Guest Column | Cry of Help

Modernisation of the infantry is being delayed by serious flaws in the procurement procedure

Lt Gen. Rameshwar Yadav (retd)Lt Gen. Rameshwar Yadav (retd)

We have fought five major wars since Independence, besides ongoing insurgencies with complicity of China and Pakistan in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. As a consequence, the enormity of our external as well as internal security matrix prompts a force structure capable of handling multiplicity of military as well non-military contingencies.

Our territorial disputes with China as well as Pakistan lie in vast inhabitable swaths of mountains, high altitude, jungles and riverine terrain. Accordingly, the areas which matter the most for safeguarding territorial integrity fall within the purview of infantry predominant operations alongside all other supporting arms and services.

Moreover, the emerging concept of hybrid warfare has come about as a result of declining window for conventional operations due to nuclear calculus and rise of terrorism world over. It has prompted armies to enhance their capabilities to fight in sub conventional environment with its undefined grey zone operational milieu wherein infantry is best-suited combat element. As a result, besides its primary task of ensuring territorial integrity, the infantry has been the main component of handling the externally-sponsored insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast due to requisite structural inadequacies of the police forces.

Infantry is the mainstay of UN missions and national power projection beyond our shores, facilitating our strategic reach in areas of our geopolitical interests. Besides this, infantry has a leading role in disaster management and disturbed socio-political contingencies. Hence, infantry is the largest and most versatile component of the armed forces in Indian context; therefore, infantry needs to be equipped, trained, maintained and sustained so as to ensure high quality content of the cutting edge of Indian security paradigm.

Taking a cue from western countries fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the project F-INSAS (future infantry soldier as a system) was conceived to modernise the infantry. For the first time a holistic view was taken to bring in synergy in the man-machine mix and cover up much needed technology gap preferably through indigenous route. The focus of the concept was on enhancing lethality of weapons, night enablement, high situational awareness, protection of individual and battlefield mobility. The aim was to equip and train infantrymen capable of operating in a hybrid of conventional, sub conventional and nuclear environment in an integrated manner alongside other arms and services. It required total overhaul of the current weapon and equipment authorised to the infantry.

However, the institutions mandated for R&D and production of weapon and equipment (DRDO, ordinance factories and PSUs) have not been able to meet the requirements of the armed forces to the desired levels resulting in shortfalls. We continue to import almost 70 per cent of our equipment even after seven decades, despite the existence of a huge industrial infrastructure and trained technical manpower. Moreover, the weapon mix from western as well as Russian origin has to be synthesised for their optimal effects in Indian context. It has its own operational mismatches, besides multiplicity of logistical support mechanism resulting in high costs.

The infantry is looking at replacing the current family of small arms (INSAS) with lighter, technologically advanced and more lethal weapons. The scheme for new generation assault rifle with interchangeable barrels for conventional and counter-insurgency roles ran into rough weather after spade work of more than a decade apparently due to noncompliance of GSQRs. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is reported to be developing a similar weapon system but it is yet to clear the mandatory trials and quality assurance tests. Consequent to shelving the previous scheme, the ministry of defence (MoD) has accepted fast track procurement (FTP) of 72,400 assault rifles, 93,895 carbines at a cost of Rs 3,547 crore as an interim measure to be followed subsequently by a separate larger ‘Make in India’ project by the public as well as private sectors.

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