Army Today

Stock and Awe


By R. Prasannan © The Week - 28 March 2004

A patrol party close to the fencing on the Line of Control in Bimbhargali was peering into their hand-held thermal imagers (HHTI) on the night of March 3rd. They saw three men moving at a distance, and the message was flashed to troops on the line. The men were moving towards the LoC (Line of Control) from the Indian side. Probably exfiltration, the patrolmen thought. As the trekkers faded out of HHTI range, the patrol party pulled in LORROS (long-range observation system), with which they can see up to 16 km at night. By daybreak, the men had reached 300 metres short of the LoC; they were ambushed. Two were killed and one escaped. This-spotting terrorists at night from such a distance, and trailing them-would not have been possible a few months ago. HHTI and LORROS are among the factors that made Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf call off jihad in Kashmir. The Indian infantryman has become a night-stalker, with about 5,000 HHTIs (2,500 more are on the way), 8,000 night-vision goggles and hundreds of LORROSs in his hands. He can see deep, and strike, in the dark. Even the enemy bunkers from which infiltrators are sent in are getting within the firing range of the Indian infantry. The infantrymen have 5,000 anti-material rifles (1,000 more are coming) that can blast bunkers a kilometre and a half away.

After years of neglect, during which capital purchases meant only big-ticket tanks and artillery guns, the infantryman is getting 'empowered'. Field battle equipment, like the Israeli-designed and Bharat Electronics-assembled battlefield surveillance radar, are also effectively used in non-conventional situations like counter-insurgency. "It can pick up a walking man from 15 km, a group of men from 18 km and a moving helicopter 25 km away," said a battalion commander. In the LoC context, this means the infantryman can see the enemy's staging posts just as he sees his buddy next to him. In the valley behind him, militant hideouts have also become vulnerable. In the night, the 84-mm Carl Gustaf Mark-2 would fire illuminating ammunition to light up the target area. In that light, Dragunov sniper rifles, multi-grenade launchers, AGS-30 automatic grenade launchers and the 84-mm rocket launchers Mark-3 would bring devastating fire on the built-up hideouts. A good number of these lethal toys have been bought off the shelf from Russia, Israel, France, South Africa, Sweden, Germany and the US.

But technology is also being brought to India. Thus Bharat Electronics is now making hand-held thermal imagers, while the Tata-owned Nelco is making unattended ground sensors. Short-range battlefield surveillance radars were imported from Israel; now Bharat Electronics plans to make them with home grown DRDO technology. As Army Chief General N.C. Vij observed a few weeks ago, the most notable modernisation has been removal of the infantryman's night-blindness. A Rs 3,000-crore modernisation plan approved by the defence ministry last September seeks to increase the infantry's firepower at least tenfold with about 250 Kornet-E anti-tank guided missile launchers, light bullet-proof vehicles, 4,000 new carbines, 200-plus battlefield surveillance radars, 4.5 lakh rounds of multi-purpose ammunition and more. In short, the infantryman is slowly acquiring the kind of firepower and precision that was once with the artillery and the armour. As many Army officers believe, it is this firepower, coupled with high-tech sensors, surveillance equipment and night-fighting capability, that has made infiltration almost impossible.


More power to arms: The Russian-made infantry combat vehicle, BMP-2

The respite provided by the new political climate is being used by the Army to upgrade not only the infantry but also other combat (armour and artillery) and support arms (signals, engineers, etc.), which hold the key to victory in a conventional land battle. "Total firepower has increased multi-fold in the last few years," said General Vij. Much of the newly acquired firepower was on display at Exercise Divya Astra staged at Suratgarh recently. Stealing the show were the brand new T-90 tanks that are rated above the US Abrams, many of which broke down in the Iraqi desert. "The T-90 is designed for desert operations," said an officer. "Its 125 mm gun, one and a half times more accurate than the T-72 gun, is also equipped with a thermal protection jacket. So the barrel does not heat up and bend," he added.

The tank is also armed with Refleks anti-tank guided missiles. By 2007 the Army hopes to phase out its vintage Vijayanta tanks; the T-72 and T-90 will be the mainstay of the forces. The 155-mm Bofors guns and Grad multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) stole the show in the Kargil war, but the Army is already thinking of the next generation of these weapons. So the Russian offer of Smerch MBRL, which can pulverise Skardu in Pakistan from the Indian side of the LoC, is being considered. There is a proposal to buy more self-propelled guns. The contest is between Bofors FH-77 BD SPH and South Africa's Denel G-6. Complementing them are Fire Finder radars, already acquired from the US. The upgraded infantry fighting vehicles with their Konkurs missiles, the T-90s with anti-tank guided missiles, Grad BM-21 multi-barrel rocket launchers (whose one salvo of 40 can plough out a football ground) and the newly-acquired Krasnopol ammunition with passive homing device have increased the Army's firepower as never before. The Army is talking of 90% hit probability with every round it fires.

Officers admit that the Kargil war and Operation Parakram following the attack on Parliament have helped them convince the political leadership of an immediate need to modernise the Army. As Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal wrote recently in Indian Defence Review, the Indian Army had "acquired the reputation of being a first-rate Army equipped with mostly second-rate equipment." The Army now wants to change this profile. Army officers admit that only infantry modernisation has a direct bearing on low-intensity conflict. But the idea is to enhance overall conventional deterrence. General Vij believes that by the end of the 11th plan the Indian Army will be truly modern. Why all this when strategic thinkers are coming round to the view that conventional war is getting out of fashion? Army officers have one answer: if conventional war is less likely today, it is mainly because of the conventional deterrence that India is acquiring. In plain English, it means the enemy fears the Indian Army's increasing firepower.


Land-air synergy needed: MI-17 helicopters at an exercise in Pokhran

The newly acquired capabilities have changed the thinking of the Army brass. They now feel that the revolution in military affairs (RMA) can be theirs, too. The Pentagon defines RMA as "a major change in the nature of warfare brought about by innovative application of new technologies which, combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine and operational and organisational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and conduct of military operations." This translates to much more than weapon improvement. It means fighting in a futuristic digital technology spectrum with laser-guided munitions, satellite surveillance, and a lot more 21st-century gadgetry. "You have seen what the infantryman on the LoC is capable of today. Project it to the entire armed forces, and on a continental scale, and there you have your RMA," said an officer. The RMA knock has woken the Army up to a new realisation: they still do not have a war doctrine. The Army training command was charged with drafting a doctrine half a decade ago.

"The draft will be finalised after defence think tanks have given their suggestions," said General Vij at the inauguration of a new think tank, the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), headed by Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi (Retd.), a former vice-chief of the army. However, as was evident at the seminar, there is still a tendency to think separately, the bane of armed services all over the world. As Air Commodore Jasjit Singh (Retd.), Director of the Centre for Air Power Studies, said: "If there is a single lesson of warfare for the past 100 years, it is that land forces cannot achieve their military, strategic, operational and tactical tasks effectively without...synergy between land and air operations." While the Army tends to view air power as merely an air artillery, the Air Force looks at itself as a strategic force. And the two have been ignoring the importance of sea power, despite the fact that most of the missiles that rained on land-locked Afghanistan were launched from ships. Such differences in perceptions are sup-posed to be ironed out by integrated staff. That remains the headless wonder of the Indian military: there is no chief of defence staff yet.