Resultantly the army’s ambitious plans to
transform from a ‘threat-based to a capability force’ by 2020 are being
consistently thwarted as a result of process driven MoD breaucracy and the Army
headquarters delays in drawing up credible qualitative requirements.
Army’s Modernization Perspective
Let us take the armour first. Indian army’s
mechanised fleet comprises T-72 and T72 M1s Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), T-90S MBTs
and indigenously produced Arjun MKI tanks. The main issue facing operational
efficiency of mechanised forces are two: night fighting capability and
In so far as night fighting capability is
concerned only the 650-odd Russian T90S MBTs along with indigenously designed
Arjun MKI tanks have full solution night fighting capability. T-72 and T72M1s
that form the backbone of 59-odd armour regiments along with some 2200
Soviet-designed BMP-II infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) lack night fighting
capability. Majority of the T72s await upgrades that will provide them with
either full solution thermal imaging fire control systems (TIFCS) or third
generation partial solution thermal imaging stand alone systems (TISAS) enabling
all weather including night operations. Till date only 620 partial solution
TISAS have been acquired.
In terms of armour ammunition there is critical
deficiency of anti tank ammunition; 125 mm armour piercing fin-stabilised
discarding sabot (APFSDS). Indigenous production is held up on account of black
listing of Israeli company, resultantly availability of 125 mm APFSDS including
war wastage reserves have dropped to critical levels necessitating urgent
imports of around 66,000 rounds from Russia at highly inflated prices.
Next major deficiency is that of Artillery, where
no new gun has been inducted in last three decades. Despite years of attempts at
modernisation; army’s artillery profile remains beseeched by the inability to
decide on the 155 mm gun to replace the 180-odd field artillery regiments
employing as many as six different calibres that are fast approaching
obsolescence. Even the 32 artillery regiments equipped with 410 FH-77B 155 mm
Bofors guns imported in the late 1980s-are reduced to half following
cannibalization owing to the non-availability of spares. Upgradation of
approximately 200 Soviet 130 mm M-46 carried out jointly by the Ordnance Factory
Board and Soltam of Israel has been unsatisfactory resulting in CBI enquiry.
The proposal under the Artillery Rationalisation
Plan to acquire by 2020-25 a mix of around 3000-3600; 155mm/39 calibre light
weight and 155mm/52 calibre towed, mounted, self-propelled (tracked and wheeled)
and ultra light weight 155mm/39 calibre howitzers through imports and local,
licensed manufacture have been continually postponed for over a decade. Tenders
for almost all these guns have been issued, withdrawn and re-issued, along with
several rounds of inconclusive trials. Matters have been further complicated by
the MoD completely or partially blacklisting at least four top overseas howitzer
The infantry’s F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier as
a System) project that includes a fully networked, all-terrain, all-weather
personal equipment platform as well as enhanced firepower and mobility for the
digitalised battlefield of the future continues to be abnormally behind
schedule. Similarly eight-odd Special Forces battalions face an identity crisis,
operating without a specialised operational mandate, organisational support or
“dedicated budget” resulting in piecemeal and incomplete weapon and equipment
Adding to the Infantry’s woes is the shortages of
credible assault rifles (ARs), carbines, ballistic helmets, lightweight bullet
proof jackets and night vision devices. These are largely produced indigenously.
Last year the MoD issued a global tender for 66,000, 5.56 mm ARs for an
estimated $ 700 million to replace the locally designed Indian Small Arms System
(INSAS). The eventual requirement for the proposed AR is expected to be around 2
million units for use not only by the army but also the paramilitary forces and
the numerous provincial police forces in a project estimated to cost around $3
Other infantry shortages include; close quarter
battle carbines, general purpose machine guns, light-weight anti-materiel
rifles, mine protected vehicles, snow scooters for use at heights above 21,000
feet in Siachen, 390,000 ballistic helmets, over 30,000 third generation NVDs,
180,000 lightweight bullet proof jackets together with other assorted ordnance
including new generation grenades.
Similar is the story of air defence. The bulk of
the army’s air defence guns – Bofors L 70s and the Soviet Zu-23-2s and ZUS-23-4s
and missiles like the Russian OSA-AK and Kradvat – date back 30-40 years and
need replacing. The Army Aviation also faces similar shortages. There is an
urgent need to replace obsolete aviation assets like the Chetak and Cheetah
helicopters. Acquisition of 197 helicopters under the Army Aviation Corps Vision
2017 was postponed after the procurement of Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fennec was
scrapped in November 2007. Four years later after trials, evaluation and
negotiation the contract is under re-assessment featuring Russia’s Kamov 226 and
Eurocopter’s AS 550 models, with little chance of early conclusion.
Addressing Army’s Modernization
The major issue that emerges is how will the army
get out of the vicious cycle of delays in procurement, and get its modernisation
plans back on track. Is it feasible to undertake an all encompassing procurement
backed by indigenous production taking the transfer of technology (TOT) route?
What are the likely constraints?
Let us take a look at the budgetary support first?
The Defence Budget for 2014-15 has an allocation of Rs. 2, 29,000 crores ($38
billion) an increase of 12 per cent over the previous year’s allocation. The
capital outlay is Rs.94, 588 crores ($15.7 billion), and the remaining
allocation of Rs. 1, 34,412 crores is the revenue outlay. The sub allocation of
capital outlay to Army is Rs. 20, 655 crores, Navy Rs. 22, 312 crores, Air force
Rs. 31,818 crores, DRDO Rs.9298 crores and modernization of Ordnance Factories (OFs)
Rs. 1, 207 crores. While the figures might look impressive it needs to be noted
that fairly large amount of capital outlays get consumed by committed
liabilities leaving fairly modest amounts for new procurements.
Second, even if the money was available how can
the army make up such huge shortages in any acceptable time frame? Procurement
procedures, deciding on vendors for transfer of technology, issues regarding off
sets, participation of the private sector and above all skill development are
long drawn process which in the best case can take anything from 5 to 7 years.
To deal with the problem two critical aspects need
to be addressed: One, the nature of future threats both in
short-and-medium-to-long-terms basis. If the trigger for conflicts is likely to
be unacceptable provocation requiring immediate military response; this requires
basic level of preparedness and modernization to deal with such contingencies.
Two, the long-term capability needs require a more nuanced and detailed
induction perspective more attuned to R&D, technology transfers and indigenous
production, etc. The essential take away from the above analysis is two-fold –
laying down induction priorities and tri service synergy.
[Author Brigadier (Retd.)
Arun Sahgal, PhD, is Deputy Director Research and Head, Centre for Strategic
Studies and Simulation, at the United Service Institution of India. He is a
member of National Task Force on Net Assessment and Simulation, under the NSCS,
Government of India.]
Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses