Interview | Chief of Army Staff General M.M. Naravane PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, ADC

We Have Identified Niche Technologies of the Future — AI, Block Chain, Quantum Computing, Military Applications of 5G — That Will Enable us to Lead Disruptions in the Strategic-Military Domain

How will the appointment of CDS affect the procurement channel for capital acquisition, modernisation, upgrades of equipment, ammunition and spares procurement?

The appointment of the CDS and the creation of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), together, are a welcome step (prospective game changers) to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Indian defence and military system, as a whole. The remit of the CDS in terms of jointness and integration is comprehensive and all encompassing. As such, from doctrinal calibration (threats, opportunities and the wars that we will fight) to prioritisation of combat acquisitions in accordance with the budgetary envelope as also the structuring of plans (Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP), Defence Capital Acquisition Plan (DCAP) and Annual Acquisition Plans (AAPs) will now hopefully see a precise delivery schedule of combat capacities, manifesting as per designated timelines.

Consequent to the recent Cabinet Notification, procurement exclusive to the services except capital acquisitions, is now the mandate of the Department of Military Affairs. The entire Master General of Ordnance (MGO) functions including spares for a wide range of communications, air defence, armour, artillery and infantry equipment, a number of grades of ammunition, clothing, footwear, headgear, bullet proofing, aviation rotables, supply dropping, power packaging, warehousing, engineering plant, vehicles and other equipment will now be the remit of the CDS and DMA. In consequence, we will witness greater speed and delivery in the inventorisation of combat capacities.

Coupled with a shorter bureaucratic chain, the advantage of military specialists handling requisite processes in the DMA is bound to significantly streamline procurement and delivery. Since the CDS is responsible for indigenisation, the flagship ‘Make in India’ initiative will also get added impetus. In sum therefore, the CDS and DMA will impact acquisitions and procurements favourably, in a huge way, in a positive manner.

It would be prudent to add, that the role of the Defence Secretary and the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) remains undiluted. It is, in fact, greater civil-military synergy that will ensure better delivery and I am very positive about it.


To what extent have budgetary constraints affected Army’s Perspective Plan? How are you prioritising procurements in the short and the medium term?

Our primary responsibility is maintaining operational readiness, which amongst other factors is also a function of budgetary allocations. Over the last couple of years therefore, we have carefully aligned our capability and capacity building to the budgetary envelope. We are also in the process of re-balancing and re-prioritising and taking additional measures by way of structural and cost optimisation to ensure financial prudence.

The Indian Army has a well thought-through framework in place to optimise our defence planning and preparedness. It commences with identifying threats to national security and preparation of suitable plans to address them in consonance with the defence minister’s Operational Directive. We thereafter carry out a threat analysis vis-a-vis potential competitors and adversaries and their capabilities, as also our combat needs to counter the same. In addition, we also carry out a scan of the emerging technologies in the field of defence and identify those which are relevant in the Indian context.

In consequence, a Long Term Perspective Plan (LTPP) is evolved which in essence spells out desired capabilities, which the service aspires to achieve over a 15-year period. The LTPP covers three Plan periods of five years each, with the first Plan period comprising ‘detailed’ prioritised procurements in the medium term, the next Plan period being ‘indicative’ and the last Plan period being ‘tentative’. So, in effect, the ‘tentative’ transits to the ‘indicative’ and finally culminates in the ‘detailed’. Each Army Plan further comprises two-year roll on Annual Acquisition Plans based on prioritised procurements in the short term. Our plans also cater to the changing situation, they are not cast in stone — there are provisions and mechanisms to ensure necessary agility, to meet changing threats.


How far has the case for Apaches progressed?

Ownership of Attack helicopter platforms for future inductions was transferred to the Indian Army by the government of India in 2012. ‘In Principle Approval’ of the defence minister exists for three attack helicopters (AH) squadrons, based on which procurement of 28 Apache helicopters including six for Indian Army was initiated in August 2017.

Preparation for induction of AH platforms into Army Aviation is underway with Army Aviation pilots undergoing cross attachment with existing Indian Air Force (IAF) Attack Helicopters units. Concurrently, preparation of infrastructure and selection of aircrew to absorb these platforms is also underway.


What measures is the army taking to marry legacy equipment with new inductions?

The percentages of legacy, modern and state-of-the-art weapons in an army’s inventory, based on a number of Indian Army’s inventories is 30:40:30 (Vintage: Current: State of the Art respectively). The replacement of Legacy equipment with Current and State of Art equipment is an ongoing process. Contemporary technologies available, as also the capabilities desired, necessitate new inductions in consonance with the budgetary envelope. Accordingly, upgrades, refurbishments, life extensions, sustenance and maintenance support of legacy equipment are being planned regularly to cater for the complete ‘Life Cycle’, till replacement by New Generation equipment occurs.

We have also identified certain low hanging technologies which we are in the process of inducting into our formations with speed. As far as niche and emerging technologies with a disruptive impact on the battle space is concerned, we are in conversation with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), academia and industry to develop and field the same.


FORCE editor Pravin Sawhney in conversation with the COAS General Manoj Mukund Naravane at South Block


One of the factors that is often cited as the cause for slow progress in army modernisation is that the service is unable to finalise its GSQRs, that it keeps changing the specification. How far is this allegation correct and what is the way out? How can you support the development cycle of a system while keeping abreast with the emerging technologies?

A structured and streamlined procedure exists for formulation of GSQRs. The evolution of a robust and viable QR involves several iterations and incorporation of collegiate views of multiple agencies in order that the solution arrived at is the best in terms of meeting operational needs. We are taking steps to ensure that the GSQR formulation is pragmatic and realistic and not an unviable wish list. Once a GSQR is finalised no change in the QRs is ordinarily permitted.

As far as design and development projects are concerned, support for the development cycle while keeping abreast with emerging technologies is ensured through formulation of Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQRs) which specify the Essential Parameters based on proven technology and Desirable Parameters based on emerging technologies. Based on PSQR, the design and development of the prototype is carried out. Continuous support and feedback from the users are incorporated and technological upgrades incorporated before the PSQR is frozen and converted to a GSQR.

Over the last three years, no procurement proposal has fallen on account of inadequacies in GSQR formulation. Our GSQR formulation methodology, therefore, has evolved considerably over the years and is now very mature and robust.


How is the Army Design Bureau (ADB) evolving? What was the idea behind it and what has been achieved so far? How closely are you working with the DRDO and the DPSUs? What are the targets for 2020?

The ADB was established on 31 August 2016. The role of the ADB is to facilitate research and development as also to give a fillip to indigenisation. Through an intensive outreach campaign, we have engaged with IITs, regional engineering colleges, start-ups, innovators, industry fora, MSMEs, DRDO and DPSUs in a proactive and transparent manner to establish a ‘technology connect’. We have organised field visits, operational firings, seminars, one to one discussion in addition to making available our ranges and labs and handholding in every possible way to develop an understanding of mutual needs — our aspirations, industry and capability to realistically deliver. The aim is to create a uniquely Indian defence eco-system while leveraging the attributes of all stakeholders.


Achievements of ADB

Make II Cases: Chapter on ‘Make’ was introduced in the DPP 2016 to give an impetus to the Indian industry under the flagship, ‘Make in India’ programme. The process was further streamlined and simplified through introduction of Chapter IIIA in Jun 18. Currently, a total of 30 projects are being progressed.

Army Technology Board (ATB): The ATB enables research and development efforts in accordance with the operational needs of the Indian Army. A total of 13 ATB projects are at various stages of process or development.

Technology Demonstrator Fund (TDF): TDF has been launched by the government for giving impetus to research and development projects beyond the proof of concept stage. A total of 16 projects are in progress.

iDEX: The iDEX platform was created in 2018 to foster innovation and encourage technology development in defence and aerospace. A total of 12 Indian innovators and start-ups have been identified for further progressing of cases. Of these, contracts with eight innovators have been signed for prototype development. The remainder four are being considered for development under provisions of the ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ scheme and contract negotiation is under process by MoD through the Defence Innovation Organisation (DIO).


Co-ordination with DRDO & DPSUs

ADB has been closely working with DRDO for various projects. A total of 47 projects are being undertaken in Mission Mode by DRDO for the Indian Army. Of these, 30 projects have been granted AoN and 17 projects are at pre-AoN stage. ADB is interacting closely with the Department of Defence Production and DPSUs to meet various technological needs of the Indian Army.


Target for 2020

We have identified numerous low hang technologies which we wish to induct quickly into our units and formations. These are counter drone, augmented and virtual reality, bullet proofing, loiter munitions, directed energy platforms, etc. In these domains, we are hand holding and even funding research, through projects like the Army Technology Board and the Technology Demonstration Fund.


Emerging Domains/ Technological Disruptions

We have also, in concert with DRDO, identified technologies that we need to leapfrog into; niche technologies of the future — AI, Block Chain, Quantum Computing, Military Applications of 5G etc., — those that will enable us to lead disruptions in the strategic-military domain and thereby shape and restructure the very battle space. We are developing centres of excellence as also identifying use cases to be progressed further in these technologies.


In terms of ‘Make in India’, what technologies does the army think it can collaborate in developing with the industry?

Some of the technologies that we have identified for development as part of ‘Make In India’ are: Individual Protection Systems with Inbuilt Sensors, Augmented Reality (AR) based Head Mounted Display Systems, 3rd Generation ATGMs, High Altitude Logistic Delivery Drones, Loiter ammunition, Course Correction Fuzes, GPS and GIS based Minefield Recording System, Software Defined Radios, Night Imaging Systems, Power Management Systems and Carbon Fibre Winding.


What is the update on the non-platform areas like BMS, NCW, Communications and cyber security?

The Indian Army has made rapid strides in moving from a platform-centric era to network-enabled organisation and is now heading towards a network-centric environment. Current networks like Army One network including the Army Data Network (ADN) have helped us in achieving this move towards Network Enabled Operations. This has immensely helped us in all our operational endeavours and continues to provide critical linkages between the sensors, shooters and decision makers.

Towards realising true network centricity, major initiatives are underway such as rolling out of an Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) based next generation Internet protocol (IP) network called Project network for spectrum (NFS) which is at an advance stage of implementation. This network will provide connectivity to all our entities in the hinterland and forward areas. However, areas in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA) close to the international boundary (IB), Line of Control (LC) or Line of Actual Control (LAC) would be connected through another initiative of ours, Project ASCON Ph IV.

To ensure asynchronous time and space operations, we are also going in for regional and central data centres. These data centres will ensure archiving of critical sensor, geo spatial and operational data and enable use of other contemporary technologies such as Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). This will usher in shared situational awareness and common operating Picture (COP) to commanders on ground as well as immensely help in self-synchronisation of the entities in the TBA.

To ensure end-to-end security of our Critical Information Infrastructure (CII) we have gone in for a mix of software and hardware encryption by way of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) for all users of ADN and Terminal End Secrecy Devices (TESD) for operationally important subscribers besides other secrecy devices such as Multi Capacity Encryption Units (MCEUs) and IP Encryptors for network level encryption.

Above initiatives along with mobile and portable satellite terminals software defined radios (SDRs) and cellular connectivity along the valleys in the northern borders will ensure information superiority and also information dominance by our forces in areas of reckoning which would help commanders at all levels in enhancing their battlefield potential and war waging efforts.


Can you give a brief overview of modernisation in the following arms: Infantry, Artillery, Armour, Army Aviation and Air Defence?

As far as Infantry is concerned, a contract for procurement of 72,400 assault rifles for frontline troops has been concluded, of which 10,000 weapons have been delivered. Scheme for CQB Carbine for immediate requirement of 93,895 carbines under FTP is at advance stage of procurement. For balance requirement, case is in progress separately. Scheme for procurement of 16,479 LMGs under Fast Track Procedure (FTP) is at CFA approval stage. To address the requirements of Infantry Battalions in high altitude areas, Mini RPAs (High Altitude) with capability of employment in HAA & a minimum range of 10 km are also under procurement. 1,58,279 Ballistic helmets and 1,86,138 BPPs are being procured. The above by no means is an exhaustive list.

Artillery: The focus of the Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan is the ‘medium’isation of the artillery i.e. to make the 155mm calibre as the standard gun system. The modernisation plan also focuses on the rocket system and radars present in the inventory. The indigenously developed Weapons Locating Radar (SWATHI) and Pinaka Rocket System have been inducted into Artillery. Thrust has also been towards giving impetus to indigenisation & self-sufficiency of the Indian defence industry, aligning the modernization plan with the budget allocated.

Armour: The BMP-2 platform is fully indigenised except for secondary armament and radio set. The environment thus created can sustain BMP-2 till the time a replacement platform is inducted. To tackle the obsolescence due to technological advancement, major upgrades are planned and are under trial at various locations. MBT Arjun has met the operational requirements of the Indian Army. DRDO has further upgraded the tank and the new Arjun Mk-1A tanks being inducted into the army will incorporate these upgrades. Some of the major upgrades including the Commander’s Panoramic Sight, Mine Ploughs for mobility, Explosive Reactive Armour panels and a Laser Warning and Counter Measure system.

Army Aviation: The process for procurement of Reconnaissance & Surveillance Helicopter (RSH) to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleet has been on-going since 2001. In the interest of operational urgency and to meet the emergent requirement, DAC on 13 May 2015 directed that 200 KA 226T (135 for the army and 65 for the Indian Air Force) helicopters be procured from Russia through an Inter-Govermental Agreement.

Air Defence: Air Defence Fire Control Radar (Global) contract was signed in 2018 & delivery of these is likely to commence shortly. In addition, DRDO has been developed the Air Defence Fire Control Radar (Indigenous) & Air Defence Tactical Control Radar (Indigenous) in order to replace vintage systems. These projects are likely to fructify by 2021. Contract for Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM) has been concluded in 2017. The equipment will enhance medium range air defence capability of Army Air Defence. The equipment will be delivered by 2023. Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS), Self Propelled Air Defence Gun Missile System, Improved Akash Weapon System & Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missile are some of the equipment under procurement to modernise Army Air Defence.


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