It is important to note that in 21st century conflict situations not only will operations be increasingly inter-agency involving greater applications of ‘all elements of national power’, but our adversaries will also endeavour to employ hi-tech irregular forces against us. If we can achieve soldier modernisation within the Security Sector and network this cutting edge at the national level, we can be sure to win future conflict situations. Modernisation of the infantry has not been given its due in past decades. This must be treated as an ‘emergent’ requirement in consideration of the emerging threats within and surrounding the country especially considering the rate at which terrorists are achieving sophistication.
Advancements in science and technology are converting fiction to reality. This, coupled with advent of space wars, cyber, laser, plasma, electro-magnetic and precision guided munitions tend to make armies forget the infantryman – big ticket weapon systems overshadowing the cutting edge foot soldier. Having invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, US forces discovered this and underwent course correction post an army level study focused on this very issue.
Advancements in science and technology are converting fiction to reality…
The fact is that right from the advent of warfare to the present and beyond, the importance of the infantryman can hardly be overemphasized, no matter what advances in robotics are made in the distant future. The man behind the machine will continue to be important. Conflict situations such as terrorism, asymmetric and fourth generation wars have heightened this importance.
When the Indian Army introduced Modification 4B for the Infantry a decade and a half back, it was based on previous studies/reports incorporating operational experience with particular reference to fire power, surveillance, communications and night capability. However, the completion of this modification pan infantry took many decades because of the advent of insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir that sucked in bulk of this equipment. Then there was the added requirement of equipping the Rashtriya Rifles battalions also with such equipment since these units were permanently deployed in counter-insurgency environment. Resultantly, just about three-four years ago, Modification 4B has been fully implemented in all infantry units. Here again, the scaling for equipment like night surveillance equipment required much to be desired. Over the years, the requirements of survivability in counter-insurgency and counter terrorism, mobility, mine/Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) handling and battlefield management also have acquired heightened focus.
Today’s conflict situations require a transformed soldier capable of dealing with hi-tech war that will be short and intense plus contending with fleeting opportunities including by terrorists/non-state actors/state sponsored non-state actors, who are getting more and more sophisticated. The infantryman must be a man-machine-technology mix, a weapon platform with adequate firepower, self-protection, night fighting capability and mobility. He should have the ability to ‘see’ the enemy much before he himself gets spotted and be networked to the required level, enabling him to effectively respond to any situation in or near real time.
Unfortunately, there is little to talk of indigenous R&D in equipping the infantry soldier. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) record in this context has actually been abysmal to say the least. The 5.56 INSAS rifle developed after an excruciatingly long period of 15 years was hardly comparable to modern assault rifles. With continuing faults, the government has finally approved import of some 66,000 assault rifles for the infantry, plus some 44,000 carbines amongst other items. Assault Rifle apart, the DRDO has not even been able to produce an appropriate carbine and light machine gun, latter having framed miserably during trials. The night vision devices produced by the DRDO, though with 100 per cent imported Infra-Red (IR) tubes are far bulkier and heavier than foreign ones. Even in terms of clothing and bullet proof jackets, the quality that DRDO provides is generally first from the rock bottom.
Today’s conflict situations require a transformed soldier capable of dealing with hi-tech war…
Eventually, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has approved of a new assault rifle, 5.56mm caliber and a new generation carbine. The assault rifles under consideration were the Heckler & Koch, G 36 modular 5.56mm assault rifle (German), the Beretta 70/90 (Italy), SAR 21 of Singapore Technologies, XM 8 (USA), Steyr A3 (Austria), Tavor TAR 21 5.56mm and IMI Galil 7.62mm from Israel, Arsenal AK-74 (Bulgaria), Herstal F-2000 (Belgium) and SIG SG 551 (Switzerland) among others. Incidentally, the Army had already trial evaluated 17 assault letters from 11 countries including the likes of Heckler & Koch and Steyr A3 (Austria) way back in 1980 but then the DRDO was given these 17 weapons who then produced a poor weapon like the 5.56 INSAS rifle after 15 years. This should be a matter of shame for the DRDO but as usual is glossed over with no one accountable.
New bullet-proof jackets, ballistic helmets, and boots anti-mine which were also to have been procured, have not materialised so far. The infantry is also looking for a man portable third-generation anti-tank guided missile and under-barrel grenade launchers, 60mm mortars, enhanced range 81mm mortars and thermal imaging night sights for assault rifles. Bullet proof vehicles and shotguns are being procured for counter-insurgency operations. Incidents such as the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack have underlined the need to equip all infantry battalions suitably for rapid reaction. This is being achieved by procuring specialised items for the Ghatak Platoons (Commando Platoons) of Infantry Battalions. Multi-mode grenades have been indented with the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) while ammunition of the Rocket Launcher Mark II is also likely to be procured. The Infantry is also being provided with Multi Purpose Vehicles (MPVs), Light Bullet Proof Vehicles (Lt. BPVs), Light Strike Vehicles (LSVs) and additional snow mobiles.
The Indian Army’s Future Infantry Soldier As a System (F-INSAS) program, which is to ensure a dramatic increase in lethality, survivability and mobility while making the soldier ‘a self-contained fighting machine’, is based on the Land Warrior system of the US Army and Future Soldier Programs of other nations. With the intent to retain its strategic autonomy, self-reliance and indigenisation of the program is being emphasized. Most of the equipment is being indigenously developed by DRDO independently, as the prime developer and the system integrator, as well as with private partnership. The F-INSAS is being developed in three phases; Phase I -(originally scheduled to be completed by 2012) comprising Weapons, Body Armour, Clothing and Individual equipment, Phase II – the Target Acquisition System and Phase III comprising the Computer Sub-System, Radio Sub-System, Software and Software Integration. The F-INSAS will provide the infantryman with latest weaponry, communication network and instant access to information on the battlefield. It will include a fully networked all-terrain, all-weather personal-equipment platform, enhanced firepower and mobility for the digitalised battlefield of the future. The Infantryman will be equipped with mission-oriented equipment integrated with his buddy soldier team, the sub-unit, as also the overall Command, Control, Communications Computers, Information and Intelligence (C4I2) system. Complete fielding in all infantry and RR units (some 465 battalions) is planned to be completed by 2020 or so.
Unfortunately, there is little to talk of indigenous R&D in equipping the infantry soldier…
The core systems of F-INSAS comprise helmet and visor, clothing, weapons and accessories. The helmet is an integrated assembly equipped with helmet mounted flash light, thermal sensors and night vision device, digital compass, video cameras, computer and nuclear, chemical and biological sensors, with audio headsets. The visor is intended to be integrated and to act as a heads-up display monitor equivalent to two 17-inch computer monitors. The personal clothing of the infantry soldier of the future would be lightweight with a bullet-proof jacket. The futuristic jacket would be waterproofed yet breathable.
The new attire will enable the troops to carry extra load and resist the impact of nuclear, chemical and biological warfare. Uniform will also carry solar chargers for charging palmtops and other attached electronic equipment. It will contain external oxygen supply and respirator providing protection against gas and smoke and will include flame-retardant, carbonised viscose undergarments, fire-proof knee and elbow pads, bullet-proof armoured waistcoat designed to stop a bullet, ceramic armour plates covering the front, back and groin and an armoured helmet capable of stopping a 9mm round at close range. The new uniform will have vests with sensors to monitor the soldier’s health parameters and provide quick medical relief.
The weapons sub-system is being built around a multi-caliber individual weapon system with the fourth caliber attached to a grenade launcher. These include a 5.56 mm, a 7.62 mm and a new 6.8 mm under development for the first time in India. The Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL) will be capable of launching air bursting grenade. The sub-system includes a thermal weapon sight and laser range finder to provide the soldier with range and direction information. The Global Positioning System (GPS) location information will allow the soldier to call for indirect fire accurately.
The Battlefield Management System (BMS) and F-INSAS programs are being developed concurrently…
There are reportedly two types of next generation infantry rifles under development indigenously but a global tender for the acquisition of new assault rifles and carbines for Close Quarters Battle (CQB) carbines have been issued.
As for accessories, the soldier will be equipped with Palmtop GPS device for communicating with other soldiers and locate or generate maps to find location, and for situational awareness. The palmtop will inform the soldiers about the location of friendly forces in relation to their own positions. It will also enable them to transfer messages. Terrain equipment gears for various specific missions will also be carried. Thermal imaging, sensors and night vision equipment, currently deployed in weapon systems such as artillery and Main Battle Tanks will be customised to make them portable for soldiers to carry in the battleground. Defence advanced GPS receivers, infra-red sensors, thermal sensors, electro-magnetic sensors and radio frequency sensors would also be carried.