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FEBRUARY 2014 ISSUE

Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
Foot Soldiers of the Future
Complete modernisation of the infantry is still a pipe dream
 
Lt Gen. Mukesh Sabharwal (retd)
By Lt Gen. Mukesh Sabharwal (retd)

Yes, we have the Agni and the Prithvi, we even have the refurbished aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya as also the C-17 Globemasters. But what make headlines on a regular basis are the ceasefire violations and standoffs on the Line of Control (LC) or the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with Pakistan and China respectively. The infantry solider in Jammu and Kashmir and Northeast India is also engaged in battling terrorists and insurgents on a daily basis. Yet, where is the modern assault rifle or the carbine that is the basic personal weapon of the infantry man, one often questions.

Nature of Conflict and Projections
Many believe that wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have rendered large conventional armies irrelevant. An expert like John Arquilla has commented that the greatest problem traditional militaries face today is that they are organised to wage big wars and have difficulty orienting themselves to fight small ones. It’s worth appreciating the nature of conflict in the Indian context.

Keeping the two main adversaries Pakistan and China in view, it is evident that the conflict is likely to be a conventional one, possibly under a nuclear backdrop and most probably fought in mountainous terrain. Unfortunately, the armed forces spurred by the thought process in the ministries of defence and home often lend support to the belief that internal security is paramount and hence, the focus shifts away from preparing for an obvious conventional conflict, which is its primary task, to counter terrorist operations. Either way with an active LC and a tense LAC, it is a no-brainer that the infantry will remain the predominant arm in the future and it is mandatory to modernise it on priority.

F-INSAS or the Futuristic Infantry Solider as a System is the Indian Army’s programme designed to modernise the infantry. It aims at efficient application of military technology to provide the soldier the wherewithal to operate across the full spectrum of conflict. To be implemented over the next three Five Year plans, the programme is to be completed in phases, starting with limited technology trials by 2017, a pilot project to equip up to a dozen infantry battalions by 2020. The remainder 350 odd battalions are planned to be upgraded by 2025 and full integration into a net centric warfare mode by 2027.

The adage of preparing for the next war and not be bogged down by the previous one is well known. However, we need to guard against focusing only for the future as part of the army vision. What about the current battles that only the infantry fights on a daily basis? As part of Mod 4B, the Indian infantry took a step forward. Unfortunately, the process took over two decades to fructify, albeit neither fully nor in its originally intended mode.

In India, scaling is always a major impediment given the size of the army and especially the infantry. Constraints of budgeting, time required for production and ensuring acceptable serviceability tend to slow down the process of introducing a product into service. The government’s decision of raising a mountain corps not only means additional 40-50,000 manpower but also involves a matching number of weapons and equipment to be catered for.
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