Equipping Infantry and SF Units – Current Weaknesses
For our policy planners, an essential basic that must be kept in mind is the level of sophistication that the terrorists and insurgents have achieved and likely to advance to in times to come
For our policy planners, an essential basic that must be kept in mind is the level of sophistication that the terrorists and insurgents have achieved and likely to advance to in times to come.
INDIA HAS BEEN SUBJECTED to proxy war for past three decades by Pakistan. China has actively supported not only of Pakistan’s anti-India activities, but actively supports insurgencies in our North East, as well as helps the Maoists. The foot soldier has been bearing the brunt of this sub-conventional conflict, countering insurgencies and terrorism with infantry in the forefront. Despite this, the modernization of the infantry has been grossly neglected. That we have not even been able to give the infantry soldiers with appropriate small arms, protection against small arms fire, night vision etc is indeed a matter of shame.
For our policy planners, an essential basic that must be kept in mind is the level of sophistication that the terrorists and insurgents have achieved and likely to advance to in times to come. This aspect is obviously skipped, one example being that while infiltrating Pakistani terrorists are equipped with GPS devices but in our case even Special Forces units are deficient of GPS. A lackadaisical approach to equip the infantryman has a direct bearing on overall combat efficiency in coping with threats to our national security, and in terms of avoidable loss of lives. Irregular forces having emerged with greater strategic value over the past decade plus, our infantry must be prepared to cope with expanding terrorism, asymmetric and fourth generation wars simultaneous to short, intense, high-tech wars.
For the foot soldier, the most important object is his personal weapon. In this context, the quest of the Indian Army for a state-of-the-art assault rifle has been long and continuing. The four-year hunt for a new generation assault rifle has got extended as the global tender floated in 2011 for new generation assault rifles with interchangeable barrels for conventional warfare and counter-insurgency operations has been scrapped. Provision of a new generation assault rifles for the 382 infantry battalions had been termed ‘Priority I’ project to address the festering neglect of the infantry and the void of a state-of-theart assault rifle. Foreign firms like Colt (US), Beretta (Italy), Sig Sauer (Europe), Ceska (Czech) and Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) had participated in the trials for the doublebarrel rifles; 5.56 x 45mm primary barrel for conventional warfare and 7.62 x 39mm secondary barrel for counter-terror operations. At the time of floating the tender in 2011, much was said about why an assault rifle with interchangeable barrels was being sought but this obviously was a conscience decision taken by the Army, which had approval of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The plan was to go for direct acquisition of 65,000 of these new generation assault rifles at an estimated cost of around 4,850 crore, to equip the 120 infantry battalions deployed on the western and eastern fronts. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) was to then subsequently manufacture over 1,13,000 such rifles after getting transfer of technology (ToT) from the foreign vendor or go for joint venture (JV). The new genera- tion rifle was to weigh around 3.5 kg with advanced night-vision, holographic reflex sights, laser designators, detachable under-barrel grenade launchers and the like.
The foot soldier generally is forgotten in the race of big-ticket weapon systems; fighter aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, missiles, artillery and the like. Though the direct procurement of 65,000 new generation assault rifles has been scrapped, it is not the first time that the infantry will be suffering such setback. In 1980, 17 x 5.56mm assault rifles from 11 countries were imported by the MoD, aim being to equip 3 x parachute commando battalions and 3 x parachute battalions (latter part of the Parachute Brigade), funds for which had been reserved in the Sixth Army Plan. The Army completed comprehensive trials in 1980 in accordance with the trial directive issued by Army Headquarters. However, the case went into cold storage. It emerged that an anonymous letter was received by the then Defence Minister alleging $10,000 had been paid to place a particular rifle at the top. Then, in 1985, the MoD floated a query as to why the AK-74 assault rifles had not been tried out. The army replied that these 17 weapons were imported by MoD without reference to the army and the AK-74 in any case was of 5.45mm bore whereas the entire Indian Army was planned to be switched to 5.56 mm assault rifles. In this war of red tape, the Sixth Army Plan lapsed and so did the funds for the six battalions that were to be equipped.
So, seven years after the above trials of these imported rifles were completed in 1980, the parachute commando and parachute units went to Sri Lanka under the IPKF carrying the unwieldy 7.62 SLR rifles to battle the LTTE armed with AK-47 assault rifles. It is later that the IA would import one lakh AK-47 rifles (then costing only $300 apiece) and give some 100 per infantry battalion in the IPKF. Meanwhile the abovementioned 17 x 5.56 mm imported rifles were handed over to the DRDO-OFB to develop an indigenous version, and after 15 excruciating years emerged the 5.56 INSAS which was nowhere close to the top 10 assault rifles of the same category available globally. Frankly, the DRDO-OFB should have gone in for an AK-47 with a matching night sight, which with double strapped filled magazines gives enough firepower to the soldier. Even today, soldiers guarding the frontline on Siachen Glacier keep a loaded AK-47 next to the personal issue INSAS because there is no guarantee that the latter would not jam at the critical fleeting moment.
Since we failed to indigenously produce a state-of-the-art assault rifle and other small arms, even the PMF, CAPF (BSF, CRPF, ITBP), SPG and even special units like Force 1 and Greyhounds resorted to imports. An AK-47 with a night sight would be an ideal assault rifle for the infantry but whether this would happen with the ‘improved INSAS’ under development by the DRDO past several years is a question mark.
Shock and Awe
Watching the infantry alighting from huge vehicles during the recent terrorist attack in Dinanagar, a veteran General Officer observed they did not create the feeling of ‘Shock and Awe’. Supposing one saw soldiers alighting from few APCs, it would create a different impression altogether. He observed that as a school-going child in Lahore in 1946, he saw three APCs plying the road during violent riots and felt the shock and awe. Post-Independence, our Infantry Battalions too on Modification ‘P’ had tracked vehicles called Bren Carriers. There is no denying the fact that centralised Mechanised Infantry is needed for operating with the armour. However, the bulk of infantry is foot bound, has no cross country mobility and shock and awe! This has adversely affected the operational functioning and above all tactical thinking of bulk of our officer corps. Given a few APCs to infantry battalions in plains and in deserts can bring in a sea change in combat capability. Infantry is the backbone of Indian Army and it must have integral cross country mobility as well as ‘shock and awe’ when deployed in the plains. In the mountains, the infantry can continue hitherto fore.
The infantry also is woefully short of bullet proof jackets, surveillance equipment for day and night, GPS, even updated maps and communication equipment. Army’s Tactical Communication System, Battlefield Surveillance System and Battlefield Management System are all years away without which the infantryman cannot receive real time / near real time information so necessary in modern conflict situations.
Planners need to understand that Special Forces equipping must be ‘packaged’. The concept of ‘packaged equipping’ simply implies that equipping cannot be piecemeal. For example, if an assault squad is authorized ‘X’ weapons and ‘Y’ equipment, all of them have to be provisioned together if the expected mission outcome and combat capability is to be achieved. For example, hand-held laser target designators have been authorized to army’s Special Forces since last 10 years but have not been provisioned yet. The army has also had the problem of re-supply / replacement of imported special equipment since concurrent action of ‘introducing’ the equipment into service has not been taking place. There is apparent lack of forethought and standardisation of equipment as well, leave aside measures like centralised special equipment procurement for the military and similarly for the non-military Special Forces. The absence of corner shots with the NSG employed during the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack was conspicuous although this equip- ment was held with the Special Group of the SFF for past few years. Surveillance, communications and night vision equipment though authorised can be improved both in quality and quantity.
Presently, equipping voids exist from the very basic to bigger operational requirements. The basic rucksack provided officially is as inferior as the basic web equipment that was supplied to the army with much fanfare. The material was so inferior and the stitching thread so inferior that first time a soldier went through the obstacle course, it ripped open in places. Special Forces units are presently using their own funds to buy good quality rucksacks. Similarly, no worthwhile rappelling gloves and rappelling ropes are officially supplied, both in quality and quantity. A major void exists in the provision of a battlefield information system that would enable multiple Special Forces detachments operating wide spread over long distance and deep inside enemy territory communicating with a special operations command post at the parent battalion headquarters, Corps level FMCP and directly to the air force for calling airstrikes including armed UAVs.
Existing equipment voids and shortages the worst hit is the holding of Tavor Assault Rifles and the ammunition as replacements are not forthcoming. So each Special Forces unit has shortages of Tavor assault rifles, made up with AK-47s in some case. But the worst problem is severe shortages in supply of training. Due to ammunition for this rifle which is entirely dependent on import and not even 50 per cent of the annual requirement is being met. There is also a total void against authorised quantities of hardware, major ones being: heavy machine guns; underwater rifles; 60 mm mortars, disposable anti-tank rocket launchers; disposable flame throwers; satellite phones; airborne SAR systems; VHF repeaters; solar panels for charging; light strike vehicles; GP delivery system (GPADS) 2-tonne category; GPADS 4-tonne category; underwater cameras; underwater driver propulsion vehicles; digital compasses; GPSs; laser target designators; video cameras for HX transmission; still cameras for HX transmission; night scope with adapter; remote detonator transmitters; remote detonator receivers, and; radio controlled detonators. In addition, major deficiencies exist in: assault rifles with night sights; GPMG with night sights; AGL with night sights; 40mm UBGL; pistols; ATGM with TI; SAM with night sight: carbines with night sight; tactical computers; ground to air LUP; radio transmitter beacons; combat military free-fall parachutes and compatible oxygen equipment; high resolution binoculars; passive night vision binoculars; night vision binoculars with communication and range finder; HHTIs, and; passive night vision goggles.
The basic rucksack provided officially is as inferior as the basic web equipment that was supplied to the army with much fanfare
There is much talk of establishment of Special Forces Command but have we looked at the equipping of our Special Forces? In this age of sub-conventional and irregular warfare, the foot soldier must not be neglected either. It has often been said that for the price of a mere squadron of tanks, the entire infantry can be armed to the teeth. Let us do it.