed and the ops on LoC and hinterland have different dimensions. Is there a need for the Army to seek the end-state or any new directions from the political leadership regarding its continued involvement in Counter Insurgency tasks in J&K? If yes, what is going to be the same and Army’s strategy?
COAS: The Army was called to operate in J&K as the Pak aided and abetted proxy war had severely impacted the Governance and the populace.
Since its induction in 1991 till date, the Army has made tremendous sacrifices and has been successful in restoring the people’s confidence in the security situation. The situation is ripe for delivery of Governance to the masses and stage is set to usher development and economic prosperity in the state.
The envisaged end state entails conflict resolution through political means which also includes defeating the nefarious designs of the Pak-Terrorist-Separatist Nexus. Till then there is a need for Army to continue with its ops on the LoC and in the hinterland.
SKC: In J&K, we have come to know of a new and more potent LoC fence being planned and trials are in progress. Will it be erected all along the LoC? Your comments please.
COAS: The LoC fence was constructed in 2004 which is also supported by a host of optical and electronic surveillance devices, with multi-tiered deployment of troops which has reduced infiltration to an all-time low.
The LoC fence is severely damaged every year in areas of heavy snowfall and avalanches. These areas need to be resuscitated every year involving considerable troop effort and resources. Therefore, a need was felt to improve the design and materials used, as also upgrade the sensors integrated with the fence. Presently, trials for new designs are in progress.
Based on the outcome of trials, we will take a decision. Of course, priority would be to replace the fence with integrated sensors, in areas which witness heavy snowfall and avalanches.
NG: Recently, there was a lot of furore post the death of Taliban Chief, Mullah Omar and his succession. Pak involvement has also taken a new dimension. What is your assessment of Af-Pak region in general & its impact on India in particular? What preperations are being taken by the IA to mitigate the likely impacts, as assessed?
COAS: The situation in Af-Pak region is of great concern because of its likely ‘spill over’ effects in India. Resurgence of Taliban and the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces are two opposing dynamics which will determine the security situation in the region.
Managing the consequences of US drawdown from Afghanistan poses a serious security dilemma, and requires added measures for protection of our personnel and assets deployed in Afghanistan.
Terrorist organisations should be denied strategic space created in the aftermath of the US withdrawal. There are also reports of Islamic State emerging as a magnet for disaffected Taliban elements in Afghanistan. Reports of emergence of Al Qaeda camps are also a matter of concern.
Overall, India would like an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process, taking into account our security concerns.
NG: There are many reports of rising ISIS footprints in India. It also appears that many youth in Kashmir Valley are joining ISIS. Recently, ISIS flags were commonly sighted in many protests. We might also have full fledged collaboration between Indian terrorist organisations and ISIS, which may lead to a rise in terrorist activities throughout the country. What are your views on the rise of ISIS in India? Do you think they can achieve success in India the way they did in Central Asia and what are we doing to combat this threat?
COAS: India has largely been unaffected by ISIS ideology, propaganda and its recruitment drive. Reportedly, only a few Indians have joined the ISIS so far, after having been influenced by the ISIS ideology over social media and internet.
Thus far, there are no indicators of any traction for the ISIS movement in our country. At the Union level, MHA is the nodal Ministry for monitoring & countering any ISIS propaganda and recruitment.
As always, the Indian Army is ready to combat and defeat any threat, if and when it manifests.
SKC: What is the roadmap for indigenisation of military equipment?
COAS: For any nation to stake claim as a major player in a regional and global context, it is essential to develop indigenous capability for developing Military Equipment.
Currently, we have achieved significant success in component level indigenisation of equipment. The scope is already being enhanced to develop assemblies and sub-systems. Once expertise is achieved in development of assemblies and sub-system, indigenous development of Weapon Platforms will be attempted. These are not sequential steps but are being pursued concurrently, in line with the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Further, simultaneous development of institutionalised knowledge and expansion of indigenous vendor base is being pursued by the Army HQ and MoD to fast track the indigenisation process.
SKC: Army seems unhappy with the MBT Arjun, especially its restricted tn capability, its engine and transmission problems. Mechanical Forces will play a pivotal role in any future battle. Recently Army has also taken out an RFI for Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) and Future Ready Combat Vehicles (FRCV). What is the status on them?
COAS: FICV is being progressed under the `Make’ category of DPP for which Acceptance of Necessity (AON) was obtained in Oct 2009 and Expression of Interest (EoI) issued in May 2010. After retraction of EoI in Dec 2012, five additional vendors requested for their inclusion in the list of vendors for issue of fresh EoI. The fresh EoI has been issued to all 10 empanelled vendors on 16 Jul 2015. The EoI responses are to be submitted by the vendors by 15 Jan 2016. Further action would be initiated after studying the response of vendors.
In 2008-09, a need was felt to develop a new tank for the Indian Army, which would be inducted by 2027 and would form the mainstay of Armoured Corps. The FMBT (now FRCV) was initially proposed to be developed under ‘Make’ procedure, similar to the FICV. However, drawing lessons from the progress of the FICV case, an alternate option to develop the FMBT was examined. It was renamed as FRCV (Future Ready Combat Vehicle), as it is to be developed on a platform concept and be the base for a family of variants. Response from many (27) agencies have been recd and the same are under evaluation. The objective is to induct these during the next plan period.
SKC: What is the programme on the F-INSAS Programme?
COAS: Infantry modernisation is one of the top priorities of the Indian Army. F-INSAS as a concept is being adhered to, giving adequate impetus towards this. Under the F-INSAS program, the induction of weapon and equipment are being done in a phased manner to include family of weapon for enhanced firepower; Upgraded Personal Protection & Battle field Survivability; Night Enablement; and Communication & Network Centricity.
All these are meant to be achieved without compromising the agility and battlefield mobility of Infantry Soldiers. A concerted endeavour comprising concurrent multiple proc initiatives, is underway to ensure that adequate impetus is imparted in each of the F-INSAS domains.
NG: The shortage of officers in our Army still continues. Besides the normal publicity, what perks and motivators are being planned by the Government so that the youth is attracted to join the Army?
COAS: Overall, the shortage of officers in Indian Army is 18.35% of authorised strength. However, criticality is in the Short Service Commission cadre, which is witnessing an average shortfall of 35%.
To enlarge the support cadre of Army, a proposal to make Short Service Commission attractive is under consideration of the Government.
The proposal includes giving enhanced gratuity; granting pre-release paid leave upto two years for professional enhancement training; grant of ECHS facilities to SSCOs; and relaxation in age for them to appear in Civil Service Exams.
The 7th CPC has also made appropriate recommendations in this regard. We remain hopeful of early approval of the proposals by the Government.