Historically known as the Queen of the Battle, Infantry today has been transformed into a mobile fighting force which is still needed to hold ground once war has been taken into enemy territory. For itself, the Infantry in the Indian Army has a glorious past and continues to operate in peace and war to its fullest extent. The Indian Army is undertaking ambitious plans to modernize the soldier to ensure that he is ready to take on the battlefield of the future. The comprehensive plan to overhaul the combat potential of the fighting solider is Project F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier as a System) which is presently operational. It has four sub systems namely Weapon, Body Armour and Individual Equipment, Target Acquisition and Computer and Communication. As part of this programme, procurement has been initiated for weapons and equipment; some important ones being Close Quarter Battle (CQB) Carbine, Assault Rifle, Ballistic Helmet, Bullet Proof Jackets (BPJ), Surveillance and Communication equipment.
The programme has another important aspect, which is communications. The F-INSAS Integrated Computer and Communication System (FICCS) aims to empower the soldier with the ability to handle complex voice and data solutions. This will include swift processing and advanced computing functions thereby achieving Network Centricity and reduce the decision making time for Commanders. The point is that these plans are in the pipeline but will take time to fructify in terms of induction and integration. In the interim, the infantry soldier will continue to operate in the security environment that is contextualized in the context of Pakistan and China and Internal Security duties. How does one visualize this situation. There are three ways to see this situation. First are the on-going counterinfiltration and counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir. Second, is the changing nature of warfare and the need to adopt. Finally, there is the need for making the infantry more self-sufficient. This of course is the aim of the F-INSAS programme.
In terms of infantry being involved in counter terrorist (CT) operations within the country or on border guarding duties it is necessary to point out that soldiers from all arms are performing this duty. The issue is how to better the capabilities of forces in this regard. For instance, the recent case of infiltration in the Keran sector of J&K demonstrates that infantry need to be more air mobile to be able to intercept infiltrators for quick response. If the terrain is difficult, it cannot be argued that it takes time to respond. At the same time, there is a need to improve tactical level communication for speedier command decision making. This is necessary to ensure that both the soldier and his commander are aware of the situation. Mobility is another factor of import. In India, the need to mechanise Infantry was first felt after the 1965 war and the first tentative steps were taken in 1969, when 1 Madras became the first infantry unit to be equipped with APC TOPAZ. While we have gone a long way, in terms of infantry and combined operations, we still have some way to go.
We have the example of Operation Pawan and Cactus, but one feels that another giant leap is needed to make the shift from Infantry to air-mobile or seamobile infantry that can change the meaning of force projection. The peacekeeping operations in Sri Lanka also saw extensive use of the helicopter both in attack and assault roles. During the build-up in the Jaffna Peninsula in October 1987, the IAF carried out some 3,000 tactical transport and assault helicopter sorties in twenty days. Mi-8s of both Nos. 109 and 119 helicopter units operated throughout the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.
In the larger strategic context, infantry still remains the best option to hold ground. But even here the operations on the Forward Edge of the Battle Area have become complex and networked. One cannot move in a manner so as to allow the enemy the luxury of retaliation. Cold Start will require a mobilization pattern quite different from previous operational postures, as the battle will be conducted in a nuclear overhang. For a start, the Indian Army has designated One Infantry Division as a Rapid Reaction for employment on land or for intervention operations and will have one amphibious Brigare and two air assault brigades.
The main areas where air assault operations can be carried out are, the plains of Punjab and the desert of Rajasthan. Limited HBOs can be carried out in J&K, for raids preceding a main attack. The employment of helicopters along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) will enhance the combat potential of forces. As Brigadier V.K. Nair (Retd.) aptly points out, “The IA could reduce its presence along the watershed to a mere tripwire, keeping adequate resources concentrated in depth and carrying out speedy heli-borne deployment once the opposing Army commences its buildup.” This being said, there is also need for NBC awareness among the infantry, which is present but needs to be constantly re-emphasised in view of Pak regular forces of late getting directly involved in irregular warfare along the Line of Control. Such forces could undertake Chemical Weapons attacks under the guise of militants.
As the nature of warfare changes, the need to adopt also increases. Warfare in the low and medium spectrum is already being waged. Therefore, facilitating the soldier in every respect is a must. That the military is aware of the need for transformation is evidenced from the three-day meeting of the 32nd Infantry Commander’s Conference which began on 18 September 2013, at Mhow. Under the theme ‘Empowerment of Infantry through Technological Enhancement’, the infantry commanders debated ways to improve the technological adaptation threshold of the infantrymen for operating in a network-centric environment.
There could be challenges of funds and modernization, but training is something that can evolve according to the changing situation. In this sense, cost effective solutions, vis-à-vis simulation, terrain modeling, real-life combat situations have to be introduced at the Infantry training schools for the entire spectrum of warfare. Further, there is a need to sensitize the foot soldier to the need to look ahead. This indicates that training has to focus on battle-field skills, but with an eye to the future. If, as it is commonly understood that the basic training pattern of Infantry still follows the WWII British model, then it is certainly time to move ahead!
It is against the backdrop of news that the Cabinet Committee of Security has given the go-ahead for raising a new Mountain Strike Corps facing China that one should visualize the need for rapid change. Perhaps the opportunity is already there in this new Strike Corps. Light, mobile and well-equipped Infantry Regiments with a new face could well provide the template for the next generation of the Infantry soldier. The scope is definitely there, the question is, is the Government listening! The author is an experienced military analyst