A fitting cover story for the launch of a journal related to Defence and Aviation. Indian Aviation & Defence spoke to the senior most man in uniform, the only serving officer who can speak with maximum authority on matters related to India’s three armed force, Army, Navy & Air Force. In this interview, the CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) was candid and lucid with Kamal Shah, Editorial Director of Indian Aerospace & Defence, on all matters related to Indian armed forces’ vision and future plans. This detailed interview gives a 360 degree overview on what’s in store for the Indian Armed forces, areas of opportunities for the defence and aerospace industry and the future of the Indian Armed forces.
How do you visualise the transformational change that have been achieved in the past one and a half years of the creation of the post of CDS?
CDS: The appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff is one step forward in reshaping our Higher Defence Organisation. The last one and a half years have been both eventful and challenging in terms of the progress made towards the fulfilment of the mandate of the CDS. In spite of the operational scenario along the Northern borders, to the ongoing COVID pandemic, we have been able to meet the objectives we set within the timeframe permitted.
On the Operational front, the most notable achievements have been the synergy between the Three services in dealing with Operational contingencies and adopting a joint approach for brainstorming the creation of Integrated Theatre Commands, namely the Integrated Air Defence Command (IADC), Maritime Integrated Theatre Command (MITC) and the Land Integrated Theatre Commands. Another noteworthy achievement has been the process being put in motion towards the IBG-isation of the Indian Army Formations; which constitutes a joint and coordinated approach at the tactical level of war fighting. Towards sustaining the large theatres logistically, we are in the process of setting up three Joint Logistics Nodes (JLN) across the country, of which the first one in Mumbai is already set up and operational.
Further, concerted efforts are being made towards the next level of integration within our structures which have resulted in greater efficacy and resource optimisation. We already have three such Joint Organisations; namely the Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD), Defence Space Agency (DSA) and Defence Cyber Agency (DCyA) that have been operationalised. Further, we are also deliberating on the integration of other relevant facets such as training, doctrines etc.
Procurement has also been given a fillip with a renewed and focused impetus to ‘Atamanirbhar Bharat’ (Self Sufficient India) and the introduction of an Integrated Capability Development System (ICADS). With an aim to boost the domestic industry, the first positive Indigenisation List comprising of a 101 items was promulgated on 09 Aug 20. The second list of 108 items has also been finalised and approved; soon to be promulgated. Further, the Defence Procurement Policy (DPP 2020), Defence Procurement Manuals (DPM), Delegation of Financial Powers to Defence Services (DFPDS), Standardised Defence Works Procedure (DWP) 2007 & Scales of Accommodation for Defence Services (SADS) are being revised. Most of these have been disseminated while a few others are in the final process of approval.
HR policies have been streamlined between the three services for promotion boards. Tri Services tenures have been made mandatory for promotion of officers to higher ranks. Other HR initiatives include formulation of Tri Services Act for unified legal and discipline procedures, guidelines for management of Low Medical Category personnel, impetus on indigenisation, rationalisation of ceremonial practices and review/deletion of obsolete rules and acts.
There have been several achievements that highlight the positive direction in which we are making progress. However, the underlying feature of all these achievements has been the increased integration between the three services in the spirit of jointness from the top to the last cog in the wheel, which in particular is a gratifying achievement for us.
Could you talk about the progress on the formation of Theatre Commands? Which one will be raised first? Could you draw a tentative timeline on the raising of Theatre Commands?
CDS: The structure and processes for the formation of Integrated Theatre Commands are in the final stages and they would be headed by a Theatre Commander who would have forces directly under him from all the three services. The raising of Integrated Air Defence Command and Maritime Integrated Theatre Command would be followed by the land based Theatre Commands.
These Integrated Theatre Commands would have the potential to unlock critical core strength within the three services, to bridge limitations and complement each other’s competencies in battle to optimise combat power. The restructuring of the Indian Armed Forces into Integrated Theatre Commands are being undertaken within the available resources and manpower. The aim is to optimise resources while achieving greater military effectiveness.
In the emerging security paradigm, India’s security would be maintained not on the International Boundary, Line of Control or LAC alone, but in the strategic space of the ‘extended neighbourhood’ and the ‘strategic frontier’. The armed forces will be structured in a manner that they provide the operational flexibility to pursue wider strategic objectives. Thus Theatre Commands are being created to achieve Strategic objectives.
We have long land borders with a varied terrain configuration and two major seaboards. The system that we are adopting is best suited for the optimum management of both external and internal security challenges. Theatres would have tailor made components from the three Services and are based on Geography, Threat or Envisaged Role. Decision making hierarchy of the Theatre Commands will be structured in context with demarcated lines of authority. The CDS and the Theatre Commanders would conjointly provide ‘Unity of Command’ while the Service HQs and the Component Commanders, would provide ‘Unity of Effort’. Herein, the CDS could be the coordinating agency for allocation of resources based on requirements projected by the Theatre Commanders. However, as the system matures, the command would flow from the CDS (COSC) to theatre commanders and the Service HQs would then become primarily responsible for ‘raise, train and sustain’ functions. This would have to be an evolutionary process and a great deal of thought is going into these aspects.
How has Covid impacted the Indian Armed forces in ensuring operational readiness and yet providing support to the Nation in such difficult times?
CDS: Covid Pandemic notwithstanding, the three Services have left no stone unturned to maintain the highest levels of operational preparedness whilst at the same time assisting the Central and State governments to combat the pandemic which has been threatening our internal security. This has been possible due to the integrated and coordinated effort of our medical fraternity and sound planning by our field commanders.
The impact of both waves was reduced greatly because of near 100% vaccination first of our health care workers followed by our front line workers. Our officers and men followed very strict COVID protocols and as a result, we could contain the infections and keep our fatalities low.
Timely decisions to ramp up our medical infrastructure also contributed immensely towards reducing the impact of COVID-19 on the Armed Forces and thus, we could keep our men and material in excellent operational state despite lockdowns/ disruptions.
Our efforts towards integration continued despite the pandemic. We adapted ourselves to the new normal and kept up pace to meet our laid down timelines for creating integrated structures. Integration was also visible on ground during the synergised response of all the three Services against COVID-19. Be it movement of Oxygen or transhipment of foreign aid or for that matter deployment of medical manpower and resources, our soldiers, sailors and airmen went out of their way to contribute towards the national effort. Our highly synchronised and prompt action during the rescue and relief operations during Cyclone TAUKTAE and YAAS saved hundreds of lives. We are determined to strive towards complete integration in a concerted manner.
Our procurements are progressing as per the schedule and our logistic experts have not allowed the pandemic to derail plans. The emergency procurement powers granted by Hon’ble RM have helped a great deal in fast track procurement of essential operational and medical equipment. Importantly despite all odds, adequate funds have been made available to meet every requirement. The financial year has seen additional budgetary allocations and we visualise that we should utilise the budget prioritising our requirements. The situation created due to Covid 19 will necessitate balancing budgetary allocation, because some of the projected activities are being reviewed; leaving some budget allocated for such activities to be channelised towards more operational imperative contingencies.
Going forward, all efforts are being made by the Government to ensure that there are no adverse effects of current challenges in military preparedness of the country.
Despite COVID, we have successfully conducted Aero India-21 wherein large number of MoUs were concluded and orders of over INR 203 Crs were awarded to MSMEs.
The Services have been at the forefront for evacuations of the citizens of India from various countries, especially during the first COVID wave, setting up hospitals, provision of medical & non-medical staff, transportation of medical stores; both from abroad & within the country especially Oxygen cylinders to remote parts. The Armed forces have also been rendering active & extensive assistance during disaster relief following storms Nisarga, Amphan, Nivar as well as the recent Touktae and Yaas, anti-Locust operations, dousing of forest fires, and in post avalanche relief operations.
We are witnessing a lot of effort being put by the Army, Navy & Air Force to help the central and many state governments tackling the on-going 2nd wave. How are the armed forces dealing with the Covid pandemic while continuing the primary task of guarding our borders? Do you see the signs of increased integration and coordination among services in this, considering this effort has visible involvement of multiple platforms, domains, services & ministries?
CDS: Armed Forces have been assisting the central and state governments in every which way possible in our collective fight against COVID during the second wave. We have provided trained medical manpower in hundreds to man COVID hospitals and transported oxygen and other medical equipment by road, rail, sea and air from all across the globe to various COVID hotspots in the country. This combined effort, which is an excellent example of Tri-Services integration, enabled unprecedented levels of assistance reaching our countrymen in a highly synergised and timely manner.
As mentioned earlier, despite our very heavy commitments in the national cause, we continue to remain focused on our primary task of safeguarding our frontiers. There has been and will never be any let up in this. We are not letting our guard down against COVID in these ongoing, as well as impending waves and our Armed Forces continue to maintain very strict COVID protocols.
As can be seen from our coordinated efforts in the fight against COVID as well as the recent Cyclones TAUKTAE and YAAS, all our efforts were highly synchronized. Our officers and men are working in close harmony with each other, irrespective of the colour of the uniform they wear. This integrated approach has enabled the Armed Forces to extend optimal, prompt and highly coordinated response during recent national emergencies. This joint approach has also helped in better collaboration with other ministries and agencies.
The LAC with China is currently calm compared to last year. How do see you the current phase and how do you see the 2nd half of this year panning out at the LAC? Also, how do you view the present situation on our Western border with Pakistan?
CDS: After prolonged face to face situation with PLA in Eastern Ladakh, we have commenced gradual disengagement commencing with the North and South banks of Pangong Tso. However, despite eleven rounds of Corps Cdr level talks, there are still several issues pending along the LAC and the same are being addressed progressively. The situation though outwardly calm, however, continues to be volatile due to the heavy deployment of troops, high value air assets, SAMs and strategic resources including long range vectors and heightened AD alert not only opposite Eastern Ladakh Sector but also in the Eastern sector. China continues to carry out fast-paced development of operational infrastructure in areas close to the LAC to include construction of habitat, improving connectivity for faster mobilisation of troops and rapid enhancement of aviation infrastructure. We expect PLA in 2021-2022 to continue to maintain forward posture, improve infrastructure along the LAC and validate their training manoeuvres. We continue to maintain our operational readiness on land, air and at Sea. At no stage can we become complacent and need to ensure continuous surveillance along the Northern borders and be operationally ready for any contingency.
We will continue to discuss with our PLA counterparts to resolve the remaining issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh with a view to achieve the objective of disengagement from all friction points and restore peace and tranquility in the border areas at an early date. At the same time our Defence Forces continue to remain prepared for military action should all efforts to restore status quo along the LAC does not succeed.
An uneasy calm on our Western borders with Pakistan continues. Whilst guns may have fallen silent along the Line of Control, the hectic activities by Pakistan’s troops to upgrade, repair and maintain their damaged defence structures, as also construct additional defence infrastructure, mandates that we must maintain our levels of alertness, to prevent infiltration of terrorists and raids (BAT actions) by Pak sponsored terrorists and their special forces elements, which could lead to violation of ceasefire. Support to terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan continues and whilst they may be in a state of denial, the truth is known to us. Thus, it is for Pakistan to exercise restraint, otherwise our troops are prepared to take appropriate action at time and place of our choosing.
Considering the modernisation process of the Indian Armed forces and two active fronts, the demands of all the services are high, from mid-air refueling aircraft and fighter jets to Light Utility Helicopters to predator drones to tanks and guns. How are these being prioritised?
CDS: The Annual Acquisition Plan (AAP), which is a two year roll on plan, and includes capital schemes towards modernisation and capability development of the Services has clear cut priorities for acquisitions. The process of AAP formulation comprehensively addresses threat cum capability requirements in the emerging security scenario and undergoes iterations at various levels. The schemes are vetted for their relative importance, quantity and likely costing by various authorities before prioritisation is finalised. It is a very thorough and streamlined process which strikes an optimum balance to account for short term security challenges and long term modernisation needs.
What are the main, immediate, big ticket procurements the DMA is focusing on?
CDS: These have been prioritised; yet procurement of military equipment is a time consuming process. Hence, progressive induction of equipment to modernise our Armed Forces is being ensured by synchronising these with our budgetary allocations.
Most of the governments and militaries across the world are facing the evident cash crunch due to Covid impact on economies. How are you planning to plug the immediate operational gaps? Leasing of military equipment is an option?
CDS: Acquisition of military equipment have long gestation period and the financial commitment is over a prolonged period. Further, military preparedness is not in isolation as it contributes to the overall national efforts in any national emergency – deployment of Armed Forces in the ongoing pandemic, amply highlights this fact. Therefore, all efforts are being made by the Government to ensure that there is no adverse impact of current challenges in military preparedness of the country.
While option of leasing of military equipment is being considered by the Services to address immediate and critical shortfall against evolving threat(s), it is dictated by different set of imperatives and should not be seen in the context of current pandemic.
Make in India & Atmanirbhar Bharat have been the main focus areas of the armed forces and the government. How do you see the progress being made in it and what are the areas that need further more attention and improvement, in your opinion?
CDS: Over the past five year period, from the FY 2016-17 to 2020-21, a total of 222 Capital Schemes amounting to Rs 3,68,663 Cr have been contracted. Out of this, 53% expenditure is towards Atmanirbhar Bharat. Due to the efforts by all stakeholders there has been a steady increase in the contracts signed with Indian Vendors.
Though traditionally, the Indian Defence has been dependent on external sources, in recent times, the focus is shifting majorly towards self-reliance.
The latest data on global arms transfer show that Indian arms import have come down significantly (by 33% as per SIPRI) since 2015. The silver lining for India with this dip in imports is the consequent increase in Defence Exports. The Government of India has identified 25 sectors including defence manufacturing to further the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative.
In the upcoming Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy, the Government has set a target of Rs 1.75 lakh Cr turnover in defence manufacturing by 2025 to enable the defence sector to be a potential driver to boost the overall economy. The opportunity provided by this policy direction needs to be fully exploited by the indigenous industry.
The two Defence Corridors are being bolstered and suitable measures and incentives are under consideration to proactively support the industry in setting up manufacturing infrastructure. Issues of land acquisition, certain tax holidays, duties exemption, Production Linked Incentives, waiver of charges in ToT, transportation, market and capacity building and patent cost etc. would go a long way in expanding defence manufacturing base in the country. The projects being steered under the Strategic Partnership Model like helicopters and submarines would provide a major fillip to the domestic defence industry.
Further, the MoD is seeking participation of Indian Industries in indigenous development of capacities by JVs, ‘MAKE’ schemes, iDEX and D&D projects under various domains. DEFEXPO 2020 at Lucknow and Aero India 2021 at Bengaluru both showcased the prowess of Indian defence manufactures in development and production of niche technologies.
What are the areas, technologies and equipment where you want PSUs, PPPs & private companies to focus most on, to fulfil armed forces’ immediate requirements? In other words, which areas are coming up with maximum opportunities for the Defence industry in India?
CDS: Indian PSUs and private companies have enough technical expertise and knowhow to develop indigenous defence capacities in the country to supply world class equipment to the Armed Forces. With this as the back drop, the MoD has promulgated two ‘Positive Indigenisation Lists’ which comprises over 200 military equipment and stores earmarked for indigenous production, in a phased manner.
Further, adequate emphasis needs to be paid on the disruptive technologies that have dual use and are driven by commercial entities along with the need for their adapted incorporation into the “Indian context”. There is a need to grasp the changes taking place in Space-based assets, 5G technologies, Artificial Intelligence/ Machine Learning, robotics and Quantum technology in combating the adversaries.
How do you see the initiatives and coordination from the services side to create the required environment with the start-ups, PPPs and private companies to help them minutely understand to fulfill the immediate and long term requirements of the armed forces, to expedite Make In India?
CDS: Services are committed to the idea of Atmanirbhar Bharat with focus on Indigenisation and Make in India. In the last two years itself, a large number of initiatives have been undertaken to assist indigenous manufacturers including Start-ups. The overarching approach is to engage Indian manufacturers and vendors at every stage of the acquisition. These requirements are now enshrined in the DAP and will go a long way in creating an enabling environment for Indian industry. Further, some of the important initiatives are:
Priority of Categorisation in DAP 2020. DAP 2020 has been promulgated with the aim of promoting ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, ‘Make in India’, ‘Ease of Doing Business’ and ensuring greater participation of Indian companies in Defence sector. Priority is accorded to Indigenous procurement and provisions cater to exhausting all options before any decision is taken to go in for imports.
Broad Based Staff Qualitative Requirements (SQR) Formulation. The SQR formulation process has been comprehensively reviewed and revised to ensure operational requirements of the Services are objectively converted into broad-based SQRs, designed to assist indigenous industry in participating in the defence procurement process.
Ideas & Innovations Competitions. The Services have regularly been conducting the “Ideas and Innovation Competition”, for promoting development of innovative solutions for the field formations. Selected innovations are progressed further for production.
Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX). Since it’s launch, iDEX has emerged as a national scale eco-system for bringing together military users and operators with start-ups, innovators and entrepreneurs. iDEX 4 Fauji was launched, along with DISC IV to support innovations identified by grass root service personnel serving in the field conditions. This would incorporate the first-hand experience for improving and bringing operational and maintenance improvements in existing platforms, as also generate futuristic ideas for innovations in defence manufacturing. Successful examples include the ‘Innovation done in field of Robotics in Maritime Application’ by Lt (IN) Deepak Suman Kumar, ‘Wall-penetrating radar’ by Major Anoop Mishra and Bullet Proof Jacket by an Engineer Officer from CME, with support from TATA.
Cyber & Space are the two most dynamic and newer domains for the military. What is being done in these two domains under DMA? What is the scope for Indian or foreign companies in these two rapidly developing new domains of warfare?
CDS: We are conscious of the fact that Cyber and Space are the New Age domains that would be a decisive factor in future wars. We are also fully cognisant of the misadventures of Cyber cells of our adversaries. Hence we have taken concrete steps towards strengthening our capacities in these domains and achieve tangible returns in a time bound manner.
Cyber Domain: Though each service had their respective Cyber organisations, there was a need felt to have an overarching body to integrate the resources such that the sum total was greater than sum of its parts. This was genesis for the raising of the Defence Cyber Agency. The actions to strengthen the Defence Cyber Network Security and Cyber capacities are as under:-
Raising of Defence Cyber Agency (DCyA): The raising of DCyA has resulted in addressing issues related to Cyber capability under the aegis of Defence Forces. The Agency, along with affiliated establishments is being raised in a phased manner, and has been mandated to enhance Cyber awareness amongst Defence personnel, improve our Cyber Security posture and build up suitable capabilities to deter potential adversaries from Cyber-attacks. The best available technology and products from Indian/ foreign companies as applicable, after due vetting, are employed in conformity with GoI policies & laws of the land, to protect the Cyber assets of our Defence Services.
Induction/ Adoption of Indigenous Perimeter Security Solutions for Defence Service Networks. Identification and implementation of indigenous network perimeter security solutions for Defence Service is essential. Accordingly, use of indigenous perimeter security is being emphasized for Defence networks. Indigenous firewalls have been developed by DPSUs and in partnership with industry. Indigenous perimeter security solutions developed by the industry are also being evaluated. Initiatives by Indian industry in development of perimeter security devices are a welcome step towards ‘Atmanirbharta’.
Procurement of Cyber Security Products under GoI Public Procurement (Preference to Make in India) Order 2017. Ministry of Electronic & IT (MeitY) has issued a notification on Public Procurement Preference to Make in India (PPP-MII) for Cyber Security Products in Dec 2019. MeitY has notified broad categories of indigenously manufactured Cyber Products. The DAVP revised recently and the DPM under revision cater for procurement of ICT products with preference to Make in India.
Space Domain: With the raising of the Defence Space Agency (DSA) in Jun 2019, we have taken the first concrete step towards assimilating and bolstering all capabilities in military space domain. DSA has assumed control over tri-services units dealing in military space, streamlined processes and presently, is the ‘single point of contact’ on all military space matters. DSA is presently furthering work in numerous domains – like, imaging, communication, reconnaissance, navigation, and satellite communication, and is maintaining persistent engagement with all stakeholders in the National Security Matrix. As dependence on space assets and systems continues to rise, so does the vulnerability of own space assets to hostile action seeking to deny, degrade or destroy our capabilities. It is therefore pertinent that we take tangible steps to develop our capacities to protect our space based assets whilst at the same time maintain deterrence with Anti Satellite capability.
Scope of Indian or Foreign Companies: Through DSA, we have proactively engaged with Indian companies in niche technology areas like automated ‘Intelligent’ image analysis & change detection, Space Situation Awareness (SSA), launch vehicles, small satellites, satellite propulsion, high bandwidth communications, big data management, AI/ML applications and so on. We are well entrenched in the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” initiative and intend to leverage all available talent pool within the country, be it from Govt, quasi-Govt or civilian entities. DSA has also indentified areas of possible collaboration with Friendly Foreign Counties (FFCs) and is actively pursuing collaborative engagements with them.
We have seen a lot of reports saying 5G network & Indian Armed forces. Could you please throw some more light on it. How & What & is being done? What role could the Indian public and private industry play in it?
CDS: As you are aware, 5G networks are expected to usher in a technological revolution with very high data exchange rates and very low latency. As a start point, the Armed Forces and Dept of Telecommunications (DoT) have had detailed discussions on a mutually acceptable plan to make spectrum available in various bands for 5G roll out in the country without compromising requirements for National Security.
As per industry estimates, 5G technology is expected to mature in the next couple of years after which the benefits of the technology will be felt. 5G also holds promise for military applications in the field of artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, wearable devices, logistics management, health care infrastructure in Military Hospitals, use of Virtual reality/Augmented reality for training and ISR.
A tri-Services study group is already examining all aspects of possible military applications using 5G technology and will recommend a road map for the Services. Further, 5G test beds are also being established at different Defence institutions for research into 5G military applications. Towards establishing Defence 5G networks, resources and capabilities of private industry including academia will be utilised along with our PSUs and DRDO. This would be vital for establishing the required infrastructure including hardware components.