Winning India’s Wars with Indian Solutions
Amid many high profile tragedies and triumphs that the Indian Army underwent in 2016 – suffering high casualties in Uri and Nagrota on the one hand and conducting surgical strikes across the LoC, on the other – it quietly but effectively took up an initiative that is bound to immensely help the 1.3 million force in the long run.
As a force that is deployed across the country in varied climatic conditions and terrains, the Indian Army needs to maintain a wide variety of equipment and is faced with numerous day to day problems in its functioning. However, indigenous solutions for long terms sustenance and life cycle support of equipment have been rather elusive or erratic for the Army.
To overcome this perpetual problem, the Indian Army at the initiative of Lt Gen. Subrata Saha, Deputy Chief of Army Staff (P&S) started an outreach programme called ‘Modernization through Indigenisation’, to connect with indigenous industry and academia across the country. The teams led by Lt Gen Saha conducted 17 bilateral Army-Industry interactions at various industry hubs spread throughout the country. Eight additional trilateral Army–Industry– Academia interactions were held at IISc Bengaluru, different IITs and the PSG Group Coimbatore. The aim of these interactions was clear and simple. As a senior officer pointed out: “We wanted to promote an understanding of the modernization requirements of the Army and concomitantly discover capabilities of the Indian industry. In the trilateral Army– Industry–Academia interactions an additional aim was to discover academic activities that could be aligned to meet future requirement of the Army.”
An underlying inspiration was the realization that Indian army’s requirements are most suited for ‘Make in India’ initiative since the range of requirements of the force is wide and volumes are very high. The cost of equipment/solutions is however lower than required for other more technology-intensive services like the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy. For example, at any given time approximately 40 per cent of Indian army’s schemes are valued at less than Rs. 150 crores, enabling wide participation of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), who are at the centre of the Make in India campaign. Moreover, technological requirements of army are relatively easier to achieve than the other two services.
Interestingly, during the course of these interactions many requests were received to display the equipment used by the Army particularly the imported ones, for the industry and academia to find indigenous solutions for their sustenance and life cycle requirements. Accordingly three such displays were held; at Ahmednagar for combat vehicles (15 Jul 2016), Coimbatore for infantry and artillery equipment (10 Aug 2016) and Gopalpur for Air Defence equipment (7 Oct 2016). The next two such displays for the academia and industry, combined with firepower demonstrations are planned at Devlali on 9 Jan 2017 and Mhow on 17 February 2017 for artillery and infantry respectively.
In addition, field trips for delegations of professors from IIT and other technological institutes and industrialist’s solutions were organized to Kashmir in June 2016 and to Sikkim in November 2016. The next field visit is planned for the Desert sector and Rann of Kutch in February this year
Similarly, several subject specific seminars have been held in New Delhi through the year: Force Protection on 18–19 February 2016, Artillery systems on 9 Mar 2016, Air and Missile Defence on 25-26 May 2016, UAV on 26-28 Sep 2016, Future Combat Vehicle on 29-30 Nov 2016.
Realising the effectiveness of the initiative, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar suggested that it be institutionalised and therefore approved to setting up an Army Design Bureau (ADB) as an apex body to facilitate research and development efforts and initiate procurements of weapons and equipment required by the Indian army. The ADB was inaugurated by the then Chief of Army Staff Gen Dalbir Singh. A MOU has since been signed on 27 Dec 2016 between the army and IIT Gandhinagar for formalizing this collaboration. A similar MOU is being signed with IIT Mumbai on 8 Jan 2017.
As the first major initiative the ADB in fact conducted an army technology seminar on 5 Dec 2016 in New Delhi on common technologies and advanced materials for land systems: enabling the Indian army 2025 and beyond. In an effort to cast the net wider, Mr Parrikar released Volume I of the compendium of ‘problem statements.’ The compendium lists out commonly faced problems and challenges faced by the Indian Army in different conditions. For instance, some of the problems elaborated in the compendium include the requirement of lightweight alloy for military bridges, compact and ruggedized power supply, smart vest for identification of friend or foe (IFF). The compendium has been circulated both to the academia and industry for them to come up with solutions. The solutions could then be taken up either as technology development projects or as make
projects under the DPP. The compendium is also hosted on the army’s website on the ‘Make in India’ page.
Some solutions are already emerging. For example, solutions such as light weight bullet resistant composite material, adaptive flight controls and ad hoc independent mobile 4G Networks have already been offered to the Indian Army. As a consequence, the response to request for information (RFI) for procurement has gone up manifold. Many of the projects under IMPRINT (Impacting research and innovation in technology) programme of the IIT are being aligned to the Army’s modernization requirements.
As a follow up the process and to broaden and deepen the engagement, the Indian Army is seeking to establish an institutional interactive mechanism with the academia and industry. Research cells are being established in IITs and domain specific courses are being created in defence technology and capability development from short technology/management develop programmes to doctoral research in policy management.
Nitin A Gokhale