Modernisation of the Indian Army
The capital budgets, which are meant for procurement of equipment, when analysed for the years 2013-14 and 2014-15, seem to suggest that no significant changes in equipment status of the Army will come about in the near future
GENERAL V.K. SINGH (RETIRED), the former Chief of Army Staff (COAS), wrote a letter regarding the status of equipment in the Army to the Prime Minister on March 12, 2012. It highlighted that the mission reliability of mechanised vehicles was poor, the artillery was obsolete and inadequate, air defence was antiquated, armour was unreliable due to regular barrel accidents caused by mismatch between indigenous barrels and ammunition, night-fighting devices were insufficient, aviation corps helicopters needed urgent replacements, and holdings of all types of missiles, anti-tank and specialised ammunition was critically low.
Following this it seems that the Defence Ministry had asked Army Headquarters to fast-track acquisitions and the list of essentials was prepared and sent. However, the situation has not improved but in fact has worsened in the last two years or so. Adding to the existing shortages is the new raising of the Mountain Strike Corps for our Eastern theatre, which is expected to reduce the army’s reserve stocks called “War Wastage Reserves” in terms of equipment and munitions further. The capital budget, which is meant for procurement of equipment, when analysed for the years 2013-14 and 2014-15, seem to suggest that no significant changes in equipment status of the Army will come about in the near future.
The notable features of arm wise modernisation required in the army and the steps taken, as known through open sources, are given in the succeeding paragraphs with respect to armour, mechanised infantry, artillery, and infantry. Army aviation and Army Air Defence (AAD) have been included in separate articles on military helicopters and modernisation of Army Air Defence respectively.
The Army had equipped two regiments with Arjun tanks out of the 124 Arjun
main battle tanks (MBT) ordered by it earlier. As a result of the satisfactory feedback by the units and from the tank crews, an additional 124 Arjun Mark II tanks have been ordered subject to satisfactory development of the upgraded Mark II version of the tank for equipping two more regiments. These tanks will have substantially upgraded capabilities of firepower, mobility and protection. The development of Arjun Mark II tank with 43 improvements has commenced and limited technical trials incorporating the improvements have been carried out in Rajasthan. However, due to unsuccessful trials especially concerning the main armament of the tank in which problems are being encountered in integrating the anti-tank guided missiles to fire through the main 120mm tank gun. Further delay is expected in series manufacture of the Arjun Mk II.
T-90 tanks have now been fully operationalised and integrated in the armoured regiments. As per media reports the Army has till now inducted around 780 T-90 tanks out of a total 1,657 T-90S tanks it eventually wants. The defects in the fire control systems of T-90S tanks due to excessive heat in the turrets during the summers is being remedied through air conditioning of the interior.
On September 13, 2013, a major deal was cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) for the manufacturing of 236 additional T-90 tanks for the Indian Army, worth over ` 6,000 crore ($940 million). This will be executed by the Avadi Heavy Vehicles Factory that already has a license from Russia to manufacture T-90 tanks from kits purchased from Russia. Another contract, worth about $470 million has been signed for the deliveries of the Invar missiles, installed on Russianbuilt T-90 tanks. According to local media reports, India plans to purchase 25,000 Invar missiles for its T-90 tanks, including 10,000 to be procured directly from Russia and 15,000 more to be manufactured domestically under a Russian licence.
Improvements in the Existing Fleet of Tanks
The T-72 M1 modernisation programme under Project Rhino will extend the service life of the MBT by 20 years; enhance their accuracy with new fire control system (FCS) whose trials are under way. This will give night-fighting capability through a thermal imager integrated with the tank’s fire control system. This contract is in an advanced stage of being finalised. In the meanwhile 600 T-72 tanks of the Army have been fitted with thermal imaging stand-alone sights (TISAS). Thus about 1,000 remaining T-72 tanks will be fitted with more modern integrated fire control systems.
The T-72 tanks are additionally being equipped with new type of explosive reactive armour (ERA) panels which will provide protection against kinetic energy as well as tandem warhead, chemical energy projectiles, along with a laser warning system and new radio sets for better and more secure communications.
A new power-pack is also under consideration to further enhance mobility in view of the heavy ERA packages that are being strapped on. An auxiliary power-pack for environmental control and integrated fire detection and suppression system are also being introduced. Gun barrels capable of firing conventional munitions and guided missiles are likely to replace the existing barrels.
The modernisation of the T-72 is way behind schedule due to complicated procurement procedures exacerbated by delayed decision-making and in-house disagreements.
The T-90, the improved T-72 M1 tanks and Arjun tanks, will constitute India’s armour might in the future till a new MBT is chosen or designed indigenously.
The mechanised infantry is currently equipped with the BMP-2 infantry combat vehicle (ICV) named Sarath. Over 1,500 of these have been manufactured since 1987. A number of variants including
mortar carries, command posts, ambulances, armoured dozers and engineer and reconnaissance vehicles, including NBC reconnaissance vehicles have been made. The vehicle’s chassis is also modified and developed into versions such as the Nag anti-tank missile carrier (NAMICA) and the Akash air-defence missile system.
The Indian Army will upgrade its entire Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty-2 (BMP-2)/2K infantry combat vehicle fleet in an effort to enhance their capability to address operational requirements, then Defence Minister A.K. Antony had announced. In a written response to the Lok Sabha (Parliament), Antony said the estimated ` 800 crore ($140 million) project involved armament upgrade of BMP-2/2K infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) to BMP-2M standard, and acquisition of a new power-pack for the IFV. Upgrades include integration of latest generation fire control system, twin missile launchers and commander’s thermal imaging panoramic sights, anti- tank guided missiles, as well as automatic grenade launchers, upgrading its existing NBC System, fire detection and suppression system, and ERA panels to provide extra protection and a new power-pack. The BMP-2 is also called Sarath in the Indian Army, and is manufactured by Ordnance Factory at Medak under licence from Russia.
As part of its artillery modernisation plan, the Army is looking at inducting several types of howitzers through 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 during which the 100mm and 122mm field guns of Russian origin and the indigenously developed and manufactured 75/24 Howitzer joined the long list of obsolete equipment, the artillery modernisation continues to stagnate.
155mm towed guns. Army still awaits the procurement of about 1,580 howitzers of 155mm, 52 calibre. Out of these, 400 are to be procured outright and 1,180 manufactured indigenously with transfer of technology (ToT). Over the last few years, several RfPs that were floated for this project were cancelled due to various reasons and then new tenders were floated. Trials have been underway since October 2013.
145 ultra-light howitzers (M777) which were being procured from the US through the foreign military sales (FMS) route from BAE Systems, also came under a shadow. The deal is reportedly stuck for want of agreement on the offsets obligations and upward revision in the price intimated to Congress by the US Government from $647 million to $885 million.
Indigenous efforts to manufacture
155mm howitzers by Ordnance Factories Board to produce a 45-calibre 155mm howitzer based on ToT obtained from Bofors in the 1980s, are now underway. The DAC approved a proposal from the OFB to manufacture 144 pieces of 155mm/45calibre howitzers with the option to acquire another 400 provided the prototypes successfully meet the Army’s GSQR in user trials. Meanwhile, the Defence Research and Development Organisation ( DRDO) has embarked on its own venture to design and develop a 155mm howitzer in partnership with a private sector company.
The acquisition of 814 truck-mounted guns that has been approved by the Defence Minister recently will be undertaken under the ‘Buy and Make Indian’ category with ToT. While the first 100 guns will be imported, the remaining 714 will be produced in India. The total project cost is estimated to be ` 15,750 crore.
Senior Artillery officers point out that Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan (FARP), which was mooted in 1999 envisaged the then ` 5,000-`7,000 crore procurement of over 3,200 of assorted calibre howitzers by the end of the Army’s 14th Five-Year Finance Plan in 2027. This plan has been totally wrecked because of inordinate delays in decision making and procurement.
The Defence Acquisition Council had approved of a new assault rifle, 5.56mm calibre and a new generation carbine to replace the 9mm carbine which had been weeded out of the army without getting a replacement. The Army’s immediate requirement is for around 1,60,080 close quarters battle (CQB) carbines and over 2,20,000 assault rifles through a combination of imports and licensed-manufacture by the OFB. Some details are given in the succeeding paragraphs
In August 2012 the process of procuring 44,618, 5.56mm out of a total requirement of about 1,60,080 close quarter battle carbines to replace the outdated 9mm model was set in motion because the Indian Army since 2010 was without a carbine as the Ordnance Factory Board had ceased manufacture of all variants of the WWII 9mm carbines, including ammunition.
The tender for the 5.56mm carbines requires each weapon system to weigh less than 3 kg, fire 600 rounds per minute to a minimum distance of 200 m and be capable of operating in extreme temperatures. Picatinny rail-mounted reflex and passive night sights, visible and invisible laser spot designators and multi-purpose detachable bayonets complete their QRs. The selected vendor will be required to transfer technology to the OFB to licence-build CQB carbines and 5.56mm ammunition, for use not only by the Army, but eventually the Central and State police forces.
The global manufacturers in the race for the new CQB carbine were Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) Galil Ace carbine, Italy’s Beretta with its ARX-160 and USA’s Colt and Sig Sauer. However, the US subsidiary of Swiss gun maker Sig Sauer, which was originally part of the tender with its 516 Patrol Rifle, failed to turn up at the ongoing carbine trials and hence only three manufacturers are currently in the race. These weapons have undergone field trials at the Infantry School at Mhow, in Central India, the Thar desert in Rajasthan and high-altitude locations in India’s Northern and Northeast region. It is learnt that the inking of the import of 44,618 carbines with technology transfer, which have been undergoing an unending series of trials since August 2012, may take longer than expected. The carbine trials were expected to conclude by mid-July 2014 followed by a staff evaluation by the Army to grade the vendors on the performance of their systems. Thereafter, the MoD will open their respective commercial bids, submitted over two years earlier and begin price negotiations with the lowest qualified bidder — or L1 — before inking the deal. This process is likely to be protracted, despite the high expectations of efficiency from the Narendra Modi Government.
Army is also on the lookout for assault rifles (AR) to replace the INSAS 5.56mm Rifles with technologically superior weapons. The MoD issued the tender for 66,000, 5.56mm multi-calibre assault rifles out of a total requirement of 2,20,000 assault rifles in November 2011 to 43 overseas vendors. Five vendors responded positively.
The assault rifles were required to weigh no more than 3.6 kg and to have a singular platform with changing parts to convert readily from 5.56 x 45mm to 7.62 x 39mm merely by switching the barrel and magazine for employment in counterinsurgency or conventional roles. In the race are the Czech Republic’s CZ 805 BREN model, Israeli IWI’s ACE 1, Baretta’s ARX 160, Colt’s Combat Rifle and Sig Sauer’s SG551. The latter’s participation, however, remains uncertain as Sig Sauer is under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). A transfer of technology to the OFB to locally build the selected rifle is part of the tender.
Light Machine Gun
Another weapon under technical evaluation is the 7.62 light machine gun (LMG) which will then be subjected to extensive trials before staff evaluation and further progress. Hence the wait for the new LMG is likely to be longer.
It is encouraging to note that India’s security concerns have, for the first time, converged with international security concerns which makes global community understand the need for India to develop and modernise its military capabilities. Defence of a nation and development are complementary. If India aspires for high economic growth and to be a regional/global economic power, its military power must reflect that desire through its ability to protect its interests.
MBT Arjun MK-I tank
Tank T- 90 Bhishma
M777 A2 Howitzer