SP Guide Publications puts forth a well compiled articulation of issues, pursuits and accomplishments of the Indian Army, over the years
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My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.
A comprehensive analysis of the Infantry Soldier as the Apex Fighting System in Warfare
Infantry has always been the last to be considered for modernisation, primarily due to its lack of glamour and low-profile weapons and equipment as compared to the tanks, ships, aircraft, guns, missiles, and rockets. However, the reality on ground is that wars are lost if that country’s boots on ground lack the spirit, skill and the right mix of weapons and modern technology to improve its OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) loop.
There are numerous examples of mighty and the powerful winning the air and the sea battle but losing the land battle, especially in the unconventional domain. US in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, Russians in the current Ukraine war and Afghanistan and China in Vietnam and Galwan are just a few examples. In the Indian Army too the infantry man gets the last priority despite sincere efforts by top military leadership to do so. Indian Army continues to rely on the unsatisfactory INSAS Rifles and LMGs, MMGs of old vintage, below the mark surveillance systems and unwieldly body protection systems. Not that there are no efforts being made, systems ex import is being procured but their numbers are small and hence unable to equip the huge infantry force of the Indian Army. This article will attempt to highlight the efforts being made to enhance the Infantry Soldier’s fighting ability in a highly technology driven warfare environment and what needs to be done to speed up the process to make our Infantry and by corollary our Armed Forces a more effective and lethal war fighting machine. Because as Brigadier Rumel Dahiya has written, “Operational and strategic advantage can only be created through tactical advantage and we can be sure of victory in war if our forces create and retain overall military advantage over our adversaries”.
The modern battlefield is marked by advanced surveillance, sophisticated artificial intelligence, and lethal weaponry. Conventional and unconventional elements, such as precision guidance systems and integrated communication, define warfare. Despite technological advancements, well-trained, equipped infantry remains indispensable. Ongoing conflicts in Israel, and Ukraine underscore the critical role of operationally prepared infantry. The Battle of Bakhmut and Mariupol and operations in Gaza emphasise the need for infantry in complex battle situations. The centrality of infantry persists, requiring preparation for survival in lethal environments and unconventional warfare. To meet these challenges, world armies focus on providing lighter precision weapons, advanced body protection, and effective communication systems. Infantry readiness extends to countering nuclear, biological, and chemical threats as well and must be capable of fighting dirty. Observing global approaches ensures enhanced functionality and survivability on the modern battlefield.
As highlighted above due to the pivotal role of the infantry in any future or current wars, its fighting capability and survivability are being continuously improved upon by leading armies of the world. They have termed the modernisation of the Infantry as “soldiers as a system” initiative in which the infantry soldier is integrated with C4I structure of the fighting formations at least up to the Brigade and where feasible and operationally desired up to Division level. However, care needs to be taken to ensure that the degree of visibility of the soldier is calibrated to the level of information and communication required by the soldier to function without being hampered by information or technology overload. Various world systems are: “LAND 125 Soldier Combat System of Australia, Integrated and Modular Engagement System (IMESS) of Switzerland, Soldato Futuro of Italy, Future Force Warrior of USA, Future Infantry Soldier Technology (FIST) of UK, IdZ of Germany, FELIN of France, Advance Combat Man System of Singapore, ANOG of Israel and F-INSAS or Future Infantry Soldier as a System are some of the programmes in various states of implementation. Over 20 Armies in the world are having such programmes.
Hurdles and internal competition for resources within the Indian Armed forces, underscore the challenges in modernising the Infantry
The common theme running across these programmes is that they are meant to provide an infantry soldier with improved combat effectiveness in terms of lethality, mobility, survivability and C4I”. A point that needs to be noted is that these programmes are not similar in nature or structure. Each country has tailored it to meet their specific operational environment. Country like India has the maximum challenge where the Indian Infantry Soldier (The Ultimate Fighter) must contend with High Altitude, Jungles, Riverine, Urban and Rural terrain, extreme weather conditions – 30 to + 50-degree temperature and have the ability to fighting across the entire spectrum of warfare, conventional, CI, CT, IS and grey zone.
F-INSAS is a supplement to the existing initative to modernise the war establishment table of the Infantry Units and focuses on the individual soldiers. Continuous additions and modifications form part of this initiative. Subsystem forming part of the programme were initially formulated in 2008 to include weapon(s), protection, communications, surveillance, situational awareness, and body worn mini computers. Initial equipment proposed were, lightweight composite material helmet, head display screen, push-to-talk short-range radio set, body armour, night vision goggles, small computer, data card, wrist-mounted GPS, new personal weapon, quality clothing, web equipment, boots, and meals-ready-toeat. However, this entails huge investment required for simultaneous equipment of the entire force. The plan to equip the forces is being followed as per laid down priorities.
Infantry plays the pivotal role in modern warfare and wars can be lost without a well-equipped and skilled infantry force
Special Forces are the first to be equipped followed by units located in operational areas and then to the rest of Infantry. Soldiers from the other arms will get some of these equipment based on their requirement especially the personal weapon body protection and communication equipment. Specific items that form part of the F-INSAS include AK-203 assault rifle which is a Russian weapon under joint production of Russia and India will be the stock personal weapon which is likely to be rolled out of the factory very soon. Recently Defence Minister Rajnath Singh handed over the indigenously built Nipun mines also known as soft target blast munition. These are similar to the Russian PFM-1 and PFM-1S also known as “Butterfly Mines”. These mines are meant to act as the first line of defence against infiltrators and enemy infantry. They are smaller in size and can be deployed in large numbers. They provide protection to the troops on the borders and are more potent and effective than the existing anti-personnel mines in their arsenal. Likewise, plans are afoot to equip the Infantry to traverse water bodies by proving them modern Landing Craft Assaults meant to replace the boats in Pangong Tso and for River / wide canal crossing Operations. Other equipment handed over to the Infantry are Solar Photovoltaic Energy plant at Siachen to replace the generator based dependency at such a challenging weather, terrain and operating condition. Similarly, MoD has handed over to the Army for the Infantry, hand held thermal imagers, long range frequency hopping radio equipment that is extremely difficult to jam and intercept, infantry mobility vehicle to match the speed of mechanised forces, quick reaction fighting vehicles and mini remotely piloted aerial system surveillance, detection and reconnaissance at the infantry battalion and mechanised infantry unit level.
Numerous challenges confront us, notably the internal competition for resources within the Army across various branches. The imperative to replace, upgrade, and indigenise Artillery Systems, prioritise light tank deployment, and enhance existing tanks is evident. Urgent requirements for new Air Defence Systems, procurement for newly formed units, and the induction of aviation assets, including attack helicopters, Light Combat Helicopters, Communication, and Logistics support helicopters, further compound these challenges. The inter-service competition between the Indian Air Force (IAF), Indian Navy (IN), and Indian Army (IA) adds another layer, with the capital-intensive nature of IAF and IN impinging on the Army’s needs. Procurement hurdles persist due to the conventional case-by-case approval approach, with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) often hindering private sector and import-based procurement.
Despite positive strides in policy reform, greater involvement of the private sector, encouragement for start-ups and Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) under the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, substantial obstacles persist. While expanding the negative list for weapons procurement is a step towards self-reliance, India has a considerable journey ahead to achieve self-sufficiency in its defence, including Infantry needs.
Transforming the Infantry Soldier is a prolonged endeavour that demands considerable time to fulfil the 100 per cent requirement for essential items in the Future Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS) programme. However, prioritising the proposed Assault Rifle is imperative to prevent a scenario where infantry is compelled to engage with obsolete INSAS Rifles, highlighting the urgency in addressing this crucial need.
The Ministry of Defence and the Indian Army recognise the imperative of modernising key army components, including Infantry, Armour, Artillery, Air Defence, and Aviation. While initiatives like defence industry privatisation, integration of MSMEs, Startups, and academia aim to transition the defence forces toward self-sufficiency under the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative, the establishment of defence corridors in UP and Tamil Nadu indicates steps in the right direction. However, realising these goals will require time. During this transitional phase, our reliance on imports and collaboration with the Private Indian Defence Industry must persist. Easing procurement processes and providing support to MSMEs are essential steps, and ongoing efforts in this direction need sustained momentum.
Global initiatives are underway for Infantry modernisation to enhance infantry capabilities
The Infantry urgently demands modernisation to meet the challenges of future battlefields characterised by advanced weapon systems, disruptive technologies, and heightened battlefield transparency due to AI-driven ground, aerial manned and unmanned and space based surveillance systems. The introduction of drones, robots, and unmanned weapons platforms necessitates equipping and empowering the Infantry with the right weapons and C4I systems to enhance its Operational, Observational, Decision, and Action (OODA) loop. Encouragingly, the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Forces are actively addressing these needs, taking essential steps to equip not only the Infantry but also other crucial components of the Defence Forces.