Soldier modernization

The Indian Army’s Future-INfantry Soldier As System (F-INSAS) must conform to the Indian national nuclear doctrine of No First Strike but Massive Retaliation or Second Strike. The underlying logic behind this doctrine is the survivability of both the nuclear-tipped strike missile batteries/aircraft to effect retaliation and of troops to hold ground in either the offensive or the defensive mode.

Therefore, survival in a nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) environment must be the pre-eminent consideration in outfitting the Future Infantry Soldier. Thus, it must also be crystal clear to the planners of the program that there will be no time to rush to the wardrobe to change from one uniform to an NBC ensemble. In short, the NBC uniform must perforce be the standard clothing of the man on the expected nuclear battlefield more particularly so because only very recently Pakistan has made it clear that its nuclear arsenal is meant to be used. It may be “deterrence rhetoric” but then it may not, given the jihadi nature of the Pak military establishment. That is why it is necessary to look at other circumstances to gauge the likely intentions of a hypertensive Pakistan.

The induction of the short-range nuclear capable missile, the NASR could be the key. The missile is intended for quick reaction, multi-barrel ripple-effect operation whereby a large swath of the battlefield would be saturated with metal fragments (in the conventional warhead) or with the blast, heat and radiation effect of a nuclear warhead. In many ways the NASR though a ballistic missile, with a range between 60-70 km the trajectory of which can be controlled by the launcher, is akin to India’s multi barrel rocket launch system (MBRLS) Pinaka albeit with a marginally shorter range (40 km). A longer range Pinaka is undergoing tests.

The F-INSAS, under such circumstances, must be well below ground level in underground metal bunkers with NBC capable living space and a uniform that resists the radiation effect if caught out in the open. For it to be effective the NBC uniform will have to cover the whole body from head to toe to ensure that the first strike does not totally incapacitate the soldier and leaves him capable of retaliation and other ground-holding duties.

Protective uniform

With this as the benchmark the planners of the F-INSAS ensemble will have to build into and onto this uniform everything from the head up display and communications system in the ballistic helmet, the wrist-bound sensors, the bulletproof capabilities on a whole body scale (not just the vest and groin as at present) and footwear that meets NBC standards along with the cushioning effect against anti-personnel mines. Compared to these qualitative staff requirements (QSRs), the need to pad the elbows and the knees to prevent damage while crawling should be easy to incorporate. In totality the uniform of the F-INSAS must be flexible, have permissible ‘breathability’ as per NBC requirements, light and weatherproof-capable of being used in deserts and plains where there are wide variations in temperature in summers and winters.

It is also in this sector in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat that Pakistan fears a repeat of the kind of cross border attack that prevented it from capturing the Akhnoor bridge and cutting off Jammu and Kashmir from the rest of India-an operation that India will soon be savoring in the anniversary of the 1965 war. Hence, the very real possibility of the use of nuclear weapons.

There was need to set the basics straight because there is overwhelming evidence that the F-INSAS project is a “go foreign” programme for everything from the assault rifle to the sensors like night vision devices integral to the weapon. In clothing India has a viable public sector undertaking and it should be used as a nucleus to design and develop clothing material for an NBC environment in collaboration with the private sector.

A consortium of clothing manufacturers can then be created to fulfill the contract in quick time so that more than four lakh men and women in the Armed Forces, the Central paramilitary forces, the State police and elements of the National Disaster Management Force are quickly dressed in appropriate clothing. This, in many ways, is more easily achievable in quick time than are the other requirements for which creation of qualitative staff requirements itself has been a fatally faltering exercise. The F-INSAS project is already behind schedule by several years.

An illustration of the fatal flaw in the system is the reduction of the number of additional troops required in the new Mountain Strike Corps that was intended to be a permanent high altitude asset capable of switching from one theatre of the Himalayas to another. The necessity for such a formation was the Kargil experience where well acclimatized troops were needed for that particular emergency operation caused by the Indian failure to retain troops at high altitudes in the severe winter months.

The delays in the project were apparent from the word ‘go’ when the necessity for such a transformation was tardily placed before the Government. The manner in which the Defence Budget has been handled over the past three years shows that there is no great appreciation in the government for such a transformation. The excuse of course is: For what is the money to be allocated given that time and again unspent Defence allocations are returned to the exchequer every year.

Modern weaponry

Central to this transformation is weaponry, survivability and network centricity from the smallest unit, the section through the battalion to the brigade, situational awareness with the help of appropriate sensors like gun mounted night vision devices. In weaponry the accent is on multi-mode calibers that will take the smaller 5.56 mm bullet for counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations and the 7.62 mm for long-range conventional warfare especially in the context of mountain warfare where the current INSAS rifle has been found wanting. The swift transition is to be effected by changing barrels and cartridge cases. The idea is appealing in its novelty but much depends on the logistics supply and a careful calibration of the ammunition load the soldier will need to carry.

There is evidence that the F-INSAS project is being conceived by the Indian Army as a stand alone system unique to the Army. The acquisitions by the paramilitary forces dealing with counter-insurgency and counter-terror and left-wing extremism operations have already acquired close-quarter combat weaponry like the Beretta assault rifle.  It is suggested that creating a commonality of equipment among all the fighting forces of India  to attain the financial advantages of economies of scale (and greater operational efficiency) during the procurement process can happen only if and when a Chief of Defence Staff is created. That one is being made contingent to the other is reflective of a kind of non-governance where the responsibility of taking required decisions is left to circumstances. The government of the day which has a large enough majority in Parliament should be able to bring the Ministers of Defence and Home Affairs to look for commonalities in weapons and security wherewithal.