Monday, September 27, 2021

When Training Is Of Essence

Lt. Gen Shukla in conversation with Kamal Shah said, a well trained force is a durable asset. When the chips are down it makes the critical difference.

Question 1 : What is the charter of the Army Training Command or ARTRAC? How do activities of ARTRAC contribute to the long term growth of the Indian Army?

The charter of ARTRAC, as I discover with each passing day, is wide ranging, exciting, and challenging. Let me give you a quick overview. The first charge remains training, which is, of course, the basis of operational preparedness. Here, we lay great emphasis on the fundamentals of combat : physical fitness, marksmanship, field craft tactics, techniques and procedures, etc. We have about 48 Regimental Centres across the Nation, which impart basic and advanced military training to upwards of 60,000 soldiers every year. Then, we have 32 Category A Establishments spread across the country, responsible for domain specific training, like the Infantry School, the Artillery School, the School of Armoured Warfare, the Counter Insurgency & Jungle Warfare School, the High Altitude Warfare School, et al. Such domain specific training encapsulates tenets of High Altitude Warfare, Mechanised Warfare, Technical and Tactical Gunnery, Combat Engineering, etc.

Further, we have Pre-Commission Training Academies (PCTAs) like the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun and the Officers Training Academies at Gaya and Chennai. They train about 2000 officers annually. Women officers, a part and parcel of our combat echelons, have now been integrated into the training pedagogy at OTA Chennai.

We also have the Technical Entry Scheme, wherein we get about 180 entries annually who acquire their technical degrees (B.Techs) with us, in our three technical institutions : the Military College of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (MCEME), the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering (MCTE) and the College of Military Engineering (CME). This has helped in large measure to enhance technology threshold of the Indian Army.

Our three technical institutions churn out about 240 B.Techs every year. In addition, we have about 100 officers doing M.Techs annually from IITs and the best engineering colleges in the country.

We also have the Army War College, which trains three generations of officers, in combat, command and leadership. Here, they undergo three important career courses : the Junior Command, the Senior Command and the Higher Command.

So, it’s not only training, as you see, but also Professional Military Education, on which we lay great emphasis to widen the world views of our officers. We of course take great pride in our primary skills in war fighting, but, it is equally important that today’s officer has a wider world view. So, upon basic military prowess, we craft attributes like knowledge of statecraft, diplomacy, international affairs, wider issues pertaining to national defence, etc. We also lay great emphasis on officers becoming technologically savvy. Many of our officers also go to best universities abroad (Cranfield, Maryland) and undergo courses in engineering, international affairs, combat philosophies, domains of national security, etc. All this is happening under the aegis of or is facilitated by ARTRAC.

And if that were not enough, we have the Junior Leaders Academy (JLA), which trains junior leaders : our JCOs and NCOs in leadership skills. We also have the NCO Academy at Dhana, which is actually the cutting edge of our combat prowess, in areas like field craft, marksmanship, drills, manoeuvres, tactics, techniques and procedures. We have recently set up a Leadership Faculty in the Army War College, which focuses purely on various facets of leadership, since leadership development is central to evolution of the Indian Army.
Internal to HQ ARTRAC, we have a REDFOR Branch which looks at current and evolving threats. It looks at our Eastern & Western Horizons and on happenings in the IOR. ARTRAC has a Tri-Service component, to include Naval and Air Force officers who help us keep watch on developments all around us.

We also keep an eye on futures, because National Security is largely about identifying what futures are and then building capacities so that we are not found wanting in what the futures hold. So, we keep a watchful eye on strategic – military futures.

Today, technology is power as they say ; technology is also geo-politics. We are investing hugely in technology, and all this is happening under the vision and strategic guidance of our Chief, Gen Naravane.

So that is what our charter is all about. As I said, it is huge. It is also all encompassing. I would also like to think that ARTRAC contributes in profound ways to building / shaping the ethos, leadership, combat outlook, operational preparedness, strategic outlook of the Indian Army. So, in quiet ways, the ARTRAC has a very key role to play in shaping combat prowess and character of the Indian Army.

We are also in close and constant touch with our field formations, since it is very important that the ideation that we do, the training and education that we carry out, is in sync with needs of field formations. Lastly, may I say that we also make sure that we don’t ideate in isolation. Whatever we ideate, we follow through. So, synchronised ideation and implementation is our leitmotif.
This in a nutshell, is what ARTRAC does.

Question 2 : Digital era connect is the need of the hour in keeping with rapid changes in the character of war. What is being done at ARTRAC to ensure that the Indian Army enhances its digital combat capacity ?

About a year back, the Chief asked us to look at what is referred to as disruptive technologies : this whole technology boom, which is taking place around AI, to include 5G, the Military IoT, Big Data, Blockchain, Quantum etc. I use AI as an umbrella term, which encompasses all that. So, we explored how these disruptive technologies will impact war fighting concepts and structures. We put together a presentation, deliberated it with the Chief and finally presented it to the Honourable Raksha Mantri. And from there we structured a road map which we are now following through.

You would have seen the Drone Swarming that we demonstrated on Army Day 2021. We also have made progress in the field of quantum enabled secure communications. We have set up an AI Lab, a Quantum Lab, all as part of a major technology thrust to the Indian Army. And let me tell you that the results have been very encouraging. A lot of the ideas and products which we outlined in the presentation that I referred to, we have followed through on them. So, I think, this is very satisfying.

A fall out of the broader technology thrust, is this transition to digital era combat. In fact, we have just debated the subject at the Doctrine and Strategy Seminar, held in Mhow last week, which was addressed by the COAS and where we examined various facets of transition to digital era combat. We will now identify as to which of these digital proficiencies, concepts, and enablers, can we tap to make our operational poise and our operational structures more efficient.

While the fundamentals of combat are constant : fire, manoeuvre, kinetics ; but they in my view are getting substantially influenced by digital era capacities. In future, the salience of software may be just as significant as the potency of hardware. It may also be wise to conclude that in future, war fighting may not be only about the best tanks and the best gun platforms, but as we saw in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Idlib, also about proficiencies in these softer layers of hard power, viz. digital capacities.

We are therefore looking at Algorithmic Warfare. We are looking at what apps we must invest in. We are looking at developing prowess in cloud technologies; we are examining for example, the utility of a Tri-Service Cloud. So tomorrow, say, if you have a Tri-Service Cloud, you could have a Su-30 getting airborne, acquiring imagery that you need and offloading the imagery into this cloud. This imagery can then be downloaded directly by a Combat Group Commander up in the front or a Company Commander deployed on the Northern borders.

This kind of push to digital proficiencies is what we are looking at. We have some ideas which we shall develop and thereafter create a roadmap for precise implementation.

And it’s not only in software and hardware. But, it is also in developing a larger understanding of digital era proficiencies. We are discussing digital era proficiencies in our courses of instructions, seminars, etc; so that personnel handling or looking at these kinds of technologies can exploit them optimally.

Which also brings me to the point, that we, perhaps in future, will also need a new kind of talent pipelines. We are looking at how do we get officers with these skills into the Army. What will be their career paths? We are conscious that these new age skills come more naturally to the younger, digital generation. We are also aware that we are competing with the same common talent pools, because everybody wants people with digital era proficiencies.

So there are multiple challenges that we are contending with.

Question 3 : What is your view of the gathering strategic adversity around India ? What role does ARTRAC have in making strategic assessments ?

Before I comment on what you have asked, let me also emphasise to you that all that we do in ARTRAC is in sync with the many Directorates of Army Headquarters. Our analysis of trends in geopolitics, technology shifts, and the strategic environment around us, is done in accord with the Military Intelligence Directorate, the Military Operations and the Strategic Planning Directorate.

So, what do we do at ARTRAC in the context of your question? We keep an eye on technology shifts and geopolitical trends. I spoke about this whole technology boom around AI. In geopolitical trends we are keeping a close watch on the intensifying contest between USA and China, because that will have implications for us. We are looking at our Eastern horizons because China is indeed the signature geopolitical challenge of our times, and the skill with which we navigate China will define the India of the 21st Century. We also analyse developments in the IOR. Though we are the Army, but we are in a joint environment today, Joint All Domain in fact. So we focus on developing a Joint Perspective across Domains.

Developments in Afghanistan have accentuated the need to keep an eye on our Western horizons, because shadows are lengthening therein ; we see new axes developing : Pakistan – China – Turkey. China’s growing influence in Central Asia, et al.

So, I would say that we keep a watchful eye on the strategic adversities, opportunities, and challenges around us. And from there we try and derive what should be the military follow-throughs in general, and what the Indian Army should do in particular.

We are appropriately structured to carry out these strategic assessments. We have a REDFOR Branch, which I said has officers with expertise in relevant areas. We have a MGGS REDFOR, a BGS China, and a BGS Pak. We also have a MGGS Doctrines. So we are geared to look at all these issues through open source intelligence, domain expertise, experience and the classified information that we get. We leverage derivatives from these geopolitical trends and technology shifts to resource our Doctrines. And of course, these doctrines also keep evolving. So we do this very actively and it is a very interesting and exciting field.

Question 4 : You made a reference to REDFOR. Could you elaborate on its role ?

Well, I alluded to the structure of REDFOR. As challenges intensify, as the pace of change accentuates, REDFOR also has to get cracking accordingly. It is incumbent upon us to stay ahead of the challenge. REDFOR enables the effort.

REDFOR is taking a very fine look at what’s happening in the Western Theatre Command, the PLA Campaign in Transition, PLA Doctrines, etc. It is evaluating how the PLA is transiting to digital era combat. We are also looking at our force differentials with Pakistan. So, we keep an eye on all that. So that we remain prepared and execute in advance what we need to do.

And whatever inputs we get, or deductions that we make in operational, strategic, and doctrinal terms; we share with Army Headquarters. We brief the Chief periodically. And shall I say, steps are thereafter taken to address these challenges. So, it’s an ongoing process. It keeps evolving. Periodically, we test some of our hypotheses, in war games and exercises. It is a constant, iterative process of war gaming, reviews and evolution, in order that we stay ahead of challenges and change.

Question 5 : You made a reference to the salience of emerging domains like cyber, space, quantum, etc. How do you view these domains? How is ARTRAC contributing in developing capacities therein?


I agree that these new domains are emerging as domains of future warfighting. Space and Cyber, if you just take these two, in my view, they are central to India’s national security in many ways.

Collectively, the emerging domains, say Space, Cyber, AI, Edge Technologies, Electronic Warfare, etc, have many military enablers to offer. We are seeing how best we can fuse the many enablers and capacities which come from these domains with our traditional domains : land, air and sea. The skill with which we fuse the physical domains and these cognitive domains, and the accelerated pace at which we can fuse them, in my view, will define the armies of future, as also the Indian Army.

Just let me give you an example, say of Space. It is not only the science of space, but also the geopolitics of space today, that is pertinent. The Chinese are looking not only at space but also outer space. The Americans concede, that in thought, the Chinese may be ahead of them. China asserts that there can be no military superiority on earth without hegemony in space. So that is the thought process.

Today, there is no doubt that space is a war fighting domain. So we have recently set up a Defence Space Agency. It needs to have a very robust protect and defend mission, with a definite AOR, and so on and so forth.

May I point out that in the USA, the only command, in recent times, which has got upgraded to a Combatant Command is the US Space Command. It is the Eleventh Combatant Command of USA. That tells you the salience of space.

A brief word about Cyber. As you know today, the global IoT consists of some 50 billion devices. 40% of India is yet to get connected but when it does, imagine the sheer volume of our cyberspace. As the Indian Armed Forces turn digital, data concentrations will grow phenomenally. This expanded cyberspace will thus need protection.

It is also a fact today, that cyberspace is an arena of not only state on state competition, but also great power play. People are today dominating cyberspace in many ways. It is said that the American 2020 elections were secured largely by competencies of the US Cyber Command. Countries today have got capacities, you know, with these massive cyber strikes to disable cities for weeks. And they could happen in conjunction with military operations elsewhere.

So we need to develop, shall I say, our trade craft, protocols, deep strategies in the arena of cyber ; there are concepts of persistent engagement, hunting forward, etc, which we need to study. What I wish to say is that, like space, even cyber is emerging as a domain of war fighting.

So, within the Army, we are giving great attention to development of cyber skills. We are going to set up a cyber range in MCTE, Mhow. We on the directions of our Chief are organising a nationwide Hackathon very shortly.

In the future, true strategic advantage, the combat edge, will come from our ability to converge traditional capacities and emerging domains. So that is the philosophy which powers our drive towards emerging domains and that’s what we are doing in ARTRAC, and the larger Indian Army.

Question 6 : When we look at other leading global contemporaries in terms of leveraging of cyber and space, India appears to be a bit of a late starter. Space has not been privatised and capacities remain confined to the ISRO. Similarly, NTRO dominates cyber, though similar capacities exist in the private sector. Where does India stand today in these domains?

To be fair, in both the space and cyber domains, our fundamentals are strong. The ISRO as you know is widely respected for its capacities in space. So are our fundamentals in cyber pretty potent. Indians are known to be very good at software, I mean, Bangalore is acknowledged for its skills in software, Hyderabad is famous, Pune is not too far behind. Our software engineers excel in the toughest human laboratory in the world : in the USA.

But, I would also agree with you that in so far as setting up of the Defence Space Agency and the Defence Cyber Agency, is concerned we have been late. So there is a need for a speedy catch up. But I don’t think that we need worry greatly, because of our strong fundamentals.

The future as you rightly point out is about civil-military fusion. Especially in these two domains, which essentially means tapping talent from any quarter : military, civil, private sector, government, any quarter. If I may just reinforce the point further, in the US, the Space Force is partnering with not only NASA, but also with Elon Musk. So that seems to be the way forward : civil – military fusion.

In the Indian context too, I mean there is no other option. All silos will have to dissolve. In future a NTRO space asset should be able to cue a maritime asset or an aerial platform with equal ease. There has to be fusion across domains and at digital speeds. So I would say; the government, private sector, DRDO, ISRO, Armed Forces, the scientific community, academia, all will have to come together in this endeavour towards effective civil-military fusion.

And if we do that, from our very strong base capacities, I think we should be able to catch up much faster. Much of it is already happening, for example, some of the talent pipelines have already been identified, of getting people skilled in space and cyber into these two agencies.

In the last two to three years, the Indian Army has really intensified its cooperation with civilian areas of expertise. So, today, we are not only in close sync with our IITs, but also with our IIMs, Regional Engineering Colleges, RRU, BISAG, the wider Academia. Many of our military start-ups are doing well because they are incubated in IITs.

We are signing MOUs with private universities. The Maharashtra Institute of Technology in Pune has formalised a MOU with the College of Military Engineering. We have set up a Sarvatra Center in Pune where we are getting young interns with interest in military domains, to power our capacity building.

But the central point that you make is absolutely right. It has to be civil military fusion whereby all silos will have to go. Such fusion will flow primarily from the humility of acknowledging that these challenges are so humongous that no single organization on its own will be able to meet them. So we have to fuse.

Question 7 : You assert that military start-ups have begun to take off. How is the ARTRAC facilitating growth of start-ups?

You know this whole business of start-ups, iDEX, Atma Nirbharta, this is, I think, one of the primary areas of endeavour of this government. Many schemes and pathways have been laid out by the MoD. Within the Army, these are driven by the Army Design Bureau in Army Headquarters.

How does ARTRAC come in? It does so through its 32 Cat A Establishments, which provide great reach and render necessary expertise. So we are assisting the ADB in their initiatives.

One of these endeavours was drone swarming, which we did with a Bangalore based start-up. From what we did on the Army Day, we have moved forward and are following up on integrating drone capacities with our field formations. We have had some very encouraging results.

But there is a larger point that I want to make. The Indian Army is now outreaching to these start-ups and minimizing bureaucratese. So, today anybody, shall I say, can send what is called a suo-moto proposal. It can be on one or two pages of paper, even a Whatsapp message. We analyse the same and if we see merit, we find pathways, to align procedures with the idea of that start-up to germinate. So this broader climate of innovation, energy and enterprise, is the biggest gainer, far more, than individual successes.

And since these start-ups are youthful, they are not only skilled, they are enthusiastic, they are energetic; so they have brought an entirely new energy and dimension to defence capacity building. This is not in any way to subtract from what DRDO and the others have done over the years. They continue to be our partners. But start-ups have brought in an entirely new energy and also shall I say, healthy competition for the DRDO.

Our experience with start-ups has been very encouraging and uplifting. We are now venturing into diverse domains, like Low Light Imaging, AR, VR, exoskeletons, robotics, humanoid robots, robotic mules, AI based surveillance along the Line of Control etc. So from imagery analysis to robotics, to exoskeletons, to drones, to swarming, the start-ups have performed brilliantly.

We are leveraging ARTRAC R&D Funds to give a fillip to start ups Last year, we spent a mere 20 crores. This year the COAS has given us a target of 100 crores. We have already touched about 60 crores. I am pretty confident that we will surpass the target. As Start-Up driven products find their way into our inventory. I am sure, the domain will get energised even more.

Question 8 : One quick follow-up question. We witnessed Drone Swarming Technology displayed on Army Day. But, when do we actually operationalise the capacity ?

See, drones have to be looked at in two to three ways. One is the whole concepts of drones. I mean global militaries were somehow taken by surprise by what happened in Idlib and Armenia-Azerbaijan. Drones effectively threatened the traditional prima-donnas of combat : tanks, artillery, the infantry.

So, we are taking a look at tactics, techniques, and procedures. What should our Mech Forces do to square up to the drone challenge? What should our Arty do? And the manner in which especially our Mechanised Forces operate in the face of the drone challenges will have to be examined. So there is the conceptual facet.

The other point is swarming. From the success we got at Army Day, in all humility, we have taken the process forward, as I said as per directions of our Chief. The aim is to try and very quickly take successes of the Drone Swarming endeavour into our field formations. We are already collaborating with 14 Corps. Soon, we will be developing an initiative with 10 Corps, in terms of optimising payloads, ammunition miniaturisation, weight classes, speeds, etc; all the nitty-gritty that comes with an effective drone swarm. That is something that we are already doing.

We are also trying to get drones into our operational inventory. In this regard, we will hopefully have some good news in the near future.
Another area of interest to us has been the Logistics Drone. We are looking at drones which can deliver say in high altitude, heights of 15,000 – 16,000 feet and above, a 50 kg payload, and that is proving to be a challenge.

So we are looking at new technologies. A Bangalore start-up has come up with the Quad Jet technology, which is basically, micro turbines and not fuel engines or battery powered drones. We are looking at this technology and the initial signs are pretty good. If this Quad Jet technology works, we could be in a position to deliver 50 kg payloads at those heights with a one-way travel of 50 kilometres.
So we are looking at the whole drone space. Counter-drone is a challenge, something that the AAD College is working upon. We are looking at lasing. DRDO has done some good work in this domain.

We are looking at all of this, but the plain truth is that in many of these areas, technology discovery, by its very nature, has its own pace. You can push it only this much and not beyond. But we are doing our best.

The other point is swarming. From the success we got at Army Day, in all humility, we have taken the process forward, as I said as per directions of our Chief. The aim is to try and very quickly take successes of the Drone Swarming endeavour into our field formations. We are already collaborating with 14 Corps. Soon, we will be developing an initiative with 10 Corps, in terms of optimising payloads, ammunition miniaturisation, weight classes, speeds, etc; all the nitty-gritty that comes with an effective drone swarm. That is something that we are already doing.

We shall shortly be inducting drones into our operational inventory. In this regard, we will hopefully have some good news in the near future.

Another area of interest to us has been the Logistics Drone. We are looking at drones which can deliver say in high altitude, heights of 15,000 – 16,000 feet and above, a 50 kg payload, and that is proving to be a challenge.

So we are looking at new technologies. A Bangalore start-up has come up with the Quad Jet technology, which is basically, micro turbines and not fuel engines or battery powered drones. We are looking at this technology and the initial signs are pretty good. If this Quad Jet technology works, we could be in a position to deliver 50 kg payloads at those heights with a one-way travel of 50 kilometres.
So we are looking at the whole drone space. Counter-drone is a challenge, something that the AAD College is working upon. We are looking at lasing. DRDO has done some good work in this domain.

We are looking at all of this, but the plain truth is that in many of these areas, technology discovery, by its very nature, has its own pace. You can push it only this much and not beyond. But we are doing our best.

Question 9 : Since the operational environment is changing rapidly, so must doctrines. Do you feel there is a need to revisit the Indian Military Doctrine as well?

Absolutely. You cannot handle challenges of the future with yesterday’s thinking. So your thinking has to change, and doctrines have to change.

Doctrinal evolution is a constant process. So what have we done in recent times? I gave you the example of Disruptive Technologies. Thereafter, we have taken a look at Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), which is basically integrating space, cyber and emerging domains with traditional domains. In MDO, we are looking at capacity building, concepts, etc.

And let me also say, our doctrinal thought is not confined merely to technology. We are taking a very serious look at China as the signature geopolitical challenge. So with rise of China, what are the military implications? We have taken a look at China’s strategic military makeover, it’s Rocket Force, Strategic Support Force, which is basically strategic integration of kinetics and non-kinetics. All these developments will impact war fighting in the Sino-Indian context. So how should we respond doctrinally and structurally to these changes?

So we are analysing Disruptive Technologies, MDO, China, Digital Combat, AI and the future of power, etc. It is said that the effects of AI will exceed those of the industrial revolution by several orders of magnitude. It will also impact warfighting, so we are looking at what networks we need? As we digitize, we need new networks, new protocols. These networks should be powered by deep learning machines, they should be able to leverage big data sets, handle high-speed cyber. So all these issues are part of our doctrinal evolution : the strategic / technology re-sets that we need to keep pace with change.

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