Army Modernisation is Gathering Momentum
Brig Gurmeet Kanwal

Defence planning in India has been marked by knee jerk reactions to emerging situations and haphazard single-Service growth. The absence of a clearly enunciated national security strategy, the failure to commit funds for weapons and equipment acquisition on a long-term basis and delays in decision making have together handicapped military modernisation. Also, there is a “critical hollowness” in defence preparedness, including large-scale deficiencies in ammunition and equipment, as revealed in former COAS Gen V K Singh’s letter to the Prime Minister in March 2012.

With projected expenditure of US$ 100 billion on military modernisation over the next 10 years, it is now being realised that force structures must be configured on a tri-Service, long-term basis to meet future threats and challenges. In early-2012, the 15-year Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) 2012-27 and the 12th five-year Defence Plan 2012-17 were accorded "in principle" approval by the Defence Acquisition Council chaired by the Defence Minister. However, guaranteed financial backing for these plans has not been provided by the government so far.

The army’s modernisation drive, which was virtually at a standstill till recently, has now begun to gather momentum. During a meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) in October 2014, the Defence Minister approved the purchase of 8,356 Israeli Spike Anti-tank Guided Missile (ATGMs) and 321 launchers for the Army’s infantry battalions at a cost of Rs 3,200 crore, rather than the American Javelin missile. The DAC also cleared the purchase of 1,761 radio relay containers at a cost of Rs 662 crore, building of 363 Armoured Personnel Carriers for Rs 1,800 crore and the purchase of critical rolling stock for Rs 740 crore.

Earlier, it had been reported in June 2013 that, “The army is finally cranking up its modernisation drive, with around 680 procurement projects worth over Rs 200,000 crore for the 12th Plan (2012-17) period, to plug operational gaps as well as ensure ‘capability development’ along both the western and eastern fronts.” The then COAS, Gen Bikram Singh, “…identified 31 of the 680 projects as ‘Priority-I’, which include assault rifles, howitzers, bullet-proof jackets, tank/artillery ammunition and missiles.” It was also reported that a “Rs 10,000 crore project for induction of 1,78,000 new-generation assault rifles, with interchangeable barrels for conventional warfare and counter-insurgency operations, for instance, is being finalised.”

Upgradation of Mechanised Forces

While Pakistan has acquired 320 T-80 UD tanks and is on course to add Al Khalid tanks that it has co-developed with China to its armour fleet, some vintage tanks continue in the Indian army’s inventory despite their obsolescence, in addition to T-72, T-72 M1 and T-90 main battle tanks (MBTs). Even though the indigenously developed Arjun MBT has not fully met the army’s expectations due to recurring technological problems and cost over-runs, the tank has entered serial production to equip two regiments. Consequently, 310 T-90S MBTs had to be imported from Russia. In December 2007, a contract was signed for an additional 347 T-90 tanks to be assembled in India. Meanwhile, a programme has been launched to modernise the T-72 M1 Ajeya MBTs that have been the mainstay of the army’s Strike Corps and their armoured divisions since the 1980s. The programme seeks to upgrade the night fighting capabilities and fire control system of the tank, among other modifications. These tanks will be given either the TIFCS or TISAS fire control system with thermal imaging night sights. Approximately 1,700 T-72 M1s have been manufactured under license at the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF), Avadi. To make up ammunition deficiencies, 60,000 rounds of APFSDS anti-tank rounds are being imported from Russia.

The BMP-1 and the BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles (ICVs), which have been the mainstay of the mechanised infantry battalions for long, are now ageing and replacements need to be found soon. A project has been sanctioned to upgrade 1,600 BMP-2s with 650 HP engines. The replacement ICVs must be capable of being deployed for internal security duties and counter-insurgency operations in addition to their primary role in conventional conflict. A project to build 2,600 Future Infantry Combat Vehicles (FICV) costing approximately Rs 60,000 crore has been approved by the government. The 22-24 tonne FICV will be indigenously designed and manufactured and, among others, Larsen & Toubro, the Mahindras and the Tatas have shown interest.

Artillery and Air Defence: Heading for Obsolescence

During future conventional conflict large-scale manoeuvre will not possible in the mountains due to the restrictions imposed by the difficult terrain and in the plains against Pakistan due to the need to avoid escalation to nuclear levels. Hence, firepower capabilities need to be enhanced by an order of magnitude, especially in terms of precision-guided munitions (PGMs). This will involve substantial upgradation of ground-based (artillery guns, rockets and missiles) and aerially-delivered (fighter-bomber aircraft and attack helicopter) firepower. PGMs are also required in much larger numbers than are held at present and UCAVs need to be added to the army’s arsenal. Only then will it be possible to achieve future military objectives, including the destruction of the adversary’s war machinery.

Despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict of 1999, where artillery firepower had undeniably paved the way for victory, modernisation of the artillery continues to lag behind. The last major acquisition of towed gun-howitzers was that of about 400 pieces of 39-calibre 155 mm FH-77B howitzers from Bofors of Sweden in the mid-1980s. New tenders have been floated for 155mm/ 39-calibre light weight howitzers for the mountains and 155mm/52-calibre long-range howitzers for the plains, as well as for self-propelled guns for the desert terrain. As re-trials have not yet commenced, it will take almost five years more for the first of the new guns to enter service. The MoD is in the process of acquiring 145 155 mm/39-calibre M777 howitzers for the mountains through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route from the US in a government-to-government deal. However, the deal is reportedly stuck for want of agreement on the offsets obligations.

Indigenous efforts to manufacture 155mm howitzers include that by the Ordnance Factories Board to produce Dhanush, a 45-calibre 155mm howitzer based on the designs for which Transfer of Technology (ToT) was obtained from Bofors in the 1980s, but not utilised. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved a proposal from the OFB to manufacture 144 howitzers of 45-calibre with the option to acquire another 400 provided the prototypes successfully meet the army’s GSQR in user trials. Meanwhile, the DRDO has embarked on its own venture to design and develop a 155mm howitzer in partnership with a private sector company.

In the first meeting of the DAC chaired by him on November 22, 2014, defence Minister Manohar Parrikar approved the acquisition of 814 truck-mounted 155 mm/52-calibre guns under the ‘buy and make in India’ category. While the first 100 guns will be imported, the remaining will be made in India. The total project cost is estimated to be Rs 15,750 crore. Several Indian companies are known to be interested in the indigenous design and development of modern artillery systems in conjunction with overseas partners. Bharat Forge (partner Elbit of Israel), Tata Power SED (Denel, South Africa) and L&T (Nexter, France) are likely to bid for this contract when the RfP is issued by the MoD.

A contract for the acquisition of two regiments of the 12-tube, 300 mm Smerch multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) system with 90 km range was signed with Russia’s Rosoboronexport in early-2006. The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile (Mach 2.8 to 3.0), with a precision strike capability, very high kill energy and maximum range of 290 km, was inducted into the army in July 2007. These terrain hugging missiles are virtually immune to counter measures due to their high speed and very low radar cross section. The indigenously designed and manufactured Pinaka multi-barrel rocket system is likely to enter service in the near future. These three weapon systems together will provide a major boost to the artillery’s ability to destroy key targets at long ranges. It is also time to now consider the induction of unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) armed with air-to-surface missiles into the artillery for air-to-ground precision attacks.

General Deepak Kapoor, former COAS, has written, “More than 80 per cent of the equipment of the Corps of Army Air Defence is obsolete.” The vintage L-70 40 mm AD gun system, the four-barrelled ZSU-23-4 Schilka (SP) AD gun system, the SAM-6 (Kvadrat) and the SAM-8 OSA-AK have all seen better days and need to be urgently replaced by more responsive modern AD systems that are capable of defeating current and future threats. The L-70, ZU-23 and ZSU-23-4 Schilka (SP) systems are being upgraded. After prolonged trials, two regiments of the Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM) have been ordered by the army. The Trishul SAM has not yet been successfully fielded by the DRDO. The short-range surface-to-air missile (SR-SAM) and medium-range (MR-SAM) acquisition programmes are embroiled in red tape. The first flight test of the long-range SAM (LR-SAM), being jointly developed in collaboration with Israel, was conducted in November 2014. Air defence is one area where the army has lagged behind the most in its modernisation efforts.

Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd) is Visiting Fellow, VIF, and former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.


Published Date: 25th September 2015, Image Source : https://jugalthepurohit
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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