By Prasun K. Sengupta
The Indian Army has, since 2002, set in motion several force modernisation programmes (comprising some 800 individual components) that are designed to make its pro-active warfighting strategy a reality — such as those involving new-generation force multipliers like 155mm/52-cal field artillery assets, long-range rocket artillery systems, battlefield utility and light observation helicopters, battlespace management system (BMS), F-INSAS and the tactical communications system (TCS), although they all are still years away from deployment.
In addition, the integral offensive firepower of all existing warfighting formations is being increased exponentially through the large-scale induction of medium altitude long endurance UAVs like the Heron and Searcher 2, anti-armour guided-missiles like the 9M133 Kornet-E, MBDA’s Milan-2T and Raytheon’s FGM-148 Javelin (the latter for special operations forces), all-terrain wheeled armoured recce vehicles, plus batteries of the 214mm Pinaka and 300mm 9K58 Smerch-M multi-barrel rocket launchers, and 290km-range BrahMos Block 2/3 supersonic land attack cruise missiles.
Going hand-in-hand with such projects are efforts by the army to raise an extra two infantry divisions, to add to the two already raised since June 2008 (under the 11th Defence Plan covering the 2007-2012 period), these being the 56 Mountain Division headquartered at Zakhama, Nagaland (and comprising the Dibang-based 46 Brigade and the Lekhapani-based 22 Brigade) under the Dimapur-based III Corps, and 71 Mountain Division in Missamari, Assam (under the Tezpur-based IV Corps). Each of these were raised at a cost of Rs 7 billion which together account for 1,260 officers and 35,011 soldiers. This will be followed by the creation of a field artillery division (army’s fourth), during the 12th Defence Plan (2012-2017), and a new Corps (to be headquartered in Panagarh, in West Bengal). The plan also includes raising two independent mechanised infantry brigades, one in Ladakh (for the Karu-based 3rd Infantry Division) and the other in Uttarkhand.
Yet another transformational component of the army’s ‘Plan 2020’ involves its theatre-wide Strategic Operational Information Dissemination System (ASTROIDS), which will use innovative network-centric solutions (including a satellite-based communications network) for seamless linking of the army’s ground-based battlefield surveillance system (BSS) at the theatre command and operational levels, and the Command, Information & Decision Support System (CIDSS) and the F-INSAS ‘digital soldier’ components at tactical levels.
The first phase of F-INSAS itself will cost more than Rs 25,000 crore. The mammoth programme, which will be implemented in phases, is spread over the 12th, 13th and 14th five-year plans (2012-2027). F-INSAS aims to transform existing foot-soldiers into fully-networked, all-terrain weapon platforms by enhancing their lethality, survivability, mobility, sustainability and situational awareness. F-INSAS is divided into five sub-systems: modular weapons; body armour and individual equipment; weapon sights and hand-held target acquisition devices; communications equipment to make soldiers capable of transmitting and receiving complex voice, data and video systems; and portable computers in the shape of ‘wrist displays’ for soldiers and ‘planning boards’ for tactical commanders. The Army is concurrently examining the global responses to bids for supplying around 44,000 CQB carbines worth Rs 4,500 crore off-the-shelf, plus another 66,000 assault rifles with interchangeable 5.56mm x 45 and 7.62mm x 39 barrels and holographic aiming sights (whose global tender was floated last November), which will be followed by the winning design being subjected to licenced-production by the MoD-owned Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) under an estimated cost of Rs 20,000 crore. The Army is shopping for several thousand tripod-mounted 12.7mm heavy machine guns capable of firing high-explosive, incendiary and armour-piercing rounds.
Going hand-in-hand with such efforts are infrastructure development projects, along India’s northern borders at a budgeted cost Rs 24,312 crore, while upgrades of storage facilities for ammunition will cost an estimated Rs 18,450 crore. Construction of suitable habitat for soldiers deployed in high-altitude areas like Kargil, Siachen-Saltoro Ridge and Ladakh, which includes insulation, dome and fibre-glass shelters, will cost another Rs 6,000 crore. The infrastructure coming up in areas under the army’s Eastern Army Command includes 5,572 permanent defences and bunkers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, as well as helicopter and unmanned aerial vehicle bases at Missamari, Kumbhigram and Lilabari in Assam, all of which are likely to come on stream by 2015 at a cost of Rs 9,243 crore. Also to become available by this time will be 73 all-weather roads, along the LAC, as will the advanced landing grounds (ALG) at Pasighat, Mechuka, Walong, Tuting, Ziro and Vijaynagar and several helipads all in Arunachal Pradesh, plus the reactivated western sector ALGs like Daulat Beg Oldi, Fukche and Nyoma in eastern Ladakh.
On paper, the Indian Army’s six billion dollar Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan appears perfect: acquiring about 3,600 155mm/52-cal towed, motorised and tracked howitzers for 180 of its 220 field artillery regiments, by 2020. Thus far, an unprecedented three rounds of exhaustive field-trials have been conducted by the army on a no-cost no-commitment basis (from 2002 till to date) of various contending 155mm/52-calibre towed howitzers from up to eight original equipment suppliers, including BAE Systems’ FH-77BO5L52 Soltam Systems of Israel’s ATHOS 2052 and ST Kinetics of Singapore IFH-2000 — the three howitzers that came in for in-country field evaluations. The first Request for Proposals (RFP) for 1,580 towed autonomous 155mm/52-cal howitzers was issued in late 2000, for which only BAE Systems’ (formerly Bofors AB) FH-77BO5L52, the South African Denel Land Systems’ G-5 Mk2000, Soltam’s ATHOS 2052 and the IFH-2000 from Singapore’s ST Kinetics responded, and also sent their respective howitzers for competitive mobility and firepower evaluations/trials.
By late 2002, post-Operation Parakram, it was evident that the days of towed autonomous 155mm howitzers were clearly numbered and therefore Army HQ decided to re-issue RFPs for such guns, but this time the number of units required was reduced from 1,580 to 400 (for five Regiments) worth USD 663 million, while retaining the option to order another 1,180 howitzers in future. This time, however, both ST Kinetics and France’s Nexter Systems clearly smelt a rat and decided not to respond to the RFP. Both of them had by then received clear vibes from Army HQ that eventually the FH-77BO5L52 would be selected over Soltam’s ATHOS 2052, with the winner replacing the existing 370 FH-77BO2L39s. And as it turned out, during the subsequent in–country trials in November 2004, the FH-77BO5L52 prevailed over the ATHOS 2052, in terms of several critical reliability and performance parameters.
Despite such clear-cut results, the ministry of defence (MoD) refused to award the contract to BAE Systems and instead proceeded to re-issue RFPs for the third time, to which only BAE Systems and ST Kinetics responded, while Soltam and Denel Land Systems abstained as they were blacklisted by the MoD. By 27 July 2009, however, it was ST Kinetics’ turn to be blacklisted by the MoD and consequently, this round of competitive evaluations too ended abruptly, as by then, it was impossible (as per the MoD’s defence procurement guidelines) to select the FH-77BO5L52, on a single-vendor basis. Prior to that, on July 22 the MoD had issued fresh RFPs for yet another round of competitive evaluations, to which only BAE Systems responded in August 2009. The offer stated that the FH-77BO5L52, if selected, would be licence-built by Defence Land Systems India, a joint venture between BAE Systems and Mahindra Defence Pvt Ltd.
The competing offer this time came from the Defence Research & Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Pune-based Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE), which is proposing that it will be able to deliver a 155mm/45-cal towed howitzer, called Metamorphosis, within 42 months of contract signature. For this to happen, it is proposing to create a consortium of R&D labs and private sector industrial players that will include the Hyderabad-based Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory in Hyderabad, Balasore-based Proof and Experimental Establishment, Chandigarh-based Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory, plus Bharat Forge, TATA Advanced Systems and Larsen & Toubro.
Like the towed 155mm/52-cal howitzer competition, the procurement process of truck-mounted, lightweight, motorised 155mm/52-calibre howitzers too has been delayed. It is widely believed that Army HQ would ideally like to acquire an initial 180 airmobile 155mm/52-cal motorised howitzers, with up to 814 17-tonne motorised howitzers (for 35 Field Artillery Regiments), now known as Mounted Gun Systems, being acquired eventually. The DAC on 19 June 2006 had approved the procurement of the initial 180 motorised howitzers, following which the RFP was issued on 4 February 2008.
Technical and Commercial Offers were received on 23 June 2008 and the first round of in-country firing trials got underway on 27 April 2009, with Konstrukta Defence of Slovakia teamed up with BEML (offering the Zuzana-A1), Rheinmetall Defence of Germany (offering the 48-tonne RWG-52) Nexter Systems’ Caesar being shortlisted for trials, to be held in Rajasthan and Ladakh. In August 2010, RFPs were re-issued for the third time, for which a new entrant — Ashok Leyland Defence Systems Ltd — has teamed up with Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH & Co to offer both the AGM motorised howitzer and its Donar tracked variant.
Another priority acquisition identified by Army HQ is for an initial 145 of up to 400 airmobile ultra-lightweight 155mm/39-calibre howitzers that can be transported underslung by medium-lift helicopters. This type of howitzer is currently available from only two sources — BAE Systems’ LW-155 and ST Kinetics’ Pegasus. The DAC had approved procurement of 145 units of such howitzers worth USD 647 million for equipping six artillery regiments on 19 June 2006. The MoD has since tried to initiate procurement of such howitzers through the direct Foreign Military Sale (FMS) route, with a Letter of Request being issued by the MoD to the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on 19 May 2009, asking for the LW-155.
An Indian Army delegation next visited the US between 9-16 January 2010 for further evaluations of the LW-155. Following this, the DSCA dispatched two 4.2-tonne LW-155s for ‘confirmatory trials’ to India and requested 84 rounds of 155mm ammunition made by the MoD’s Ordnance Factories Board for the purpose. The trials were successfully completed and letters of offer and acceptance are now expected to be exchanged between the MoD and DSCA, following which, a contract will likely be inked without any further delay. Once acquired, such howitzers will be operated in conjunction with all-terrain weapon locating radars, for which the Ericsson-built Arthur WLR mounted on a BAE Systems-built BvS-10 ATV appears to be the best bet. The Arthur had earlier been evaluated in 2004 by the army for deployment over mountainous terrain in Kashmir.
For meeting the army requirement for tracked 155mm/52-cal howitzers, the DAC had on 26 February 2008 approved the acquisition process, following which the army issued an RFP on 29 August 2008 for an initial 100 units. Though 11 manufacturers had responded to the RFP, only Rheinmetall Defence had submitted a technical and commercial offer of its RTG-52 system, thereby, leading to a single-vendor situation, following which the evaluation process was cancelled. The Army consequently amended its General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) and issued a fresh RFP, for which Rheinmetall Defence has re-entered the fray along with the K-9 Thunder from South Korea’s Samsung Techwin, while a consortium of Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and General Dynamics European Land Systems teamed up with Ashok Leyland defence which is proposing the Donar system.
In addition to 155mm howitzers, the Indian Army is also in the market for 155mm ammunition and their bi-modular charges and has invited information from global contractors for GPS-guided 155mm rounds containing sensor-fused munitions (SFMs), to add to the 10,000 rounds of Krasnopol-M KM-2 laser-guided 155mm projectiles, already supplied by Russia’s Tula-based KBP Instrument Design Bureau. Likely to be offered are the M982 Excalibur round from Raytheon Missile Systems and BAE Systems, and the SMArt round made by GIWS, a joint venture of Rheinmetall Defence and Diehl. Also on the anvil are plans to order up to 41 ‘Swathi’ weapon locating radars from Bharat Electronics Ltd.
By the late Nineties, when it came to the planned procurement of 1,657 T-90s (to replace the 1,781 T-55 and T-72M MBTs in a phased manner), it was decided to adopt a product block developmental approach, similar to what by then was being planned for the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Su-30MKI procurement exercise. Consequently, in February 2001, India bought its first batch of 310 47.5-tonne 47.5-tonne T-90S main battle tank (MBT) worth USD 795 million, of which, 124 were delivered off-the-shelf, 86 in semi-knocked down kits for licenced-assembly by the MoD-owned Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) in Avadi, and 100, in completely-knocked down kits (all these MBTs were retrofitted with Saab’s IDAS radar/laser warning system and LEDS-150 active protection system, or APS, worth Rs 25 billion between 2009 and 2011).
This was followed by a follow-on contract, worth USD 800 million (or Rs 175 million per unit), being inked on 26 October 2006, for another 330 T-90M MBTs that were to be built with locally-sourced raw materials and also come fitted with LEDS-150 APS. The third contract, worth USD 1.23 billion (which was inclusive of the R&D funds required for designing a customised version of the T-90 — the 50-tonne T-90AM), was inked in December 2007 for 347 upgraded T-90Ms, which are now being licence-built by HVF. These T-90Ms, each come with a THALES-built Catherine-FC thermal imager (operating in the 8-12 micron bandwidth and housed within the Peleng-built 1G-46 gunner’s sight), the commander’s panoramic sight, an automatic gearbox, an electro-hydraulic turret-drive-cum stabilisation system, and most has a 2A46M-2 Rapira smoothbore cannon. Concurrently, the army has decided to order 124 Mark 1A versions of the DRDO-developed Arjun Mk1 MBT, 124 of which are now in delivery. The army’s future plans include upgrading its first 310 T-90S MBTs into the T-90AM standard, and also import as many as 600 T-90AMs directly from Russia’s Uralvagonzavod JSC.
Going hand-in-hand with such force on-going modernisation programmes are efforts aimed at acquiring 200 wheeled light tanks and 100 tracked tanks. An RFI was issued to prospective vendors in October 2009 in which Army HQ stated its intention to acquire such tanks for effective employability in high-altitude areas and mountainous terrain, as well as in, the deserts and urban and semi-urban terrain. In addition, they are more effective in areas like paddy fields, water-logged terrain, sand and marshy ground, where the ground pressure is very low.
And most importantly, from a logistics and cross-country transportation standpoint, Army HQ believes that such tanks, weighing between 16 tonnes and 28 tonnes, can be easily transported to high-altitude areas in Ladakh or the North-East by road or air. It is believed that of all the respondents to the RFI, four proposals — from Italy’s CONSORZIO IVECO FIAT-OTO MELARA (offering the Centauro 8x8 equipped with a HITFACT turret housing a 120mm low-recoil smoothbore cannon), from US-based General Dynamics Land Systems (proposing both the M-1128 Stryker 8x8 Mobile Gun System armed with a 105mm cannon, and the Pandur 8x8 armed with a HITFACT turret housing a 105mm cannon), and from BAE Systems (proposing the CV90-120 tracked tank armed with a 120mm smoothbore cannon) — are being looked at with utmost seriousness. In a parallel move, the army has embarked upon an ambitious plan for upgrading its existing BMP-2K infantry combat vehicles by retrofitting a few hundred of them with the ‘Kliver’ integrated turret sourced from Russia.
MANPADS & ATGM Needs
For meeting the pedestal-mounted manportable air defence system (MANPADS) requirements for the armed forces, the MoD late last year floated global tenders calling for the off-the-shelf multi-batch supply of MANPADS worth an estimated USD 1.28 billion over the next five years. In the first batch, 5,185 missiles will be procured along with 200 launchers for all three armed services as replacements for the existing inventory of 9K38 Igla-1/Igla-S MANPADS, which were acquired throughout the Nineties from Russia’s Kolomna-based KB Mashinostroyeniya (KBM). Bidding to fulfill this requirement are five vendors: THALES Air Defence (offering the Starstreak HVM), South Korea’s LIG Nex1 Co (offering the Chiron), Saab Bofors Dynamics (offering the RBS-70 Mk2 Bolide, MBDA (offering the Mistral-Stlas) and Russia’s Rosoboronexport State Corp teamed up with KBM offering the Dzhigit version of the Igla-S.
To enable the Army’s armed air-assault helicopters (like the HAL-built Rudra) and light observation helicopters (for which Eurocopter’s AS.550C3 Fennec & Russia’s Ka-226 have been shortlisted), and the IAF’s HAL-developed Light Combat Helicopters to engage stationary and moving targets from standoff distances, Germany-based MBDA Deutschland and Israel’s RAFAEL Advanced Defence Systems have developing competing solutions, both of which are now being offered to the Indian Army and the IAF. MBDA’s PARS-3LR anti-armour guided-missile system (ATGM) has been shortlisted for arming both the Indian Army’s future Dhruv Mk4 helicopter acquisitions, as well as the IAF’s to-be-acquired fleet of heavy attack helicopters and light combat helicopters. Competing against the PARS-3LR is the Spike-ER from RAFAEL. Efforts are also underway to enhance the inventory of infantry-launched and ICV-launched anti-armour guided-missiles. Though the Army has an authorised holding of 81,206 ATGMs, not even half that number is present in its inventory. To arrest this situation, the army has ordered 4,100 MBDA-developed Milan-2T missiles, 15,000 Konkurs-M missiles, plus more than 2,000 9M133 Kornet-E missiles, and in future plans to procure a few thousand Raytheon-built FGM-148 Javelins.
The Army is ordering for up to nine Regiments of Akash Mk1 E-SHORADS, valued at Rs 125 billion (USD 2.8 billion), approval for which was obtained in June 2010 from the MoD’s the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC). The MoD on March 17 this year cleared the induction of an initial two Akash Mk1 Regiments valued at Rs 14.18 billion each with six Batteries. When inducted into service by the army, the Akash Mk1 is expected to replace the existing 27-year-old NIIP 2K12 Kub/Kvadrat medium-range surface-to-air missile (MR-SAM) systems. The Army-specific variant of the Akash Mk1’s missile launcher and the Rajendra PESA radar will all make use of the hull of a T-72M main battle tank in order to achieve superior cross-country mobility.
The DRDO is now developing the Akash’s Mk2 variant, which will commence its flight-test regime next year. Running in parallel are efforts by the army to replace existing inventories of OSA-AKM and ZRK-BD Strela-10M SHORADS with the RAFAEL of Israel’s Spyder-SR system. The Army refers to the Spyder-SR as a quick-reaction surface-to-air missile (QR-SAM). The Army received the green light to procure four regiments of the Spyder-SR in August 2009, and the USD 900 million contract was inked later that year.
A Spyder-SR battery includes up to six missile launch vehicles (each equipped with four missile launchers), missile reloaders and a command-and-control Unit that also accommodates the IAI/ELTA Systems-built EL/M-2106NG ATAR 3-D surveillance radar and two operating consoles. Also underway are efforts to upgrade and enhance the firepower of the Army’s Corps of Air Defence Artillery by upgrading the fire-control system of 48 ZSU-23-4 Schilka self-propelled air-defence guns (this work being done by BEL teamed up with IAI/ELTA). Once this is achieved, the Schilkas will complement the thirty-six 2S6 Tunguska-M1 gun/missile-equipped self-propelled air-defence guns, 12 of which were acquired in 1993, followed by 24 more worth USD 400 million, in 2006.
At the same time, both the army and IAF have zeroed in on the Rheinmetall Defence-built Skyranger 35mm gun, which can be mounted on lightweight wheeled or tracked armored vehicles. For the army, the Skyranger turret will be mounted on the hull of a BMP-2 infantry combat vehicle. The unmanned turret comes equipped with a 35mm revolver gun, which has a dual feeding system to give the operator the choice of two types of ammunition. This air-defence system is optimised to fire AHEAD (advanced hit efficiency and destruction) self-programming ammunition.
The Army is accelerating its induction plans for the ground-launched 290km-range BrahMos supersonic land-attack missile (optimised for top-attack over mountainous terrain), and the 150km-range Prahaar (to strike) quick-reaction, vertically launched surface-to-surface non-line-of-sight battlefield support missile (NLOS-BSM) — developed by the DRDO’s Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL). Induction of these two weapons is a critical component of the Indian Army’s on-going transformational efforts aimed at acquiring precision-guided munitions (PGM) that would provide responsive, long-range lateral supporting fire-assaults as well as shape the theatre-based battlespace for ensuring the conditions for decisive victories.
The BrahMos Block 2 missile (with its range and cruise altitude capped at 290km and 13km, respectively, in order for Russia to adhere to the missile technology control regime guidelines) is presently being acquired to equip three missile artillery regiments that form part of the ORBATs of the Indian Army’s three dedicated Artillery Divisions — 40, 41 and 42. Each BrahMos Block 2 Regiment comprises three Batteries each with four mobile autonomous launchers or MAL (each with three vertically-launched missiles), three mobile command posts (MCP), one fixed command centre, nine missile replenishment vehicles, and three maintenance support vehicles. Each Regiment can fire 36 BrahMos Block 2 missiles against different targets (like interior and exterior lines of communication and transportation nodes) within seconds over a frontage of 600km. All BrahMos and Prahaar regiments will be supported by a ‘Track and wheel-based EW system’ (TWBEWS), for which a Rs 180 billion R&D contract was reportedly been won by Tata Power’s Strategic Electronics Division.
The Army has mandated the bulk procurement of both the BrahMos Block 2 (and the projected Block 3) and Prahaar PGMs for four principal reasons: First, there’s the need to replace the existing stocks of liquid-fuelled Prithvi-1 SS-150 BSMs that have far outlived their utility. Second, during a future round of all-out hostilities (which are likely to be of limited duration, not lasting more than two weeks), the army wants to reduce its traditional reliance on the IAF, as much as possible, for close air support and tactical battlespace interdiction, during the first 72 hours and wants to acquire its own integral ground-launched firepower assets, that are available on demand under all weather conditions.
This, in turn, will free the IAF to realise its larger objective of shaping the multi-theatre battlespace by decapitating the enemy’s tactical airpower through relentless offensive air superiority and counter-base air campaigns. Third, the army wants to compensate for its debilitating present-day lack of new-generation tube artillery assets (like 155mm/52-cal howitzers of the towed, tracked and motorised varieties) by acquiring precision-guided NLOS-BSMs that are easily transportable by road and railways, have minimal visual and electromagnetic signatures and a small deployment footprint, and are therefore easily moved and hidden.
Fourth, post-OP Parakram (the 10-month eyeball-to-eyeball standoff with Pakistan starting December 2001), Army HQ, while in the process of conceptualising its future warfighting doctrines, plus the strategies and tactics required for waging ‘hyperwar’ or multi-dimensional parallel warfare, had projected a requirement for quick-reaction NLOS-PGMs that would be employed for both the tactical and operational levels of war, meaning such weapons would no longer will be solely a Corps-level deep (operational) fire-assault asset, but they would also be employed by combined arms brigade-sized battle groups at the close combat (tactical) level. The need therefore was for PGMs with increased range and accuracy for providing destructive, protective/suppressive and special-purpose fire-assaults, thereby maximising lethality and minimising collateral damage all along the close, deep and rear operational spectrums of the non-linear and non-contiguous AirLand battlespace. In other words, what the army wanted was adoption of a warfighting posture in which tactical- and operational-level fire-assaults and manoeuvre warfare would be complementary elements, thereby enabling the ground forces commander to rapidly suppress and destroy hostile forces and restrict the enemy’s ability to counter friendly actions by mobilising and marshalling its operational reserves, thereby, setting the stage for successful manoeuvre warfare operations.
Friendly formations could thus use manoeuvre to dislocate or isolate enemy units, while rocket artillery-based fire-assaults fires could achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiency. While one without the other would lessen the chances of success, combined, they would make destroying larger enemy forces feasible and enhance the protection of friendly forces. In addition, asymmetric threats in built-up areas would dictate the use of immediately responsive and continuously available fire-assaults in all types of terrain and weather against time-sensitive targets without fear of collateral damage.