The NDA government has identified defence reforms and building a self sustaining defence industrial base as a priority reform sector. To transform this into reality, it is not so much of the government commitment but its ability to take policy decisions and put processes in place by spurring public and private sector investments through higher indigenisation, transfer of technology, simplifying procedures, etc.
The Army’s war waging capability is increasingly handicapped. Concerned with dwindling operational preparedness and operationally hard pressed, it wants to induct advanced technology hardware that it perceives would serve its operational needs optimally. However its efforts at modernising be it combat or combat support arms are hardly encouraging – plagued by procurement and indigenous production delays and lack of timely planning.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence’s figures reveals that the army’s equipment modernisation is steadily falling. In 2008-09, the army spent 27 paisa of every rupee on capital expenditure. This fell to 24 paisa in 2009-10; 23 paisa in 2010-11; 20 paisa in 2012-13 and just 18 paisa in the last two years. Resultantly the army’s ambitious plans to transform from a ‘threat-based to a capability force’ by 2020 are being consistently thwarted as a result of process driven MoD breaucracy and the Army headquarters delays in drawing up credible qualitative requirements.
Adding to this are procedural delays. Getting approvals is a long drawn out procedure entailing clearances from 18 MoD and related departments/agencies. Consequently, procurements mandated to be completed in 48 months invariably take twice as long. Even the urgently needed equipment via the Fast Track Procurement (FTP) route with a 12-14 month timeline, is rarely ever met.
Army’s Modernization Perspective
Let us take the armour first. Indian army’s mechanised fleet comprises T-72 and T72 M1s Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), T-90S MBTs and indigenously produced Arjun MKI tanks. The main issue facing operational efficiency of mechanised forces are two: night fighting capability and ammunition.
In so far as night fighting capability is concerned only the 650-odd Russian T90S MBTs along with indigenously designed Arjun MKI tanks have full solution night fighting capability. T-72 and T72M1s that form the backbone of 59-odd armour regiments along with some 2200 Soviet-designed BMP-II infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) lack night fighting capability. Majority of the T72s await upgrades that will provide them with either full solution thermal imaging fire control systems (TIFCS) or third generation partial solution thermal imaging stand alone systems (TISAS) enabling all weather including night operations. Till date only 620 partial solution TISAS have been acquired.
In terms of armour ammunition there is critical deficiency of anti tank ammunition; 125 mm armour piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS). Indigenous production is held up on account of black listing of Israeli company, resultantly availability of 125 mm APFSDS including war wastage reserves have dropped to critical levels necessitating urgent imports of around 66,000 rounds from Russia at highly inflated prices.
Next major deficiency is that of Artillery, where no new gun has been inducted in last three decades. Despite years of attempts at modernisation; army’s artillery profile remains beseeched by the inability to decide on the 155 mm gun to replace the 180-odd field artillery regiments employing as many as six different calibres that are fast approaching obsolescence. Even the 32 artillery regiments equipped with 410 FH-77B 155 mm Bofors guns imported in the late 1980s-are reduced to half following cannibalization owing to the non-availability of spares. Upgradation of approximately 200 Soviet 130 mm M-46 carried out jointly by the Ordnance Factory Board and Soltam of Israel has been unsatisfactory resulting in CBI enquiry.
The proposal under the Artillery Rationalisation Plan to acquire by 2020-25 a mix of around 3000-3600; 155mm/39 calibre light weight and 155mm/52 calibre towed, mounted, self-propelled (tracked and wheeled) and ultra light weight 155mm/39 calibre howitzers through imports and local, licensed manufacture have been continually postponed for over a decade. Tenders for almost all these guns have been issued, withdrawn and re-issued, along with several rounds of inconclusive trials. Matters have been further complicated by the MoD completely or partially blacklisting at least four top overseas howitzer manufacturers.
The infantry’s F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier as a System) project that includes a fully networked, all-terrain, all-weather personal equipment platform as well as enhanced firepower and mobility for the digitalised battlefield of the future continues to be abnormally behind schedule. Similarly eight-odd Special Forces battalions face an identity crisis, operating without a specialised operational mandate, organisational support or “dedicated budget” resulting in piecemeal and incomplete weapon and equipment packages.
Adding to the Infantry’s woes is the shortages of credible assault rifles (ARs), carbines, ballistic helmets, lightweight bullet proof jackets and night vision devices. These are largely produced indigenously. Last year the MoD issued a global tender for 66,000, 5.56 mm ARs for an estimated $ 700 million to replace the locally designed Indian Small Arms System (INSAS). The eventual requirement for the proposed AR is expected to be around 2 million units for use not only by the army but also the paramilitary forces and the numerous provincial police forces in a project estimated to cost around $3 billion.
Other infantry shortages include; close quarter battle carbines, general purpose machine guns, light-weight anti-materiel rifles, mine protected vehicles, snow scooters for use at heights above 21,000 feet in Siachen, 390,000 ballistic helmets, over 30,000 third generation NVDs, 180,000 lightweight bullet proof jackets together with other assorted ordnance including new generation grenades.
Similar is the story of air defence. The bulk of the army’s air defence guns – Bofors L 70s and the Soviet Zu-23-2s and ZUS-23-4s and missiles like the Russian OSA-AK and Kradvat – date back 30-40 years and need replacing. The Army Aviation also faces similar shortages. There is an urgent need to replace obsolete aviation assets like the Chetak and Cheetah helicopters. Acquisition of 197 helicopters under the Army Aviation Corps Vision 2017 was postponed after the procurement of Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fennec was scrapped in November 2007. Four years later after trials, evaluation and negotiation the contract is under re-assessment featuring Russia’s Kamov 226 and Eurocopter’s AS 550 models, with little chance of early conclusion.
Addressing Army’s Modernization Needs
The major issue that emerges is how will the army get out of the vicious cycle of delays in procurement, and get its modernisation plans back on track. Is it feasible to undertake an all encompassing procurement backed by indigenous production taking the transfer of technology (TOT) route? What are the likely constraints?
Let us take a look at the budgetary support first? The Defence Budget for 2014-15 has an allocation of Rs. 2, 29,000 crores ($38 billion) an increase of 12 per cent over the previous year’s allocation. The capital outlay is Rs.94, 588 crores ($15.7 billion), and the remaining allocation of Rs. 1, 34,412 crores is the revenue outlay. The sub allocation of capital outlay to Army is Rs. 20, 655 crores, Navy Rs. 22, 312 crores, Air force Rs. 31,818 crores, DRDO Rs.9298 crores and modernization of Ordnance Factories (OFs) Rs. 1, 207 crores. While the figures might look impressive it needs to be noted that fairly large amount of capital outlays get consumed by committed liabilities leaving fairly modest amounts for new procurements.
Second, even if the money was available how can the army make up such huge shortages in any acceptable time frame? Procurement procedures, deciding on vendors for transfer of technology, issues regarding off sets, participation of the private sector and above all skill development are long drawn process which in the best case can take anything from 5 to 7 years.
To deal with the problem two critical aspects need to be addressed: One, the nature of future threats both in short-and-medium-to-long-terms basis. If the trigger for conflicts is likely to be unacceptable provocation requiring immediate military response; this requires basic level of preparedness and modernization to deal with such contingencies. Two, the long-term capability needs require a more nuanced and detailed induction perspective more attuned to R&D, technology transfers and indigenous production, etc. The essential take away from the above analysis is two-fold – laying down induction priorities and tri service synergy.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
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