The last year has witnessed a phenomenal and worrying rise in India’s security threat calculus. Tensions along the Line of Control (LoC), the disputed border between India and Pakistan, has witnessed an alarming rise, following the Pulwama terror attack and the ensuing retaliatory airstrike targeting JeM’s Balakot terror training camp deep inside Pakistan.  On February 27, hours after the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) attempted retaliatory strike, even though a failure, except for the shooting of the MiG-21, witnessed the nuclear armed neighbours being pushed to the brink of an all out war.

For months, the International community watched alarmingly as both countries amassed troops in anticipation of a full fledged conflict. The strong statement by India’s political establishment and by Rawalpindi (to be read as Pakistan Army), the de-facto policy capital of Pakistan, only pointed towards exchange of fire on a large-scale along the borders. As the simmering tensions spilled over to the International Border shared between the neighbours, which had remained peaceful for decades, the international community’s concern of a war in the Asian theatre grew considerably.

While almost a year has passed since the Balakot strikes, tensions between the neighbours hasn’t weaned one bit. In fact, the tensions have only grown exponentially, since the Indian Government, in a brave move, in August, 2019, rolled back the special status granted to the contagious state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), in an effort, it addressed to as, towards truly unifying Kashmir with India. This strategic move by India has not gone down well with Pakistan, as it has realised that it’s trump card, of blaming New Delhi for showing a step motherly attitude towards Kashmir and Kashmiriyat, has been snatched away.

Boxed to an almost impregnable wall, Pakistan has been desperately attempting to regain its upper hand in the Valley. Part of these efforts has been to increase infiltration attempts and BAT attacks along the LoC. Cross-border Firing Violations (CFV), which have become a common feature along the inhospitable LoC, have reached a record high and have inflicted high casualties on both sides.

While both the countries are officially not at war, the casualty numbers amongst the forces, which runs up to a multiple of ten, points to a different picture. The fact that India has been willing to use higher-caliber artillery weapons along the LoC, as a measure of its stepped up retaliatory strikes against Pakistan’s misadventures, points to the fact that the dividing line between peace and war is fragile and thin.

As Pakistan’s internal struggles, economically, politically and more worryingly within the military establishment takes to the fore, any misadventures by Pakistan Army along the LoC, to divert the country’s focus, cannot be discounted. Various quarters of the Indian Government are increasingly shying away from denying a prospectus of Pakistan’s push to disturb peace in the valley, even through military means, to save its face back in Pakistan.

In this context, the much talked short and intense conflict, between nuclear armed neighbours, does not really seem as a far fetched threat. India’s military establishment has for years prepared for these conventional conflicts, which it admits might cross the nuclear-threshold eventually as Pakistan’s forces are run over.

Amongst India’s three armed services, it is the Indian Army that has for years, if not for decades, that has vicariously prepared for these battles. It was in fact, the Indian Army’s top echelons that led India’s often distorted security establishment to arrive at a unanimous consensus.

Successive Chief of Army Staff (COAS) have through the course of their tenures set tune for modernising and preparing the force for a conflict of at least 10 days. While the Army’s long-term modernisation programs are being guided by the vision set under the Long Term Integrated Perspective Planning (LTIPP), the short-term modernisation agenda is largely driven by the need to address these emerging threats.

General Manoj Mukund Naravane, who took over as the 28th COAS from his predecessor General Bipin Rawat on December 31, 2019, has since his raise to the helm, communicated with crystal clear clarity that modernisation of the force remains his key agenda. Driving his gander for the modernisation of the world’s second largest Army is the need to make it a leaner and meaner striking force, one which is ready for battles across theatres and to play a crucial role in future warfare. While his ‘ABCIPQT’ agenda sets the broader view for the future of the force, modernisation of the Army’s fighting arms itself is a daunting and demanding task. A force that has, since independence undergone minimal changes, reforms, specially to its ranks and files, is almost an alien term.

As the Chief sets his agenda, at the top of his list of priorities will be the need to drastically reduce the man-power and make the Army a leaner force, one that shall still be packed with a punch. While the Army has traditionally received the largest share in the country’s defence budget at about an average 50%, it is still the Army’s modernisation programs that are lacking by a considerable level, compared to its sister services.

With an allocation of INR 1,68,277 crore in the annual defence budget for the fiscal year 2019-20, while the Army with about 44.9% of the budget, yet again secured the largest pie, it is worrying to note that when the Army gets about its business of modernising the force, it would be left with a mere INR 63,713 crore, a dismal 38% deficit. A majority of the amount, about 62% (INR 1,04,654 crore), is amounted as salary expenses for the 1.2 Million troops, am inevitable spending. Of the 38% allotted for capital head, a majority of it, about 22% is lost in paying for already committed liabilities. Leaving around a mere 16% for capital acquisitions.

If the force has to realise its modernisation agenda, it is crucial that its spending on the revenue head, which handles the salary expenses of the force, is drastically reduced. As the Chief gets to the business of downsizing his force, at his hindsight will be the need to reduce this spending, which has been a major burden on the coffers.

While downsizing, in a colonial establishment, where turf guarding is fiercely practised and has been perfected, rightsizing will be an extremely demanding and daunting task. But at the Chief’s disposal will be the reports of multiple study committee reports that were commissioned by his predecessor, General Bipin Rawat, the current Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Gen Rawat, in his final year at the Army Headquarters (AHQ), had tasked his senior commanders to study and notify suitable measures to downsize the force and towards making the Army a leaner and meaner force.

As Gen Naravane gets about his business, the first turf he’s indicated to take on is the AHQ, right in his backyard. The former Chief, Gen Rawat, had tasked Lt Gen Ajai Singh with study on ‘Reorganisation of the Army HQ’, a report for which has already been submitted to the Chief and has also been forwarded to the Government for its approval.

The Lt Gen Ajai Singh committee had suggested multiple measures aimed at integrating and precluding the redundancies within the confines of the Headquarters. Under Gen Rawat, the Army, after approval of the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, created a separate wing for ambit over Human Rights issues and an independent vigilance section.

As Gen Naravane continues this task, his focus will be towards trimming down the workforce in AHQ strength by at least 200 officers, including those in the ranks of Maj Gen and Brigadiers. These men will then be posted to field formations deployed along the troubled Northern and Western fronts. The committee had pointed towards trimming the AHQ strength by at least 20% to make it an efficient service structure.

For the larger rightsizing of the force, the Chief will draw ammunition from the report submitted by the committee on ‘Reorganisation and rightsizing of the Indian Army’, which deals with cutting the flab in combat units. The report has currently been submitted to the Government for approval. Another report that is bound to come in handy for the Chief on the long run would be the report on officer cadre restructuring. A work in progress, the committee is examining measures to fill the vast vacancies, estimated at about 8,000 officers, in the officer-cadre of the Army. Further, the committee will also draw up plans to promote  meritorious JCOs and soldiers to the officer-cadre hierarchy , an exercise that would mean handsome saving for the Army, at least at the training juncture.

The Army will also continue downsizing by implementing the recommendations made by the ‘Shekatkar committee’, a majority of which have already been accorded clearance by the MoD. Collectively, these reforms are expected to cut down the Army’s force size by at least several thousand men and could save around INR 7000 crore annually. The ‘Shekatkar committee’ has interestingly promised the Government savings to the tune of almost INR 25,000 crore if all of its recommendations are implemented to the spirit of its words.

For Gen MM Naravane downsizing is one of his only concerns. For a meaner force, he will have to make sure that the Army will pack enough firepower to not repel any hostilities, but to deter the enemies right in their tracks. Thus, boosting the combat capabilities of the Army through requisite force restructuring for battle readiness will also be a top priority for the Chief.

Gen Naravane will again draw ammunition for this exercise from the rampants his predecessor, Gen Rawat has left behind for the organisation through a series of studies, which had led to the constitution of the Integrated Battle Groups (IBG) field formations. Drawn up as a platform to propel the Army towards the decade old and contagious Cold Start Doctrine (CSD), which mandated launching offensive operations into Pakistan within 48-72 hours of conflict or as a response to grave provocations from across the border.

The Army had realised that the erstwhile Strike Corps, which were at the helm of offensive operations for years, could never achieve their target in the allotted time frame. The Strike Corps themselves were flawed by conceptualisation, both in terms of their composition and peace time stationing locations.

Deployed in the hinterlands, these massive battle formations had to be deployed and mobilised at the notice of a conflict. These mammoth formations, depending on Army’s already crippled logistics chain, were found to be taking anywhere between 14 to 20 days for reaching the forward designated staging areas along the fronts. Further, after their arrival, multiple combat units of each of the strike Corps had to be painstakingly stitched together before being launched to the battle. This daunting exercise, as learnt during Operation Parakram, took anywhere between a week to ten days.

During Operation Parakram, launched as a response to the 2001 Parliament terror attack, the Strike Corps were ready for battle only almost 3 weeks after having received their marching orders, a timeframe that was totally unacceptable for the country’s security establishment.

The Integrated Battle Group, now being launched towards operationalising the disputed CSD, is being termed a replacement to the lumbering Strike Corps. Through the IBG concept, the Army believes that it can address the shortfalls of the strike Corps concept.

Under the IBG concept, the fighting arms of the Army, such as the armoured and artillery, would remain together, both during peacetime and conflict, and would be launched to battle together at the word go as a single brigade. Composing of around 5000-8000 troops, the IBG, which will be headed by a Maj Gen rank officer, will be structured around Infantry Brigades, with independent Artillery and Armoured Brigades providing the need for punch and shove. The exact allotment of resources for each of the IBG though will be decided based on the ‘threat, terrain and task’ parameters.

The Army has already test-bedded the IBG concept with the Yol-based IX Corps as part of a massive exercise. Having received feedback from the testbeds, the Army HQ is now working towards fine-tuning the concept for eventual implementation on the battlefield.

As the AHQ prepares the IBG concept to be further test-bedded with the Sukna-based XXXIII Corps and Panagarh-based XVII Corps, both of which overlook borders with China, the Army will look up to guidance from Gen Naravane, who is himself an experienced mountain warfare and China expert.

Speaking about the IBG concept, the Chief, said “The IBG is to make the Army future ready and more capable of carrying out its task. The concept was discussed and brainstormed (at commanders level), and only after we were convinced that it is possible and do able, did we go out and try it out in various war-games.”

Speaking on the implementation of the IBGs, he said, “We have tried it out in actual exercises, with troops, as part of the annual training. The feedback on the exercise with troops which has been carried out has been very positive and we are sure that it will be a success. And that is where I meant that we must consolidate on those aspects and the initiatives that we have taken and do not lose out on all the hard work that we have already done.” 

Detailing the timeframe for the implementation across the fighting echelon, the Chief, said “Implementation cannot happen overnight. Even when we get Government sanctions for the changeover, changeover will take place over a period of years. And even during this changeover period, there will again be some mid-course corrections. All the needs of the various arms and services would be kept in mind and we will take everyone along.”

 Summing up the IBG concept, Gen Naravane, said “The changeover (for IBG) has been driven by an operational necessity and not only for cutting down on manpower, even though it is a consideration on the bigger picture.” The Army has listed the need for at least 5 IBGs along the Western front facing Pakistan and an additional 7 for operations along the Northern front.

While force restructuring is an ongoing task that will take years for fructification, Gen Naravane simultaneously, will also have to ensure that the Army’s major fighting arms remain ready for battle and their modernisation programs are tended to with due importance. While a host of modernisation programs are underway, progress with many has been sluggish.

 

Modernisation of the Infantry

 

Termed the ‘queen of the battlefield’, Infantry remains to be the most significant component for the success of any land combat force. With over 450 infantry battalions at its disposal, the Indian Army has, since independence, been an infantry predominant force. Infantry men form almost 50% of the Army’s total strength and serve as the country’s first line of protection against a varied sect of threats.

The modernisation of the infantry, which had been in limbo for years, is now gaining pace. The modernisation, being widely drafted around Model – 4B (Modified), is being mooted to make the arm not an equipment-centric arm but a capability-centric arm. Modernisation of the infantry remains a priority for the Army. 

Towards addressing the shortage of personal firearm for the forward deployed soldiers, the Indian Army has begun induction of the Sig Sauer 716 7.62X51 mm caliber assault rifle, after what was a long wait for the forces. These weapon systems will be made available to the forward deployed troops under the Northern Command, who are involved in combat with non-state actors in the J&K Valley. 

The Army is set to acquire 62,000 such Sig Sauer rifles under an INR 700 crore contract, which is being processed under Fast Track Procurement (FTP) route. The Army is also scouting for an additional 2,00,000 assault rifles, which are expected to be procured from global manufacturers under ‘Buy and Make’ program.

With India and Russia set to sign the MoU for the Kalashnikov AK-203 assault rifle during DefExpo – 2020, the Army will be set to acquire 7.5 Lakh assault rifles to arm its forces. While the first lot of 1 lakh rifles is to be imported directly from Russia, the additional 6.5 lakh of them will be manufactured locally in India by OFB at Korwa, Uttar Pradesh.

The Army is also hopeful of contracting UAE-based Caracal for its CAR816 5.56X45mm carbine. The Army has raised a requirement for about 93,000 of these close quarter battle (CQB) carbines under the Fast Track Procurement (FTP) route. While the deal has already been cleared by the DAC, a formal conclusion is yet awaited. It is expected that this deal might be ratified with Caracal on the sidelines of DefExpo – 2020. While this deal will address the immediate requirement, the Army has a need for at least 4.58 lakh carbines to replace the outdated British-era carbines in service with troops.

Further, the Army has also procured several hundred snipers from US-based Barrett and Italy-based Beretta to equip the troops under the Northern Command. These M-95 and Scorpio rifles along with their .50 and .338 mm ammunition have already started making way to the frontlines. While these snipers were procured under the Army Commander’s Special Financial Powers, the Army is also scouting for an additional 2,000 snipers to meet the requirements of the entire Army.

Additionally, the Army is also awaiting to firm up its order for 16,000 Light Machine Gun (LMG), which has been hanging fire since the introduction of the RFI, and eventual clearance by the DAC.

To increase the protection of the soldiers, the Army has been striving to acquire Bullet Proof Jackets at a quickened pace. While the Army in 2018 acquired 50,000 such jackets under the revenue route, the force in April, 2018, contracted with SMPP Pvt Ltd for the supply of 1,86,138 advanced light-weight BPJs. The manufacturer has already delivered 40,000 of these jackets and is expected to complete the entire delivery by April, 2020. MoD has, in a welcome move, allotted INR 320.91 Crore, for the procurement case.

The Infantry has already received the first tranche of modern bullet proof jackets as part of the order for almost 1.5 lakh BJPs. MKU, an Indian manufacturer, has been steadily supplying boltless helmets to the Army.

One procurement case that Gen Naravane, an infantryman himself, will be keen to conclude will be the need for anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM). While the Army, to counter enemy armoured columns, has been trying to acquire thousands of ATGMs for its troops for years, the efforts have been met with repeated failure.

While a smaller order for about 200 Spike – ER ‘fire and forget’ 4th generation ATGM have been processed as part of immediate operational requirement, the Army is looking to meet the larger and pressing requirement for at least 70,000 ATGMs.

To increase mobility, the Army is replacing the old Gypsy with Tata Safaris, which are comfortable and bullet proof vehicles (BPV). Large number of BPV and MPV (Mine Protected vehicles) are also being procured by the Army. To increase operability in the battlefield, newer and modern radio sets, specially those which are software defined, are being procured.

 

Artillery Regiment

 

In the  battlefield, the artillery with capabilities of providing sustained firepower, is a crucial force multiplier. This capability of the Arm is a boon to forward deployed ground assault troops, who are tasked with overtaking fortified enemy locations. Artillery has traditionally been tasked with surveillance, target acquisition, target degradation and also post damage assessment missions.

Since the onset of the millennium, the Army has actively pursued the modernisation of its artillery arm under the Field Artillery Rationalisation Program (FARP). Under FARP, the Army is planning to acquire at least 2820 howitzers, making it one of the single largest armed forces modernisation programs ever pursued.

In FARP, a bulk of the procurement would be the ‘towed artillery gun’ system, which are essential force multipliers in the plains and foothills. The Army has set course for procuring at least 1,510 towed guns under the ‘Buy and Make’ category. While 400 systems are to be sourced directly from a global manufacturer, the rest are to be manufactured locally here in India by the OEM with an Indian partner. With French based Nexter in partnership with L&T and Israel-based Soltam System (a subsidiary of Elbit) in partnership with Bharat Forge have offered their guns, the Army is scrutinising the final contours of the program.

K9 Vajra Howitzers

The Army for meeting the requirement of towed gun systems is also relying on the indigenously manufactured ATAGS and Dhanush Howitzers, following a stellar performance by both the systems during their testing phase. While the first lot of Dhanush howitzers are set to be inducted into the force by March, 2020, the ATAGS are expected to enter service this later year. The success of these systems has, in fact, made the Army to reconsider its case for the global procurement of towed howitzers.

Army’s tender for procuring about 814 Mounted Gun System (MGS), which are crucial in mountains, is moving ahead with the Government working on issuing the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN), officially kicking off the tendering process. Being handled under the ‘Buy and Make’ category of DPP, 714 guns are to be manufactured in India and the rest 100 are to be imported in a build-to-operate format. For the INR 15,000+ crore tender, BAE system and Mahindra consortium fielded FH-77 BW L52 Archer system is competing with Nexter and L&T fielded Ceaser gun. Indian-giant Tata SED has also jumped into the fray with its own system, which the company claims to feature close to 52% of indigenous components. Bharat Forge is also expected to compete for the tender with a system that will be derived from Soltam Systems. The tender is expected to be given a shove by the MoD around DefExpo-2020.

After being deprived off artillery pieces for almost three decades, the Indian Army tasted success in its efforts to add teeth to the regiment, when the Army on November 9, 2018 inducted the K-9 Vajra SP (Self Propelled) and M-777 UL (Ultra Light) Howitzers. The K-9 Vajras are being inducted as part of a tender concluded with Hanwha Techwin and Larsen and Toubro for 100 such Self Propelled Howitzers. These platforms are crucial to support armoured columns and strike formations during their surge into enemy territory. The contract for M-777 howitzers was concluded with US-based BAE systems under the FMS route and is to arm the Army with 145 such systems. These ultra light howitzers are crucial to support Infantry’s operations along the mountainous terrain and will be a part of the Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) being raised to counter the growing Chinese threat. The combat arm is also set to acquire additional regiments of the BrahMos Supersonic cruise missiles in this Fiscal Year.

 

Modernisation of the Armoured Regiment

 

At the core of the Army’s disputed ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, are proposals to launch blitzkrieg  strikes against Pakistani positions in case of provocations from across the border. Two vital elements for attaining success with these proposals are Mobility and Fire Power. No other arm of the Army, except the Armoured Regiment, can guarantee these elements, which are vital to decide the outcome of any conflict. Having mastered both these elements, the Arm is a true force multiplier for the Army on the battlefield. As the Army braces to come in terms with the two and half front conflict situation, the modernisation of this vital arm has taken due importance.

The mainstay of the Armoured regiment are the Main Battle Tanks, which are true enemy slayers. The Army’s MBT fleet is currently constituted around the Russian-origin T-90 and T-72 tanks. The indigenously manufactured Arjun MBTs have also been inducted in small numbers .The Army has for years been pitching programs to modernise this arm, but with limited success. The Army wants to transform the Arm into a true capability centric arm and not one which is packed with mere numbers.

To realise this, the Army has successfully placed an order for at least 464 additional T-90 MBTs from Russia, which are to be manufactured in India by HVF, Avadi. While this proposal had met with stiff opposition from indigenous players, who want the Army to acquire the indigenously designed and developed Arjun Mk-II in mass numbers, the Army has now been successful with the case after much lobbying. 

T-90 s Battle Tank

The Army is yet to take a call on the procurement of Arjun Mk-II, as Arjun has out-proven the T-90 in successive comparative trials. But, the Army has its share of concerns with Arjun and now wants DRDO to drastically trim down the weight of the platform, even as newer technologies are being strapped on them to meet the user requirement. With a large part of the T-72s now being deployed along the Northern and Eastern fronts, there exists a large deficit in the plains and deserts. 

Another major concern for the Armoured regiment has been that a large part of the tanks have been left blinded in the night. Even the latest T-90s are being procured with limited night fighting capabilities. The T-72s themselves are also being modernised to be capable of operations in all-weather night capabilities.

As part of its mandate to be capable of fighting wars of the future, the Army under it’s FRCV (Future Combat Ready Vehicle) program, an umbrella program to procure future combat vehicles, has drawn plans to induct the FMBT (Future Main Battle Tank) to its platform. It will be these platforms that will be replacing the T-72 tanks in the future.

 

Mechanised Infantry

 

As India’s war, with state and non-state actors, rapidly spreads to the mountains and to the urban terrain, it is crucial that its infantry, who are at the business end of these conflicts, there is a pressing need that they are better protected from the hostile forces. Towards this end, the Army has been inducting the Soviet-era Sarath ICV (Infantry Combat Vehicle) platforms.

But as India’s enemy forces reinvent themselves, it is crucial that the Army also reinvents its tactics. Armour for the infantry takes precedence over all. To replace the outdated ICVs, the Army has drawn up the FICV (Future Infantry Combat Vehicle) program. However, there has hardly been any progress with the FICV program, since its introduction. While the private industry and DRDO have come up with several offers, the Army and MoD (Ministry of Defence) have failed to float a comprehensive procurement model for these platforms.

Even MoD’s efforts to route the program through the Make – II initiative have failed to yield results. The MoD and Army remain at loggerheads over deciding the financial module for the program. While the MoD wants the user – the Army – to fund a part of the developmental efforts by the Industry, the Army remains reluctant, citing the truncated financial outlays. It is crucial that the MoD and the Army work in unison to address these concerns and see through this crucial program at the earliest.

Indian Army’s upgraded BMP-2 Sarath; Courtesy – Indian Army.