Indian Army’s Modernisation Woes
The army’s ‘critical shortages’ and obsolescence of its current equipment include 155mm howitzers, light utility helicopters, attack helicopters, air defence assets, various categories of ammunition, anti-tank and AD missile systems, close quarter battle (CQB) carbines, assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles and anti-material rifles
THE PAST DECADE OR so has severely degraded the war-fighting capabilities of the Indian Army. The army’s ‘critical shortages’ and obsolescence of its current equipment include 155mm howitzers, light utility helicopters, attack helicopters, air defence assets, various categories of ammunition, anti-tank and AD missile systems, close quarter battle (CQB) carbines, assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, and anti-material rifles.
The majority of its main battle tanks (MBTs) and infantry combat vehicle (ICV) fleets are night-blind and its light utility helicopter (LUH) fleet, inducted into service from 1964, is obsolete. Engineering equipment, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), armoured recovery vehicles and other specialist vehicles, are either outdated, in short supply, or simply non-existent.
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 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, air defence artillery and infantry.
The army had equipped two regiments with Arjun tanks out of the 124 Arjun main battle tanks 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 a large number of improvements has commenced and 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.
Presently the army is hard put to maintain its current fleet of Arjun tanks because of lack of spares. The Arjun tank is indigenous in name only because a large number of its systems and parts amounting to about 60 per cent are still imported.
These 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 feeding the ballistic data of various lots of ammunition fired from the tanks has now been brought under control.
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), will be executed by the Avadi Heavy Vehicles Factory that already has a licence from Russia to manufacture T-90 tanks from kits purchased from Russia.
A contract, worth about 3,200 crore ($470 million), has been signed for the deliveries of the Invar missiles, fired through Russian-built T-90 tanks. According to 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 T-72 Tank
The T-72 M1 modernisation programme under Project Rhino is inordinately delayed. This was intended to extend the service life of the MBT by 20 years; enhance their accuracy with new fire control system (FCS) whose trials have been completed. This will give night fighting capability through a thermal imager integrated with the tank’s FCS. 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 (IFCS) which will be fitted on the new gun barrel, i.e. gun barrels of T-90M capable of firing conventional munitions and guided missiles. Therefore the problem that is likely to be encountered is the synchronisation of this gun with the integrated fire control system as these are from different vendors. Commanders Thermal Imaging night sight is being acquired through BEL Ltd.
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 of 1,000 hp 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. The modernisation of the T-72 is way behind schedule due to complicated procurement procedures exacerbated by delayed decision-making and inhouse disagreements.
The T-90, the improved T-72 M1 tanks and Arjun tanks, will constitute India’s armour might in the future till the FRCV becomes a reality.
Future Ready Combat Vehicle
The army aims to develop a multi-purpose Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) to replace its ageing fleet of over 2,200 licencebuilt Russian T-72M/M1 MBTs by 2027.
The proposed FRCV will supplement the army’s 657 imported T-90S MBTs and another 1,000 that will be locally built, as well as 242 indigenously developed Arjun MBTs, of which around 100 are presently under manufacture.
Based on the Russian Armata Universal Combat Platform concept, the FRCV will form the base platform on which a family of combat vehicles will be developed. These will include ambulance, bridge-laying, mine clearing, self-propelled howitzers, air defence, artillery observation post and engineering reconnaissance vehicles.
The mechanised infantry is currently equipped with the BMP-2 infantry combat vehicle (ICV) named Sarath manufactured by Ordnance Factory Medak under licence from Russia. Over 1,500 of these have been manufactured since 1987. A number of variants 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 airdefence missile system.
The Indian Army will upgrade around 1,000 of its BMP-2 / 2K infantry combat vehicle fleet in an effort to enhance their capability to address operational requirements. 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 Russian UTD-20 engine 285 hp will be replaced by a 380 hp power pack to enable the platform to carry the additional weapon load and traverse rough terrain, gradients, and water. No vendor has yet been selected for the retrofit, but the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is believed to favour the Ordnance Factory at Medak in Telangana, that licence-builds the current ICVs.
Future Infantry Combat Vehicle Programme
On February 15, six local companies submitted their project reports for the army’s
1,00,000-crore Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) programme which was initiated in 2008-09 but abandoned three years later, and resurrected once again in 2014. The FICV project is a ‘test case’ for India’s indigenous weapon-designing capability.
The bids are from five private sector companies that have technology tieups with overseas vendors and the OFB. They will design and build 2,610 tracked, amphibious and air-transportable 20-tonne FICVs to replace the army’s ageing fleet of Russian BMP-2/2K Sarath ICVs under the DPP’s ‘ Make (Indian)’ category. The pri- vate manufacturers bidding for the FICV project include: Mahendra Defence teamed with BAE Systems; L&T, which is partnering with Samsung Heavy Engineering; Pipavav Defence; Tata Motors in a consortium with Bharat Forge and General Dynamics of the United States; and Tata Power (SED), which has a joint venture with Titagarh Wagons.
MoD has appointed a 10-member Integrated Project Management Team (IPMT), headed by a two-star army general who will evaluate the bids and shortlist two development agencies (DA) that will build one FICV prototype each within 24-36 months. The OFB gets an automatic nomination for the FICV project, which is being implemented under the ‘Make (Indian)’ category of the DPP 2008. The MoD will finance 80 per cent of the FICV prototypes, one of which will be selected following user trials around 2020-21.
It is expected that the FICV will be powered by a 600 hp engine and armed with fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) with a 4.5-km range, 40mm grenade launchers, a secondary armament with a 2-km range, and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun. It will be operated by a threeman crew and capable of transporting seven infantrymen. NBC protection and communications on army’s network-centric grid will be a part of the project.
Artillery Fire power
As part of its artillery modernisation plan, the army is looking at inducting several types of howitzers through in house manufacture by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO)/Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), 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. Details of the actions underway to modernise the artillery are given in a seperate article.
Air Defence Artillery
The Corps of Army Air Defence holds a large variety of guns and missile systems. It has 40mm L/70, ZU-23-2 Twin gun, ZSU-23-4
The Arjun tank is indigenous in name only because a large number of its systems and parts amounting to about 60 per cent are still imported
Schilka, Tanguska, Kvadrat (medium-range missile system), OSA-AK (short-range missile system) and Igla shoulder-fired missile system in its inventory. The 40mm L/70 which is about four decades old, needs immediate replacement. Considering the high costs of new weapon systems, the Army is going in for weapon upgrades for L-70, ZU-23-2 Twin gun, and ZSU-23-4 Schilka. Meanwhile, the army is looking for successors to L-70 and the ZU-23-2. Successor to Schilka (ZSU-23-4) already exists in the form of Tangushka, but in limited numbers. A request for information has already been issued to find a replacement for Schilka. Actions to replace the obsolete missile systems for mechanised columns is also underway.
A dedicated article on air defence artillery is included separately in this issue.
The F-INSAS project was mooted in 2005 and it aimed at deploying a fully networked, all-weather, and all-terrain infantry, with enhanced firepower and the mobility to operate in the digitalised battlefield. This involved a mix of imported and locally developed systems, to equip about 400 battalions of infantry and Rashtriya Rifles with a modular, multi-calibre suite of weapons and body armour.
The entire capability desired includes target acquisition, communications, and portable surveillance equipment, including third-generation night-vision devices, as well as computers capable of transmitting and uploading voice, data and video clips on wrist displays for soldiers and clipboards for commanders. Additionally, integrated ballistic helmets with head-up displays (HUDs), miniature radios, global positioning systems, and portable power packs complete the F-INSAS makeover. The point to note is that not even one part of the project has made any progress.
Army is 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 about 2,00,000 assault rifles in November 2011 to 43 overseas vendors. Five vendors responded positively. However all five vendors comprising Italian manufacturer Beretta’s ARX160, the Czech Republic-based CZ’s 805 BREN, Israel Weapon Industries’ (IWI) ACE, and US-based Colt’s Combat Rifle were rejected by the army following field trials in the western Rajasthan desert and in high-altitude regions.
The army has instead keeping the ‘Make in India’ concept in mind has decided to do away with its multi-calibre requirement and has opted instead for the indigenously designed Excalibur 5.56 x 45mm assault rifle. Around 200 Excalibur prototypes, made at the OFB’s Rifle Factory Ishapur (RFI) in eastern India, are scheduled to undergo user evaluation trials later this year in varied terrain. Once approved, the army plans to induct over 6,00,000 Excalibur rifles for around 26,000 crore (`3.6 billion).
The Excalibur is an upgraded version of the DRDO-designed Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) 5.56 x 45mm assault rifle, which the army rejected in 2010 for being ‘operationally inadequate.’ The gas-operated, fully automatic rifle has a foldable butt, a Picatinny rail for sights, sensors, and bipods, and its polycarbonate magazine is superior to that of the INSAS rifle, known to frequently crack in extreme hot and cold climates. The Excalibur’s barrel is 4mm shorter than the INSAS model and its hand guard is smaller.
The DRDO is also designing a second version of the Excalibur, the AR-2 that fires 7.62 x 39mm rounds used by AK-47. The AR-2 will be offered as an alternative to the AK-47, Russian origin, rifle.
For over five years the Indian Army has operated without a CQB carbine, a basic infantry weapon, essential to a force which claims to be among the best and most operationally committed in the world, ever ready to take on any challenge.
The current situation is the verdict on the outcome of the 2010 tender for 44,618, CQB carbines (5.56mm), trials for which concluded in 2013, after which Beretta’s ARX160 and IWI’s Galil ACE models were shortlisted, is yet to be given. The selected weapon system will be licence-produced by the OFB to meet the requirement of three to four lakh CQB carbines for the army, paramilitary, and state police forces. The army has been without a carbine since 2010, after the OFB discontinued the licensed production of the Sterling 1A1 9mm sub-machine gun it had employed for decades.
Army Aviation Corps—Helicopters
Presently the Army Aviation Corps (AAC) has in its inventory the light observation class (Cheetah and Chetak) mostly. These helicopters are obsolete and have been in service since the 1960s and require immediate replacement. As per the latest information in this field the AAC is likely to receive licence-built Russian Kamov Ka-226T ‘Hoodlum’ light multi-role helicopters from 2018 onwards. HAL is likely to form a joint venture with Russian Helicopters to licencebuild 200 Kamov Ka-226T ‘Hoodlum’ light multi-role helicopters. The public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is scheduled to produce the first of 140 twin-engine Ka-226Ts within two years for the AAC and the Indian Air Force (IAF) at a new facility in Tumakuru, 74 km north of Bengaluru. According to officials, HAL will gradually increase the platform’s indigenous content to a maximum 30 per cent. The first 60 Ka-226Ts will be imported directly to meet urgent operational requirements, under a $1-billion inter-governmental agreement (IGA) announced during Prime Minister Modi’s Moscow visit in December 2015.
The Tumakuru complex is also expected to manufacture 187 HAL-designed singleengine light utility helicopters (LUHs) for the AAC and the IAF.
The list of voids and obsolescence of army’s major weapon systems is alarming. This happens to a force when it is neglected by the government for a long period of time as it has happened in the case of the army.
Akash AD Weapon System