Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Indian Army … Future Perfect A Conversation With General Naravane

Kamal Shah

In a wide ranging conversation with Kamal Shah, Editorial Director of IA&D, the current Chief of the Army Staff & Officiating Chairman – Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) General Naravane talks of the integration of the forces, the operational readiness and successful response to challenges in the past two years and the increase in efficiency by the shift to theatre commands

Q1. How do you see your two years as the COAS? What is going to be your most focused area for the Indian Army in the immediate future?

My tenure as COAS, has been extremely challenging, interesting and professionally satisfying. The Indian Army successfully responded to serious and varied challenges, both internal and external, like COVID-19 and the situation in Eastern Ladakh. We ensured operational and moral ascendency on the Line of Control and the Line of Actual Control but also maintained stability in Internal Security situations. The Indian Army continues to modernise while it prepares to counter future threats to the Nation.

We take the commitment of ensuring the territorial integrity of the Nation very seriously and to that end; we are focused on force modernisation of all Arms and Services along with capability development and restructuring of our higher defence organisations and fighting formations. We aim to fight our wars with our own equipment and there has been a renewed impetus towards indigenisation and Atmanirbharta. The welfare for serving soldiers, families, veer naris and veterans continues to remain as top priority for us.

Q2. You are currently the Officiating Chairman COSC in addition to the COAS. As you have been actively involved in the integration among Armed Forces and the process of creation of theatre commands with the DMA, can you comment on the progress made thus far? How soon could India see the first (set of) theatre command(s) being announced?

Theatre Command models of a nation have to be congruent to their security and force projection needs, geo-strategic pursuits and availability of resources. As India’s security imperatives are unique, there can be no template that can be transposed, as such. As I have highlighted earlier on multiple occasions, India faces diverse and multi-spectral threats and challenges from our neighbours, especially with whom we share active borders. Our Armed Forces therefore, need to be always prepared to execute a robust response for such multi-spectral challenges.

We need to be prepared to fight a conventional war, while continuing to guard our multi-front borders, countering proxy war and insurgencies, defend our island territories, be prepared for Out of Area Contingencies and counter new generation warfare (Hybrid, Non-Contact, Grey Z, etc.) while we dominate our seas and skies. Therefore, what we need is a tailor-made model suited to our unique requirements. While some changes in structures, Command and Control arrangements and functioning are inescapable in such transformative initiatives, aggregated employment of individual Service capabilities is an imperative for integration. The current standoff in Eastern Ladakh reinforces the requirement.

Driven by the DMA, separate studies chaired by the C-in-Cs of the nominated Commands of the Lead Services are underway and progressing well. They are following the timelines that have been promulgated by the DMA. The Indian Army stands fully committed to jointness and synergy amongst the three Services. The creation of Theatre Commands now is a work in progress; however, the Services are committed to working towards ensuring integration through the envisaged Integrated Theatre Commands. While the structures of Integrated Theatre Commands are being formed, the three services will continue to address all threats with seamless synergy as hitherto fore.

Q3. How will the creation of theatre commands and integration impact the entire procurement process and utilisation of assets, weapons and platforms among the armed forces? Has the procurement process already started factoring in integration and future theatre commands?

All three services are in the process of modernisation, which is a continuing process, even after the creation of Theatre Commands. However, theaterisation would definitely enable a fair degree of asset sharing, optimisation & integration. In order to align the procurement process to the ongoing transformation, the Integrated Capability Development System (ICADS) process has already commenced. This will fructify into a Tri Services 10 year Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP) replacing the earlier 15 year Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP).

The ICDP would be further divided into two 5 year Defence Capability Acquisition Plans (DCAP), which would further translate into a two years roll on Annual Acquisition Plans (AAP). Notwithstanding the ICADS process, the procurements and Capability Development Acquisition are already largely integrated, wherein all such cases are processed with due indulgence of all the three Services and approved in a joint body of SPB, DPB and DAC. We are also focussing all our procurements towards indigenous sources.

Q4. You have been directly and intensely involved in the modernisation process of the Indian Army since you were Vice Chief. How do you see the Indian Army’s modernisation plan progressing?

The Indian Army has a well-defined modernisation plan in place. This process has gathered momentum and is facilitated by the Emergency Procurement powers granted to the three Services.

62 contracts valued at INR 93,253 Crores were signed during the last 3-4 years. In addition to the contracts concluded, currently 94 schemes valued at INR 1,52,387 Crores are at various stages of the procurement process of which 15 schemes valued at INR 30,768 Crores are at advance stages wherein final sanction by the competent authorities is awaited. 35 fresh Acceptance of Necessity (AoNs) of a total value of INR 32,609/- Crores have been obtained in the last one year, for initiation of fresh procurement cases, are in addition to contracts carried forward from previous years.

Capability development is an ongoing process with long, mid and short-term goals. We are exploring new, niche & state of the art equipment and technologies. Special attention is focused on acquisition from indigenous industries and is committed to the ‘Atmanirbhar’ focus of the Government.

Q5. What are the areas & technologies where indigenisation content in the Indian Army’s weapons, assets & platforms could be increased to further enhance Make in India & Atmanirbharta?

A number of indigenous design and development projects have been successfully completed with exclusive proprietary rights with the Indian industry.

To name a few, AKASH System, Quick Reaction Surface to Air Missiles (QRSAM), Main Battle Tank Arjun, BrahMos Missiles system, Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) & Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) helicopters are fine examples of Indian industry’s indigenously designed Hi-Tech and modern equipment.

The progress in indigenisation by Indian Industry has been impressive. It is evident that the Indian Defence industry has achieved numerous milestones in the high technology & niche technology fields in a short time.

I am confident that the Indian Industry will ensure very expeditious indigenisation of most equipment, which is still under procurement from foreign sources.

Q6. On the procurement front, what are going to be the Indian Army’s thrust areas and domains in near future? In this regard, a set of tentative numbers from respective domains of the Indian Army, would help our readers understand the larger picture.

On the procurement front, the Indian Army is pursuing the goals of a modern and capable army with a capacity to address dynamic requirements of a future conflict scenario. The Armed Forces already have an institutionalised set of policies and procedures for Capability Development.

The focus of the Indian Army is primarily on Research & Development, procurement & acquisition of tech and equipment, which will enable early detection, surveillance, monitoring, targeting & causing attrition to the adversary. High on the agenda is acquiring capacities, which will enable integrated employment of forces of all the three Services.

For the Infantry, in forward areas, we have already procured or contracted weapons, protective equipment, surveillance devices, mines, clothing, vehicles and other wherewithal which will enable the cutting edge forward troops to win decisive battle in a robust and secure manner.

Similarly, for Mechanised Forces, procurement of future ready mechanised platforms has been set in motion besides steps for further improving the night fighting capability & mobility by procurement of multitude of sub-systems for Mechanised Forces platforms (i.e. T-72, T-90, BMP-II et al) already in service. Other support arms are being empowered with more accurate, longer-range weapons & systems to address all forms of future battles/ conflicts.

We are working on niche technology and weapon systems with emphasis on Indian sources under ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. The focus areas are multi capacity drones/ UAVs, counter-drone/UAV systems with various capacities, more accurate small arms, better protective equipment, longer reach and advanced Artillery weapon systems, Air Defence systems covering the entire range of threat spectrum, more potent & futuristic Electronic Warfare measures, better communication, etc.

Q7. What are the next generation new platforms, assets & technologies that the Indian Army is currently working or focusing on?

The Indian Army is focussing on weapons, platforms & technology which can be manufactured in India with full Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) or know-how. We are focussing on weapons systems, which will enable the Indian Army transitions to the next few decades with great confidence. Some of the next generation projects envisaged are Autonomous Systems, AI enabled platforms, Long Range Precision Technology, Futuristic Combat Vehicles, Improved Air Defence Technologies, Improved Soldiers Mobility & Survivability, and State of Art Communication & Electronic Warfare Systems et al.

Q8. How do you see the new and disruptive technologies and warfare domains like space, cyber, 5G, Artificial Intelligence etc. shaping the future warfare? How is the Indian Army preparing for these newer frontiers (wherever applicable to Army)?

Technology presents huge military opportunities and its associated challenges in the realm of National Security. It is important to understand how emerging technologies will develop over time and what they mean from an operational and organisational perspective in new age warfare. Technology-led modernisation should drive more rapid and ambitious capability outcomes by ensuring a match between resources and objectives.

The Indian Army has constituted an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Subcommittee to oversee and monitor all cases, which pertain to procurements related to future warfare. The development of weaponry and other systems is being done keeping in mind the need for future integration of all weapon systems with AI. In Natural Language Processing, the focus has been in the development of ruggedised ‘Wearable Mandarin Translators’. The potential usage is during troop engagements and border management meetings will be of immense value for the field Army. Presently some devices are under field evaluation. For satellite and UAV imagery analysis, projects are being undertaken in automatic identification and change detection to enable event alerts.

AI will also have tremendous utility in the field of logistics and we are developing projects in supply chain and inventory management. In health care, we are developing a project, which focuses on high altitude illness, identification of predisposing factors and early indicators in the development of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), Hypertension, High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPO) and High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACO), which will help in reduction in morbidity, and mortality of troops.

The military applications of 5G tech have vital strategic and battlefield importance, as the next gen of military communication infrastructure will be based on 5G. Faster speeds, high data rates, greater capacity, low latency, seamless coverage and more simultaneous connections are the hallmarks of 5G. We are in the process of taking small yet solid steps towards 5G implementation in the Army like establishment of 5G test beds, development of EW capability against 5G mobile networks, assess risks posed by cyber threats and vulnerabilities in 5G Infrastructure.

Indian industry has tremendous indigenous capability in the industry for Quantum Cryptography, which we intend to leverage for future warfare. We have engaged with the industry to develop capabilities in Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) for the Indian Army. An iDeX project for QKD over 200 km for establishing a hub and scope communication architecture in a nominated test bed command is likely to be sanctioned shortly.

Q9. Armies of many developed nations have already started experimenting and adopting newer unconventional technologies. From the Indian requirements point of view, what are the areas and technologies you would want the industry to focus on future requirements of the Indian Army?

The Indian Army’s Modernisation Strategy covers the entire spectrum of conflict and is structured along three cardinal approaches.  Foremost on the list is to address conventional warfare capability, we are investing on futuristic weapon systems like the FICV, FRCVs, Light Tanks, wheeled AFVs, advanced BMPs, 155mm 52 calibre gun systems, VSHORADS, QRSAM, SPADGM (SP), AD Guns & radars to enhance Air Defence capabilities. The Aviation fleet will soon undergo a major transformation, as replacement of the Cheetah / Chetak helicopters and weaponised platforms is likely.

The second category is the support systems in the domain of Electronic Warfare, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance to include HALE, MALE and RW independent RPAS along with SATCOM enabled RPAS to provide a fillip to ISR capability, Micro/Mini UAVs, quadcopters, swarm drone technology and Electronic Warfare systems. There are also the requirements for the on-going operations in the constantly evolving operational environment.

Modernisation of Infantry in domains of lethality and survivability for which procurement of Protected Mob Vehicles & all-terrain vehicles is essential to provide tactical mobility. Development of precision Mortars with longer ranges, equipping Infantry with 100% Night sights & surveillance devices along with high level of individual protection & survivability equipment (BPJs, Helmets) including exo-skeleton are certain imperatives which need to  be catered for

Some of the disruptive & niche technologies, which will usher in a new era of warfare affecting all the above-mentioned issues, includes Artificial Intelligence, Unmanned Vehicles, Directed Energy Weapons, Quantum Technology and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality.

Q 10. Drones have emerged as the new warfare frontier in the recent past. The Indian Army has demonstrated a lot of interest in supporting and developing start-ups and MSMEs dealing with drones. How is it being done and what are the plans?

The requirement of drones is pronounced in the dynamic nature of warfare. They act as force multipliers while retaining force preservation. Our industry has been able to deliver surveillance, swarm and logistic drones within a short span of time, which is commendable.  The threat of drones along our Northern & Western borders is ever increasing and to counter it, we have developed counter drone systems varying from short range to long range capable of both soft & hard kills. 

The capability of the Defence & Aerospace industry is built on supply chains in which MSMEs are intertwined. Special incentives in terms of reservation in production, offsets and Make procedure have been provided. Procurement up to INR100 crores is reserved for MSMEs as they are the bedrock in the indigenisation of Defence equipment.  Various MSMEs and start-ups have connected to the forces individually as through Industry associations and interact regularly to discuss the development of Drones in line with the Army’s requirements.

Over MSMEs & start-ups involved in the development of drone technology have been facilitated by the Armed forces. Additional initiatives like organising forward area tours, providing ranges, equipment and infrastructure for facilitating development of Drone technology is being carried out. Over the last one year, a significant number of tactical & logistics drones have been procured from start-ups and MSMEs. We plan to further enhance internal evaluation and capability demonstration across all terrains for enabling development for induction into the Armed Forces.

We have opened up our R&D facilities, ranges and are constantly engaging with entrepreneurs and academia to handhold them to develop the best technologies.

Q 11. From start-up to drone swarming to predator drones, the Indian Army is handling a wide range of drones. What are the Indian Army’s procurement, development & utilisation plans for drones and anti-drones systems?

Based on detailed analysis, a multi-pronged and pragmatic approach to achieve cost effective and time bound counter-drone & Drone capabilities is being followed with development or procurements through ACSFP, Make II, Army Innovations and DRDO.

Drone Swarms are in various stages of R&D world over due to the fluid state of technologies involved. However, their actual deployment for military tasks is very limited. A global scan will indicate that different technologies are at various stages of experimentation in this domain. Few countries have progressed considerably with a variety of parallel use cases leading to mushrooming of their drone ecosystem.

For the Indian Army, infusion of drone swarms is being done through a multi-pronged approach through the capital route for homogeneous & heterogeneous swarms. Limited trials for R&D have been completed as a first step, drone swarms are being provided for field exploitation, and a parallel case for D&D (Make II) has been initiated.

The Indian drone industry is fast evolving through a combination of indigenous development and joint ventures with foreign firms. Currently most Indian manufacturers are dependent on foreign firms for hardware while a few manufacturers having capability to design drone parts through digital printing. However, traditional supremacy of Indian Industry in software & communications is being harnessed.

•It is also true that all major components of drones, the auto pilots, battery pack, motherboard  and motors are imported, the majority from China, the world leader in drones. It is important that both industry and academia must rise to the challenge and make India truly ‘Atmanirbhar’. There is a need for greater synergy between users and the development agencies towards development of the drone products.

This association will assist the drone ecosystem to grow through collaboration between its stakeholders. The development agencies will benefit through realistic feedback while users will avail of products with enhanced capabilities. The indigenous industry has adequate expertise to develop excellent products and the latest procurements by the Indian Army are indicative of its efforts to further encourage the indigenous ecosystem.

The Army Design Bureau of the Indian Army is spearheading numerous initiatives for the same. Regular No Cost No Commitment (NCNC) demonstrations are organised for users to get an insight into the products available. Further, internal trials of various development agencies are being assisted through dedicated provision of suitable trial space, time & user feedback.

Q12. From the industry perspective, few Indian companies from the domains like explosives, ammunitions & guns have shown their potential and encouraging results after the government’s Make in India policy. What is the Indian Army’s role and plans in encouraging those Indian companies to further boost their potential?

The Indian Army is committed to the Make in India initiative of the Government of India. The Indian Army has prioritised its procurement from Indian industry and is hand holding numerous indigenisation projects right from the design and development stage until the final trial stage. 

Several endeavours have been undertaken by the Indian Army to boost self-reliance in the defence sector. Starting from Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020, which has been suitably revised to encourage and accord priority to Indigenous design and manufacturing of equipment through various routes such as Buy & Make (IDDM), Make I, Make II and IDEX.

Further, a series of Positive Indigenisation List (PIL) of defence weapons & equipment, which would not be imported, are being promulgated. 1st PIL consisting of 101 items was promulgated in August 2020 & 2nd PIL comprising of 108 items was promulgated in May 2021. In 2020, in terms of value of total contracts signed through the normal procurement process, indigenous vendors lead with an overall percentage of 94.65%.  In the current financial year until date, out of 20 AoNs, 19 are ‘Buy Indian’. Further, out of 19 contracts signed, 13 are indigenous worth approx. INR 33,871.

Q13. Multiple audits and reports on shortage of ammunition to fight a war like situation were common until a few years ago. In this backdrop, how do you see the role and future of Indian defence companies manufacturing ammunition and explosives?  What impact would the restructuring of OFBs have on it?

The Indian Army is one of the largest Armies in the world with a huge inventory of weapons and equipment that is necessitated by the varied and difficult terrain. We need to develop a vibrant defence industrial base and invest in niche home grown technology that will not just produce new age systems but also provide indigenously developed spares/ replacements to sustain the existing inventory.

The holding stocks of ammunition in the Indian Army have consistently improved since 2016. However, considerable deficiencies still exist in the case of some newly inducted weapons and ammunition for which indigenous production exists. However, it needs to further improve.

Considering these criticalities, additional financial powers have been accorded to the Vice Chief to build stocks up to “15 (I) levels”. Emergency power procurements currently underway will accrue improvement in our ammunition holding stocks. The indigenous manufacturing of ammunition has been achieved in some ammunition to include 155 mm HE shells, fuzes for artillery guns and some missile systems.

Further, the current focus on harnessing Indian industry for manufacturing various types of ammunition will lead us to the goal of self-reliance. With the assistance of DRDO and DPSUs, we continuously work to ensure a higher domestic content in all our equipment procurements including ammunition. Re-structuring and corporatisation of OFBs have created better management structures, which are solely focused on quality control and R&D. This will give impetus to our twin goals of indigenisation and modernisation.

Q14. We have seen a couple of negative imports list (positive list) already issued by the MoD. As the Chairman – COSC do you see scope for more such negative lists in the immediate future to increase Make in India and Aatmanirbharta?

It is an evolving process based on implementation of already promulgated lists. These lists have potential to further catalyse indigenisation, as the Indian Army will no longer procure items on the list from foreign sources and the DMA is monitoring the same. The Indian Army works closely with the DRDO, DPSUs and the private industry to identify more equipment, which can be produced domestically. Awarding 94% of contracts to Indian Vendors in this short period speaks volumes of our involvement and effort.

Q15. In the last few years you have interacted with many industry leaders and dealt with their products for the Indian Army. As the Chairman of COSC and COAS, what are your suggestions to the defence industry?

I must compliment the domestic defence industry, not only for their response but for the quality products delivered in the recent past. However, I would recommend a balanced and pragmatic approach to achieve true self-reliance. Industry should focus on creating new manufacturing hubs, and design and development facilities along the defence corridors. Certain niche technologies like HALE class UAVs, Cyber, Space & green technologies need to be developed. The industry also needs to leverage the opportunities under schemes like Make-II, Technology Development Fund (TDF), and iDEX for development of critical technologies necessary for achieving self-sufficiency.

Our aim is to develop a robust and competitive defence industry by reducing imports and promoting exports of defence equipment. Encouraging R&D, rewarding innovations and promoting a self-reliant defence industry are the cornerstones for realising this vision. It is heartening to see that the clarion call for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ has been very vigorously taken up by our industry by establishing innovative manufacturing hubs all across the country.

‘Atmanirbharta’ is the mantra that holds the key to doing business in India. It affords economic opportunities to build strategic weapons for safeguarding India’s interests. It remains our goal to find the best solutions within the framework and guidelines of the government and us from the services remain committed to ensure that all efforts of the industry towards greater indigenisation are fully supported.

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