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

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

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.

In­fantry

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.

Mis­cel­la­neous

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.

Spe­cial Forces

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

Con­clu­sion

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.

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