Bruised by the Indian air strike on the Jaish terror camp in Balakot and desperate to salvage some sense of pride, a defensive Pakistan is building up along the Line of Control by deploying special commandos, using heavy artillery and targeting civilians, says Lt Gen Devraj Anbu, Vice-Chief of the Indian army. In an exclusive interview to Bharat Shakti Editor-in-Chief Nitin A. Gokhale, Gen Anbu said such moves by Pakistan points to an escalation and that the Indian army is well prepared to tackle any such misadventure.
Nitin Gokhale: Lt. Gen. Anbu thank you for speaking to us, we’re meeting at a time when the Line of Control is on fire, in that sense and so what is your assessment of the situation there and what you think is going to happen in coming days.
Lt. Gen. Devraj Anbu: Nitin as you know that we’ve been at the receiving end of the cross border terrorism for a long time and after the Uri it was a time when we did the surgical strike and post that this Line of Control has been very active. There has been large number of exchanges and post Pulwama, I think we crossed the threshold where the Indian Government has decided to use the air power and since then one can see that he has taken a lot of defensive measures along the Line of Control by increasing the troops, he (Pakistan) has even built-in commandos SSGs and light commandos and there has been a very aggressive exchange of fire. The worst part is,Pakistan has been targeting civilians very intently. I think there was a time when we have been responding very resolutely and the commanders of all levels have really stood up and we have always been prepared for it because we’ve been engaged in this sort of misadventures by the adversary and right now we’ve given a very stern warning that if Pakistan is going to be engaging the civilians then we’re not going to spare them. To our mind with the sort of building up of the SSGs and light commandos and other weapons and equipments, it doesn’t really reflect that Pakistan wants to really play anything down.
Nitin: Pakistan doesn’t want peace it seems?
Lt Gen Anbu: Pakistan doesn’t really want peace and I would like to say that we’re fully prepared and if any other terrorist incident has to happen and we’re going to really retaliate and retaliate in good measure. We’re not going to keep quiet.
Nitin: In fact, last night the Indian Army has issued the press release or the MoD issued the press release saying the Pakistanis have also used the heavy artillery guns and if this continues, India will retaliate not just in equal measure but may be much more. Why do you think that they are trying to escalate, I mean is this a kind of a signal for an escalation on the Line of Control?
Lt Gen Anbu: Yes. Pakistan has been at the receiving end since the time the Indian Air Force launched its strike. Now they really want to salvage some respect from the international community. So they are trying to use whatever is available at his end least realizing that we are much better than him both in strength and in equipment. And we will really respond with full force if he has to resort to any more terrorism in this particular sector, especially in the Rajouri-Poonch that we’ve seen because of the weather the concentration is totally in the PirPanjal and therefore they’ve put their might in this area.
Nitin: But you mentioned, interestingly that the SSGs and otherwise, I thought after the release of our pilot and the kind of speech the Pakistani Prime Minister gave in their Parliament. There was an attempt on the Pakistani side to de-escalate, but clearly from what we see from the Line of Control. He doesn’t seem to be in a mood to really de-escalate militarily?
Lt Gen Anbu: Absolutely. What we see on the ground especially in the area of Rajouri and Poonch, we’ve seen something contrary to what he is saying. And therefore, we are very well prepared and we’re prepared for anything.
Nitin: Right. You’re the Man In-Charge of keeping the army ever-ready operationally and logistically as the Vice Chief of Army Staff. How confident are you and what measures have you taken to see to it that the army is fully equipped not in terms of weapons but also in terms of ammunition and logistically well supplied?
Lt Gen Ambu: As you know, post Uri, the Government took a very decisive step to empower the Service Headquarters in the form of emergency procurement and 10(I) procurement. Enhance the powers of all the Vice Chiefs for the revenue procurement to Rs. 500 core and to the capital as latest recently about Rs. 300 crore. All this has empowered us to fast track the procurement of the ammunition spares and I must say there has been a concerted effort from all stakeholders to make this happen. And therefore, this has really enabled us to fill the voids and the capability has been increased to a great extent.
Nitin: That is very good to know General. Let me explain to our viewers what you mean by 10 (I)? 10 (I) means 10-days intense war.
Lt Gen Ambu: That is right.
Nitin: But that is not mean that you are going to stop at 10 (I), it could go beyond 10-days also?
Lt Gen Anbu: Yes. Of course it will. But with the sort of ammunition that we have the 10 (I) itself is good enough to manage a conflict like this. There are mechanisms which are in place to hasten up the procurement even in the time of conflict to enhance this beyond 10 (I). Even otherwise we are continuing with the process of buying and also indigenising on many accounts.
Nitin: That is good to know. That brings me to your recent decision of yours and the MoD and the Prime Minister going to Amethi to launch the programme of manufacturing jointly, the AK-203 assault rifle series, the basic weapons that Indian soldiers need. What is the plan in this particular acquisition and the manufacturing that is going to happen?
Lt Gen Ambu: Before I come to the plan, I want to tell you that the Indian Army has taken the philosophy of small arms weapon system. We have divided it into two, cutting edge the infantry who is there in the front line fighting. We’re looking at the very sophisticated weapons system. We went in for fast track procurement and we’ve contracted for about 72,000 of them from American-made. This gives an extended range and a better caliber. Lethality is very potent in this. This gives the cutting edge people to be able to use this weapon effectively against the adversary. For the rest of them who are combating either in the counter insurgency or in the current situation or in a conflict in a safety and security mode… for them – pan India including some part of the infantry we have gone in for the state-of-the-art AK-203 weapons system. After a lot of deliberation, we’ve been able to arrive at this and this is one of the latest technology in AK-47 series, which is renowned world over, that we’ve been able to get this system for us. It has a tremendous advantage over the existing AK-47. It was manufactured around 2018 and best part of this the Russians are able to give us the compete transfer of technology to be manufactured here. Roughly I can tell you, 7,50,000 (seven lakhsfifty thousand) is what we’ve planned to buy at the minimum, may be it will go up to more. Because, not only we’re looking at all the three services but also for the CAPF even the perhaps the state police at a later time frame. So it’s a very large plan and the indigenization what we’re looking at the contract once it is signed, within about 3 months we should be able to with the kits coming from the Russia. We should be able to have around 20,000 of them as a first crunch within about 3 months. And we will have an Indigenous content about 5 to 15 per cent. Thereafter it is going to be in phases and 1,20,000 (one lakh twenty thousand) by the time we will reach this figure we would have done hundred per cent of Indigenisation over a period of 32 months.
Nitin: That is very fast, less than three years!
Lt Gen Ambu: Yes. We have contract for manufacturing this is of currently for 30 years and there is a provision of extending it too. I feel that it is a very good system that we’ve been able to work out between the two governments. As you know it is coming up in Uttar Pradesh and this factory already existed, ordinance factory already existed. Therefore, so smoothly transit into manufacturing this, I feel there shouldn’t be any problem. And it has a tremendous advantage over the all other small arms that we were looking at so far and this has come as a great incentive for the soldiers who have been without this small arms for a long-long time.
Nitin: Exactly, that’s well put. One final question- weapons is one thing and you just mentioned about ammunition. There was this plan I’m not sure whether it’s gone through yet but to manufacture indigenously through the private sector is that on track?
Lt Gen Ambu: Yes. There are seven ammunitions we’ve identified for it to be manufactured in the private sector. It is in the advance stage and I’m sure they’ll be able to meet the qualitative requirements. Because in ammunition procurements, basically, you’ve to be very careful about the quality assurance. And I’ve no doubt that the private industry will be able to meet that.
Nitin: That means, it also meets the requirement of the government as many things that are possible to come into Make in India ambit, as far as Indian weapon systems are concerned. In that sense Indigenisation, and I would say, Make in India is making a good progress?
Lt Gen Ambu: Great progress! Also I would like to make one mention that AK-203 which use ammunition that is also being produced in India, Indigenously. So we don’t have to really procure any ammunition from abroad. So the ammunition which we are producing will be able to use for this. And Make in India, yeas, it has been a great initiative what this government has done in last 3-4 years. We find that many start ups with so much of energy and enthusiasm coming forward to serve the nation by producing things that the defence forces want. Earlier the gap between defence forces and the industry was large because they produce something and offer it to us and we looked at it and say no it’s not good enough for us. Now there is a collaborative process and where they interact with us and find what are our needs and thereafter they go back and produce the thing for us. All long we have a very healthy interaction to ensure that there is a win-win situation that they produce the right thing for us.
Nitin: You actually hit the nail. In the last 3-4 years this interaction and this consultative process is really speeded up between the small industry, the MSMEs and the Services and especially the Army Design Bureau is playing a big part in it.
Lt Gen Ambu: That’s right. Army Design Bureau plays a big part and the Secretary, Defence Production, he has also made a great part in this. He has been very visualizing things far ahead and he has been able o make some enabling provision with government really made it happen and it’s working very well.
Nitin: That’s great General. Thank you very much this time and for such candid remarks about how prepared we are. We wish the Indian Army a great success.