Modernisation of the Indian Army Infantry: A long way to go

Updated: Oct 30, 2019 7:20 PM

The Indian Army (IA) celebrated its 73rd Infantry Day on 27th October 2019 as India celebrated the Festival of Lights and for some, it’s the Indian New Year.

Infantry soldier is a soldier of immense courage and tenacity, drawn from across all castes, colour and creed.

By Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)

The Indian Army (IA) celebrated its 73rd Infantry Day on 27th October 2019 as India celebrated the Festival of Lights and for some, it’s the Indian New Year. Did the Indian Infantry have much to celebrate?

In 1962 the American Time magazine put it aptly; “The Indian Army needs almost everything except Courage.” We need to introspect has anything changed since then. The answer is No.

Infantry soldier is a soldier of immense courage and tenacity, drawn from across all castes, colour and creed. The training is which makes them the best amongst many armies across the world.

The Indian Army has multiple tasks from external threats, internal threats as well as strives due to the wide Diaspora of India’s population and its aspirations. The aid to civil authorities remains a major task though the Central Armed Police Forces have modernised but remain lacking in Combat Leadership.

The Indian Army leadership is “Infantry Centric”; remains a turf war for obvious reasons. The thought process of numbers vis-à-vis automation is an exercise in futility given the mind-set.

What does a modern infantry soldier need in the complex environment he is expected to operate?

Training is the bedrock of any Army. The IA training regimen is focused on building the physical and mental toughness as well as imparting basic military skills; more professional skills are honed on joining units. The intake level of the soldier needs to be reviewed as the modern-day soldier needs to be technology savvy, have multiple skills, from carrying out tasks of directing artillery fire or vectoring in close air support, have basic sapper skills to the skills of a nursing assistant, in short, be able to multi-task.

Combat

The infantry soldier has fought with the weapon given to him. The first revelations of this requirement came up during Operation Pawan in 1987; pitched against the LTTE with AK 47’s the heavy Self- Loading Rifle had stopping power, lacked the desired rate of fire in built-up areas as well as in the jungles.

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The harsh lessons of Sri Lanka prepared the Infantry to fight the Punjab Insurgency as well as the decades-old J&K insurgency. The capability needs to be built up in terms of Assault Rifles, Close Quarter Battle Rifles, Sniper Rifles, Light Anti-Armour Weapon, shot detection systems, Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, Shoulder Fired Air Defense Missiles, Anti-personnel mines, Anti-Tank Mines, Day and Night scopes and Sniper and counter-sniper capabilities.

Network-centric Communications

This is most neglected as basic communication is done by hand signals/voice command. The infantry soldier must have encrypted communication, hand-held device which provides him situational awareness – location of his team, GPS as well as means of communications. These devices should not be prone to enemy jamming of communications. Surprisingly the Army Headquarters scrapped the Battlefield Management Systems pursuit, due to possible budgetary constraints.

Logistics

This is an area which needs a major overhaul. Infantry needs modern clothing which can breathe, remain clean. Nanotechnology clothing is well developed and needs to go into commercial production. Personnel protection in terms of a Bullet Resistant Helmet, jackets, gloves, elbow, and knee guards, as well as eye protection, remain distant. Boots need anti-skid impregnable soles. IA personnel wear “a common Olive Green” the shades differ, and the uniformity is just a misnomer. The field service marching order needs to make it more users friendly. Meals ready to eat is yet to become a reality. Medical bandages have undergone major developments which seal the wound without suturing the wound need to part of individual kitting.

Make in India

This is a good initiative started by the Government. An impetus was given by announcing Strategic Partners for major platforms and under `Make I’ and for the others `Make II’ clauses of the revised Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP). The deficiencies and the modernisation can be undertaken; provided the Government gives assured orders. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) needs, a long way to go to Fast Track programs to enable the Infantry to be equipped for the current challenges and not for the last war fought. A large number of officers have completed their M Tech from the prestigious IITs. These officers need to form the core of the Army Design Bureau and should be integrated with the industry to go from design to commercial production without much delay. Successful pursuits should be suitably rewarded. The current trend of Technology Transfer and huge costs paid as development charges could thus be avoided.

All efforts of modernisation are brought to nought as there remains a huge mistrust between the end-users and the Proverbial Babu of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). There is a need for the government to have desk officers from Arms and Services in the MoD, to monitor the inventory and its shelf life to ensure timely procurements. This is certainly not a major challenge as commercially available off the shelf software is available. The service officer must have his say with his counterparts and a degree of equality must be ensured by providing a level playing field for all. Until real defence reforms occur, infantry modernisation will remain a debate at various forums.

(The author is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.)

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