The Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh says that his single most important area of focus is to ensure the highest state of operational preparedness. In an exclusive interview with SP’s Land Forces, he assured that with high levels of motivation and morale, the Indian Army is fully prepared to take on the present and future challenges with elan and professionalism.
SP’s Land Forces (SP’s): You have now been the Chief of Army Staff for more than a year. Which are the areas within the Army or in your relationship with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) where you have been able to positively influence matters and set into motion some long-term corrective measures/reforms?
Chief of Army Staff (COAS): As the Army Chief, it is my bounden responsibility to chart a course that prepares the Army to meet future threats and challenges effectively and continues to live up to the faith and trust that the nation has reposed on its soldiers and commanders.
To start with, on taking over as the Chief of Army Staff, I had laid down certain ‘thrust areas’ to realign the focus of the Indian Army. These form the foundation of a comprehensive approach to building an Army that remains a ready, potent, responsive and accountable instrument of national power—a vision that I have articulated time and again.
To ensure the highest state of operational preparedness is my single most important area of focus. Another critical challenge remains that of force modernisation and capability build-up. It has been my endeavour to bring in greater transparency and accountability in our policies and procedures. Financial probity is integral to maintaining and preserving our core values, which form the basic edifice of our strength and structure.
Our soldiers remain our most precious resource. A review of the human resource policy is already under way to meet individual aspirations and organisational needs. I have maintained that as an organisation we need to cut down on activities that do not have a bearing on our operational preparedness. I am also committed to creating an environment that offers challenging opportunities to our junior leadership.
There is greater synergy now, both with the MoD as well as with sister services and all other agencies, who are the stakeholders in national security, something that I have upheld as a pre-requisite to achieving our common aim and purpose.
I have always maintained that our veterans, veer naris (brave women) and widows who have made tremendous sacrifices are our strength and it is our duty to look after their well-being. Special cells for ex-servicemen have been set up at all headquarters. To usher all ranks into their second innings, placement nodes have also been created under Army Welfare Placement Organisation (AWPO). In addition, special discharge drills are being conducted at Delhi for officers and at Regimental Centres for Junior Commissioned Officers and other ranks.
SP’s: Which are the areas where you have not been able to make any headway despite a strong desire on your part to do so and what is preventing you from doing it?
COAS: There is no area where progress has not been made. We have made headway on all fronts, albeit the pace may be slightly slow in certain cases.
Long-term processes need to be imparted with impetus to achieve our vision. Capability building requires time, commitment and resources. Most projects have long gestation periods and are spread over many years. The progress has to be viewed in this context. There are areas where the progress has been slower than what is expected. Modernisation of the Indian Army requires to pick up pace. In-house processes are already being refined and the government’s continuous focus and support is critical. Defence infrastructure development in view of the current and future threats would require focused commitment.
Another area that assumes importance is indigenisation of defence industry, greater opportunities and role of private players and a boost to defence related research and development (R&D). We are quite hopeful that the positive impact of the efforts that have been put in this direction should be visible in the near future as it has far-reaching implications on our self-reliance in defence equipment and capabilities.
SP’s: Which are the areas where you have not been able to make any headway despite a strong desire on your part to do so and what is preventing you from doing it?
COAS: There is no area where progress has not been made. We have made headway on all fronts, albeit the pace may be slightly slow in certain cases. Long-term processes need to be imparted with impetus to achieve our vision. Capability building requires time, commitment and resources. Most projects have long gestation periods and are spread over many years. The progress has to be viewed in this context. There are areas where the progress has been slower than what was expected.
Modernisation of the Indian Army requires to pick up pace. In-house processes are already being refined and the government’s continued focus and support is critical. Defence infrastructure development in view of the current and future threats would require focused commitment.
Another area that assumes importance is indigenisation of defence industry, greater opportunities and role of private players and a boost to defence related R&D. We are quite hopeful that the positive impact of the efforts that have been put in this direction should be visible in the near future as it has far-reaching implications on our self-reliance in defence equipment and capabilities.
SP’s: Of late, it seems China has been far more aggressive on the line of actual control (LAC) than in earlier years and the conduct of PLA/Border Guards has been aggressive, to say the least. What is the Army’s appreciation of China’s intentions of adopting the current tactics and aggressive stance?
COAS: I do not agree with your initial statement. Few border incidents that took place have been unduly hyped up. These isolated incidents must be viewed in the overall context.
Peace and tranquillity prevail along the LAC and border areas as a result of commitment by both nations to abide by existing bilateral agreements and protocols. In addition, mechanism of Border Post Meetings (BPM)/Flag Meetings has been effective in resolving most border issues. Further strengthening of confidence building measures (CBM) has been achieved by the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) signed during the Prime Minister’s visit to China on October 23, 2013.
SP’s: The delays in modernisation of the Indian Army are well chronicled and the reasoning has also been understood generally by military analysts. However, that gives no satisfaction to soldiers and formation commanders who face our adversaries at the borders where small skirmishes may well escalate into border conflicts. As the COAS, are you satisfied with the current holdings and the status of equipment and munitions for war?
COAS: Modernisation of the Indian Army is a continuous process that ensures the Army is fully capable of meeting any threat in the operational environment prevailing on our borders. Efforts are ongoing in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence to enhance the capability of indigenous weapons and equipment. It would be reasonable to state that our soldier is well-equipped for any operational contingency.
Ammunition management is a dynamic process wherein consumption and recoupment of any deficiency is a function of production capacities of ordnance factories and availability ex import. A comprehensive long-term Ammunition Roll on Plan for continued build up of ammunition reserves in a phased manner is already being implemented on approval by the MoD.
SP’s: A Mountain Strike Corps stands sanctioned by the government. Among the veterans the view persists that mere raising of more manpower, without tactical and operational level aviation resources, long-range firepower, reconnaissance and surveillance resources and many other force multipliers would be marginal value. May we have your observations on this important issue?
COAS: The capability of an Army is an amalgamation of equipment and manpower, both of which are processed simultaneously for capability enhancement. Indian Army periodically carries out realistic threat assessments and formulates the capability required for undertaking its mandated charter. Accordingly, modernisation and force structuring are formulated and approved by the government. Whenever accretions are sanctioned, the requisite combat support, reconnaissance, surveillance and logistic components are also sanctioned along with it.
SP’s: Considering the pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the US forces from Afghanistan in 2014, how does the Army assess the situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan region and how will it impact the Indian Army?
COAS: The turmoil in Afghanistan-Pakistan region and recent security developments are definitely an issue of concern. With the stated pull out of troops by the United States in 2014, the security dynamics in the region will undergo a change. Being part of the region, these changes are bound to have certain implications for India as well.
SP’s: There has been inordinate delay in raising and establishing the Indian National Defence University (INDU). When is the INDU likely to be established and what are the formalities that are still to be completed?
COAS: The process of setting up of INDU is on a fast track mode after acquisition of land at Binola and Bilaspur, Gurgaon and subsequent foundation stone laying ceremony by the Prime Minister of India in May 2013.
Detailed project report along with the layout plans have been submitted by the Education Consultants of India Ltd (EdCIL), a Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) enterprise and the Revised Cabinet Note is in the process of being sent for interministerial consultations. Simultaneously, INDU Act is also being prepared by the consultants and is likely to be submitted to MoD at the earliest. This will also be put through inter-ministerial consultations after which it will be tabled in the Parliament. After the passage of INDU Act, all other processes of tendering, contracting and executing the project will commence including award of degree to affiliated colleges. It is expected that the entire infrastructure will be ready and the University fully functional by end 2018. Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS) is closely working along with MoD and other consultants for early setting up of INDU as per the timelines approved by the Defence Minister.
SP’s: Have the plans to make the Army’s Special Forces and Infantry Ghatak Platoons more potent and effective, been realised? What is the new equipment, if any, that has been inducted to ensure this?
COAS: The modernisation plan of Special Forces involves increased firepower, survivability, situational awareness and command and control to operate across the entire spectrum of conflict. In addition, modernisation of aviation assets and increasing airlift capability will further enhance their operational reach. With new technologies coming in, modernisation and capability development of our Special Forces would remain an ongoing process, one that is accorded high priority in our planning and procurement processes.
The Special Forces have been equipped with modern weapon systems along with surveillance and target acquisition devices as part of their capability enhancement to conduct mandated tasks both by day and night. Besides this, action is at hand to ensure high mobility of our elite forces, be it on land, air or sea. As regards the Ghatak Platoon of Infantry Battalions, a composite package of additional equipment and devices for special operations, referred as ‘Ghatak Brick’, is also in the pipeline. This upgradation would facilitate the Ghatak Platoons to conduct their tasks with enhanced efficiency and comparative ease in conventional as well as sub-conventional operations.
SP’s: Recently it was covered in the media that Naxals are raising Battalion sized units for future operations. Does that indicate a role for the Army undertaking anti-Naxal operations in the future?
COAS: Anti-left-wing extremism (LWE) operations are being coordinated and conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in conjunction with the affected state governments. Our Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) are fully geared and competent to take on the challenge. The Army is only in an advisory capacity and is providing training to the state police/CAPFs as and when required.
SP’s: In a fairly large number of incidents in the past few months in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), it seems that Army units and sub-units have suffered causalities due to their own laxity. While we have no doubts that orders including standard operating procedures do exist to prevent such happenings, why are they being flouted, especially in areas where alertness and readiness are paramount for their own safety and security? Are there any other reasons for this obvious flaw?
COAS: The situation in J&K was improving as was evident from all parameters which clearly pointed to an early return of relative normalcy. This was obviously due to the relentless efforts of the Indian Army ably supported by all elements of our security apparatus.
Viewed in retrospect the repeated calls for revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) were perhaps on account of the improved security situation. However, there was a need to further consolidate and stabilise the security situation, lest any premature action neutralised the advantage gained by the relentless offensive action of our soldiers.
There have been isolated violations of standard operating procedures (SOPs), however, remedial recourse has been effected. These aberrations notwithstanding, we must never trivialise the sacrifices of our brave soldiers. As the COAS, I salute all my soldiers, who in the line of duty and best traditions of our Army have made the supreme sacrifice.
SP’s: How long will it take the Indian Army to be ready for network-centric operations? What is holding it back?
COAS: Network-centric operations involve development of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and suitable applications. While our networks at strategic and operational level are well developed, we need mobile and flexible tactical communication system (TCS) to be fielded at the earliest. At the same time, while some applications have been fielded successfully, others are at different stages of development through indigenous production by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs), in keeping with security considerations. I would also like to highlight that in the field of ICT, the development cycle has to be telescoped to beat technological obsolescence.
The above notwithstanding, I expect the Indian Army to be network-centric in line with our laid down objectives in the days ahead.
SP’s: We are exercising with various friendly foreign countries. Have these exercises in any way impacted the operational/equipment philosophy of the Army?
COAS: The combined exercises are aimed at achieving desired capability during operations that may be undertaken in the aftermath of a disaster situation or for operations against terrorists under the aegis of the United Nations. Such exercises also enable the development of minimum inescapable interoperability, which is essential for achieving the synergy between two Armies.
The Indian Army has benefitted immensely from this exposure, both operationally as also with respect to technology related issues.
SP’s: At the current level of budgetary allocation for defence, the procedural complexity that effectively precludes the full utilisation of allocated funds within the financial year and the hesitancy of people in charge in taking procurement decisions, will the Indian Army be able to equip, upgrade and modernise in conformity with existing plans? Very little has been achieved in the Twelfth Five Year Plan, therefore given the above environment, what makes us confident that it will be achieved in the future?
COAS: Defence acquisition is a complex process that needs to balance the competing requirements of expeditious procurement, development by indigenous defence sector and conformity to the highest standards of transparency, probity and public accountability. High levels of public probity and media scrutiny impose a degree of caution, making the process more deliberate, as tenets of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) have to be followed conscientiously.
While there have been some time overruns, it would be incorrect to state that very little has been achieved in the Twelfth Five Year Plan. Thirty-nine contracts have already been concluded in the Twelfth Plan. A significant number of schemes linked to the modernisation of Artillery, Army Air Defence and Mechanised Forces are in fairly advanced stages of procurement and ought to fructify within the Twelfth Plan.
The budgetary allocation to the Army in the recent years has been fairly consistent. The Army has carried out a holistic review and re-prioritisation to accelerate capability development. I have also constituted a Higher Forum on Operational Preparedness and Modernisation under the Vice Chief, which is closely monitoring all modernisation efforts. The Army remains committed to accelerate procurement and maximise operational readiness. We have set achievable targets and are making steady progress. The numerous initiatives have already started showing results. In the current financial year, we have far surpassed the results of previous years.
Streamlining and refinement of the procurement procedure is a continuous process. Experience gained has adequately been subsumed in successive versions of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). MoD as well the three services have taken great care to minimise systemic deficiencies of all nature and are working in unison to ensure timely and unhindered procurement. Due to the special emphasis laid on indigenisation by the Defence Minister, as reflected in the foreword of DPP 2013, I am confident that there will be progressive improvement in the coming years.