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India enhancing credible deterrence to two-front war with China, Pakistan: Army chief

Photo: Indian Army chief General Naravane taking a closer look at the an earlier edition of the Defence.Capital magazine at his office in South Block on Raisina Hills in New Delhi earlier this month.

General Manoj Mukund Naravane, in an exclusive interview, tells editor N. C. Bipindra that engagement on both fronts simultaneously would be a challenge, but the Indian Army is cognizant of the possibilities and is well-poised to handle more than the two fronts.

Ques. What are the military technologies that will transform the way the Indian Army fights war in the future, beginning 2022? What are those five military technologies that will define future warfare?

Ans. Modern day battlefield is undergoing a rapid change accelerated by infusion of latest technology and changing character of warfare. Though it is considerably hard to pick and choose the technologies that will define future warfare, in the short- to medium-term operations in cyber, electromagnetic spectrum, drones and counter drones, systems using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Military Things will dominate and are likely to be used as the predominant modes and tools of warfighting.

Greater computing power based on quantum technology and AI-based semi-autonomous systems will see greater usage in future battlefields. As the saying goes, data is the new oil and will see greater application across platforms and systems. We need to be prepared and ready to not only generate, collect, label and collate data from both new age and legacy devices in standardised formats but also use it for enhancing the perceptive and decision-making abilities of the commanders on the ground.

Suitably conceptualised and developed autonomous systems can enhance all operational and intelligence functions. Further, force protection in contested spaces is also reduced through effectual human-machine teaming. We are already working on change detection, identification of targets from battlefield images, swarming technologies, loitering munitions, exoskeletons, robotic mules, among other things.

We are creating pathways for amalgamating these systems into the Indian armed forces. Centres of Excellence have been established in the fields of Artificial Intelligence, 5G and Military Internet of Things, Quantum Computing, Ballistics, Robotics and Material Technology. Successful utilisation of such capability building lies in civil-military fusion, especially in these niche sectors. This essentially means tapping talent from any quarter — military, civil, private sector or government — an integrated approach will fulfil future requirements of national security.

Capability of indigenous defence production industry is being enhanced and emerging start-ups in these fields are being incentivised by the government.

Ques. How are the training strategies of the Indian Army being reworked in view of the framework for simulators released by the Ministry of Defence in 2021?

Ans. The aim of the policy is to transform to simulation-based training across all military domains to achieve cost-effective, safe and smart training. Also, enhanced utilisation of simulators by armed forces will impart safe and cost-effective realistic training while preserving expensive equipment.

The framework promulgated by the Ministry of Defence for enhanced and synergised utilisation of simulators seeks to reduce live equipment utilisation, ensure capability plans cater for phased induction of simulators, factor in the requirement of simulators when procurements are planned and create a coordination mechanism among various agencies for a combined purchase of simulators.

From infantry weapons to air defence systems and tanks to fighter jets, simulators play a critical role in providing training to military personnel in realistic scenarios without exposing them to over-exploitation of operational equipment.

Ques. How will the integrated theatre formations, being envisaged, impact command and control structure of the Indian Army? What would pose challenges in the smooth transition to the new theaterisation and why? How can these challenges be overcome?

Ans. The situation along both Line of Actual Control (with People’s Republic of China) and Line of Control (with Pakistan) are dynamic in nature and will change from time to time. However, Integrated Theatre Commands (ITCs) are the ideal, long-term operational model to address both contemporary and futuristic security challenges.

Integrated employment of individual Service capabilities is an imperative for orchestrating integration. Driven by the defence ministry’s Department of Military Affairs, separate studies by Lead Service/Commands are underway, chaired by the Commanders-in-Chief of the Commands proposed to undergo the transformational change. The Indian Army stands fully committed to jointness and synergy amongst the three Services.

Some changes in structures, Command and Control arrangements and functioning are inescapable in such major structural initiatives. These are being deliberated and concretised at the level of the Service Headquarters. The current standoff in eastern Ladakh reinforces the requirement.

While the execution will be in phases, all forces/formations of the three services are planned to be integrated under the Integrated Theatre Command model for maximum effectiveness for all contingencies and along all borders.

Challenges will include joint training, logistics and evolution of common standards to be applied across all three Services. Discussions on all these topics are going on concurrently.

Photo: Indian Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane.

Ques. What has been the Indian Army’s preparation for meeting a two-front war from both our western and northern neighbours? How do these preparations impact capability building of the Indian Army?

Ans. The Indian Army is well poised and prepared to deal with any emerging contingency not only in eastern Ladakh, but all along the northern borders. There is an enhanced collaboration between western and northern adversaries that goes beyond military and economic domains.

Pakistan is a major beneficiary of military equipment from (People’s Republic of) China and is rapidly enhancing her military capabilities. Security situation along the western borders remains largely peaceful. However, there is an emerging terror-narco nexus sponsored by inimical elements across the border, which is indulging in spreading instability and supporting anti-national elements. Forces along western borders are prepared to counter any military misadventure and retain adequate punitive capabilities. 

Engagement on both the fronts simultaneously would be challenging. However, our armed forces are well poised and disposed to handle both the fronts simultaneously including internal security challenges. While we do so, there would be associated challenges envisaged with respect to operational readiness for a two/two-and-a-half front. We are cognisant of same and striving ahead to make our deterrence credible along both fronts.

Ques. What are the challenges faced by the infantry, artillery, armoured and mechanised forces, air defence, aviation, engineers, and signals in acquiring capabilities that are required to fight a two-front war?

Ans. The Infantry modernisation in the last few years has been very quick. Add to it the impetus to indigenisation, the modernisation is self-sustaining in regard to in-house upgradations, maintenance support and induction of future technologies. The SIG 716 Assault Rifles are replacing the vintage INSAS Rifles of frontline troops. Induction of modern 5.56 x 45mm Close Quarter Battle Carbine is in progress to replace vintage 9mm Carbine. The .338 Cal SAKO TRG 42 Sniper Rifle is giving a major fillip to the long-range precision engagement capability of troops. Induction of AK-203 Assault Rifle through joint production in India is known to all.

The replacement of the fleet by an indigenous platform, Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), is being planned by the defence ministry for a long time. The trials have commenced and the prototypes have shown promise especially in High Altitude areas, however, fructification of the project will take another two to three years.

Indigenous development of Medium Artillery Gun System commenced with the (erstwhile) Ordnance Factory Board undertaking development of Dhanush Gun System based on Transfer of Technology of the 155 mm Bofors in 2011 and the Defence Research and Development Organisation commencing development of 155 mm Advanced Towed Gun System (ATAGS) in Sep. 2012.  Development of ATAGS brought in private industry and the ambit of indigeniation expanded from public sector. The Pinaka, Swathi and K-9 Vajra are live examples of capability of the defence ecosystem.

In the next few years, we will see process of ‘medium’isation of Indian artillery moving forward. We are hopeful of induction of more regiments of 155 mm calibre.  We are looking at developing variety of ammunition for our long-range vectors including guided ammunition for better accuracy. 

In the Mechanised Infantry, a number of new generation equipment are being procured such as Future Infantry Combat Vehicle and wheeled Armoured Fighting Vehicle integrated with niche tech such as mini-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, loiter munition and C-RPAS systems. Comprehensive upgrades of BMP-2s are being planned to enhance its fighting potential.

Major modernisation of Air Defence equipment is planned. We have also initiated Request for Proposal for procuring an indigenous Air Defence gun under the ‘Buy & Make’ (Indian) category.

Ques. What has been the progress on the procurement programmes being currently pursued for each of the arms and services of the Indian Army, and those acquisitions that are part of the future plans, to plug gaps in capabilities required for a two-front war?

Ans. The Indian Army has a multi-pronged approach to capability development. While we are building competencies in employment of unmanned systems, we are developing force protection measures from similar systems of the adversaries. We have tapped into technologies related to Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance, loitering and swarming to counter the adversaries’ threat.

Case for procurement of Assault Rifles and Light Machine Guns (LMGs) have already been concluded and additional quantities for the same are in advanced stages of conclusion of contracts. The LMGs are in the process of being delivered. Induction of AK-203 Assault Rifle through joint production in India is progressing as per desired timelines.

The replacement of the aviation fleet by an indigenous platform, Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) is in the works by Ministry of Defence for a long time. The trials have commenced and the prototypes have shown promise specially in High Altitude Areas, however fructification of the project will take another two to three years.

The modernisation of Artillery is focused on mediumisation of guns and capability enhancement of long-range firing platforms with the aim to increase the range, lethality and precision capabilities. Pinaka, Swathi and K-9 Vajra have been inducted into the Regiment of Artillery – all have been conceptualised, designed and made indigenously.

The process for procurement of Light Tanks has already commenced. The Request for Information has received positive response from 14 Indian and seven foreign vendors. The induction will tentatively happen in a phased manner over a span of three years.

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