Army Mod­erni­sa­tion The Cur­rent Sta­tus


Dur­ing the UPA-I and II the sit­u­a­tion had de­te­ri­o­rated considerably and it was widely ac­claimed that the new Modi Gov­ern­ment which took over the reins of the coun­try in May 2014 would rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion. How­ever, the cur­rent pace is too slow, and the hide­bound and bu­reau­cratic at­ti­tude of all stake­hold­ers de­spite hav­ing a tech­nol­ogy savvy then De­fence Min­is­ter in Manohar Par­rikar, was also sur­pris­ing. Apart from the com­pli­cated process of pro­cure­ment and the at­ti­tudes of the stake­hold­ers, an­other ma­jor cause was the lack of funds. The mod­erni­sa­tion of the ser­vices is well behind the sched­ule. In this ar­ti­cle we are fo­cus­ing on the mod­erni­sa­tion of the army only.

The ‘Make in In­dia’ rhetoric sounded good for elec­tion­eer­ing but it has not changed the ground sit­u­a­tion be­cause we do not have the tech­nol­ogy or the know-how to make mod­ern weaponry and our pro­ce­dures are out of tune with re­al­ity. Hence our poli­cies do not match the ca­pa­bil­i­ties de­sired de­spite all the po­lit­i­cal rhetoric about na­tional se­cu­rity. And this is at a time when our threats and chal­lenges have be­come far greater than they have ever been ear­lier.

An up­date on some of the equip­ment projects un­der­taken and which are in var­i­ous stages of de­vel­op­ment/pro­cure­ment is given in the suc­ceed­ing para­graphs.

As­sault Ri­fles

In Septem­ber 2015, the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) ter­mi­nated its 2011 ten­der to im­port 66,000 multi-cal­i­bre as­sault ri­fles as none of the four com­pet­ing mod­els qual­i­fied. Thus the In­dian Army has re­launched its quest for an im­ported as­sault ri­fle, af­ter re­cently re­ject­ing the lo­cally de­signed op­tion, in or­der to plug a vi­tal op­er­a­tional gap. The army has once again sent out its global re­quest for in­for­ma­tion (RFI) for 7.62 x 51mm as­sault ri­fles in­stead of its ear­lier pro­posal to in­duct the De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO)-de­signed Ex­cal­ibur 5.56 x 45mm ri­fle. The Ex­cal­ibur is an up­graded ver­sion of the DRDO’s In­dian Army Small Arms Sys­tem (INSAS) 5.56 x 45mm ri­fle that en­tered ser­vice with the In­dian Army

in the mid-1990s, but was re­jected by it in 2010, for be­ing ‘op­er­a­tionally in­ad­e­quate’. The cur­rent stance is at variance with the Army Chief of Staff Gen­eral Dal­bir Singh’s ear­lier dec­la­ra­tion that the army would ac­quire the Ex­cal­ibur. The Army Com­man­ders Con­fer­ence in New Delhi in April 2016, how­ever, over­turned this choice and the army has unan­i­mously opted to im­port the more pow­er­ful 7.62 x 51mm ri­fle for its in­fantry bat­tal­ions and its 100 odd counter-in­sur­gency units (both Rashtriya Ri­fles and As­sam Ri­fles).


The MoD was in the process of fi­nal­is­ing the out­come of the 2010 ten­der for 44,618, 5.56mm close quar­ter bat­tle (CQB) car­bines, tri­als for which con­cluded in 2013. Is­rael Weapon In­dus­tries (IWI) ACE car­bine was short­listed over the Ital­ian ri­val Beretta’s ARX-160 model, but over the past few months the con­tract ran into pro­ce­dural prob­lems and has been scrapped on Septem­ber 29, 2016. The army, which has been op­er­at­ing with­out a car­bine since 2010 af­ter re­tir­ing the li­cence-built World War II Ster­ling sub-ma­chine gun, has an ur­gent re­quire­ment for 1,60,800 CQB car­bines.

Ar­tillery Fire­power

As part of its ar­tillery mod­erni­sa­tion plan, the army is look­ing at in­duct­ing sev­eral types of how­itzers through in-house man­u­fac­ture by DRDO/Ord­nance Fac­tory Board, 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 at­tempts are now afoot to ful­fil its long-post­poned 1999 Field Ar­tillery Ra­tion­al­i­sa­tion Plan (FARP), un­der which the army aims to im­port, lo­cally de­velop, and li­cence-pro­duce some 2,820-3,000 as­sorted 155mm how­itzers to equip its ar­tillery reg­i­ments for an es­ti­mated $8-9 bil­lion. These in­clude 1,580 towed gun sys­tems (TGS), 814 mounted gun sys­tems (MGS), 100 self-pro­pelled how­itzers (SPHs) — all of which are 155mm/52-cal­i­bre — and 145 BAE Sys­tems M777 155mm/39-cal­i­bre ul­tra light­weight how­itzers. Lo­cally up­graded and retro­fit­ted guns will make up ad­di­tional num­bers. While many projects are afoot, none has fruc­ti­fied.

In De­cem­ber 2015 the MoD be­gan price ne­go­ti­a­tions with Larsen & Toubro (L&T) for 100 mod­i­fied South Korean SPHs, worth around $800 mil­lion. The K9 Va­jra-T, an L&T ver­sion of Sam­sung Tech­win’s K9 Thun­der 155mm/52-cal­i­bre gun cus­tomised for In­dia’s 2012 SPH ten­der, was short­listed for ac­qui­si­tion in late Septem­ber 2015 fol­low­ing tri­als the pre­vi­ous year. In these the K9 bested Rus­sia’s MSTA-S self-pro­pelled gun, which had been mod­i­fied to 155mm/52-cal­i­bre stan­dard and mounted on a T-72 tank chas­sis.

Sim­i­larly in the towed cat­e­gory of how­itzers, France’s Nex­ter Sys­tems, with its Tra­jan 155mm/52-cal­i­bre how­itzer mod­i­fied for the In­dian ten­der of 2011-12, and El­bit of Is­rael’s ATHOS 2052 gun were re­quired to un­dergo the sup­ple­men­tary tri­als from mid-2015 af­ter com­plet­ing desert and high-al­ti­tude fir­ings in 2013-14. The army plans to ac­quire 400 guns un­der the De­fence Procur­ment Pro­ce­dure’s (DPP) ‘Buy and Make’ cat­e­gory and li­cence-build the re­main­ing 1,180 towed how­itzers.

In May 2015 the MoD ap­proved the im­port of 145 M777s, 155mm ul­tra light how­itzer, along with Selex Laser In­er­tial Point­ing Sys­tems (LINAPS) via the US for­eign mil­i­tary sales (FMS) pro­gramme. The M777 pur­chase is to equip the army’s 17 Moun­tain Strike Corps, which is presently be­ing raised for de­ploy­ment along the dis­puted bor­der with China. This deal has been in the process since 2008.

In the mean­while, the Ord­nance Fac­to­ries Board (OFB) have also been tasked to pro­duce a 45-cal­i­bre/155mm how­itzer based on the trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy (ToT) ob­tained from Bo­fors in the 1980s. The DAC ap­proved a pro­posal from the OFB to man­u­fac­ture 144 pieces of 155mm/45-cal­i­bre how­itzers with the op­tion to ac­quire an­other 400 pro­vided the pro­to­types suc­cess­fully meet the army’s GSQR in user tri­als. So we can see that while many projects for en­hanc­ing our ar­tillery fire­power are afoot, noth­ing has ma­te­ri­alised till date.


Presently the army is hard put to main­tain its cur­rent fleet of Arjun Mk1 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.

The de­vel­op­ment of Arjun Mark II tank with a large num­ber of im­prove­ments has com­menced and some tech­ni­cal tri­als in­cor­po­rat­ing the im­prove­ments have been car­ried out in Ra­jasthan. How­ever, the ab­nor­mally high weight of plus 68 tonnes which would de­mand new tank trans­porters and new rail­way rolling stock to­gether with the un­suc­cess­ful tri­als of fir­ing the anti-tank mis­sile through the main gun of the tank have held up the de­vel­op­ment and de­liv­ery of the Arjun MkII. Ad­di­tional prob­lems are likely to be en­coun­tered in pro­duc­tion of spares by an­cil­lary units due to the

rel­a­tively small or­der of the tanks (118) for the army. Fur­ther de­lay is ex­pected in se­ries man­u­fac­ture of the Arjun MkII.

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.

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 and some units have re­ceived the new fire con­trol sys­tems. How­ever, when all mod­i­fi­ca­tions will be com­pleted is not known.

Future In­fantry Com­bat Ve­hi­cle (FICV) 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 tie-ups 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.

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.

Air De­fence

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 (23mm Twin guns). 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.

In the mis­sile sys­tems, Kvadrat (medium-range) and OSA-AK (short-range) are also at the end of their life-cy­cle. They were to be re­placed by Akash and Tr­ishul sur­face-to-air (SAM) mis­siles. Tr­ishul has been fore­closed and Akash is be­ing in­ducted for semi-mo­bile roles. For air de­fence of mech­a­nised units, it has been planned to ac­quire medium-range SAM (MRSAM) and quick re­ac­tion SAM (QRSAM) sys­tems.

Army Avi­a­tion – 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 Ka226T ‘Hood­lum’ light multi-role he­li­copters from 2018 on­wards. The Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited (HAL) is likely to form a joint ven­ture with Rus­sian He­li­copters to li­cence-build 200 Kamov Ka-226T ‘Hood­lum’ light multi-role he­li­copters. 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.


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. We have only cov­ered four arms of the Army. If ev­ery arm and ser­vice of the In­dian Army is con­sid­ered for filling up of voids and mod­erni­sa­tion the list will in­deed be end­less. How are the army and the gov­ern­ment plan­ning to make up these short­ages and voids if the funding re­mains at the cur­rent scale? If we carry out a re­al­is­tic analysis of the budget re­quire­ments (main­te­nance and mod­erni­sa­tion) for a 40 divi­sion army, a 42 squadron air force and 150 plat­form navy, the ser­vices will re­quire 3 to 4 per cent of the GDP as their budget mi­nus the de­fence pen­sions. Will this ever be pos­si­ble?

The work cul­ture of our DPSUs also needs to be looked into. In a scathing assess­ment, the lat­est Comp­trol­ler and Au­di­tor Gen­eral of In­dia (CAG) re­port given in the Eco­nomic Times on July 27, 2016, deal­ing with the Army Projects of 2007-12, the cen­tral au­di­tor said de­fence public sec­tor units have mis­er­ably failed in meet­ing the ob­jec­tive of self-re­liance, with a ma­jor­ity of con­tracts en­trusted to them fac­ing de­lays, ham­per­ing the ca­pa­bil­ity en­hance­ment plans of the In­dian Army. The re­port, which echoes the sen­ti­ments of the pri­vate sec­tor that has been bat­tling the gov­ern­ment for more or­ders and is up­set that a ma­jor­ity of con­tracts in the last two years have gone to PSUs. Dur­ing 2007-12 pe­riod, 63 per cent of the con­tracts given were de­layed for var­i­ous rea­sons. “Be­sides im­pact­ing de­fence pre­pared­ness, the de­lay had fi­nan­cial im­pli­ca­tions to­wards loss of in­ter­est on pay­ments made to DPSUs. The ob­jec­tive of self-re­liance in de­fence pro­duc­tion had also not been achieved” This re­port was tabled in Par­lia­ment on July 26, 2016.

Let us look at our­selves with a view to carry out self-in­tro­spec­tion re­gard­ing de­fence mod­erni­sa­tion. Have we im­proved our equip­ment sta­tus since the Kargil con­flict? The ob­vi­ous an­swer is NO, and in fact we have, as per the ex­ist­ing in­ven­tory of equip­ment, de­te­ri­o­rated fur­ther.

The ‘Make in In­dia’ rhetoric sounded good for elec­tion­eer­ing but it has not changed the ground sit­u­a­tion be­cause we do not have the tech­nol­ogy or the know-how to make mod­ern weaponry and our pro­ce­dures are out of tune with re­al­ity

MoD has ap­proved the im­port of 145 M777s, 155mm ul­tra light how­itzer through the FMS pro­gramme



(Left) Akash sur­face-to-air mis­siles on dis­play; (right) Arjun MkII MBT

HAL is sched­uled to pro­duce the first of 140 Ka-226T twin-en­gined util­ity he­li­copters within two years for the AAC and IAF

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