Home Army Modernisation needs a major push

Army Modernisation needs a major push

The Indian army, with personnel strength of 1.1 million soldiers, has kept the nation together through various crises, including insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and the many of the north-eastern states, for over six decades since independence. It is a first-rate army with large-scale operational commitments on border management and in counter-insurgency operations. However, many of the army’s weapons and equipment are obsolescent and need to be modernised.

Lt Gen J P Singh, former Deputy Chief of the Army Staff, said in an interview with the CLAWS Journal, “The critical capabilities that are being enhanced to meet challenges across the spectrum, include battlefield transparency, battlefield management systems, night-fighting capability, enhanced firepower, including terminally guided munitions, integrated manoeuvre capability to include self-propelled artillery, quick reaction surface-to-air missiles, the latest assault engineer equipment, tactical control systems, integral combat aviation support and network centricity.”

While the army has drawn up elaborate plans for modernisation and qualitative upgradation of its capabilities, the pace of modernisation has been rather slow due to the lack of adequate funding support and timely decision making. India’s defence budget is pegged at less than 2.0 per cent of the GDP at present. According to Defence Minister A K Antony, "New procurements have commenced… but we are still lagging by 15 years.” Unless immediate measures are taken to speed up the pace of modernisation, the present quantitative military gap with China will soon become a qualitative gap as well. Also, the slender conventional edge that the Indian army enjoys over the Pakistan army will be eroded further as Pakistan is spending considerably large sums of money on its military modernisation under the garb of fighting radical extremism.

Main battle tanks are the spearhead of India’s conventional deterrence in the plains. Pakistan has acquired 320 T-80 UD tanks and is now acquiring Al Khalid tanks that it has co-developed with China. The Indian armour fleet is also being modernised gradually. The indigenously developed Arjun MBT has entered serial production to equip two regiments. 310 T-90S MBTs have been imported from Russia and a contract has been signed for 347 additional T-90 tanks to be assembled in India.

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 will upgrade the night fighting capabilities and fire control system of the tank. Approximately 1,700 T-72 M1s have been manufactured under license at the Heavy Vehicle Factory (HVF), Avadi. The BMP-1 and, to a lesser extent, the BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, which have been the mainstay of the mechanised infantry battalions for long, are now ageing and replacements, capable of employment for internal security duties and counter-insurgency operations in addition to their primary role in conventional conflict, need to be found soon.

Despite the lessons learnt during the Kargil conflict of 1999, where artillery firepower had paved the way for victory, modernisation of the artillery continues to lag behind (see companion piece on artillery modernisation). The Corps of Army Air Defence is also faced with problems of obsolescence. The vintage L-70 40 mm AD gun system, the four-barreled ZSU-23-4 Schilka (SP) AD gun system, the SAM-6 (Kvadrat) and the SAM-8 OSA-AK need to be replaced by more responsive modern AD systems that are capable of defeating current and future threats. The indigenously developed Akash surface-to-air missile has not yet been inducted into service. The modernisation of short-range and medium-range SAMs also needs to be speeded up.

The modernisation plans of India’s cutting edge infantry battalions, aimed at enhancing their capability for surveillance and target acquisition at night and boosting their firepower for precise retaliation against infiltrating columns and terrorists holed up in built-up areas, are moving forward but at a slow pace. These include the acquisition of shoulder-fired missiles, hand-held battlefield surveillance radars (BFSRs), and hand-held thermal imaging devices (HHTIs) for observation at night. Protective gear also needs to be acquired to reduce casualties in war and counter-insurgency operations. Stand-alone infra-red, seismic and acoustic sensors need to be acquired in large numbers to enable infantrymen to dominate the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and detect infiltration of Pakistan-sponsored terrorists.

Similarly, the operational capabilities of army aviation, engineers, signal communications, reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) branches need to be substantially enhanced so that the overall combat potential of the army can be improved by an order of magnitude. Modern strategic and tactical level command and control systems need to be acquired on priority for better synergies during conventional and sub-conventional conflict. Plans for the acquisition of a Tactical Communications System (TCS) and a Battlefield Management System (BMS) need to be hastened. Despite being the largest user of space, the army does not yet have a dedicated military satellite to bank on.

The author is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi

Courtesy: The Indian Express, 15 January 2012

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Brig Gurmeet Kanwal
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