Military capability denotes an integrated and agile combination of trained personnel, mission capable equipment, infrastructure, information systems, organisational structures and processes that can create a military effect in a range of operational contingencies. The ability to achieve a desired effect is defined by combat readiness, sustainable capability and force structure. It also represents combat systems that are held in the inventory and the sophistication of technology in these. Future capability challenges would not only include traditional security challenges, but a host of irregular, catastrophic and even disruptive challenges that will shape choices of countries at strategic crossroads. For a sustained capability to address these challenges in this century, it is critical that a host of capability dimensions are defined and given due consideration during the impending transformation of the Indian Army (IA). These are represented in the schematic diagram below:–
Modernisation of land systems or equipment capability development in specific terms, flows out of a capability development plan which is configured taking into account future requirements of war fighting based on threat environment assessment and adversarial capabilities, lessons learnt during exercises where capability gaps get identified and operational requirements spelt out. As a consequence to this analysis, either a prioritised set of gaps in operational capabilities emerge or it is concluded that no gaps exist. It is important that such analysis is undertaken regularly to identify gaps that pose unacceptable risk to achieving the aims of national and military strategies. Needless to mention, suggested gaps must be linked to operational situations on the ground and the consequences of failing to meet those objectives, clearly spelt out. Once the gaps are identified, solutions and policy approaches to solving or at least mitigating the capability gaps are assessed.
Given below is the sequence of actions needed to create operational capabilities and the preparedness cycle to ascertain capability gaps:–
If the above best practices are adopted, existing combat capability can be sustained in a “Ready to Fight” condition through life, preventing onset of hollowness in a fighting force. It is important to see that the approaches identified to address the gaps include the broadest range of options available with the government and at the tri-service level to meet the requirement. It is also possible that the capability gap can be addressed by policy and non-material approaches. Alternatively, it could lead to identification of either new uses of already fielded systems or fielding of a new equipment/system with differentiating equipment capabilities. One hopes that in the quest for modernisation, such an exercise is being undertaken.
The Capability Problem
Broadly speaking, the-man-and-the-machine combination still remains the principal operating system of the modern battlefield. The classical fire and manoeuver of yesteryears, the basic tactics of infantry are still essential on a conventional battlefield, but in the battles being fought today, information and intelligence have emerged as the new equivalents of fire and manoeuver. It is the era of Special Operations where analysts draw inferences from a huge amount of data; webs are drawn identifying the targets and then Special Operations carried out to neutralise targets. All this needs a great dependence on technology and hence, a distinct shift in equipment capability planning for this century is the need. Equipment capability is defined as the enduring ability of the weapon system to generate a desired operational effect and is relative to the threat, physical environment and contribution of the maintainer.
It is time that available financial resources are set aside for humint, sig int, geo int and mash int tools instead of conventional hardware such as tanks, guns, AD systems as these are not going to add substantially to existing combat capabilities. Traditionally, acquisitions in the Indian context have been mainly attribute-centric, instead of being capability-centric. The focus was on buying a product that had been found acceptable by the military, either to replace an existing in-service system or in some cases, where the military felt that possession of such a system would give it an operational edge over the adversary. As a result, the country ended up with several types of aircraft, tanks, guns, radars and air defence systems in the inventory and platform readiness suffered, as maintenance costs spiraled due to shrinking budgets and vanishing supply chains.
Managing capability through life requires a holistic approach, too often a gap opens up the “do nothing” syndrome resulting in huge hidden and increasing costs. In the Indian context, it is a common sight to see such critical equipment capability gaps due to Age, Usage and Deployment (AUD) effects as well as the absence of an Equipment Readiness work culture i.e. monitoring endurance and initiating resuscitation actions in time. Weapon systems in the inventory are not subjected to formal battle endurance evaluation. There is no formal methodology to measure residual battle endurance (system effectiveness) of in-service weapon systems i.e. ability of a weapon or equipment to do the job for which it was intended and the overall degree of its capability to achieve mission success considering the operational environment. It is taken for granted that any piece of equipment lying at Ambala or Meerut, will perform all planned duty cycles whether it gets deployed in Rajasthan or in Doklam. Some lessons to this effect were thrown up during the war in Kargil and in Op Parakram. Even where gaps get identified, the acquisition process and the prevalent budgetary constraints result in widening operational capability gaps till the planned system gets deployed in adequate numbers.
The figure below amply illustrates the same:–
How then can the vital issue of capability readiness be addressed? One obvious answer is new acquisitions. The existing procedures in India are such that by the time a new acquisition comes to fruition, the acquired system and technology is graduating towards obsolescence in the country of origin. In addition, once deployed in adequate numbers, these systems that have been designed for Northern Europe, throw up reliability and operability issues in the Indian operating environment. It is for this reason that I have always strongly advocated development of systems made in India and for India by the domestic industry. Capability Enhancement Programmes (CEPs) are an effective means to guarantee effectiveness of the existing systems by using the technology insertion or what is commonly referred to as the system upgrade route.
The start point for such an initiative as discussed earlier, is a realistic capability gap analysis undertaken after each war game, exercise or operational alert. Big gains in war fighting effectiveness can be obtained at relatively modest costs by introducing new technologies into existing systems which bolster connectivity, situational awareness or enhance mobility, durability, firepower, survivability and other key performance parameters. Most weapon systems will not throw up operability and reliability issues, till these are operated in accordance with operational tempos of actual combat operations i.e. duty cycles likely to be encountered in combat. If an Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) is to traverse a distance of 30 to 40 kilometres starting at 15,000ft and reach higher altitudes to commence war fighting, it must actually be subjected to such a mission. If a Medium Machine Gun (MMG) is expected to fire 2,000 rounds per day for a combat pulse of seven to ten days, it should be subjected to such a mission to evaluate its durability and options available if it fails mid-way through the mission. If such a realistic gap analysis is done with respect to Equipment Capability, operational capability gaps can be identified and addressed. If the upgrade route can fill the capability gap, it needs to be taken up instantly under the aegis of the Army Design Bureau or the Directorate of Indigenisation with active industry participation.
Getting the desired battle endurance in the mountains with consistent reliability is a major problem. Whether it is a soldier system or a gun or tank, major reliability issues have been noticed whenever these weapons have been used for tasks with high operational tempos. For the first time, designers learnt that even radars could face reliability issues when operated in high altitude areas, as a sequel to deployment of the American ANTPQ 37 in mountains. Similarly, tank engines repeatedly throw up reliability issues in mountains, putting a question mark on fleet readiness.
A well-planned CEP could fill such capability gaps as well as extend the service life of the system at affordable cost. Sadly, this approach has not been comprehensively considered by our planners and there seems to be a race by individual line directorates to acquire new systems without any thought given to integrated capability readiness of the fighting force per se or its impact on the modernisation budget. Our acquisition process wherein ‘first past the post’ principle generally comes to fruition, greatly contributes to this state. With the ushering in of the Integrated Battle Groups (IBG), it will be futile if the IBG as a whole does not possess an integrated operational capability. I recall the words of General Sunderji in the 1980s, when he used to repeatedly emphasize on the ability of each element of the manoeuver force to possess matching mobility. This focus enabled a 360-degree modernisation of formations providing a distinct cutting edge to the strike elements.
To amplify the cost effectiveness of the CEP methodology, I will bring out the history of development and upgrades in respect of the M1 Abrams tank which is projected to serve the US Army till 2050. The M1 was developed in the 1970s and entered service in 1980. Since then, based on operational requirements, a number of improvements were done through the upgrade route and improved versions such as the M1A1, M1A2, M1A2SEP were rolled out. While it is planned to retain the M1A1 till 2021, M1A2s are to be retained beyond 2050. A lighter version with the same protection levels, the M1A3 is under development as also the M1A2SEPv4. It can be seen that even the richest country in the world has considered it prudent to adopt the technology insertion route to retain an operational edge rather than going in for a new system.
In the late 1990s, the cost of an M1 had touched five million dollars. In the same period, the Indian Army had operated four battle tanks viz T55, T72, T90 and Arjun. RFI for the Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV) was issued in November 2017, to replace the T72s. As a consequence of operating such a large variety of AFVs, fleet readiness has been below par and systems unreliable. A planned CEP can still be initiated to make the fleet contemporary and fully mission capable, enabling these machines to be retained in service beyond 2050. The money saved can be used to induct systems incorporating next generation cross-cutting technologies that will give the Indian Army a distinct operational edge over the adversaries in multiple domains. A similar approach can be adopted for the ongoing artillery modernisation. The 400-odd Bofors guns are an ideal candidate for a comprehensive systems upgrade, as are the Strella, Tangushka, BRDM, AV 15, AM 50s, WZT3 and VT72. These modernisation initiatives need to be totally indigenous with selected hand holding by foreign partners where necessary. There is no point upgrading systems using foreign vendors as life-cycle readiness costs will spiral. These modernisation programmes can turn out to be highly cost effective, as system upgrades can be carried out at a fraction of the cost of a new system resulting in substantial savings, which could be used for a comprehensive modernisation of the Special Forces and Infantry, particularly with respect to battlefield survivability. Such programmes will lead to wide industry participation as has happened with the Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) BMP mobility upgrade initiative under the DOI, duly supported by the DGMF. This will give a positive spin to creation of a viable defence industrial base with technological capabilities to develop future combat systems.
To elaborate further, it is well known that the 21st century will witness an unprecedented increase in the tempo of operations and high attrition rates. If you stay at one place longer than two or three hours, you will be dead. With enemy drones and sensors constantly on the hunt for targets, force survivability will be a challenge. Combat force self-sufficiency of any manoeuver force will be sine qua non for mission success. It is in this context that the aspect of survivability of the Infantry assumes importance as they are the first responders to any ingress at the IB, LC or LOC. The era of Infantry moving in soft-skinned vehicles such as the Gypsy, 2.5 tonners, Stallions and Tatrasala WW II is over. Infantry in combat, as a part of the IBGs or even in CI/CT operations will need to survive first, reach the intended area of operations and fight. At least STANAG level 2/3 ballistic protection and the ability to defeat IEDs need to be planned. Troops need to be protected from splinters, cluster munitions and IEDs to achieve mission success. Hence the need to include a family of Wheeled Combat Vehicles (WCVs) as an inseparable part of Infantry modernisation has emerged world over. Besides, the need for induction of next generation soldier systems to include personal weapons, weapon sights, anti-tank weapons, surveillance devices, communication and information systems is non-negotiable.
First Responder Vehicles (FRV) – Less Bucks, More Bang
With the defence budget under squeeze, it is important that the planners of the land system modernisation adopt a capability-centric approach rather than allowing individual line directorates to proceed with acquisitions on ‘first past the post’ principle. This becomes relevant as the Army proceeds with the impending creation of the IBGs. A shift from attribute-centric procurement to capability-centric acquisition is the need of the hour and CEPs can provide a cost-effective answer to the growing force hollowness and glacial pace of modernisation. It could also turbo charge the ‘Make in India’ initiative if rolled out with an untrammeled vision and unity of purpose.