Interview Army Chief
We are dealing with the intruders in a firm and non-escalatory way – Gen Manoj Pande, Army Chief
On the occasion of Army Day – January 15, Editor Rohit Srivastava, met with Chief of Army Staff Gen Manoj Pande and discussed variety of issues pertaining to the current and future challenges being faced by Indian Army.
IDI - What is the status of various Army restructuring plans? How much has the teeth-to-tail ratio improved?
CoAS - The environment in which we exist and operate continues to evolve, the character of war itself has witnessed transformative changes, riding on new concepts and innovative application of disruptive technologies. In addition, we are also witnessing threats manifesting in the Grey Zone, with a high deniability factor. This mandates a response, not only in the Kinetic domain, but also in the non-Kinetic domain.
Keeping in mind the changing character of warfare, some major structural transformation of our Armed Forces is in progress. I will focus only on the restructuring process that is currently underway in the Indian Army.
The Indian Army’s initiative and efforts towards creation of Integrated Battle Groups is progressing well. The concept envisages restructuring of existing organisations into lean, agile, tailor-made and versatile entities with integral combat, combat support and logistics elements which can be launched in a compressed time-frame to achieve operational objective in a time-critical operational milieu.
Our defence strategy and doctrines are being constantly refined keeping in view the changing security paradigm in our immediate and extended neighbourhood, and the world at large. Infrastructure development, force restructuring and modernisation are being implemented accordingly.
In order to improve the teeth-to-tail ratio, the recommendations of the Committee of Experts (CoE) have been implemented. The strategic objective is to enhance our combat capability through modernisation and technological transformation while reducing the revenue defence expenditure.
Some measures such as doing away with Military Farms have already been implemented while many more are underway. These include disbandment of legacy organisations and structures like drawdown and optimisation of Animal Transport Units, Pioneer Corps, 3rd Line Transport and other such logistic functions.
Modernisation of equipment inventory is being achieved through procurement of state-of-the-art equipment from other countries as well as from the indigenous defence industry in pursuance of the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ initiative.
IDI - Given the operational challenges being faced by the Indian Army in Ladakh and Line of Control(LC), how improved is the operational capability in the Northern Command?
CoAS - Indian Army has resolutely countered the adversary on the LC and the Line of Actual Control(LAC), carried out relentless Counter Insurgency/ Counter Terrorism operations and maintained high training standards. There is no let-up in our operational readiness along the LC, LAC, hinterland and the security of military establishments.
As far as Eastern Ladakh is concerned, the unilateral and provocative actions by the adversary to change the status quo by force, in more than one area on the LAC, have been responded in adequate measure. We are dealing with the intruders in a firm and non-escalatory way, ensuring the sanctity of our claims in Eastern Ladakh. We are well poised to counter any misadventure by our Northern adversary.
Based on the reviewed threat perception, re-balancing of forces has been carried out, in which re-orientation of forces to Northern Borders has been carried out, while retaining effective capability along the Western Front.
Development of requisite infrastructure to support operational and logistic requirements on the Northern Borders is being undertaken to include construction of critical roads & railway lines along with tunnels, construction / resuscitation of Airfields, Advanced Landing Grounds and Helipads to enhance connectivity in difficult terrain and weather conditions. Habitat for troops deployed in forward areas during the ongoing operational contingency is an important focus area.
There was also a felt need to upgrade ISR capability especially along the Northern Borders. Toward this, all weather ground and air / space based ISR capability for sustained durations at strategic / operational & tactical levels has been achieved and real time inputs from drone and satellite imagery are being made available at short notice.
Coming on to the addressing the situation in the UT if Jammu and Kashmir. The ‘Whole of Government’ approach adopted against the terror ecosystem and the consistent efforts of the Security Forces, the security situation in Jammu & Kashmir has seen progressive improvement. Well synergised, intelligence-based operations have resulted in significant successes and considerably degraded the terrorist leadership and their capabilities. Local recruitment is comparatively decreasing giving a serious blow to nefarious designs of Pakistan to “indigenise” the movement and fuel unrest in the Valley.
We have inducted niche tech and new generation equipment as part of ongoing capability development process. Infrastructure development activities are continuing in border areas in close coordination with civil administration. Emerging threats are being identified timely & steps are taken to enhance our capability to counter the same.
I would summarise by saying that adequate forces have been deployed in Northern Command in sync with envisaged threats. Capability building is an ongoing process which has been undertaken throughout Indian Army including Northern Command and is based on force modernisation and infrastructure development. Northern Command is fully capable of responding to any operational challenge.
IDI - The world has witnessed the vulnerability of armour in recent conflicts like between Yemen-Saudi, Azerbaijan-Armenia and ongoing Russia-Ukraine. What is our Army’s view on the effectiveness of armour in future conflicts?
Every conflict is fought within a very specific geopolitical, regional and operational perspective and transposing lessons from one conflict to the other without adequately contextualising them may lead to incorrect strategies.
The tank is a formidable platform for undertaking land operations. Ever since the effectiveness of tanks in land battles was realised, its mobility, protection and fire power are constantly evolving and along with it; the counter measures to effectively counter the tanks are also evolving. There is a constant see -saw of development of armour and anti-armour weapons systems as well as techniques, tactics and practices. I see this as part of evolution of warfare.
The Armoured corps forms one of the most potent arms in any military and we are integrating it with a number of supplementary capabilities such as night enhancement, ATGMs, integrated surveillance and targeting system and swarm drones in order to enhance the effectiveness of the tank and ensure that it delivers a powerful punch to the adversary in any condition.
I must re-iterate that lessons from various conflicts are continuously being analysed and necessary steps are being taken in employment of various arms and platforms, including modifications in Tactics, Training and Procedures; wherever required.
As you are aware, we have recently received the approval for acceptance of necessity (AoN) to acquire 354 Light Tanks, each weighing less than 25 tonnes with a high power-to-weight ratio as well as superior firepower and protection.
Being lightweight, the light tanks can be quickly transported by air, land, and railway for rapid deployment to meet any urgent operational requirement. The tank will be driven by cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence, and will have drone integration, active protection system, and a high degree of situational awareness. It will also have missile and other weapon systems apart from the main gun.
IDI - The world is undergoing transition and realignment and as in the past, eras of transition were marred with large-scale conflicts, one can expect the same this time. Do you think it is still relevant for the Army to focus on CI/CT operations?
CoAS- The current security environment is marked by an assertive China, intransigent Pak, growing Sino-Pak collusiveness and continued role of non-state actors, which in sum, dictates that IA must always be prepared for full spectrum of conventional war. While the possibility of large scale conventional conflicts cannot be negated, world at large continues to witness Grey Zone Warfare.
Since your question was on focus of Indian Army, I must tell you that the Indian Army over the past few years is focused on progressively increasing our capabilities through optimisation of force levels, upgradation of technology, induction of Force Multipliers, as also modernisation and improvement of infrastructure.
Our capability development plans continue to be guided by identified operational requirements for prosecuting successful operations across the entire threat spectrum, be it conventional or non- conventional domains.
Force levels employed in Counter Insurgency / Counter Terrorist Operations are calibrated based on change in security situation on ground. Employment of tailor made forces like the Rashtriya Rifles ensures that our conventional capability is always maintained.
While the Indian Army continues to focus on conventional challenges along the Western & Northern Fronts, counter-terror forces like Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles continue to undertake Counter Terrorist operations. Since national security is affected by both external and internal threats, Indian Army retains the capability to respond to both these threats.
I want to emphasise that what we are facing in the Kashmir Valley is not insurgency but a proxy war backed by the Pakistani military establishment. The Indian Army operates in areas in concert with the local law enforcement authorities as well as other central armed police forces (CAPFs).
In the North East, in most places, Armed Force Special Power Act(AFSPA) has been removed and the Indian Army has already reoriented to being deployed conventionally. While one needs to be prepared for conventional warfighting, it would be premature to pass judgment on the relevance of terrorism and low-intensity conflicts as an instrument of state policy for weak states like Pakistan.
IDI - Long-range rocket artillery and kamikaze drones are emerging as the preferential weapons for deep strikes over fighter jets. Armies are taking the lead over the Air Force in the deep strike, What is the Indian Army’s plan for improving its deep strike capabilities?
CoAS- We are alive to the requirements of emerging battlefields. Enemy must be struck in depth of his territory to dislocate, disrupt and destroy his combat forces with an aim to break his will to fight even before he joins the battle. Accordingly, necessary steps are being taken to enhance our firepower and deep strike capability.
The Indian Army has the ammunition and weapon systems to target enemy’s area in depth with precision strike with weapon systems such as Pinaka, including extended range ammunition and Smerch MLRS that can hit enemy targets at a depth of 75-90 km. This capability is being planned to be enhanced upto 300 kms in future through spiral development.
Brahmos missiles have the capacity to hit precision targets at a range of 400 km. Induction of more long range conventional missile systems like the “Pralay” is also under consideration, which will considerably enhance our ability to strike enemy in depth areas.
Indian Army is also looking at induction of Loiter Munitions and Swarm Drones with variety of War Heads that will not only enhance our ability to carry out surveillance but will also enhance our precision strike capability.
Artillery modernisation is expected to pick up pace with indigenous capabilities being developed by our industry. With proven capability of indigenous gun production, mediumisation of Indian Artillery will result in quantum leap in the devastating fire power that can be delivered onto the enemy with speed and accuracy at extended ranges.
In the future, the induction of a modern Towed Gun Systems and Mounted Gun Sysrms will improve the edge of this Arm against our adversaries.
IDI-The emerging trends in warfare would require new equipment profile and new command and control structure and probably new training manuals. What is the Indian Army’s take on this?
CoAS- The Indian Army focussed on ensuring the highest standard of operational preparedness through training, force modernisation and capability development to meet current and emerging challenges. We are working towards training for integrated operations in present & future wars which are going to be network centric in a highly complex and ‘VUCA’ (volatile, uncertain, complex & ambiguous) environment.
The application of forces to contest our security challenges in the military domain will need joint structures. We will have to train and develop our leadership accordingly, for integrated operations for future wars.
We are also undertaking various studies to derive lessons on relevant aspects from recent conflicts and emerging warfare trends, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and these are being assimilated into our training. Accordingly, our Techniques, Tactics and Procedures are being refined so that the rank and file remain prepared for the future battlefield.
A Change Management Philosophy document in English & Hindi has been issued to addresses senior leadership for managing aspects at apex and policy level and junior leadership at the functional and implementation level of the Change.
Special focus has been devoted to train on New Generation Equipment (NGE) with a view to developing core teams, instructional material and training aggregates to ensure optimum exploitation of New Generation Equipment.
The technical threshold of all ranks is being enhanced to facilitate ease of technology infusion. Technical awareness of current and emerging disruptive technologies like robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Swarming, Cyber, Nano technology, Big Data analysis, Space applications & so-on are being addressed through institutionalised interventions.
The induction of Agniveers will lead to a much more technically oriented, young and proficient force. We are inducting modern technology such as simulators, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), etc for accelerating training and increasing technical assimilation / training.
Language training is another aspect which is receiving our attention.
We have introduced a unique and standardised Unarmed Combat art form named 'Army Martial Arts Routine (AMAR)’. This art form which is specifically designed is high on offensive assault training and is also effective against sharp edged and improvised weapons. This will train soldiers in basic and advanced techniques of mixed martial arts manoeuvres.
We are also looking at diffusing technologies for specific tasks and capabilities such as lethality, ISR, night enhancement, stealth, mobility and AI-enabled systems. The intention is to enable the cutting edge ie the units and subsequently small teams to take actions as per the dynamic battlefield scenario.
We are looking at integrated training on joint processes with the three Services in our path to achieve jointness in the operational and administrative domains.
IDI-In your assessment, is the Army Design Bureau performing to the army's satisfaction?
CoAS - The raising of the Army Design Bureau (ADB) has been a game changer. In its few years of raising, it has achieved tremendous traction with the Indigenous Defence Industry especially the MSMEs, Start Ups, R&D organisations both public and private, as well as the Academia i.e. IITs / IISc. Aligning and connecting the capabilities of the Industry with the User’s requirements has been the mantra and has already led to big strides towards Atmanirbharta in Defence.
ADB has provided the means to the Indian Army to scout for technology and enable its adoption. The capability demonstrations organised by the ADB has manifested in the procurement of 09 products (worth ₹ 1,400 Cr) while another 12 products (worth ₹ 5,000 Cr) are in various stages of procurement. Additionally, during the recent Emergency Procurements, it was the Army Design Bureau that spearheaded the identification and induction of niche technology solutions like surveillance/ swarm drones, variants of specialist vehicles, loiter ammunition etc.
With a view to have a capable and robust defence technology infrastructure for ‘Self-sufficiency through Indigenisation’, ADB is also pursuing numerous R&D/ D&D initiatives of the Indian Army and is currently handling more than 150 different R&D and D&D projects. In the last 3-4 years, ADB has initiated nearly 100 projects through the Make, iDEX, Technology Development Fund and Army Technology Board initiatives. Their relentless efforts in pursing these initiatives are already seeing tremendous success wherein RFP has already been issued for 06 products developed through the iDEX route while contract has been signed for 01 project (MEAT) through Make route and contract for another Make project (UATW) will be signed shortly. The recent forays of ADB to sign a MoU with BEL to jointly develop AI enabled solutions for the Indian Army as also with Drone Federation of India to develop drone solutions for the Indian Army are the first of their kind.
We have a well worked out road map for enhancing the range of activities that the ADB will be undertaking.
An extensive outreach conducted by the ADB has already mapped 850+ industries, contacted 200+ top academic institutions and more than 50 top R&D organisations in the country. To further enhance the ADB footprint and facilitate easier contact for industry/ R&D organisations and academia, Regional Technology Nodes have already been established in Pune and Bengaluru while Indian Army Cells have been established at IIT Delhi with two more being established shortly in IIT Kanpur and IISc Bengaluru.
ADB is also regularly releasing Problem Definition Statements that provide an insight to the industry to provide solutions to address the needs of the field army. The latest compendium of problem statements addressing niche domains like AI, blockchain, robotics, UGVs, UAVs, Counter UAVs etc is also being released shortly.
I must also highlight that the ADB has not just restricted itself to the Indian Army but has also gone a step further to assist the defence industry by assisting them in developing and testing their products. The opening of the ranges to civ industry, access to in service equipment, coordinating visit of industry representatives to forward areas, provisioning of ammunition etc have all been facilitated by ADB.
With all this being done, Army Design Bureau has proved itself to be the vital cog, as the Indian Army embarks on a technological transformation. I am sanguine that in the future the contributions of Army Design Bureau will increase by leaps and bounds.