Infantry-Honing the Edge
The Indian infantry is by far one of the most battle hardened and combat rich force in the world, constantly and continuously in a state of war albeit small wars or low intensity conflicts. The Indian soldier too is also by far one of the best in the world; a thorough professional, committed, dedicated, always effective without fail, despite a lack of wherewithal, costing the minimum and delivering the maximum.
The state of arms and equipment of the Infantry is well known with the last few Chiefs of the Indian Army openly stating that arming the infantry was their priority, however it has not happened. The soldier needs to be properly armed and equipped from ‘HEAD TO HEAL’ to ensure operational effectiveness and survivability, specially so with a live Line of Control (LC) in J&K , the ongoing counter terror and counter insurgency operations and also to ensure peace and tranquility along the 3488 km long borders with China, which post Doklam is under stress. Optimal arming of the infantry will also ensure arming all Soldiers, Sailors and Air warriors with the requisite arms and equipment.
The Army has been trying to replace the non-functional 5.56 mm INSAS for nearly a decade without any success. The soldier does not have any confidence whatsoever in the DRDO designed and Ordnance factory manufactured INSAS Rifle that has been in service with the Army since the eighties. The induction of the Close Quarter Battle (CQB) carbine of the INSAS family was foreclosed in 1998. The army continues to employ the vintage non-functional 9mm carbine. The 5.56mm INSAS LMG has major flaws and the army was forced to prolong the life of the 7.62mm LMG. So much so that the 1994 QSQR of the multimode hand grenade to replace the second world war vintage 36mm hand grenade is finally likely to see the light of the day in 2018.
These are the basic weapons of a soldier and the irony is that the infantry soldier has continued to be effective despite such vintage, mostly non-functional Arms that he has been equipped with.
The many initiatives of the army to procure a better or functional weapon system have been systematically thwarted by the MoD, DRDO, OFB combine for over a decade. The efforts by the combine to force the OFB designed INSAS upgrade Excalibur and the DRDO ‘Ghatak’ have finally been rejected by the army. Fortunately now it appears that the Raksha Mantri Smt Nirmala Sitharaman and the Army Chief General Bipin Rawat have demonstrated an urgent and positive resolve to equip and arm the infantry.
According to a recent Ministry of Defence (MoD) press release, “In the last one month, to equip the soldiers on the border with modern and more effective equipment, the DAC has fast tracked procurement of the three main personal weapons, i.e., Rifles, Carbines and Light Machine Guns.” The Army plans to procure approximately 7,40,000 Assault Rifles, 44,000 Light Machine Guns, 3,50,000 CQB Carbines and other weapons at a cost of Rs 40,000 crores on a fast track basis.
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by the Raksha Mantri has, in February, accorded acceptance for necessity (AON) for 7.4 lakh assault rifles. The 7.62 x 51 mm assault rifles will be ‘Made in India’ under the categorisation of ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ by both the Ordnance Factory and private industry at an estimated cost of 12,280 crore.
The DAC also accorded an AON for procurement of 44,000 light machine guns through the fast-track procedure at over 1,800 crore and 5,719 sniper rifles for the Army and the Air Force for approximately 982 crore. The sniper rifles will be bought in the ‘Buy Global’ category for which the initial lot of ammunition will be procured from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and subsequently manufactured in India. In addition,the DAC also approved the procurement of 3.5 lakh close quarter battle carbines under the Buy and Make (Indian) category.
The Army also has an immediate requirement of 1,86,000 Bullet Proof Jackets (BPJs), again the procurement has been in the process for a decade now. The in-service BPJs are mostly shelf life expired and an urgent procurement of 50,000 through the revenue route by the MGO is at best likely to meet only a partial and emergent demand to tide over a criticality.
The so called ‘modernisation’ of the Infantry is, truly speaking, a misnomer. A quick look at the proposed procurements and sanctions is indicative of an effort to provide the infantry the minimum inescapable wherewithal to fight effectively and survive. The AONs accorded and RFPs floated are definitely a step in the right direction, however given the procedures and processes even under the fast track, it will take a minimum of three to four years for the infantry to commence receiving the weapons and operating these. The MoD has for once modified the procurement policies but has not paid adequate attention to the procedures and processes which remain mostly unchanged, complex and not user friendly with an extremely tight bureaucratic stranglehold, specially so of the MoD finance. Suffice to say, the MoD is the only Ministry with a pre-audit and a post-audit within the Ministry with a firm control of the Finance Ministry and that aspect has seen no change.
Among the modernisation schemes of the Infantry, two are critical and need attention. The first is the Spike
Anti-Tank Guided Missile which was supposedly on track, though delayed. The man-portable Spike a state of the art third generation ‘fire and forget’ missile with a range of 200 to 2500 m provides the infantry units with the much needed anti-tank capability essential for defence along both the Northern and Western borders. In what came as a surprise, reportedly the MoD has taken a final decision to foreclose the project. The US $ 500 Million deal envisaged purchase of 320 missile launchers, approx 8500 missiles and 15 training simulators, with an option clause of acquiring additional 1500 launchers and 30,000 missiles with Transfer of Technology (ToT). At present induction of approximately 5000 ATGMs along with launchers, under fast track aquisition mode, is in progress.
The capability gap now created is planned to be bridged in the long term by the DRDO who will develop and design a Man-Portable ATGM (MP-ATGM). The DRDO record in developing the man-portable design is dismal and it is nearly certain that like many others this project too will not see the end. An earlier effort to develop an ATGM for the infantry failed due to the weight and length of the missile which was far in excess of what any man can carry. The Spike is a proven missile and has cleared all trials and tests in Indian conditions.
The other modernisation scheme for Infantry battalions is the procurement of the authorised three mini UAVs per battalion or over 1100 UAVs. The initial procurement is for 600 at a cost of Rs 950 crores under the Buy Indian category. the system comprises of three platforms, one man pack ground control station (MPGCS), one launch and recovery system, one remote video terminal (RVT), three complete sets of sensor packages with all-weather day and night capability, two way airborne data relay to control UAV beyond line of sight among others. The weight specification is 35 Kg with a range of 10 km and loiter time of 45 minutes.
Addressing AMMO INDIA 2018, a seminar conducted jointly by CENJOWS and FICCI, the Raksha Mantri Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman spelt out a number of positive measures and initiatives by the MoD to facilitate the partnership and contributions of the private defence industry to meet India’s defence needs. Fortunately, the private sector is being encouraged and permitted to manufacture arms and ammunition and even target exports. Indian companies are coming forward to form joint ventures with foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). In the field of Small Arms, there are encouraging examples such as, Punj Lloyd collaborating with Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) to manufacture small arms under a technology transfer arrangement. The first plant is expected to manufacture weapons like the Ace and the Tavor X95 Assault Rifles (Tavor is already in service with India’s Special Forces), the Galil Sniper Rifle and the Negev Light Machine Gun.
Recently, on 22 March, the MoD has unveiled its draft of the Defence Production Policy 2018 and has sought comments from various stakeholders prior to finalisation and implementation. The draft policy is a long overdue necessity and aims at India becoming self-reliant in defence needs by 2025 producing a whole plethora of fighter aircrafts, tanks, missiles, warships, weapon systems and munitions. The ambitious policy can only succeed if private industry is taken on board and their many concerns addressed positively.
Years of mistrust, procedural uncertainties, a mindset and bureaucratic comfort levels in not pushing files will need to change for the industry to partner the defence forces and reduce the import content of military hardware. As much as eighty percent of the military hardware is low to medium technology which are easily available with the private industry possibly in partnership with foreign OEMs. The MoD needs to ensure positive policy, procedures and processes change to make Indian defence self-reliant and ensure that the PMs National initiative of Make in India succeeds.
It is no secret that the Indian soldier lacks almost everything required to fight effectively except courage and commitment. It is the bounden duty of the Government to equip and arm the soldier with the requisite wherewithal in a time bound manner.