Army Today

The Challenges of introducing new weapon systems

BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 6(2) September-October 2003

Know Your Armed Forces

The Challenges of Introducing New Weapons Systems

L. N. Subramanian


Over the last decade, the Indian Armed Forces have accelerated the purchase and deployment of new complex weapons systems. Correspondingly, public’s perception has ranged from excessive optimism about the miraculous performance of the weapons or a hysterical outcry if weapons are not inducted or the Chinese or Pakistanis claim to have purchased or developed one.  In reality a new weapons systems brings in logistical, maintenance and other operational issues. Additionally unless tactics and strategies are accordingly integrated, the weapons system will just remain an expensive parade ground showpiece, as is the case in many armies that purchase the latest weapons systems at the whims and fancies of the decision makers.

In this article the author will examine the issues and problems faced by the introduction of the BMP (Bronevaya Maschina Piekhota) Infantry Combat Vehicle in the 80s in the Indian Army.  The author will use as the basis an article from the April 1989 issue of Combat Journal titled “Mechanized Infantry – Where have we gone wrong? “ by Lt. Col. Mahesh Chadha. This will serve as the prototypical example of how a new weapon system must be integrated to yield its full potential.


The tank battles and the charge to Lahore of the 1965 Indo-Pak war brought the need to keep tanks and infantry matched up. The Pakistanis with all their alliances got off the blocks first with the introduction of the M113. In the initial stages the Indian Army raised motorized units. These were 1-ton troop carriers that were later replaced by the TOPAZ Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs).

Later on in a reaction to this the Indian Army introduced BTR –60s and SKOT APCs (armored personnel carriers).  Though in all fairness wheeled APCs were in vogue however, the Indian Army had to go with what was available. These differed in design, armament and capability and not much thought was paid to it.  Infantry units were converted with no change to their existing structure. The strong parental regimental influence made sure that no new innovations were applied.

Initial Organization

The Mechanized Regiment battalions were first formed into 4 rifle companies and transport company. The APCs were brought in for the rifle companies. After the specified tasks the APCs went back to Transport group and Riflemen went back to Infantry duty.  When embarked the crew consisted of a commander in charge of running the APC and a commander in charge of the rifle section. There was no unison in fighting.  The supporting arms still followed the Infantry structure with a Recoil Less Cannon (RCL) platoon, a Medium Machine Gun (MMG) platoon ad a Mortar platoon.  In addition, reconnaissance ability required similar in line to the recce troop in the Armored units.

Outside of the Mechanized Battalion there were problems in gelling these with the armored units. The aim was to have a combat group with Armor and Mechanized Infantry as a complement to each other and fight in unison. Initially, the Mechanized Infantry were asked to follow on the Armor. This was no different then the normal infantry role other than the use of APCs to travel instead of trucks.  The break up of the infantry in proportionate numbers rather than maintaining cohesiveness of platoon/company caused further problems. Armor wanted to assign supportive tasks to the Mechanized Infantry feeling that they were stealing their thunder and Mechanized Infantry felt that the Armor guys were holding them back.

Meanwhile the concept for Mechanized Infantry changed from a battle taxi to an Infantry Combat vehicle more integrated with Armor and enabled troops to fight along with fire support and some anti tank capability. Additionally, the Soviet BMP-1 the world’s first and arguably the best Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) was imported.

The low silhouette BMP however had one immediate issue; it could carry only 8 troops. So once again new organization structure, fire drills etc. had to be planned.  Attempt to use NATO or Warsaw Pact tactics not suited to the Indian context proved both expensive and unsustainable in the long term.

In addition to the BMPs, problems arose with the weapons composition of the infantry. Initially 2 Light Machine Guns (LMGs) were provided per section. This was a waste considering that the BMP came with its 7.62 mm machine gun. Likewise with a 73 mm gun (although in practice this gun has proved inadequate) as well as ATMs provided a fair antitank capability and a Carl Gustav 84 mm RCL was issued to the sections.  In defense its providers insisted it was needed for illumination!  In the process the more important need to assign a SA 7 was denied causing important Air Defense resources to be allocated for routine tasks. There were also complaints about the wisdom of carrying the relatively longer 7.62 rifle in the confined spaces of the BMP (no folding stock versions were available).

Next arrived the BMP 2 with its reduced capacity of 1 less soldier.  In order to maintain numbers the extra member was moved around to the platoon leader’s vehicle in essence separating him from his parent section.

In order to provide the Mechanized Infantry with its recce rule another type of vehicle was provided the BRDM. With little thought to organization and commonality units ended up with a mix of BMPs and BRDMs. The BRDM however lacked any Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) to counter any tank threat and were not fully equipped to scan the Ditch-Cum-Bund defenses they would encounter. In addition there was no special training for the troops who were meant to use these in recce roles behind enemy lines.  The Recce units were limited to a somewhat defensive role.

Last but not least the personnel selection also proved to be an issue. When the Mechanized Infantry was expanded and a whole group of officers were transferred from the infantry. A sizeable number were in the 3 – 5 yr and the 11 to 13 years service group. The latter group struggled to adapt to the Mechanized infantry role. The company commanders at this group were the ones who struggled with employing the BMP flexibly in Sri Lanka.

The Army’s think tanks were also grappling with these issues.  Some of the suggestions made by Lt. Col. Chadha were: 

The BMP needed to be employed as part of a combat group with a company as the minimum sub unit. It should not be split up into ad hoc units. Both the Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV) commander and the Infantry commander would be assigned the task and let situation evolve. The ICV was to be looked at as a system with a mechanical component and an infantry component.  All should be under one commander and should be considered versatile infantrymen whose tasks involve ICV driver, a missile operator cum gunner, a rocket launcher plus the usual LMG operator and riflemen. This would mostly retain the infantry composition of a section of one NCO and 9 other ranks. The section commander based in the turret guides both the BMP driver and gunner and the infantry. During dismounted operations only 2 persons man the ICV and the others dismount.  This creates a flexible fire support and assault group for the platoon.

There were questions whether mortars were necessary for the Mechanized infantry to carry with it. The 73 mm gun was quite close to mortars up to 4000 meters.  Moreover the mortars could not be fired from any existing vehicles (TOPAZ) and were usually dismounted. It was felt that either the mortars wee discontinued or they had vehicles capable of carrying and firing from within. Ambulance versions were also needed for safe evacuation of casualties. For maintenance tasks it was suggested that forward repair teams essentially technical Mechanized Infantry personnel could carry light repairs.  They were to be supplied with high mobility wheeled vehicles to carry spares from supply points.

The Present

The result of the internal discussions in the Army of the 80s and 90s are now visible. The BMP 2 units are now much better staffed with a more optimum weapons mix. There are mortar carriers, ambulances, guided missile carriers, engineering vehicles and other specialized versions of the BMP to provide the group with the flexibility to operate at optimum levels.

The BMP now operates with more flexibility in built up areas, smaller ops as well as in the large exercises conducted in recent years under NBC conditions. They have been used occasionally in Jammu and Kashmir for both psychological effect as well as providing offensive support in an urban and rural counter insurgency campaign. Furthermore, plans continue to move the design forward with the Abhay.

Thus we see that it took at least a decade to properly induct and employ the BMPs as part of a combat group.  Over that period the BMP also evolved into a host of other useful weapons systems or was part of other weapons platforms.  This is not unique to the Army, as the Navy and Air Force also have to grapple with complex weapons systems. The Air Force for example is introducing one of the most complex and potent weapons systems ever the SU-30MKI. The learning process shows in this induction. The numbers are not rapidly being built up as the Air Force absorbs the initial deliveries and refines its organization and personnel accordingly. For example the SU-30 squadrons have one of the best mixes of experience and youth. It will be a few years before the Su-30s will be at their optimum capabilities. And that will be a story we will recap in 2015.

References and Additional reading:

  1. Mechanised Infantry – Where have we gone wrong? By Lt Col Mahesh Chadha , April 1989 Combat Journal
  2. /ARMY/History/1970s/Pawan/Chapter04.html
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