Indian borders have been under a state of strategic flux ever since the British moved out leaving behind unresolved boundary issues leading to five major wars. The areas under dispute with China as well as Pakistan lie in difficult terrain with vast inhabitable swaths of mountains, high altitude areas and jungle terrain. These areas which matter the most for national security are primarily defended by the infantry soldier, albeit with close coordination and support of other arms and services. Moreover, due to structural inadequacies of police forces, the insurgencies in J&K and North East are being handled by the army, again a predominantly infantry task. There is a need to ensure that the infantry soldier is equipped, trained and maintained well enough so as to give them a qualitative edge over any adversary.
The concept of hybrid warfare has prompted armies to enhance their capabilities to fight in conventional as well as unpredictable grey zones. Taking a cue from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the project F INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier as a System) was conceived. The focus was on empowering the Infantry soldier through technology. The fully integrated infantry of tomorrow will be equipped with mission oriented equipment, and integrated with the overall systems based Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (C4STAR) capabilities. The concept envisages enhancing lethality of weapons, night enablement, situational awareness, survivability of the individual, and battle field mobility. It would be prudent to make an assessment of what our objectives were and how far are we yet from the goalposts.
Enhanced Lethality: Personal Weapons
The objective was to replace the current family of small arms with lighter and technologically advanced weapons. The project for a new generation of assault rifles with interchangeable barrels for conventional and counter insurgency roles was taken up, but has run into rough weather after being pursued for four years, apparently due to noncompliance of GSQRs. This project envisaged import of 65,000 rifles initially from the manufacturer with Transfer of Technology (ToT) to the Ordinance Factory Board (OFB) for subsequent supply of additional 1,13,000 rifles. Once the OFB was fully geared up for manufacturing the assault rifles, these weapons were to be introduced for other arms as per laid down priorities. The DRDO is also developing similar weapon systems, but it is yet to clear the mandatory trials and quality assurance tests.
Anti – Tank Capabilities
The plans of importing third generation anti-tank guided missile – Spike – from Israel to enhance anti-tank capabilities of infantry is progressing well, albeit with some delays. The MoD has cleared the acquisition of 8000 plus missiles and 300 plus launchers with ToT to a nominated Indian company. Besides, other support weapons to include light machine guns, carbines, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, anti tank rocket launchers etc., are also being actively processed through indigenous procurements and ex imports.
The objective has been to acquire real time capability to transmit voice, text, photo, maps, location and such inputs to each individual. The individual, in turn, would be networked within his section, with such networking being extended right up to the top command echelons. A network enabled environment is a prerequisite for this project, wherein all arms and services would be digitally connected with each other in a seamless manner with requisite command and control protocols. While technology as well as communication infrastructure is commercially available in the form of smart phones / palm tops, there remains a need to customise it for military usage. A Battle Management System (BMS) is being developed with DRDO as a lead agency along with PSUs and private R&D establishments to bring to fruition a C4STAR capability.
Night Vision Capabilities
Night enablement envisages providing night vision devices to all combat essential elements in an infantry battalion as well as all other arms and services. While it would be ideal to equip all individuals with night vision devices on their weapons, it would require substantial financial allocations and time to procure such vast quantities. At present nominated PSUs and a few private companies are manufacturing night vision devices and opto-electrical surveillance equipment. The demand being colossal within and outside the country, it is a lucrative field for new entrants.
Protective Gear and Equipment
Protective gear for infantrymen involving procurement of 1,86,138 bullet proof jackets was approved by the Defence Acquisition Council in 2009. However, the process seems to have run into hurdles due to non compliance of GSQRs. As a consequence, another 1,67,000 jackets which were to be procured in the second phase of the scheme, would also get delayed. It has already seriously affected the protection of troops fighting in counter insurgency operations in J&K and the Northeast, besides other high risk tasks. Same is the case for anti-mine vehicles for essential operational and logistics movements in hostile areas The projects for procurement of bullet proof helmets is progressing with some procedural delays.
The personal clothing envisaged is required to be light weight and enable soldiers to carry extra loads besides resisting impact of NBC warfare. It will also include fireproof knee and elbow pads.
Refurbished F-INSAS Philosophy
The original F-INSAS project has been divided into two parts, one for arming the infantry soldier with the best possible assault rifle, carbine and protective gear and second to have a Battle Management System. However, the fundamentals continue to be the same as envisaged in project F-INSAS except that it is being modified to make it more attuned to the Indian context.
Procurement Delays: Causes & Remedies
The delays in procurement of weapon and equipment for the armed forces is primarily due to current linear procedure which follows similar mandated steps for procurement of a low cost pistol as that for a high cost equipment like an aircraft or a ship. It is obvious that high cost items attract greater attention and are prone to being slower with additional checks and levels of approval. Low cost equipment needs to be more speedily processed and soldiers provided equipment that enhances their lethality and survivability.
The system needs to be tailored to ensure that the cutting edge of the armed forces is always kept in a higher state of combat readiness. Accordingly, the process needs to be prioritised keeping in view operational effectiveness rather than being delayed for trivial reasons. The sequential approach presently being followed would need to be changed, and parallel progression of cases by concerned departments adopted. The work stations for endorsement on files have to be reduced to bring down the decision making time. It would be more efficient to let the routine procurement functions be delegated more and more to the services. There should also be provision of purchasing equipment ‘off the shelf’ for troops already deployed in contact battle zones and counter insurgency operations with minimal financial restrictions.
The role of the ministry needs to be realigned to be that of a facilitator rather than a controller, which is the case now. However, equipment which requires very high financial outlays and political considerations should continue to be handled by the ministry.
The ‘’Make in India” initiative of the government has many positive strokes for the defence industry. The government intends to cut down import of weapons by at least 30 percent in the next five years. The FDI has also been raised from the earlier 26 to 49 percent to encourage foreign companies to establish their manufacturing units in India, or go in for joint ventures with Indian companies.
However, heavy investment requirement, long gestation periods, risky market environment create apprehensions for a new entrants in this domain. Financial support, tax holidays, technology interface, assured markets for optimum quantities of the product with provision to export the surpluses etc., are the prerequisites of success for the intended transformation of the indigenous defence industry. Manufacture of infantry weapons and equipment is one field which is most suitable for new entrepreneurs due to relatively simple technology involved, lower cost of infrastructure and a large demand within and outside the country.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)