A Case for Developing Concept Driven Platforms
Armies who design weapons to suit their operational concepts and terrain are what may be termed as concept driven armies
Armies who design weapons to suit their operational concepts and terrain are what may be termed as concept driven armies.
HISTORICALLY, DEVELOPING COUNTRIES, DEPENDANT on imported weapons, have been seeking affordable technologies and adapting their tactical concepts to best leverage the capabilities of the weapon. This has been, and continues to be, the practice universally, including in India. Classical example of such instances are the conversion of the Indian Armoured Corps from the vintage T-55 tanks to the relatively sophisticated T-72s and subsequently to the T-90s. Armies of such nations can be termed as technology driven armies, i.e. they adapt their operational concepts to the technological capabilities of their weapons.
Concept Driven Platforms
Developed nations, on the other hand, have been designing weapons to suit their operational concepts and terrain. The UDES series of tank destroyers developed by Sweden, T series of tanks by Russia, etc, exemplify this approach. Sweden has borders which are thickly forested and so they require a highly manoeuvrable platform that can meander past the dense tree lines. The erstwhile USSR, on the other hand, had the concept of mass employment of tanks in battle and as such accuracy of weapon of individual tanks was not crucial – survivability, to a reasonable degree, was assured through mobility and low silhouette. Armies of this kind are what may be termed as concept driven armies.
‘Make’ Category in DPP
Nearly a decade ago, the Government of India ushered in the ‘ Make’ category of acquisitions in the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). Over a period of time, the ‘Make’ procedure (Chapter 3 of DPP) has undergone numerous changes and refinements in the hands of expert committees. The spirit behind the ‘Make’ procedure is to custom develop military hardware to suit the concepts of the Indian armed forces (as articulated through a Services Qualitative Requirement). Keeping in mind the level of sophistication of military systems, industry is allowed to have considerable import content in these systems – up to 70 per cent; at least in the initial prototypes. The stress therefore is not on indigenous technology per se, but on putting all these technologies together to meet the aspirations of the armed forces.
While there have been no takers yet in the Navy and the Air Force for projects under the ‘Make’ category, the Army has been proactive in this respect. The Tactical Communication System (TCS) and the Battlefield Management System (BMS) projects are already in the anvil with the participating industry consortiums. A few months ago, the Army went further and issued the expression of interest (EOI) for design and development of a futuristic infantry combat vehicle—the maiden venture of the armed forces to acquire a weapon platform under the ‘Make’ category. Earlier it had published a request for information (RFI) for a future ready combat vehicle (FRCV). If the industry is successful in giving shape to either, if not both, it will be a turning point in the country’s efforts to attain self-reliance in military hardware.
How to Convey the User Requirements to the Industry
Unfortunately, neither the EOI nor the RFI nor for that matter the Preliminary Services Qualitative Requirements (PSQR) manage to convey the requirements in a comprehensive manner to the uninitiated industry body. The true aspirations of the services are buried beneath a verbose articulation of ‘Operational Requirements’ the import of which the industry has no idea. Hamstrung thus, the industry focuses solely on the ‘Technical Characteristics’ where the specifications of individual systems are described. ‘Empowered’ with this latter inputs alone, the industry goes about on a hunting expedition to seek out suitable foreign collaborators who can offer systems which match the technical characteristics. This leads to a collection of disparate systems which are onerously integrated with the attendant reliability and fidelity issues; yet failing to meet the user aspirations. User aspirations are not met through integration of disparate systems, but through adaptation of applicable technologies to meet the operational requirements of the armed forces.
For example, in this era of autonomous, connected cars, would it be expedient to incorporate semi-autonomous driving in our combat platforms as a feature and thereafter even connect these platforms though the BMS? Here we are looking at adapting available technology rather than integrating systems. The positive fallout of such a facility is in enhancing crew endurance during sustained combat. Similarly, could we have independent controls for the gun and missile of the FICV, with the facility for the gunner and commander to engage targets independent of each other? If implemented, the firepower component of the FICV would be enhanced significantly.
Viability of Using Newer Materials
We could also examine the viability of using newer materials which are finding application as armour in many other fields, like graphene. Experiments show that the ability of graphene to disperse the kinetic energy of a projectile is far superior to fibreepoxy materials. Controlled layering of graphene sheets could lead to lightweight, energy-absorbing materials.
The potential of available technologies for adaptation as above can be realised only through intimate interaction with the user community to know their mind. Therefore, in order to take forward the ‘Make’ projects as a viable and sustainable venture, both parties — the armed forces and the industry — have to reach out to each other, beyond the formal podiums, and understand each other’s aspirations, concerns and constraints. Industry must strive to comprehend the true import of the contents of the ‘operational requirements’ articulated in the PSQR and EOI rather than ignoring this section altogether just because it didn’t make sense on first reading. For example, a statement like “72 hours of continuous day and night operation” in the context of a weapon platform leads to much more than providing a good night sight and large quantities of fuel to increase the endurance. The statement has design implications on ergonomics, automotive systems, task sharing features for crew members, level of automation in each system, etc.
Strive for a Balanced System Configuration
The armed forces on their part would do well to focus on the essential ingredients of a balanced system configuration than an ideal system incorporating the best in each of the individual subsystems. Taking the example of the combat platform itself, the challenge, as all would agree, is in arriving at a balanced design with optimum firepower, protection and mobility. So far, the weightage for each has been a matter of individual’s perception rather than a scientific assessment. However, today, we could have computerised analytical war-gaming models to simulate combat situations and arrive at far more objective assessment of the relative importance of these cardinal factors. What is more, these values could be identified separately for different terrain conditions and threat assessment. In fact, a software application of this type will help us define the contours of the FRCV; whether it is viable, and if so, how many manifestations it may assume to meet the end-user requirement. Similar analytics could be undertaken for other systems and weapons as well.
In conclusion, it must be noted that capital projects of the nature undertaken under the ‘Make’ category have long gestation. Looking at subsystems in isolation would be a mistake one should consciously avoid. It would be advisable to look at technology trends and analyse those trends to identify the takeaways for the systems under development rather than buying off the system itself.
Experiments show that the ability of graphene to disperse the kinetic energy of a projectile is far superior to fibre-epoxy materials. Controlled layering of graphene sheets could lead to lightweight, energyabsorbing materials.
(Top) Indian Army’s T-90 Bhishma tank and (above) T-72 equipped with full width mine plough