Indian Army’s Modernization on the Right Track

By Editor 09-Oct-2020

A series of programmes initiated recently by the Indian Government are expected to change India’s status as the world’s second-largest arms importer to a nation that boasts of a thriving domestic defence industry.

The Indian Army is engaged in an elaborate and continuous process of modernization with the aim of enhancing its capabilities. Several programmes have been initiated to acquire modern arms, equipment and protective gear. For instance, the army has begun the process to acquire around seven lakh rifles, 44,000 LMGs and 44,600 carbines. India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has also signed an agreement with the US firm Sig Sauer for procurement of 72,400 assault rifles.

Moreover, a joint venture between the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Russia will manufacture AK 203 Kalashnikov rifle in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh. In addition, India has inducted M777 155 mm howitzer from the USA and a new variant of DRDO-developed Pinaka Multiple rocket launcher. The system, when mounted on TATRA truck, enhances its mobility.

Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is currently operating at least 10 squadrons less out of the sanctioned 42. Making matters worse, around 50 per cent of the aircraft based at these squadrons are obsolete. Belonging to the 1970s and 1980s vintage, they are on the verge of decommissioning.

This situation makes modernization of the IAF a top priority. At the same time, the deal for buying 36 Dassault Rafael fighter jets from France in flyaway condition provides some relief. The light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas also meets some of the requirements of the IAF. The DAC (Defense Acquisition Council) has cleared the  purchase of 33 fighter jets, including 21 upgraded MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi MKI. The recent induction of CH-47 multi-mission Chinook helicopter and Boeing AH-64 Apache has also enhanced the capabilities of the Indian Air Force. Similarly, IAF maintains UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) squadrons including Searcher II, Heron from Israel and Rustom, developed by DRDO.

Major plans
In 2019, the Indian Government finalized a road map to spend US Dollars 130 billion in the next five to seven years to modernise the Armed Forces. The plan includes acquisition of a wide variety of weaponry ranging from missiles, warships, drones, fighter jets, surveillance equipment to creation of architecture for Artificial Intelligence. The same year, India and Israel signed a deal for the Spike Missile. This involves a purchase of 12 launchers and 210 missiles.

Alongside, battlefield digitization is also underway. Also termed ‘Network Centric Warfare’, this process involves Information Sharing, Improved Situation Awareness, Speed of Command and Enhanced Mission Effectiveness.

The most important tank in the Indian Army’s inventory is the T-90S, a third generation Russian tank. By the end of 2020, India is expected to have a total of 2,011 T-90 tanks based in about 40 Armoured Regiments. The Indian Army is also upgrading about 1,600 T-72 tanks with night vision devices.

Research into high-tech aspects of modern warfare encompassing Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Nano Technology, Lethal Automatic Weapon Systems Directed Energy Weapons, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare is also continuing.

Early in 2020, the Government of India cleared a US Dollar 2.3 billion deal under which a Turkish company will manufacture 5 Fleet Vessel Ships (FVS) of 45,000 tonnes at Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL), Visakhapatnam.

India and the US have signed a US Dollars 930 million agreement for 6 Apache Helicopters for Indian Army. This is the world’s most advanced multi-role helicopter. The Indian Government also gave a nod to the Indian Navy to pursue the acquisition of 24 Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters. The Government of India has signed Rs 800 crore deal with the Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) to procure 16,479 Negev 7.62x51 mm light machine guns (gas-operated) for the Indian Armed Forces.

The Government of India has also signed a US Dollars 190 million deal with the US Government to procure two self-protection suites (SPS) which will be retrofitted on the two custom-built Boeing-777.The two aircraft will have fully-integrated advanced missile approach warning sensors, defensive electronic warfare systems, infra-red countermeasures, digital radio frequency jammers and other equipment. This will be similar to the US President’s Air Force One or the Flying Oval Office. The aircraft will be used by the Prime Minister of India, President of India and other VVIPs for extralong-haul overseas travel.

During DefExpo 2020, India and Russia signed 14 MoUs for development and production of land, air and naval systems and hi-tech civilian products. As a result, the defence deals between India and Russia are set to cross US Dollars 16 billion. The deals include the supply of S-400 air defence systems and the production of Kalashnikov rifles and Kamov helicopters. Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state-run organization, has signed deals with DRDO for advanced pyrotechnic ignition systems, HAL for the export of spares and services to allies, and BHEL for land systems. Another deal was signed between Russian Helicopters and Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd to localize the components used in Kamov Ka-226 helicopters. India is planning to purchase 200 Ka-226 helicopters.

Self-reliance in defence
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in a series of tweets, made the major announcement of giving a boost to the indigenization of India’s defence industry. “The Ministry of Defence is now ready for a big push to #AtmanirbharBharat initiative. MoD will introduce an import embargo on 101 items beyond the given timeline to boost indigenisation of defence production,” he said.

Subsequently, MoD prepared a list of 101 items for which there would be an embargo on the import beyond the timeline indicated against them. “This decision will offer a great opportunity to the Indian defence industry to manufacture the items in the negative list by using their own design and development capabilities or adopting the technologies designed & developed by DRDO to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces,” the Minister added.

“Our aim is to apprise the Indian defence industry about the anticipated requirements of the Armed Forces so that they are better prepared to realise the goal of indigenisation. All necessary steps would be taken to ensure that timelines for production of equipment as per the Negative Import List are met, which will include a co-ordinated mechanism for hand holding of the industry by the Defence Services,” he tweeted.

Earlier, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced that the FDI limit in defence manufacturing under automatic route will be hiked to 74 per cent from the existing 49 per cent while some weapons and platforms will be banned for imports. The Finance Minister also said that Ordnance Factory Board will be corporatized for better management. Similarly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a target of US Dollars 5 billion worth of military exports in the next five years. Following the Prime Minister’s call for going local, MoD released the draft Defence Acquisition Procedure-2020.

All these programmes are expected to change India’s status as the world’s second-largest arms importer to a nation that boasts of a thriving domestic defence industry.