Modernisation of the Army in Dire Straits

After more than a decade of complete neglect under UPA I & II it was expected that military modernisation would pick up under the new NDA Government. However even after nearly four years of NDA rule, the ground situation remains gloomy and unimpressive.

Issue: 2 / 2018By Lt General V.K. Kapoor (Retd)Photo(s): By SP Guide Pubns
Indian Army’s T-90 battle tank

It may be recollected that on 12 March 2012, General V.K. Singh, the then Chief of Army Staff, in a letter to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had expressed his anguish and frustration regarding the eroding operational capabilities of his one million strong force. He requested that suitable directions be given to the ministry of defence to enhance the Army’s preparedness. He blamed the long-winded arms procurement process and the recalcitrant bureaucracy for it. He also pointed out to the large deficiencies in essential ammunition, voids and obsolescence in essential weaponry as well as critical surveillance and nightfighting capabilities.

General Dalbir Singh Suhag, who took over as the Chief of Army Staff (COA S) on August 1, 2014, said in an interview in January 2016, i.e. four years after General V.K. Singh’s letter, that “making up of the critical deficiencies in weapons and equipment is on fast track.” He identified the deficiencies and obsolescence of same weapon systems. Thus it became obvious, that nothing had been done by the defence ministry, in the intervening period of four years. If we go back in time the same situation was existed during the entire period of UPA rule.

More Than Two Decades of Disregard and Neglect

After more than a decade of neglect under the two UPA regimes, who had foisted one of the weakest and most clueless defence ministers, A.K. Antony on the Ministry of Defence, during that period, it was expected that military modernisation would pick up under the NDA Government. However the defence forces were in for a surprise because for nearly three and a half years of NDA rule, from May 2014 to February 2018 while reviews and assessments were carried, much hyped declarations made, but the ground situation remained the same. Lack lustre defence budgets over three years gave no hope to the three Service Chiefs that the modernisation of their respective Services would receive the attention that it deserved despite greater the challenges facing the nation. Many Defence Acquisition Council (DAC ) clearances were given in respect of each Service but those who know the system will tell you what little impact these clearance have if the Political will to move forward is lacking which is what is being experienced year after year.

After the move of the erstwhile Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar to Goa as the Chief Minister, an interim inactive period of about six months of dual-hatted tenure of Arun Jaitley, followed. Nirmala Sitharaman took over as the Defence Minister on September 3, 2017. The gravity of the greately weakened operational capability of the army, seemed to have dawned upon the new defence minister. This was especially galling in view of the army’s continued involvement in day to day counter terrorist and counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and in the Northeast with outdated small arms. Additionally there is a shadow of conventional conflict confronting the nation even though it may be confined in the form of border wars on two widely separated fronts. Thus seeing the writing on the wall, the Minister reacted with a number of DAC clearances, in respect of Small Arms of the Army. These clearances however will not affect the ground situation for the next few years and if the Political leadership does not provide the necessary push forward, the clearances will remain on paper only.

Parliamentary Panel Says Army Dissatisfied with Lack of Funds

Despite clearances the procurement process is by itself inordinately lengthy and in any case if the Army has no funds even for implementing the schemes already planned, how would additional clearances help? It is in this context that this years Parliamentary Panel report tabled on March 13, 2018, becomes important and relevant. In effect the Army Vice Chief informed the parliamentary standing committee on defence, that the budget allocated this year (FY 2018-19) has dashed all hopes for modernisation and its plans to roll out ‘Make in India’ projects. He said that funds allocated this year will not even be adequate to pay for the instalments of past purchases. The Vice Chief told the panel that the allocation of 21,338 crore for modernisation was insufficient even to cater for committed liability of 29,033 crore for 123 on-going schemes, emergency procurements and other requirements. He also clarified that most of the equipment army holds, currently, can be categorised as vintage (in actual terms, obsolete). He said that modern Armed Forces should have one-third of its equipment in the vintage category, one-third in the current category and one-third in the state of the art category. As far as the Indian Army is concerned, 68 per cent of the equipment is in the vintage category, with just about 24 per cent in the current, and eight per cent in the state of the art category.

It was brought out the total additional requirement of funds by the army under the head Capital is 12,296 crore and Revenue is 9,282 crore which totals to 21,578 crore.

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, who was speaking at a seminar after the Army’s report to the parliamentary panel became public, made a case for increased spending on defence, linking it to China’s rise and asserting that military spending is not a burden to the nation.

What Ails the Ministry of Defence?

If one was to ask what ails the MoD and why is the modernisation process so slow even while the media is constantly reporting the large number of projects being sanctioned by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC ) and the Cabinet and yet there are no changes on the ground. The answer lies in the complicated process of procurement, the generally negative attitude of the bureaucracy in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and among the bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry, the risk averse attitude of the military, and last but not the least the lack of funds to take forward the schemes. Common sense on the part of the planners should indicate the necessity of allocating a certain minimum amount to equip and maintain a force equivalent to 40 Divisions of army (a division generally comprises 15,000 personnel apart from varying categories and types of weapon systems, vehicles and equipment), 44 Squadron Air Force (IAFs aspirations) and 140 Ships Navy (aspiration of the Indian Navy). With a defence budget of less than 1.5 per cent of the GDP how does the government intend to achieve this? Thus the modernisation of the services is well behind the schedule and at this pace and level of allocation of funds, it will never see the light of the day.

Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, who was speaking at a seminar, made a case for increased spending on defence, linking it to China’s rise and asserting that military spending is not a burden to the nation

In this article we are focusing on equipment issues concerning the modernisation of the Army.

Update on Some Important Projects

An update on some of the major equipment projects planned, which are in various stages of development/procurement is given in the succeeding paragraphs.

Assault Rifles

In September 2015, the MoD terminated its 2011 tender to import 66,000 multi-calibre assault rifles as none of the four competing models qualified. Thus the Indian Army has re-launched its quest for an imported assault rifle, after recently rejecting the locally designed option, in order to plug a vital operational gap. The Army has once again sent out its global request for information (RFI) for 7.62 x 51mm assault rifles after rejecting DRDO-designed Excalibur 5.56 x 45mm rifle. The Excalibur is an upgraded version of the DRDO’s Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56 x 45mm rifle that entered service with the Indian Army in the mid-1990s, but was rejected by it in 2010, for being ‘operationally inadequate’. The Army Commanders Conference in New Delhi in April 2016, has unanimously opted to import the more powerful 7.62 x 51mm rifle for its infantry battalions and its 100 odd counterinsurgency units (both Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles). Thus 72,000 Assault rifles are to be procured on “fast track” basis and 7,40,000 assault rifles on the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ are now planned as noted above in the approval of January 6, 2018 and February 13, 2018 respectively.

Carbines

The MoD was in the process of finalising the outcome of the 2010 tender for 44,618, 5.56mm close quarter battle (CQB) carbines, trials for which concluded in 2013. Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) ACE carbine was shortlisted over the Italian rival Beretta’s ARX-160 model, but over the past few months the contract ran into procedural problems and has been scrapped on September 29, 2016. The army has been operating without a carbine since 2010. As per the latest approvals 93,895 carbines are to be procured on ‘fast track’ basis and 3,50,000 lakh carbines under ‘Buy and Make’ (Indian) category as per DAC approvals given on January 16 and February 28, 2018, respectively.

Sniper Rifles and Light Machine Guns

The DAC has approved procurement of 5,719 Sniper Rifles for the Indian Army and Indian Air Force at an estimated cost of 982 crore. While these high precision weapons will be bought with ‘Buy Global’ categorisation, the ammunition for these will be initially procured and subsequently manufactured in India. Approval has also been accorded for the procurement of 41,000 Light Machine Guns. The total cost for procurement of Carbines and LMGs for the soldiers of the three Services is 4,607 crore and 3,000 crore respectively.

Artillery Firepower

As part of its artillery modernisation plan, the army is looking at inducting several types of howitzers through in-house manufacture by DRDO/Ordnance Factory Board, inter-governmental pacts and global tenders. The last major acquisition of towed gun-howitzers was that of 400 pieces of 39-calibre 155mm FH-77B howitzers with a range of 30 km from Bofors of Sweden in 1987. This gun proved its mettle in the Kargil conflict. After about 25 years of neglect attempts are now afoot to fulfil its longpostponed 1999 Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP), under which the army aims to import, locally develop, and licenceproduce some 2,820 to 3,000 assorted 155mm howitzers to equip its artillery regiments for an estimated $8-9 billion. These include 1,580 towed gun systems (TGS), 814 mounted gun systems (MGS), 100 selfpropelled howitzers (SPHs) – all of which are 155mm/52-calibre – and 145 BAE Systems M777 155mm/39-calibre ultra lightweight howitzers. Locally upgraded and retrofitted guns will make up additional numbers. While many projects are afoot, none has fructified.

South Korean Self Propelled Howitzers (SPH), an L&T version of Samsung Techwin’s K9 Thunder 155mm/52-calibre gun was customised for India’s 2012 SPH tender. In December 2015 the MoD began price negotiations with Larsen & Toubro (L&T) for 100 modified, worth around $800 million. The K9 Vajra-T, was shortlisted for acquisition in late September 2015 following trials the previous year. In these the K9 bested Russia’s MSTA -S self-propelled gun. However trials with indigenous ammunition have not proved successful so far.

In the towed category of howitzers, France’s Nexter Systems, with its Trajan 155mm/52-calibre howitzer modified for the Indian tender of 2011-12, and Elbit of Israel’s AT HOS 2052 gun were required to undergo the supplementary trials from mid-2015 after completing desert and highaltitude firings in 2013-14. The army plans to acquire 400 guns under the Defence Procurment Procedure’s (DPP) ‘Buy and Make’ category and licence-build the remaining 1,180 towed howitzers.

The import of 145, M777s was approved in May 2015 by the MoD. M777 is a 155mm ultra light howitzer, and is being imported along with Selex Laser Inertial Artillery Pointing Systems (LINAPS) via the US foreign military sales (FMS) programme. The DAC approval was given once again on June 25, 2016 but till to date there is no change in the ground situation. The M777 purchase is to equip the army’s 17 Mountain Strike Corps, which is presently being raised for deployment along the disputed border with China. Two guns which have reached India are being used by the Army for making range tables with indigenous ammunition. One gun has been damaged apparently due to faulty ammunition and under the circumstances the induction is likely to get delayed. The original induction schedule includes five guns per month from March onwards till all 145 are inducted by June 2021.

Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) had been tasked to produce a 45-calibre/155mm howitzer based on the transfer of technology (ToT) obtained from Bofors in the 1980s. The DAC approved a proposal from the OFB to manufacture 144 pieces of 155mm/45- calibre howitzers with the option to acquire another 400 provided the prototypes successfully meet the army’s GSQR in user trials.

DRDO Designed ATGS 155 mm, 52 Calibre Howitzer has given its go-ahead by the Army after seeing the performance of the weapon. Additions or improvements to the gun envisaged by the Army can be incorporated in later versions. So we can see that while many projects for enhancing our artillery firepower are afoot, nothing has materialized on the ground till date.

Armour

Presently the army is hard put to maintain its current fleet of Arjun Mk1 tanks because of lack of spares. The Arjun tank is indigenous in name only because a large number of its systems and parts amounting to about 60 per cent are still imported.

Arjun Mark II tank development of with a large number of improvements has commenced and some technical trials incorporating the improvements have been carried out in Rajasthan. However, the abnormally high weight of 68 tonnes plus, would now demand new tank transporters and new railway rolling stock. These facts together with the unsuccessful trials of firing the anti-tank missile through the main gun of the tank have held up the development and delivery of the Arjun Mk II. Additional problems are likely to be encountered in production of spares by ancillary units due to the relatively small order of the tanks (118) for the army. Further delay is expected in series manufacture of the Arjun Mk II.

T-90 Tanks have been inducted in fairly large numbers in the army. As per media reports the army’s total requirement is 1,657 T-90S tanks. To enhance its strike capability, the Army is now working on a project to add more teeth to its T-90 main battle tanks by arming them with a third generation missile system. The sources said the third generation missile should achieve a depth of penetration of 800-850mm and will be capable of hitting targets up to a range of 8 km in day as well as night. Currently, the T-90 tanks are equipped with a laser guided INVAR missile system. The future missiles, to be fired from the 125mm gun barrels of T-90 tanks, will be able to hit targets by taking a pre-flight programmed manoeuvres. The missiles should be capable of firing against mobile as well as static targets.

The Army is also working on a separate project to install a modular engine for the T-90 tanks so as to enhance their strike capability in high-altitude battle field. The proposed modular engine for T-90 tanks is envisaged to have a variable power output of 1200- 1500 HP to cater to high battle field agility.

The T-72 M 1 modernisation programme under Project Rhino is inordinately delayed. This was intended to extend the service life of the MBT by 20 years; enhance their accuracy with new fire control system (FCS) whose trials have been completed and some units have received the new fire control systems. However, when all the modifications will be completed is not known.

Future Combat Vehicle Programmes

Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) programme which was initiated in 2008- 09 but abandoned three years later, was resurrected once again in 2014. The FICV project is a ‘test case’ for India’s indigenous weapon-designing capability.

The Defence Ministry’s Expression of Interest (EoI), which invited ten companies on July 16, 2015, to submit proposals to develop the FICV under the ‘Make’ procedure, specified that two development agencies would be chosen. However, even as that competitive selection was underway, the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) was included additionally.

With some critical technologies related to the project slated to be sourced from foreign firms and global defence majors like General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, and Rheinmetall eyeing the deal, the defence ministry, is considering pushing the deal under the Strategic Partnership Policy (SPP).

The bids are from five private sector companies that have technology tie-ups with overseas vendors and the OFB. They will design and build 2,610 tracked, amphibious and air-transportable 20-tonne FICVs to replace the army’s ageing fleet of Russian BMP-2/2K Sarath ICVs under the DPP’s ‘Make (Indian)’ category.

MoD has appointed a 10-member Integrated Project Management Team (IPMT), headed by a two-star army general who will evaluate the bids and shortlist two development agencies (DA ) that will build one FICV prototype each within 24-36 months.

The FICV is an ambitious effort to indigenously design and manufacture a futuristic infantry vehicle by the private industry by roping in foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers.

The Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) Programme on the other hand, is at the tender stage for the procurement of futuristic tanks through the Strategic Partnership model. In November 2017, the Army had issued the Request For Information (RFI) for 1,771 tanks. Lt General Shivane said the FRC V would replace the Russian T-72 tanks presently in service. Shivane is the Director General of Mechanised Forces in the Army Headquarters.

Air Defence

Considering the high costs of new weapon systems, the army is going in for weapon upgrades for L-70, ZU-23-2 Twin gun, and ZSU-23-4 Schilka. Meanwhile, the army is looking for successors to L-70 and the ZU-23-2 (23mm Twin guns). Successor to Schilka (ZSU-23-4) already exists in the form of Tangushka, but in limited numbers. A request for information has already been issued to find a replacement for Schilka.

In the missile systems, Kvadrat (mediumrange) and OSA-AK (short-range) are also at the end of their life-cycle. They were to be replaced by Akash and Trishul surface-to-air (SAM) missiles. Trishul has been foreclosed and Akash is being inducted for semimobile roles and as per the latest reports the Comptroller and Auditor General (CA G) has severely criticised India’s home-made Akash air defence missile system. It stated that the missile systems ordered by the Indian Air Force to counter China is “deficient in quality” and has a 30% failure rate, which posed an “operational risk during hostilities”.

For air defence of mechanised units, it has been planned to acquire Medium-Range SAM (MRSAM) and Quick Reaction SAM (QRSAM) systems. MRSAM will be based on the same system which Israel in collaboration with DRDO is providing to the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.

VSHORADS is the state of art man portable, missile system for AD Protection of logistic columns & nodes, Bridge Heads & by Special forces. This critical system will replace vintage IGLA-1M held presently.

Army Aviation – Helicopters

Presently the Army Aviation Corps (AAC ) has in its inventory the light observation class (Cheetah and Chetak) mostly. These helicopters are obsolete and have been in service since the 1960s and require immediate replacement.

Under the Indo-Russia joint venture, 200 Kamov 226T helicopters will be produced out of which 60 would be supplied to India in fly-away condition. One hundred forty helicopters will be manufactured in India under a USD 1 billion deal inked in 2015. The project will be implemented on the basis of an inter-governmental agreement, under which the Russian side has taken the obligation to transfer technology and achievement of the highest possible level of localisation in the customer’s country. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is likely to form a joint venture with Russian Helicopters to licence-build 200 Kamov Ka-226T ‘Hoodlum’ light multi-role helicopters to replace the obsolete Cheetas and Chetaks held by the Army which are more than 30 years old.

Conclusion

The list of voids and obsolescence of army’s major weapon systems is alarming. This happens to a force when it is neglected by the government for a long period of time as it has happened in the case of the army. We have only covered four arms of the army. If every arm and service of the Army is considered for filling up of voids and modernisation the list will indeed be endless. How are the army and the government planning to make up these shortages and voids if the funding remains at the current level? The defence services together require a budget allocation of at least 2.5 to 3 per cent of GDP (less defence pensions) to sustain themselves and to modernise. Should this not be feasible then the government should seriously consider other options including reducing the size of its armed forces and review its foreign policy on forming alliances with friendly nations.