Army Today

Marching Forward..

BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 3(1) July-August 2000

Feature Articles

The Indian Army: Marching into the next century

L.N. Subramanian

The Indian Army enters the 21st century having just fought a brief conflict with tactics developed in the first half of the 20th century. It has been engaged in operations for much of the last decade giving it both the opportunity to evaluate some tactics but detracting from the time to prepare for other eventualities. It faces the unenviable task of fighting a low cost insurgency fuelled by narcotics trafficking from Pakistan, while preparing for a full scale war, perhaps under NBC conditions, with two countries. How it focuses on both these tasks will determine its success as an institution in the coming decades.

The Last Decade

The Indian Army entered the 1990s, wounded by its endeavors in Sri Lanka. Peace enforcement in Sri Lanka exposed many shortcomings in Indian Army. In the heady days of mechanization in the mid-1980s, the Army neglected to reinforce small unit tactics. Exercises were conducted with tanks and armored personnel carriers leaving little thought for infantry operations. Big ticket items like T-72s, BMPs, bridge- laying vehicles, 155mm artillery, Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) were purchased, while less glamorous items like better assault rifles, night vision devices, better body armor/helmets were neglected. This resulted in the Army getting into close combat operations with an enemy who was better equipped. Worse, due to the nature of the terrain and the political constraints the heavier equipment was not brought to bear on the enemy. Furthermore, the Army's communication equipment and its communication procedures were outdated. Ultimately, there was a complete underestimation of the enemy. This was a problem repeated again at the end of the century.

The growing insurgency in Kashmir resulted in the Army entering the scene as the main player rather than one providing support. It had the benefit of drawing on the experience of the Sri Lanka campaign and by the late 1990s had succeeded in almost crushing the insurgency. The success resulted in the Pakistanis starting the Kargil campaign, temporarily affecting Counter Insurgency (COIN) operations. This resulted in a renewal of the insurgency boosted by suicide squads. However, the COIN Grid is back in place and the security forces have regained the initiative. Clearly, it is recognized there is no military solution to this issue and lasting peace will result only from an acceptable political solution.

In addition to the insurgencies, the 1990s brought on immense problems in peacetime activities. The double whammy of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic difficulties of the country severely affected existing maintenance, operations, and modernization efforts. Major exercises were put off; tanks and other equipment were put in storage leading to decline in readiness levels.

In response to the economic problems, the Army, like the other services, focused on indigenous efforts including overhauling at Base Repair Depots, local production of spares, and local upgrades. These efforts included the local manufacture of 155mm ammunition, overhauling of BMP vehicles, and upgrading of its Vijayanta tanks. However, poor managerial practices, inefficiencies, and poor quality controls at the Ordnance Factories blunted some of the efforts. In addition, the development and deployment of new indigenous equipment continued at glacial pace. There continue to be issues with the Arjun MBT, the Nishant RPV and the Pinaka MBRL. Many of these issues are symptomatic of problems with the Ordnance Factory structure, the Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO) but the Army also has its fair share of the blame. There have been some successes, such as the local overhaul of SA-6 missile systems and the ZSU-23-4 Shilka AA system.

The economic revival of the late 1990s and the changed geopolitical situation have allowed the Army access to more resources to undertake its modernization and reorganization efforts.

The Road Ahead

A combination of external and internal events has laid the framework for future evolution of the Indian Army. Externally the last decade of the 20th century has witnessed the emergence of the United States as the sole superpower. This has resulted in a more fluid strategic environment. The foremost global trend transforming the security framework is the dramatic growth in information technology and the revolution in military affairs (RMA) it has created. Technological change will revolutionize warfare in the 21st century. Countries that can exploit emerging technologies and synergize them with innovative operational doctrines and organizational adaptation will achieve far higher levels of relative military effectiveness. It will be crucial for political leaders, military establishments, civil services and defense research scientists to stay alert to evolving and exploiting emerging technologies so that technological asymmetry can be sustained against competitors and adversaries.

Internally, the open acknowledgement of nuclear status by both India and Pakistan means the days of armored units charging across the deserts and plains into Pakistan are gone. The Kargil war highlighted the rationale for limited wars i.e. economic considerations, risk of high casualties, international pressure, and the nuclear factor. War will now more probably limited to escalating low intensity warfare to limited warfare: Limited war is characterized by limitations on its conduct and space. It could be limited in time, geographical area, or force level. The two overlap in the sense that concepts of RMA have to occur within the constraints and doctrines of limited war and are actually required to prosecute a successful limited war.

To achieve this ability the Indian Army has laid emphasis on the following

  1. Training and acquisition of knowledge in order to understand and utilize the tools of RMA;
  2. Acquisition of weapons instrumental in waging the RMA;
  3. Improvement of C4I2 structure with an eye on jointness and interoperability; and
  4. Emphasizing well trained infantrymen

Emphasis on Information Technology

The dizzying advance of technology has brought upon the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in the information age. The Army Chief, General V.P. Malik has said that, "Cyberwar is to the 21st century what blitzkrieg was to the 20th." Warfare is shifting from an industrial character to a new arena focused on knowledge and information. This enables precise surgical strikes on select command and control nodes, strategic facilities and combat resources and combat support facilities to affect the result of wars.

Napoleon said that an Army marches on its stomach. Today, an army fights on technology. Information technology is the main factor that has brought about a revolution in military affairs. General Malik and the Army have laid out the following vision statement, "To establish a strong information technology infrastructure to act as a force multiplier by incorporating fully automated and networked operational and management information system, complemented by fully information technology literate manpower."

The Army in the mid-1990s was in the process of revising the Army Plan 2000 developed in the 1980s. Thus, it was the opportune time to incorporate changes required to achieve the capability for "cyberwar." As part of it the Army introduced "IT Roadmap 2000" which spelt out the objectives and action plan for the spread of information technology in the army. The document has decreed that all its officers and junior leaders will become computer literate by the year 2002. The Army Institute of Information Technology began its first course at its temporary campus in Hyderabad to teach combat leaders the rudiments of IT warfare. Simultaneously, three army technology institutes, two located in Secunderabad and one in Pune, began to introduce it as part of their syllabus. Twenty-five more schools are planned in the coming years. The National Defense Academy and the Indian Military Academy have started incorporating IT in their curricula. The NDA now offers a Bachelors of Science (BSc.) in Computer Science. IT-savvy will soon be a prerequisite for posting to Staff Headquarters as well as be part of the annual confidential reviews (ACRs) of officers.

The plan indicates that the real force multiplier of the reshaped army has to be a soldier of a different genre. Cyber-educating a force that receives most of its troops from the rural areas is a major challenge in itself. An important first step in this direction is being taken by the creation of a Junior Leader's Academy at Bareilly to upgrade the skills of junior commissioned and non-commissioned officers, the backbone of the Indian Army's combat-level command system.

The Army has also realized the limitations of going it alone and reinventing the wheel. While security concerns are valid, it is not always practical to address all its needs indigenously, especially when a lot of the RMA is driven by technology brought off the shelf. With India’s strength in software, it makes sense to buy and collaborate with industry. The Army also took into account the National IT plan finalized by the Prime Minister's Taskforce. This map has identified the route towards hardware, software, and human resource developments.

In order to implement this vision, the army needed to

  1. Enhance the information technology quotient per soldier;
  2. Adopt off the shelf technologies quickly;
  3. Continuously familiarize itself with emerging technologies in key areas;
  4. Innovate and adapt from the marketplace where a wealth of talent exists;
  5. Strengthen centers of excellence in strategic areas; and
  6. Enhance the pace towards self-reliance.

An effort to apply IT intensively and update its systems and procedures is a sin qua non. The Indian Army also realizes that high information technology dependency will also carry with it high vulnerability. Information technology attacks will be common practice during times of emergency or as a part of an orchestrated economic blackmail. Data security and counterespionage must be given special attention in the context of hackers and vulnerability of IT systems to code breaking. Besides, this information dominance and information overload, if not handled well, may result in a paralysis of analysis.

The Army also understands that software rather than hardware is increasingly critical to value addition in related industries and industry standards are increasingly open and uniform around the world, allowing easier market entry and quicker innovation. So in order to facilitate speedy implementation the Army has recommended that project implementation be decentralized, projects up to Rs.10 million cleared by the Army itself, employ local industry help to develop software, and wherever available purchase software off-the-shelf.

Some agreements are already in place with training institutions. Select officers have been doing advanced training in computer sciences at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Training packages are being worked with some commercial firms like NIIT and Aptech. The Defense Ministry has also set into motion a 'Confederation of Indian Industry - Armed Forces Information Technology Taskforce'.

The Weapons of RMA

The tools of RMA permit a war where there is no respite. There are no rear or forward areas, no night or day, no good or bad weather. The enemy is relentlessly watched, pursued, targeted, and destroyed. Most of this occurs even before contact is made. When contact is finally made it is mostly a mopping up operation.

The essential component of the army's effort is, therefore, to acquire sensors that can see deep into adversary territory and do so through night and bad weather. Although the IRS series of satellites are used, they are not dedicated spy satellites. Plans are afoot to develop and launch the first of these satellites in the coming months. Meanwhile the existing satellites will familiarize commander with the type of information that will be delivered to them. In the meantime, the army has acquired the Israeli Searcher Mk.II UAV that can fly in missions up to 12 hours deep into enemy territory and provide "real time" or continuous target data in the night as well as through cloud cover. The indigenous Nishant will join it. Another important acquisition are the French-designed Stentor battlefield surveillance radars, now being license manufactured in India, which can track the movement of vehicles and bodies of men at ranges of 20-30 km. Israeli Elta ELM-2140 battlefield surveillance radars are also under consideration. A range of close observation night vision devices and thermal imagers are also being procured.

Once targets are identified, an array of weapons can be brought to bear upon them. To destroy targets at over 80 km away, the army is getting small numbers of Smersh long-range rockets launchers. These are capable of carrying a variety of ammunition, and would provide a powerful punch. As part of the rationalization of artillery, the army is gradually going to standardize around the 155mm 52 caliber guns with the exception of mountain divisions and paras who will use the lighter 105mm guns. This covers both towed and self-propelled versions. At one point Bofors, GIAT and Denel were in the running. It is likely that the recent acquisition of Bofors by an American firm would rule it out of consideration. Denel is also involved in the BHIM self-propelled artillery system based on an Arjun chassis. It would make logistical sense to go for Denel guns on wheeled and towed versions. In addition, Soltam is progressively upgrading the 130mm guns to 155mm. To ensure pinpoint destruction of high value targets, Krasnopol laser guided 155mm rounds are being acquired from the Russians.

Improvements in armor are more gradual and less dramatic. The purchase of 300 T-90s, will give the army a decent punch. Agile, well armored, and equipped with countermeasures these will be able to mop up any survivors of missile, rocket and air bombardment. The T-72M1s are also being upgraded with better fire control systems, improved protection, counter measures and improved NBC systems. It has been reported that the Polish DRAWA-T FCS has been ordered. Forty-four WZT-3 armored recovery vehicles have been also reported to be on order. The older T-55s and Vijayantas are also undergoing minimum upgrades with respect to power packs and protection. The first order for series production of 124 Arjuns has been given.

More BMP-2s will be added. The first trials of the Indian-developed Abhay ICV are expected to start at the end of 2000. It will be capable of carrying a complement of 3 + 7, with a 40mm AGL and a 40mm cannon plus an ATGW launcher with 4 rounds.

Air defense for the strike units is provided primarily by SA-6 SAMs and Bofors L40/70 towed and ZSU-23–4 self-propelled anti aircraft guns. SA-8s and SA-13s as well as the Tunguska Gun/SAM units are augmenting these. More SA-16s are also being distributed. The Indian developed Akash and Trishul are expected to join shortly. Tactical transports are an important part of the picture. These are controlled by the Indian Air Force, but they are usually used in support of the Indian Army. Mi-17s are being added as well as the indigenous multi-role Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) and Light Attack Helicopter (LAH) for COIN operations. The first missile regiment with Prithvi Surface to Surface Missiles (SSMs) is operational. The missiles are equipped with a variety of warheads, both conventional and nuclear.

Technology also will play an important role in the nuclear battlefield. Beginning in the 1980’s along with T-72s and BMPs the first NBC suits were delivered from the Russians. In the late 1980s the Indian Ordnance Factories started developing NBC suits, decontamination suits, and NBC living quarters. Production can be ramped up in case of hostilities. One unknown factor in a nuclear war is the effect of the inhospitable weather found in many parts of the country.

Improvements in Command, Control, Communications, Coordination, Information and Interoperable (C4I2) systems

There is currently a number of projects analyzing and designing the army's requirements in specific field like C4I2. Among them are Command, Information & Decision Support System at tactical level, the Battlefield Surveillance System, the Artillery Combat Command and Control System, Data Based Management Systems with Management Information Systems and Geographic Information System. The Ordnance installations are also installing the Ordnance Computerized Inventory Control Project.

The Army is also upgrading its communications network. Both Army Radio Engineering Network (AREN) and Army Static Communications Network (ASCON) are being upgraded to the next generation. The networks use UH, optical fiber systems and satellites for communications. ITI Ltd. recently delivered the Low Intensity Conflict Operations Very Small Aperture Terminal (LICO-VSAT) system offering direct voice and data connectivity to 20 centers including Kargil, Partapur (Siachen base camp), and Bhuj in Gujarat. Twelve more units are planned. The system has built-in encryption. The recently launched INSAT-3B has dedicated KU band transponders for the Army, which would give a tremendous boost to the communication capability of the force. Field trials of Akash - a tactical battle communication network - are on. Electronic warfare and counter systems are an integral part of the communications system. A range of sophisticated radio equipment including STARS-V frequency hopping units is now being delivered. Older sets will have speech encryption modules attached to prevent interception. The counter insurgency grids in the Kashmir Valley and North-East will get better real time communication as well as new EW equipment.

However more than just modernizing, Kargil has made the Armed Forces and in particular the Army understands the need for jointness and interoperability. This was first realized in the IPKF operation when Army and Navy had different map grids for fire coordination. Army radios could not communicate with Air Force helicopters necessitating a radioman with a backpack to travel in the helicopter. The ASCON and AREN networks are to be integrated into the ADGES. Two other systems towards these goals are the ASTROIDS (Army Strategic Operational Information Dissemination System) and Defense Communication Network (DCN). The services are increasingly expected to understand each other's needs and look for opportunities to foster greater cohesion, jointness, and commonality of purpose intelligence. Potential areas for benefit are logistics & procurement, training, and joint staff. For example, an essential benefit would be in the rapid switching of troops from one front to the other or the reinforcing of troops on the border. For this to occur successfully the Army needs to communicate it strategic airlift requirements and the Air Force needs to factor this in any future acquisitions of transports. The aim is that any unit on the field should be able to communicate with the equipment of a sister service.

Equipping and Training the Infantrymen

The Kargil conflict was largely an infantry affair with troops assaulting mountain peaks, which were difficult to target by artillery and air. This reinforced the view that the well-trained infantry remains the essential factor. In addition, the need to replace the vintage equipment of the infantry has been accorded a higher priority. The Indian infantrymen still uses pre-WW2 webbing, WW2 light machine guns and radios. Accordingly, the Army has embarked on a plan to retrain and re-equip the infantry for the future.

Over three hundred infantry battalions will be trained to go on the offensive in any terrain or conditions. The emphasis will be on mental stamina, living off the land for prolonged periods in extreme conditions. All units will train more in mountainous terrain. The courses in IMA already reflect this. Units in the plains are expected to train in the nearest hill feature. For commando operations at high altitude, a new school called the Parvat Ghatak School has been established in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

The infantry is being equipped with better weapons. While the AK-47s and INSAS performed well, there is the need for belt/box fed light machine guns. The newest version of the Carl Gustaf 84 mm RCL is now entering service. This has been made substantially lighter for operations in high altitude areas. Russian and Bulgarian grenade launcher attachments are being ordered for the AK-47s/INSAS. South African anti-material rifles are being procured to destroy bunkers and fortifications at ranges up to 2 km. Additional AGS-30s and flamethrowers are being procured. Lightweight body armor and high altitude clothing have been delivered. Night vision devices as well as battlefield radars are being delivered, with deliveries spaced out over 5 years to avoid block obsolescence.

Summary and Recommendations

Despite trying times, the Indian Army has still managed to keep a focus on its long-term goals. It struggles with the conflicting tasks of reducing manpower to create a more sophisticated and mobile force while needing large amount of manpower in low intensity conflicts. As a large army, it finds that modernization can be slow, although sometimes it is beneficial in not rapidly obsoleting everything at once. The Army has realized the potential for the use of technology in warfare and the channeling of the nation's strengths in the IT sector. This is a very commendable move although how successfully it implements it remains to be seen.

The army needs to pay attention to its manpower situation. It needs to make serious efforts to come up with alternative recruitment methods to reduce its pension obligations. The KRC report has made some suggestions. An expanded Short Service Commission (SSC) on the style of the US National Guards might be an option.

The need for mobility and rapid deployment will be paramount. In Sri Lanka, the use of Special Forces was severely restricted because of the reliance on the Air Force to deploy them. Since the tactical transport helicopters in the Air Force are mostly used in support of Army operations it would be advisable for the Army to operate it or obtain some operational command over it. This will allow for speedier and more innovative operations. The Air Force should focus on strategic transports. There will be the added benefit to the Air Force of freeing pilots for its fighter squadrons.

There is the need for better preparations for warfare under NBC conditions. Presently it is restricted to the strike corps. Both Pakistan and China have a declaratory policy of using these weapons. The army needs to shift from passive nuclear warfare plans to a more active plan.

Finally, the army needs to look ahead and understand the changed geo-political situation as well as a contracting and consolidating defense industry. The Army is better positioned to induct indigenous weapons. It needs to make more strident efforts to coordinate with the Defense Labs and Ordnance factories as well as the private sector to source its requirements.