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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