Coordinating on the battlefield: No time for weaponising in dribs and drabs - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla

The Indian Army can no longer afford to create a patchwork of small, relatively inconsequential systems bought here and there

By Vikas Gupta

Defence News of India, Jun 2, 23

Speaking at an annual gathering of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Delhi last week, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh implored captains of the defense industry – not for the first time – to innovate in futuristic technologies “to transform India from (being) a follower to a leader. Demonstrating the talent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for slogans, Mr Singh observed that the Indian population must be converted from a “wealth consuming entity” to a “wealth creating resource”. However, it will take more than slogans for our defense industry to begin producing the defense equipment needed to become Atmanirbhar Bharat – another widely used governmental expression which means autonomous.

Meanwhile, the world has been fascinated by the two most recent wars – the rout of Armenia by Azerbaijan in 2020 and Russia’s failure to subdue Ukraine even after 462 days of fighting – signal a major change in the nature of interstate warfare. This came as a surprise to many, given that combat tactics have remained largely the same since the American Civil War (1861-1865) and World War I (1914-18), when the lethality of automatic weapons and the presence ubiquitous long-range field artillery “emptied the battlefield”, with soldiers sheltering behind dugouts or in underground pillboxes to reduce casualties.

On today’s battlefield, survival faces a different set of challenges: systems likethe Switchblade – a miniature, prowling kamikaze drone designed by the American company AeroVironment; and used throughout the US military and now by the Ukrainians against the Russians. Carried in a soldier’s backpack and launched easily from a tube, the Switchblade flies towards its target and smashes into it, detonating itself in a suicidal fashion. Skipping Russian front lines and targeting key Russian commanders through their movement patterns, kamikaze drone attacks force adversaries to alter their patterns of operations, reducing the effectiveness of the field force. Skillful integration connects multiple sensors with precision weapons that use artificial intelligence (AI) to make decisions in real time. While the member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are under pressure to meet mandatory commitments to devote 2% of their gross domestic product to defence, these stray munitions equip the Ukrainian military in large numbers and of NATO. This even as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of precision ammunition gradually reduce their reliance on arms sales to big buyers such as India.

A key player in the autonomous weapons game is China. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been developing unmanned systems since 2013, and Beijing has incorporated them into its “in-theatre” planning, drawing on a sophisticated understanding of India’s cyber vulnerabilities. The PLA is believed to have mapped strategic vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure, including the national power grid, rail and road network, telecommunications network, financial services and stock market. These systems include hardware loaded with Chinese components, over which they retain full control even after it is installed on Indian servers. This forces India to think and plan in two areas: First, the hardware area; but also the need to develop a guerrilla mindset suited to making quick decisions. In all likelihood, the next conventional Chinese attack on India would be preceded by a massive cyberattack designed to cripple Indian networks and interfere with our disaster relief programs. Banning Chinese hardware such as 5G networks would serve no purpose; large systems and networks are the new vulnerabilities. We have to replace them.

New Delhi needs to creatively redefine this playing field. Our current equipping and procurement processes are focused on procuring military hardware rather than creating new capabilities. Among the most imaginative and successful acquisitions is the synergistic integration of the shortened BrahMos cruise missile with the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter. This gave the BrahMos air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) a deep strike capability at lower cost and with available Indian technology. These Su-30MKIs can operate from Indian airbases, without crossing the border, to strike terrorist targets deep within Pakistan. Meanwhile, Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, equipped with the anti-ship version of the BrahMos, can be launched from Thanjavur Air Base in Tamil Nadu against enemy warships in the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal or the northern Indian Ocean.

Such innovations must generate clear and quantifiable financial savings or capacity building. The oft-stated IAF requirement for 42 combat aircraft squadrons includes a large number of MiG-21 squadrons, specifically tasked with air defense. But the induction of force multipliers and platforms that do the same job is overlooked. For example, the purchase by the IAF of 5 regiments of S-400 surface-to-air missiles has enormously strengthened our air defense capability; as did the introduction of air-to-air refuellers and airborne warning and control systems (AWACS). Yet the IAF’s stated requirement remains 42 fighter squadrons.

The navy has also not revised its requirement for 200 warships, spelled out in its Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan (MCPP), even though its capability as a fighting force is stronger today than ever. Its heavily armed fleet includes two aircraft carriers, 16 attack submarines and 42 capital warships, including destroyers, frigates and corvettes. In addition, 12 Indian P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime patrol aircraft are monitoring the entrances from West and East Asia into the northern Indian Ocean, and they will likely be joined in their patrols of surveillance by a small fleet of Sea Guardian drones. . With the Navy planning for six additional conventional submarines for the shallow waters of the Arabian Sea and six nuclear-powered submarines (SSN) for the deep waters of the Bay of Bengal, there are many possibilities. to reduce the surface fleet.

Meanwhile, there is an inadequate discussion of Army manpower policies. These include strengthening our defenses against China by injecting three new mountain divisions into eastern Ladakh and creating two new mountain divisions in Arunachal Pradesh in 2007-09. Two new armored brigades were also moved to the Chinese theatre. However, a more rigorous debate is needed on the army’s “northern pivot”, which is the term used to refer to the conversion of one of India’s plains attack corps into an attack corps. mountains. This involves moving two infantry divisions and one armored division from the Pakistani border and reassigning, retraining and re-equipping them for offensive operations on the Chinese border. But there is little debate on the causes and consequences of this major change, which involves the reorientation of more than five divisions of the army.

The overhead lights are also key projects of the three services. Since 2009, work has not advanced much on the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), which was to be continued as a “Make” category project. Therefore, attention turns to the light tank project, where the participants are L&T, Mahindra Group and Tata Group. With the Russian-Ukrainian conflict emphasizing 155mm 52 caliber medium artillery, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) is a high priority. The tactical communication system, which was one of the “Make” systems, was also neglected. For all of these weapons, the military must equip itself with strike platforms and combat tools in the service of an operational plan, such as the acquisition of F-35 Lightning II deep strike bombers to interdict the path of Qinghai-Tibet railway, or to destroy PLA(N) platforms transiting the Indian Ocean. The Indian Army can no longer afford to create a patchwork of small, relatively inconsequential systems bought here and there.