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Hi-tech soldier

As modern battlefields get more and more complex, lethal, diverse and multidimensional, the fighting infantry soldiers need to be armed accordingly to face the challenge of operating across the entire spectrum of conflict.

Today’s battlefield scene may not appear in the classic sense, and in today’s world the soldiers may have to think of any urban area as battlefield and face the wrath of a few non state actor, who are much more committed than the state forces and also equally armed with most modern electronic gadgets, bullet proof clothing and head gear equipped with latest communication equipment.

The infamous 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008 posed such challenge to Indian armed forces who could not prevent the loss of over 250 innocent men. The terrorists survived and remained active for three days before finally succumbing to the Indian forces. The Afghanistan battlefield also presents such asymmetric scene, where the US Army has deployed nearly 1000 Land Warrior Systems with Stryker brigade combat team from 2009 onwards for evaluation, yet casualties often happen. The armies of developed countries are still doing research and development to produce such soldiers who should be armed with all comprehensive gadgets within human load capacity so that the soldier is able to fight without any constraints of weight.

Presently the armies of 21 countries are in various stages of soldier modernization programme. Indian programme began in 2005 as part of the Infantry Vision 2020 and a budget of over US$ five billion was proposed. The army headquarters is yet to finalize the full configuration of the F-INSAS, though global tenders for a few systems have been issued after much deliberations.

Modern equipments

The American, the British and the French armies are considered the pioneers in soldier modernization programme which began in early nineties. The British, French and the Italian forces are likely to deploy one field formation (division) of full fledged modern soldier by 2018. The Germans are also working on the SMP called IdZ-es, the British SMP is called the FIST and the French are called FELIN.

The modern infantry soldier needs several categories of sensors, electronic gadgets, clothing and ration. These include - bullet proof helmet and visor equipped with mounted flash light, thermal sensors, night vision device, miniature computer with audio handsets. Under the weapons category the soldier should carry-subsystems built around a multi-caliber individual weapon system. These include the 5.56mm, 7.62 mm and the new 6.8mm caliber, which is under development. Clothing requirements are also very complex which should be of light weight, bullet proof and water proof jacket and vests carrying sensors.

The aim of the Indian Army’s future infantry soldier as a system (F-INSAS) was to equip the Indian soldier with cutting edge military technologies that would enhance his operational capabilities in the battlefield. The plan was to equip the soldier with maximum lethality, survivability, sustainability, mobility, communications and situational awareness. All these have to be provided within limited weight which the soldier will feel comfortable to fight with. The ultimate aim is to equip and prepare the soldier to operate in all weather and network centric battlefield of tomorrow and enable him to make the soldier capable of sustaining in a challenging tactical environment.

According to a senior Indian Army official the Indian Army’s authorization of the number of carbines is roughly 3,85,000 which includes the CQB Carbines and the protective carbines. The CQB Carbines are mainly for the troops deployed on the front and has been sanctioned around 1,68,000 whereas the protective carbines are around 2,17,000. Unfortunately Indian soldiers asked to engage the enemy in close combat in low intensity conflict are still not equipped with the close combat weapon. The international tender for the CQB was issued in 2010 but the Army Headquarter is yet to take a final view on this, in spite of several rounds of trials.

As far as the protective carbine is concerned the DRDO has told the Ministry of Defence that they would be developing them in collaboration with Ordinance Factory Board, but when they will see the light of the day nobody knows.

As INSAS 7.62 mm rifle failed to impress the Army Headquarter, the Indian infantry soldier very urgently requires the modern assault rifle. For counter insurgency operations, these are considered a must, because the terrorists are well equipped with modern assault rifles. The Infantry directorate has conceptualized Ambi-dextrous Assault Rifle that will be multi-caliber-5.56 by 45 mm and 7.62 by 39 mm, which can fire NATO SS-109 and 7.62 by 39 mm ammunition, with modular interchargeable parts in the field. According to an army official the total requirement of the Assault Rifles in the infantry is around 1,85,000 of which about 60,000 has already been acquired in 2009 at a cost of Rs 1800 crores with the provision of transfer of technology for indigenous manufacture. The tender for acquiring 65,000 Assault Rifles and 4,600 UGBLs was released in 2011 but the army is yet to give its final recommendations after several rounds of trials.

The army is also not satisfied with the current stock of the 5.56 mm LMGs as other armies possess lighter, longer range, with greater accuracy and heavy volume of firepower LMGs. The tender for acquiring 9500 LMGs along with transfer of technologies with caliber 7.62 by 51 mm, with a range of 800 meters weighing 9.3 kg, 1200 mm length, having a telescopic sight, spare barrel and MIL standard picatinny rails. But several complications have arised in this tender also, though leading international vendors have responded to this.

For the Bullet Proof Jackets the Indian Army has authorized a total of 3,50,000. The current stocks of required BPJs are nominal. The Defence Acquisition committee had approved the acquisition of 1,86,000 BPJs in 2009 at a cost of RS 900 crores but several procedural and technical problems with the DRDO and TBRL, Chandigarh led to unforeseen delay and the RFP for BPJs were again issued in December 2012 and after three years the TBRL is in the process of conducting the ballistic trials of the BPJs. It is expected that the Army may finally start getting latest BPJs by 2017.

Future acquisitions

Regarding Ballistic Helmets, the Defence acquisition Council had sanctioned the acquisition of 3,28,000 ballistic helmets at a cost of Rs 380 crores in 2009. The RFP for these were issued two years later. The conditions set were-should be lightweight and comfortable, made of advanced materials and be able to provide ballistic protection to neck and ears and also enable the use of headset for communications. The Army headquarters expect that after completing all the procedures the supply of ballistic helmets will begin by next year.

The Infantry soldier also requires the Modular Individual Load Carrying Equipment ( MILE) which would include a Harness, Rucksacks and Hydration packs. This is a very simple and can be delivered by an Indian firm but the Army HQ has not yet finalized on this. The Indian soldier also requires a survival kit. Target acquisition subsystem like the Passive night vision binoculars and Goggles are also required in heavy numbers.

For night operations the Indian Army requires the image intensifier based passive night sights. But no firm step has been taken. Bharat Electronics is reported to have acquired the Transfer of Technology rights for image intensifier tubes from French company Photonis for making image intensifier devices based on X-D4 Third generation Image Intensifier tubes.

The soldier also requires for their Assault rifles and the LMGs Uncooled Thermal Imager night sights. However army has not initiated moves to acquire them, so one cannot expect them before 2020. The Army also requires the Hand Held Target Acquisition Device which consists of a laser range finder, digital magnetic compass, GPS and Day/night channel. This device will be networked with the commanders situational awareness data terminal.. Procurement process is yet to begin for these gadgets.

Computer and Communication sub system is the most important source for all devices a soldier would be carrying on his body or mount on his weapon systems. This is very essential for managing the entire transmission, reception, display, storage and editing of tactical information in the form of maps, text, messages and battle situation report. This critical sub system is also not under acquisition process, which is essential for completing a comprehensive F-INSAS.