India — Modernising the Infantry

“The least spec­tac­u­lar arm yet with­out which you can noth­ing at all”.

A for­mer Direc­tor Gen­er­al of the Infantry makes a strong plea in this arti­cle for speed­ing up the mod­erni­sa­tion of this crit­i­cal teeth arm. Since inde­pen­dence the infantry has remained the arm of first call by the nation; be it con­ven­tion­al, sub-con­ven­tion­al or inter­nal secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions. It must be giv­en the best per­son­al weapons and equip­ment and these must be made avail­able in an oper­a­tional­ly real­is­tic time frame. Five focus areas iden­ti­fied for capa­bil­i­ty devel­op­ment of the infantry are Lethal­i­ty, Sur­viv­abil­i­ty, Mobil­i­ty, Sit­u­a­tion­al Aware­ness and Sus­tain­abil­i­ty. Mod­erni­sa­tion must not be delayed by promis­es of devel­op­ing equip­ment that can­not be met in the time frame desired. He high­lights some prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties in procur­ing sim­ple and low cost items that call for suit­able changes in the DPP.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Del­hi-India

Defence and Security Alert (DSA

Infantry is the largest and the most pre­mi­um arm of the Indi­an Army. It encom­pass­es with­in its fold spe­cialised infantry like Air­borne troops, the Spe­cial Forces and Scouts bat­tal­ions besides the Amphibi­ous forces and a large chunk of the Rashtriya Rifles. The Mech­a­nised infantry went under the mech­a­nised forces fold over a decade back. With close to 400 bat­tal­ions, the infantry con­sti­tutes almost one third of the Indi­an Army. Since inde­pen­dence the infantry has remained the arm of first call by the nation; be it con­ven­tion­al, sub-con­ven­tion­al or inter­nal secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions. It has per­formed com­mend­ably in all oper­a­tions since inde­pen­dence and has an unpar­al­leled record of val­our and sac­ri­fice in the ser­vice of the nation.

In sum, while the Infantry con­tin­ues to go about its tasks with its tra­di­tion­al devo­tion and com­mit­ment, its mod­erni­sa­tion needs to be pur­sued with ever greater vigour and deter­mi­na­tion. There has to be a well delib­er­at­ed Gen­er­al Staff Pol­i­cy State­ment backed by detailed philoso­phies for indi­vid­ual com­po­nents of the mod­erni­sa­tion pro­gramme like small arms, anti-tank weapons, sur­veil­lance / bat­tle­field trans­paren­cy, com­mu­ni­ca­tions etc. to guide the process. One hopes for nec­es­sary changes in the DPP to facil­i­tate eas­i­er pro­cure­ment of some basic and low-cost equip­ment for the infantry sol­dier

The cur­rent and emerg­ing region­al secu­ri­ty sce­nario cou­pled with a flu­id and poten­tial­ly volatile inter­nal secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion, call for main­tain­ing the high­est lev­els of oper­a­tional pre­pared­ness at all times to deal with any con­tin­gency. Even as the con­tours of future con­ven­tion­al wars under­go a par­a­digm shift with enhanced bat­tle­field trans­paren­cy, greater accu­ra­cy and lethal­i­ty of fire pow­er, high­er tem­po of oper­a­tions and short­er, more intense con­flicts, infantry will con­tin­ue to play a vital bat­tle win­ning role in the com­bined all arms and joint oper­a­tions envi­ron­ment of the future. The infantry also remains the pri­ma­ry instru­ment for deal­ing with asym­met­ric, sub-con­ven­tion­al and emerg­ing hybrid war sce­nar­ios, more so in view of the per­sis­tent chal­lenge of a proxy war being waged against the coun­try for the last over two decades. Need­less to men­tion then the over­rid­ing impor­tance that main­tain­ing the high­est lev­els of oper­a­tional pre­pared­ness of the infantry and its mod­erni­sa­tion assume.

Even as the army deter­mined­ly pur­sues its mod­erni­sa­tion goals, which have today fall­en behind by almost two per­spec­tive plan peri­ods with the tenth plan pro­cure­ments yet to sub­stan­tial­ly mate­ri­alise and only a few months remain­ing for the eleventh plan to draw to a close, it is becom­ing increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to explain to the infantry­men in the field as to why their low-cost and ele­men­tary require­ments of equip­ment and weapons can­not be met in an oper­a­tional­ly viable time frame. There are con­tin­u­ing defi­cien­cies in War Estab­lish­ment equip­ment pro­file of infantry bat­tal­ions on Mod­el 4B (Mod­i­fied), which was pro­mul­gat­ed in 2003. The dynam­ics of mod­erni­sa­tion in gen­er­al and infantry mod­erni­sa­tion in par­tic­u­lar bear analy­sis and urgent speed­ing up.

Mod­erni­sa­tion dynam­ics

Mod­erni­sa­tion of the infantry is being pur­sued in con­so­nance with the infantry vision, “To be opti­mal­ly con­fig­ured to con­duct oper­a­tions at short notice across the entire spec­trum of con­flict pre­ven­tion, con­flict and post-con­flict activ­i­ties both with­in and out­side the region.” Five focus areas iden­ti­fied for capa­bil­i­ty devel­op­ment of the infantry are Lethal­i­ty, Sur­viv­abil­i­ty, Mobil­i­ty, Sit­u­a­tion­al Aware­ness and Sus­tain­abil­i­ty. The cur­rent dimen­sions of mod­ernising the infantry encom­pass mak­ing up the defi­cien­cies of Mod­el 4B (Mod­i­fied), devel­op­ing enhanced capa­bil­i­ty of Ghatak pla­toons, pur­su­ing the flag­ship F‑INSAS pro­gramme, mod­erni­sa­tion of the PARA and PARA (SF), equip­ping infantry bat­tal­ions for amphibi­ous role and cer­tain oth­er pro­cure­ments as part of the ongo­ing process of capa­bil­i­ty devel­op­ment of infantry. Of the dynam­ics, first and fore­most what needs to be appre­ci­at­ed is that the role and nature of tasks per­formed by the infantry inher­ent­ly demand that the infantry­man him­self is the most impor­tant weapon of the infantry. The basic equip­ment of the infantry­man that enhances his bat­tle wor­thi­ness, from sim­ple low cost items like elbow and knee pads to body armour and light­weight indi­vid­ual equip­ment and sight­ing sys­tems on his per­son­al weapons that help him acquire a tar­get quick­ly and engage it accu­rate­ly thus assume great impor­tance. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, how­ev­er, the elab­o­rate Defence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure (DPP) being vir­tu­al­ly the same for acquir­ing a knee or elbow pad and a tank and pos­si­bly an air­craft, the infantry has remained deprived of even such sim­ple items. Some relat­ed aspects are low cost and size — while most of the items need­ed by the infantry are low cost, the size of the arm being the largest neces­si­tates larg­er num­bers, which impact the over­all cost of pro­cure­ment rais­ing the lev­el of com­pe­tent finan­cial author­i­ty required to sanc­tion pur­chas­es of sim­ple low cost items. Even so the over­all cost of infantry pro­cure­ments is rel­a­tive­ly low­er than oth­er arms and since the effort required at var­i­ous lev­els to process a pro­pos­al is the same, the temp­ta­tion is to process high val­ue pro­cure­ments on pri­or­i­ty because of their favourable impact on bud­getary spend­ing. We def­i­nite­ly need to be look­ing at suit­able changes in the DPP, which fac­tor the cost of an item rather than the total val­ue of pro­cure­ment into con­sid­er­a­tion for the pur­pose of both, sim­pli­fy­ing the pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dure for such items as well as the com­pe­tent finan­cial author­i­ty for sanc­tion­ing the same. Anoth­er aspect which has adverse­ly impact­ed on mod­erni­sa­tion all around is the pre­vail­ing ‘anti-cor­rup­tion’ envi­ron­ment in the coun­try, which has vir­tu­al­ly made the mod­erni­sa­tion process a hostage to the require­ments of pro­bity. While the ser­vices whole­heart­ed­ly sup­port the need to keep the acqui­si­tion process absolute­ly clean and cor­rup­tion free (it can be nobody’s case that pro­bity and trans­paren­cy in pro­cure­ments be com­pro­mised in any man­ner), the ongo­ing inquiries and envi­ron­ment have def­i­nite­ly cre­at­ed a sense of inse­cu­ri­ty lead­ing to a ‘play safe’ atti­tude espe­cial­ly amongst those in the final deci­sion mak­ing loop. This leads to inor­di­nate delays and cost over­runs that are very inju­ri­ous to our over­all secu­ri­ty. This has man­i­fest­ed itself in absurd inter­pre­ta­tions of the DPP in some cas­es lead­ing to avoid­able delays and falling through of even ful­ly matured pro­pos­als after over a year’s or sev­er­al years’ toil at var­i­ous lev­els. The ‘let­ter’ of DPP should not assume more impor­tance than the ‘spir­it’ and there will always be lim­its to our writ­ing good Eng­lish, which caters to all even­tu­al­i­ties. Can we real­ly visu­alise all such even­tu­al­i­ties in the ear­ly stages of a proposal’s long jour­ney through the labyrinthine require­ments of the DPP and mul­ti­tude of agen­cies, which are involved! And while the pro­vi­sion for waivers exists, it is sub­ject to the afore­men­tioned pro­bity syn­drome. One often gets the feel­ing that sin­cere and upright offi­cers, espe­cial­ly in the Min­istry, would rather avoid an innings in pro­cure­ment relat­ed jobs and actions of those who can­not, tend to be guid­ed more by the thought of avoid­ing an inquiry, now or lat­er, rather than any con­cern for mod­erni­sa­tion goals or enhanc­ing oper­a­tional pre­pared­ness. A gen­er­al­ly pre­vail­ing envi­ron­ment of dif­fused account­abil­i­ty and the ease of shift­ing the blame for delays or inef­fi­cien­cy on to low­er rungs in the chain of pro­cure­ment allow those with such a mind­set to ride the sys­tem. Notwith­stand­ing the above, ener­getic efforts are on to cre­ate high­er lev­els of sen­si­tiv­i­ty towards oper­a­tional needs and mod­erni­sa­tion goals. To be fair, some struc­tur­al inad­e­qua­cies relat­ing to resources avail­able for pro­cess­ing of pro­pos­als at var­i­ous lev­els need address­ing and should come about as part of the endeav­our present­ly under­way for ‘trans­for­ma­tion of the army’. Also, a reas­sur­ing envi­ron­ment, which gen­er­ates the con­fi­dence that upright offi­cers will not be hauled over coals over deci­sions tak­en in the line of duty cer­tain­ly needs to be cre­at­ed.

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Unfair com­par­isons are also at times made about the rel­a­tive­ly slug­gish pace of pro­cess­ing of army pro­pos­als as com­pared to the oth­er two ser­vices. The inven­to­ry, its diver­si­ty and huge size and a far larg­er num­ber of pro­pos­als def­i­nite­ly add to the com­plex­i­ty of pro­cure­ments by the army. The country’s mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex com­pris­ing the Ord­nance Fac­to­ries Board (OFB), the Defence Pub­lic Sec­tor Under­tak­ings (DPSus), both under the Depart­ment of Defence Pro­duc­tion (DDP) in the Min­istry of Defence and the Defence Research and Devel­op­ment Organ­i­sa­tion (DRDO) play a very sig­nif­i­cant and dom­i­nant role in the entire mod­erni­sa­tion process, with the focus on indi­geni­sa­tion of defence pro­duc­tion. Their over­lap­ping roles and respon­si­bil­i­ties, degree of account­abil­i­ty, capa­bil­i­ty, com­pe­tence and effi­cien­cy, pric­ing, respon­sive­ness, qual­i­ty and abil­i­ty to deliv­er on time, mer­it an hon­est and gen­uine intro­spec­tion. And, last but not the least of the play­ers are the ven­dors, some of whom have begun to exploit the DPP unfair­ly for their nar­row com­mer­cial ends lead­ing to avoid­able diver­sion of effort towards reply­ing to their moti­vat­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tions and con­se­quent pro­cure­ment delays. The sys­tem needs to come down heav­i­ly to curb this emerg­ing ten­den­cy amongst the default­ing ven­dors. A sys­tem of black­list­ing the ven­dors who default on the integri­ty clause does exist but this has also led to a ‘play safe’ approach for future pro­cure­ments from such ven­dors and con­se­quent delays. With the judi­cial process being time con­sum­ing, what we per­haps need to con­sid­er is a sys­tem of impos­ing heavy penal­ties instead of black­list­ing espe­cial­ly since some of these ven­dors hap­pen to be the only ones in the mar­ket to meet the require­ments of some oper­a­tional­ly crit­i­cal equip­ment.

Approach to mod­erni­sa­tion

Mod­erni­sa­tion of the infantry needs to be guid­ed by its basic char­ac­ter­is­tics of self reliance and mobil­i­ty, tech­no­log­i­cal upgra­da­tion, ensur­ing that indi­vid­ual sol­dier is not encum­bered unnec­es­sar­i­ly and weight car­ried by him is kept man­age­able. His capa­bil­i­ty to per­form effec­tive­ly in the net-cen­tric, com­bined arms, joint oper­a­tions bat­tle­field envi­ron­ment of the future needs to be devel­oped. These aspects, as per media reports, have been incor­po­rat­ed in the F‑INSAS pro­gramme, which is the flag­ship pro­gramme of not only the infantry but the Indi­an Army. The three basic weapons of the infantry, the car­bine, assault rifle and the light machine gun are due for replace­ment as part of this pro­gramme. The replace­ment of the car­bine has been delayed for long part­ly due to the inabil­i­ty of our mil­i­tary indus­tri­al com­plex to pro­vide an ade­quate suit­able indige­nous alter­na­tive in the last over five years. We need to be open mind­ed and inno­v­a­tive in our approach to meet the small arms require­ment of not only the infantry and the army but also of the para mil­i­tary and police forces, espe­cial­ly since the lat­ter are now involved in bat­tling the Maoists. It is an open secret that leaves aside the para­mil­i­tary and the police, even the army today does not have an inven­to­ry of small arms, which can be called wor­thy of one of the largest armies of the world and that too when some of the small­er neigh­bours boast far supe­ri­or weapons in that cat­e­go­ry. What­ev­er be the rea­sons, the indige­nous INSAS fam­i­ly of weapons has fall­en far short of the oper­a­tional require­ments as well as the aspi­ra­tions of troops even after almost a decade and a half. The nation owes it to the infantry sol­dier who is required to unflinch­ing­ly make the supreme sac­ri­fice in close quar­ter com­bat with the ene­my with only his per­son­al weapon, to pro­vide him a qual­i­ty per­son­al weapon that in the very least inspires con­fi­dence in him and bestows on him the abil­i­ty to get the bet­ter of his adver­sary in bat­tle. While the need for indi­geni­sa­tion is well under­stood it has to be done in an oper­a­tional­ly viable time frame. Instead of tak­ing decades to rein­vent the wheel, will the sys­tem do bet­ter to estab­lish a state-of-the-art small arms man­u­fac­tur­ing facil­i­ty now that all three key small arms are due for replace­ment, which will meet the require­ments of both, the army and para­mil­i­tary and police forces? Keep­ing in view the inor­di­nate delays that have occurred in pro­duc­ing accept­able ver­sions of these small arms, it may now be the oper­a­tional­ly opti­mal solu­tion to set up plants to man­u­fac­ture state-of-the-art ver­sions under license. Is it not sur­pris­ing that when man­u­fac­tur­ing facil­i­ties for state-of-the-art cars are allowed to be estab­lished in the coun­try then why do we shy away from pro­vid­ing our sol­diers the essen­tial where­with­al to not only come out vic­to­ri­ous in any bat­tle­field engage­ment but also to improve their sur­viv­abil­i­ty on the emerg­ing high­ly lethal bat­tle­field of the future. Indi­geni­sa­tion is high­ly desir­able but the prod­ucts have to be made avail­able in a real­is­tic time frame. The Sten Machine Car­bine (SMC) for instance was found to be sub-opti­mal as far back as the Sri Lan­ka oper­a­tions in 1987! It was gross­ly under­pow­ered and prone to acci­den­tal dis­charge. Today, some 24 years lat­er we still have not been able to give a replace­ment SMC to our sol­diers. Half-indi­geni­sa­tion inspired by trans­fer of tech­nol­o­gy as part of the defence pro­cure­ment process is also encoun­ter­ing some dif­fi­cul­ties with con­straints on absorp­tion of tech­nol­o­gy trans­ferred. Gen­uine and mean­ing­ful indi­geni­sa­tion will remain a dis­tant dream unless there is an effort at switch­ing focus of defence research from imme­di­ate and short term require­ments to long term defence needs. A well coor­di­nat­ed effort is need­ed to opti­mise the exist­ing ded­i­cat­ed human resource and some excel­lent research facil­i­ties. In the inter­im mod­erni­sa­tion must not be delayed by promis­es of devel­op­ing equip­ment that can­not be met in the time frame desired.

Some ques­tions pre­vail in some quar­ters of the envi­ron­ment on the via­bil­i­ty and desir­abil­i­ty of the F‑INSAS pro­gramme. Some of these have to do more with the seman­tics and des­ig­na­tion that inspires some hard core infantry­men to ask if an infantry­man should or indeed can be trans­formed into a sys­tem. The pro­gramme has five sub-sys­tems-weapons, which is basi­cal­ly focused on per­son­al weapons of the infantry sol­dier, body armour and indi­vid­ual equip­ment (BAIE), which as the name sug­gests is focused on body armour and light­weight mod­u­lar equip­ment for the sol­dier, tar­get acqui­si­tion that is focused on sur­veil­lance equip­ment and weapon sights, com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem, which seeks to upgrade the radio sets to soft­ware defined sin­gle and dual band radios and the com­put­er sys­tem, which will be selec­tive­ly pro­vid­ed to meet the require­ment of mak­ing the infantry effec­tive in a net-cen­tric envi­ron­ment. Notwith­stand­ing the pro­gramme des­ig­na­tion, bulk of the pro­gramme is geared towards mod­ernising the basic weapons and equip­ment of the infantry sol­dier to empow­er and enhance his bat­tle­field effi­cien­cy in both, net­worked as well as non-net­worked envi­ron­ments. It does not detract from the ‘pri­ma­cy’ of an infantry sol­dier being the ‘pri­ma­ry infantry weapon’ even as it pro­vides him sys­tems sup­port for enhanced and ful­ly enabled oper­a­tional effec­tive­ness when nec­es­sary. Request for infor­ma­tion (RFIs) for most of the equip­ment under the pro­gramme have been host­ed on the web and sev­er­al pro­pos­als are appar­ent­ly in more advanced stages.

Pro­pos­als for enhanc­ing the capa­bil­i­ty of infantry bat­tal­ion Ghatak pla­toons were moot­ed in the after­math of 26/11. Two years down the line some of the impor­tant pro­pos­als for equip­ment like door breach­ing grenade, breach­ing ammu­ni­tion, sub-machine gun and sniper rifle may well be near fruc­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Some impor­tant tenth plan mod­erni­sa­tion pro­pos­als for the Spe­cial Forces have since fruc­ti­fied. The guid­ing phi­los­o­phy for their mod­erni­sa­tion needs to be obvi­ous­ly bench­marked against the best in the world and def­i­nite­ly a shade bet­ter than any oth­er hue of Spe­cial Forces with­in the coun­try. We must always remem­ber that in any sit­u­a­tion the Armed Forces remain the last resort option, which sim­ply can­not fail the nation in any con­tin­gency.

Infantry tasked for amphibi­ous role con­sti­tutes an emerg­ing strate­gic capa­bil­i­ty and needs due pri­or­i­ty and atten­tion. While the army has more than made up for lack of equip­ment through its inno­v­a­tive­ness, train­ing and a very strong sense of com­mit­ment to any assigned task, it remains the moral oblig­a­tion of the State to pro­vide the best for its Armed Forces.

In sum, while the infantry con­tin­ues to go about its tasks with its tra­di­tion­al devo­tion and com­mit­ment, its mod­erni­sa­tion needs to be pur­sued with ever greater vigour and deter­mi­na­tion. There has to be a well delib­er­at­ed Gen­er­al Staff Pol­i­cy State­ment backed by detailed philoso­phies for indi­vid­ual com­po­nents of the mod­erni­sa­tion pro­gramme like small arms, anti-tank weapons, sur­veil­lance / bat­tle­field trans­paren­cy, com­mu­ni­ca­tions etc. to guide the process. One hopes for nec­es­sary changes in the DPP to facil­i­tate eas­i­er pro­cure­ment of some basic and low-cost equip­ment for the infantry sol­dier. Cou­pled with this an atti­tu­di­nal change and greater sen­si­tiv­i­ty to mak­ing up the oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty short­falls will, of course, be wel­come.

The writer was com­mis­sioned into the Fifth Bat­tal­ion of the Third Gorkha Rifles in Novem­ber 1971 on the eve of Indo-Pak War 1971 and saw action with his bat­tal­ion in the Kargil Sec­tor. He was Deputy Gen­er­al Offi­cer Com­mand­ing of an infantry divi­sion in the deserts dur­ing Op Parakram and Chief of Staff of the Sri­na­gar based Chi­nar Corps. He was Chief of Staff of the Jaipur based South West­ern Com­mand before tak­ing over as Direc­tor Gen­er­al Infantry in March 2010 from where he super­an­nu­at­ed in April 2011.

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