In India the various clients for night vision devices (NVDs) are Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and many central and state police forces. The Army being the largest of clients needs NVDs for tanks, infantry combat vehicles artillery, air defence , engineers and for infantry, every soldier in any kind of conflict role must have a NVD. Other clients are the Assam Rifles, Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Sashastra Seema Bal, Central Industrial Security Force and state police forces. On the priority list for getting NVDs are police forces of states under threat of Left Wing Extremism, i.e. Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Karanataka, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Police of Jammu and Kashmir and the North Eastern states, particularly, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland also require NVDs.
At long last-better late than never in early April 2013, India’s Defence Ministry approved a Rs 2,820 crore (28.2 billion) proposal to provide nightvision devices to the Army to enable its tanks and infantry combat vehicles to have capability to fight in both day and night conditions. Reportedly, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Defence Minister A K Antony also approved proposals to upgrade the Army’s 130 mm artillery guns with amendments in procurement procedure to boost indigenisation in defence production.
India’s mechanized forces remained deprived of full-fledged night fighting capability for decades after 1971. After infra- red came the image intensifier (II), that too only for the tank commander catering for a mere 500 metres of vision range. BMPs did not have gunner’s sights and only some of them had thermal imagers (TI) for launching missiles only. The T-72s initially had no night sights for the gunner. It is only in the past three to four years that they have been provided with the Thermal Imager Stand Alone Sight (TISAS). It is this government sanction which will fulfill the important requirement of an effective night sight for the T-72 tank commander. In the T- 90 (an improved version of T-72), the current tank commander’s night sight, which can only be effective for 500-700 metres, will be able to achieve a visual range of 4000-5000 metres with the new one following this sanction. And what will be more important is that with this sight tank commanders will be able to fire the main gun themselves from their seat at ranges of 4000-5000 metres, which the T-90 gunner’s night sight has always had.
Indian Army currently has about 20 regiments of T-90 tanks and over the next seven to eight years may have eight to nine more. Out of the over 2400 T-72 tanks 40 to 50% have been combat improved as Ajeya, with better communications systems and explosive reactive armour.
In April 2013 there was a Seminar on Night Fighting Capability organized by the Dehradun based efence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratory ‘Instruments Research & Development Establishment (IRDE). Tracing the development of NVDs by DRDO from its earliest days, Dr. V K Saraswat, former Scientific Adviser to Defence Minister, Secretary Department of Defence R&D and DG DRDO highlighted the achievements of DRDO in the field of electro-optics. He also mentioned about the development of Thermal Imaging based commander’s sight for T-72 and T-90 tanks as well as BMPs. Mentioning about the progress made by IRDE in this critical area, he gave the example of recently developed Integrated Multi Functional Sight that weighs within 3.5 kg, as compared to the 1st generation devices of similar nature that used to weigh around 55 kg. He emphasized the need to strengthen the country’s manufacturing infrastructure so that systems like advanced Thermal Detectors could be produced indigenously, for which he said, “Our biggest weakness is the availability of infrared imaging detector fabrication facilities”.
A variety of Thermal Imagers (TI) covering wide range of applications for Army, Navy and Air force, electro-optic fire control systems (EOFCS) for navy, HHTI (hand-held thermal imager) with LRF (lazer range finder), Commander’s TI sights for T-72, T-90 & BMP, Commander’s Panoramic Sight for tanks, Holographic Sight and Lightweight Laser Target Designator were the main equipment exhibited by IRDE.
Mr. Anil Kumar, CMD, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), which has been contracted for this NVD project, conveyed the industry perspective and assured that BEL centres are always ready to support the indigenization efforts of the country and will deliver the quality instruments in time to the armed forces. One of the major collaborators for producing the required NVDs with BEL is the Bengaluru based Alpha Design Technologies Pvt Ltd (ADTL). In all, approximately 5,000 night-vision sights are set to be supplied by Bharat Electronics Limited. 2,000 of these will be used in combination with T-72 Main Battle Tanks, while a further 1,200 will be used in T-90 Main Battle Tank operations. The remaining 1,780 thermal imaging systems will be allocated to the BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle fleet. Based on an estimated four-year delivery time frame, it is expected that the last lot of NVDs for Indian Army will be supplied by about 2017.
BEL has collaborated with ADTL, which in turn has been involved in a joint venture with International Technology Lasers, Israel (now known as ITL Optronics), for passive night vision sights/hand held thermal imagers for infantry soldiers and vehicles. ADTL will supply to BEL this night vision binocular as well as fully finished, semi knocked down and completely knocked down kits for NVDs.
In an earlier seminars organized jointly by Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) and Indian Military Review (IMR), the requirements of various armed forces were discussed and analysed. Editor, IMR, Maj Gen Ravi Arora, interacting with this writer informed that BEL, the biggest supplier of night vision equipment to the armed forces, in 2007 signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Elbit Systems Electro Optics ELOP Ltd, for the local production and support of thermal imaging systems. Although BEL recently supplied 30,600 passive night sights for rifles, rocket launchers and light machine guns, passive night vision binoculars and passive night vision goggles to the Army, the forces still remain woefully short and are looking for the latest 3rd generation technology to reduce weight and extend the life of NVDs. Arora also mentioned about the infantry looking for TI sights for medium machine guns and sniper rifles. RFIs for night sights for AK-47 assault rifles and other small arms have also been floated.
Lt Gen (retd) Prakash Katoch interacting with this writer, explained that whether it is war, insurgency or terrorism, most of the fighting happens at night as it enables surprising the enemy/adversary. Hence, NVDs are critical for operational success, as the soldier is able to see his target and can fire at him effectively. “Every soldier must have an NVD”, said Katoch, who in his article Modernisation of the Indian Soldier, published in Indian Defence Review, referred to what is planned for the Future Indian Soldier System (F-INSAS) program. He stated that the core systems of F-INSAS helmet and visor, clothing, weapons and accessories. The helmet is an integrated assembly equipped with helmet mounted flash light, thermal sensors and night vision device, digital compass, video cameras, computer and nuclear, chemical and biological sensors, with audio headsets. The visor is intended to be integrated and to act as a heads-up display monitor equivalent to two 17-inch computer monitors.
For the future, procurement of new assault rifles and carbines for replacing the INSAS, will require hundreds of thousands of sights, night vision sights and clip-on viewers, creating a drive for foreign companies to establish production in the country.