While the likelihood of full scale state-on-state wars may be reduced, India will more likely face border skirmishes on its unresolved borders and low intensity conflict operations including counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency in the future. This mandates a quick and thorough modernisation of India’s infantry which is clearly not happening despite the rhetoric by the political leadership and military hierarchy.
India faces diverse threats and challenges. While on the one hand there is an existential threat of conventional conflicts arising from unresolved borders in the west with Pakistan and in the north and north-east with China, on the other hand, there is the formidable challenge developing within the borders of India. This is from home-grown insurgencies, militancy and terrorism which arise due to a variety of reasons. To add to these two scenarios is the continuing and constant threat from state-sponsored terrorism nursed and nurtured in India’s immediate neighbourhood and its direct and indirect linkages to conventional conflicts, in the region, in the future. All this makes this part of South Asia more volatile and unpredictable.
The existence of terrorist camps across the India-Pak border and the line of control (LoC), and the likelihood of Pakistani Taliban who are currently engaged in fighting in their Western provinces and on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, turning their attention towards the LoC, is a setting that India must be prepared to face. The continuing infiltrations across the LoC demonstrate Pakistan’s attitude and approach to terrorist organisations, even though such organisations pose a danger to Pakistan’s own social and political fabric. Thus India faces a strong likelihood of more intensive low intensity conflict situations in Jammu and Kashmir in the future.
In view of the increasing focus on low intensity conflicts, the aim of this article is to draw the reader’s attention to the delay in modernisation of India’s infantry and its future infantry soldier programme.
The future infantry soldier as a system (F-INSAS) had been initiated more than six years ago to make the infantryman a weapon platform with situational awareness, increased lethality and sustainability in the digitised battlefield. F-INSAS was to be implemented in three phases: Phase I included weapons, body armour, clothing and individual equipment; Phase II was the target acquisition system and Phase II comprised the computer subsystem, radio subsystem, software and software integration.
The F-INSAS programme was announced by former Army Chief, General J.J. Singh in August 2007 which involved equipping over 3,00,000 infantry troops and around 1,00,000 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and Assam Rifles (AR) personnel employed for conventional and counter-insurgency operations or both with a modular, multi-calibre suite of weapons, body armour, assorted individual equipment and target acquisition, and hand-held surveillance devices, including third-generation night vision devices (NVDs). It includes, as stated in Phase II, communication apparatus and computers capable of transmitting and uploading voice, data and video clips on wrist displays for soldiers and ‘planning boards’ for commanders, ‘smart’ vests packed with sensors, integrated ballistic helmets with heads-up display (HuD), miniature radios, global positioning systems (GPS) and portable power packs. So the complete package for the proposed infantry upgrade was impressive.
F-INSAS is to be a part of the battlefield management system (BMS) of the Army i.e. battalion level and below. The formations above the battalion level, i.e. brigade and above, will form a part of the tactical communication system (TCS ) of the Army at the Corps level. This part of the project of integrated communications and digitisation of the battlefield comprising command information and decision support systems (CIDS) is being handled by the Director General Information Systems (DGIS), while the induction of weaponry and equipment of the infantry in the F-INSAS programme is being handled by the Directorate General of Infantry.
The lack of progress of acquiring even the weaponry, which is the easiest and most fundamental, is depressive to say the least because it directly and most adversely affects the soldiers fighting ability in the field. It is therefore clear that the Army is currently grappling with the Phase 1 itself i.e. the phase in which new infantry weapons with body armour, individual equipment and clothing have to be inducted.
The Indian’s Army’s six-year-old project to upgrade all its infantry battalions and 106 units of Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles units under its elaborate F-INSAS programme is inordinately delayed. Officials associated with the programme have said that the F-INSAS prototype, modeled on the US Army’s future force warrior and aimed at deploying a fully-networked, all-terrain and all-weather force with enhanced firepower and mobility for the future digitalised battlefield, is delayed by four to five years, if not longer beyond its 2012-13 deadline. Consequently, the overall infantry upgrade, to be accomplished through a mix of imported and locally developed equipment and systems and estimated to cost Rs. 25,000 crore (approximately $4.0 billion), may well be deferred beyond 2025.
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by the Defence Minister and including the three Chiefs (Army, Navy and the Air force) have approved the induction of a new assault rifle, 5.56 (with capability of switching to 7.62mm barrels if required) along with a new generation carbine to replace the 9mm carbine which has already been weeded out of the Army without getting a replacement.
There has been some progress in the field of carbines. In August 2012, the process of procuring 44,618 5.56mm close quarter battle (CQB) carbines to replace the outdated 9mm model and 33.6 million rounds of ammunition in a contract worth over Rs. 2,000 crore was set in motion. The manufacturers in the race were Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) Galil Ace carbine, Italy’s Beretta with its ARX-160, USA’s Colt and Sig Sauer’s offering the M4 and 516 Patrol models. These weapons have undergone field trials at the Infantry School at Mhow, in Central India, the Thar Desert in Rajasthan and high altitude locations in India’s northern and north-east regions.
The tender for the 5.56mm close quarter battle (CQB) carbines requires each weapon system to weigh less than three kg, fire 600 rounds per minute to a minimum distance of 200 metres and be capable of operating in extreme temperatures. Picatinny rail-mounted reflex and passive night sights, visible and invisible laser spot designators and multi-purpose detachable bayonets are a part of their qualitative requirements (QRs). The selected vendor will be required to transfer technology to the OFB to licence build 3,80,000-4,00,000 CQB carbines and 5.56mm ammunition, for use not only by the Army, but eventually the Central and state police forces in a programme estimated to ultimately cost over Rs. 5,000 crore. Army sources said the carbine and ammunition trial reports were being assessed and it was expected that the deal may witness finalisation by 2015.
Army is also on the lookout for assault rifles to replace the INSAS 5.56mm rifles with technologically superior weapons. In the race are assault rifles of the Czech Republic’s Czeca, IWI, Beretta and Colt and Sig Sauer, all weighing around 3.6 kg. The other requirements include the ability to convert from 5.56x45mm to 7.62x39mm calibres by merely by switching the barrel and magazine for employment in counter insurgency and/or conventional offensive/defensive operations. They also need to be fitted with detachable under barrel grenade launchers and be capable of firing OFB-manufactured 5.56mmx45 (SS109) ammunition rounds. This procurement will also involve transfer of technology to the OFB to licence build the assault rifles. Army’s immediate requirement is for around 2,18,320 rifles where as India’s assault rifles requirement is estimated at between two-three million to arm the large Central Paramilitary Forces and the state police. At this scale, India’s assault rifle acquisitions could be one of the world’s largest small arms contracts in recent times worth more than $5 billion in due course.
A basic equipment of the infantry man is the multi-purpose tool, akin to a Swiss knife, 3,00,000 of which are needed for each upgraded infantry soldiers’ survival kit. This procurement was delayed by the Army despite trials in 2010-11 featuring vendors from Italy, Switzerland and the United States.
A major obstacle pertaining to the F-INSAS programme is the stalemate over image intensifier and thermal imaging (TI)-based surveillance and target acquisition systems the lack of which had rendered India’s infantry largely ‘night blind’. The initial proposal is for 45,000 third-generation night vision devices (NVDs) under F-INSAS. The Army is currently tackling the MoD which insists that the Army should acquire them from Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), the Bengaluru-based DPSU.
In negotiations with the Army, BEL reportedly wants the Infantry Directorate to reduce its ‘figure of merit’(FoM) scale for the NVDs from 1700 FoM, that enables soldiers to see clearly in total darkness to 1400 FoM which provides visibility only at dusk, dawn and in moonlit nights and which the DPSU has on offer. Interestingly, in 2010, the MoD had for Rs. 100 crore facilitated the transfer of highly restrictive ‘supergen’ technology to BEL from France’s Photonis. BEL failed to absorb it and develop a more advanced version. Alternate NVDs with 1700 FoM capability have been offered by private defence contractor Tata Power (Strategic Electronics Division) in Bengaluru that reportedly meets the Army’s preliminary qualitative requirements (QRs) and are under consideration.
QR’s for critical battlefield communication and navigation equipment including dead reckoning modules—a miniature, selfcontained, electronic navigation unit that pinpoints the user’s position—digital compasses, assorted computer, dual-band radio sets and soldier-individual power units are yet to be completed. Requests for proposal (RFPs) for 1,70,000 modular bullet proof vests weighing around 10.5 kg and an equal number of ballistic helmets had been dispatched to domestic manufacturers in June and December 2012 respectively, four years behind schedule. Tenders for knee and elbow protection pads are awaiting finalisation.
Need for Quick and Thorough Modernisation
India’s strategic neighbourhood is one of the most volatile and dangerous regions of the world. It has all the ingredients of becoming a future battleground of treacherous conflicts. With disputed borders in the west, north and north-east, and the formidable internal challenges, India faces a wide variety of threats and challenges. Moreover, this nuclearised region also has the dubious distinction of having in its midst the epicentre of international terrorism, nourished and nurtured by Pakistan and its sympathisers in the Arab-Islamic World. Therefore, while the likelihood of full scale state-on-state wars may be reduced, India will more likely face border skirmishes on its unresolved borders and low intensity conflict operations including counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency in the future. This mandates a quick and thorough modernisation of India’s infantry which is clearly not happening despite the rhetoric by the political leadership and military hierarchy. The slow rate of progress of the F-INSAS programme is a reflection of the larger malaise that inflicts modernisation of the armed forces in India, for which the blame lies squarely on the Defence Minister and the Ministry of Defence.