Army: There is a need to speed up capacity development

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At the annual conclave of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Delhi last fortnight, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh was seen making this request to the top brass of the defense industry. To work on futuristic technologies to transform India from a ‘follower to leader’. This was not the first time he did this. He said that the country’s population has to be transformed from an ‘asset consuming population’ to a ‘resource generating’ population. However, if we talk about making our defense industry self-sufficient in the field of defense equipment, then only such phrases will not work.

Meanwhile, the world has seen two wars in the recent past. In 2020, Azerbaijan attacked Armenia and Russia has not been able to defeat Ukraine despite 462 days of fighting. Both these incidents indicate a significant change in the nature of war. This surprised many, since the methods of fighting had remained more or less the same since the American Civil War of 1861–65 and World War I between 1914–18, thanks to automatic weapons and long-range weapons. The battlefield was empty and the soldiers had to hide here and there.

Today’s battlefield defenses have a different set of challenges: they face small drone-like weapons like the Switchblade designed by the American company Arrow Vironton. These drones, used by the US military and now Ukraine against Russia, come in a soldier’s backpack and when released, it self-destructs on impact with the target. These kamikaze drones penetrate the front line of the Russian army and target prominent Russian commanders and the Russian army has to change its methods. This reduces the effect of ground forces. Efficient integration links various sensors with precise weapons that can take instant decisions using artificial intelligence. The member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ie NATO are under pressure to fulfill their commitment to spend two per cent of their GDP on defence. These weapons are useful for Ukraine.

China is also an important player in the field of automatic weapons. The People’s Liberation Army has been developing unmanned systems since 2013. China is deploying them keeping in mind the cyber vulnerabilities of India. The Chinese military is believed to have identified cyber vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure such as the national power grid, railway and highway networks, telecommunication networks, financial services and stock markets.

These systems include hardware that is made from Chinese components. He has full ownership over them even after being established in India. In such a situation, India should consider two things: first, it will have to prepare its hardware and second, it will have to develop a guerrilla mentality so that immediate decisions can be taken. In all likelihood, if China attacks India in the future, it will be a cyber attack that will take down our networks and damage disaster relief programmes. Banning hardware like China’s 5G network won’t do. Big systems and networks are a big threat, they need to change.

Our current equipment procurement process focuses on procuring military hardware while the need is to develop capability. An example of such a successful and imaginative purchase is the capability to install the BrahMos cruise missile on the Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter aircraft. This has provided the air-launch capability of BrahMos with Indian technology. These aircraft can violate Indian airspace and hit far away in Pakistan. On the other hand, Sukhoi-30 aircraft equipped with the anti-ship version of BrahMos, if released from the Thanjavur airbase in Tamil Nadu, can destroy enemy ships in the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal or North Indian Ocean.

Such innovations increase efficiency with financial savings. The Air Force often talks about the need for a fleet of 42 fighter jets, which includes a large number of MiG-21 aircraft, which are suitable for air defence. But power boosters and other platforms that can do the same thing are often overlooked. For example, the purchase of five regiments of S-400 surface-to-air missiles by the Air Force has strengthened our air defence. Similarly, Air Refueling System and Airborne Warning and Control System ie AWACS. Despite this, the Air Force’s declared demand is for 42 fighter fleets.

The Navy has also not changed its requirement of 200 warships, although today its combat capability is much higher than before. Its fleet consists of two aircraft carriers, 16 combat submarines and 42 large warships. In addition, 12 Indian P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime patrol aircraft keep watch from West and East Asia to the northern Indian Ocean. Soon a small fleet of Sea Guardian drones may join in to help them. The Navy is planning six more conventional submarines that could be deployed in the Arabian Sea. Also, it intends to have six nuclear capable submarines which will be useful in the Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile there is considerable scope for reducing the fleet on the surface.

Meanwhile, there is little discussion on the policies of the army. This includes strengthening defense against China with the help of three new mountain divisions in eastern Ladakh and two new mountain divisions in Arunachal Pradesh between 2007-09. Two new military brigades have also been prepared for China. However, more debate is needed on our thrust to the north where the country’s ground strike corps are being converted into mountain strike corps. This includes the transfer of two infantry and one armored division from the Pakistan border and retraining them for the China border. The result of this change is not being discussed.

Some more major projects of the three services are getting delayed. The work on the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), which was to be built under a ‘Make’ category project, has been pending since 2009. The focus then shifted to the Light Tank project where L&T, Mahindra Group and Tata Group are participants. In the midst of the Russo-Ukraine War, the 155 mm, 52 caliber medium gun came into the limelight and the Advanced Todd Artillery Gun System became a high priority. Tactical communications system was also ignored. For all these weapons, the army will have to acquire strike platforms and weapons. The Indian Army can no longer function with the support of small and useless equipment with the help of sporadic purchases here and there.

  • double edged sword
    (Ajay Shukla)

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