|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
No matter how hi-tech the modern battlefield gets. No matter how powerful the aircrafts, drones and the robots become, mission of the Infantry will continue to close-in and destroy the enemy by close quarter violent combat in any war operation and then physically hold the ground. One fall-out of the Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh is that the Infantry is set to get a makeover even though not holistically. The primacy of the Infantry in battle especially in the mountains is indisputable as was proved in the Kargil Conflict also. Yet the policy makers give priority to big-ticket purchases for reasons not very difficult to understand. One reason for this also is that capital expenditure continues to be controlled by the Defence Secretary and the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has no say in it. But at least some thought is being given to equip the Infantry that may have to battle the PLA should China impose conflict on us despite the motions of disengagement from the standoff.
The Army is looking at acquiring quantity 200 RQ-11 ‘Raven’ hand-launched unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the US that can fly up to 10 km at an altitude of 500 feet with speeds up to 95 km/h for reconnaissance and surveillance of enemy troop movement. After the Army bought Spike Mark III anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) from Israel as emergency purchases due to the Ladakh standoff, it is now buying Israeli Spike Firefly ‘loitering’ ammunition that can deliver a precision strike on enemy troops hiding within a range of one km. This will increase lethality of the Infantry. The Firefly ammunition not only has loitering capability to locate a target but also can be called back if the target has moved beyond range. Army is also procuring long-range precision artillery shells with a range of over 40 km for ground support. According to media reports, the Army is going to place another order of 72,000 from the United States. The first lot 72,000 SIG716 assault rifles acquired under the fast-track procurement (FTP SIG716 assault rifles) programme has already been received and delivered to the Army for use by troops in Northern Command in counter-terrorism and other operational areas. As per the plan, around 1.5 lakh imported rifles were to be used by the troops in counter-terrorism operations and frontline duties on the Line of Control (LoC). The remaining troops are to be equipped with AK-203 rifles, which are to commence production through a India-Russia joint venture (JV) at Ordnance Factory, Amethi but bogged down in avoidable procedural snags including pricing which should have been provisionally decided at the time of setting up the JV one year back. Recently, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had also placed an order for 16,000 light machine guns (LMGs) from Israel to plug shortage in these weapons. The Infantry is presently equipped with anti-personnel AGS-30 automatic grenade launchers that can engage targets by day using the daylight sight unit PAG-17. There is no night sight held for the AGS-30. The Army has therefore sought vendor response to procure quantity 804 night sight with thermal imaging capability for the AGS-30 to enhance their use in operations. The Expression of Interest (EoI) issued on July 7, 2020 has called for response before August 7. The procurement of Night Sight (Thermal Imaging) for AGS-30 under Make-II category of Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2016 incorporates all amendments up to November 1, 2019. The Army is also scouting for a multi-purpose tool to form part of the soldier’s personal equipment, open tender for which is likely to be issued soon. A Request for Information (RFI) was issued to original equipment manufacturers (OEM) or their authorised dealers on June 26. The tool with maximum weight of 300 grams (without sheath) is required to perform tasks like screwing and removing nuts and bolts and crimping universal size detonators, wire-cutter, electric wire stripper, screw driver, drop-point blade – dagger, wood-bone saw, combination file, can-bottle opener and measurement scale. The MoD is also set to procure 100,000 of new ballistic helmets for Infantry personal for which tender is tentatively to be issued in February 2021. Army has issued a RFI to OEMs and vendors asking if they can supply the ballistic helmets in between 12 and 36 months of the contract signing. The Army is seeking both normal and commander’s ballistic helmets, with desired protection level in lightest weight so that the soldier can operate with maximum combat efficiency during prolonged operations with adequate protection against small arms fire. According to one media report two Israeli assault rifles ‘Arad’ and ‘Carmel’ are to be produced under the ‘Make in India’ initiative in Madhya Pradesh where a plant was set up by Israeli Weapon Systems (IWI) in 2017 in a JV called PLR Systems. Punj Lloyd originally held 51 per cent shares which were bought over by Four Aces India Systems Limited. PLR Systems aims to get contracts from Special Forces of the Army, Navy and Air Force, Central Armed Police Forces and the Police.
All these bits of news are heartening but they lead to few questions, like: why has the governmental-defence industry (DRDO-OFB) not been able to deliver basic military requirements like these – where is the accountability; why is arming and equipping of Infantry crisis-driven and not holistic, especially when compared to big-ticket weapon systems they do not cost so much; why do bulk of the contracts go to DRDO-OFB despite being single vendor under some pretext or other by the Department of Defence Production (DoPD) with some crumbs thrown to private sector – this one from some of the private players who consider the “level playing field” mere theory, and; how long will the drama of corporatisation of OFB, being played for the past several years, continue without concrete execution?