The keynote address for the Def x Tech India 2023, by the Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Pande, PVSM AVSM VSM ADC was: “India’s Territorial Capabilities and Technical Requirement.” The Chief began the session talking about military capabilities and then went on to throw light on some of the challenges and threats across the security canvass stating, “our legacy challenges of unsettled borders continue to engage us. It is important to recognise that infirmities in border management can lead to a wider conflict, our prolonged commitment in counter insurgency or counter terrorism operations should not in any way lull us into conventional unpreparedness.
Conventional capabilities get defined by means of terrain, strategy of employment and our adversary’s intent and capability. The varied and extreme terrain that the Indian Army is deployed and operates from sea-level to deserts operations, in developed and obstacles ridden terrain, forests, mountains, high-altitude and super high-altitude area translates into diverse nature of weapons, equipments, and logistics which need to be part of our inventory and system.”
The Chief further elaborated the point by stating, “our inventory has a mix of both vintage and theatre specific requirements. The pursuit to infuse technology into our war fighting systems remains an enduring one. The ongoing Russia and Ukraine conflict provides valuable pointers: Firstly, the relevance of hard power stands reaffirmed, land being the decisive domain of warfare and victory remains land-centric. The suppositions on the duration of war needs to be revaluated, short swift war may prove to be flawed and we need to be prepared for a full spectrum conflict for a prolonged duration. Long range precision fires have proved that distances need not necessarily guarantee safety.
Information Operations are being unfolded at multiple levels.” He further went on to say, “Competency and dedicated strategies need to be in place to win wars of narratives as well. Grey Zone aggression is increasingly becoming a preferred strategy of conflict with its scope enhanced by technology.” Without taking any names he emphasized how, “our adversary’s pursuits in Grey Zone continue even as we speak. These entail all aspects under the gambit of security and not just exclusive to the military domain. Therefore, we need capabilities to not just mitigate or negate such attacks but instead to keep our adversary in a reactive mode perpetually.”
The Chief spoke of how the air no longer remained the exclusive reserve of manned aircraft. “Air superiority and favorable air situation is getting difficult to achieve. The sinking of MOSKVA with the hits of two anti-ship cruise missiles highlights that even in maritime domain weapon platforms are vulnerable to low-cost defensive systems. The permeation of technology into every domain of conflict has had the most profound impact on the emerging character of warfare. Disruptive and dual-use technologies is reducing asymmetry and conventional ratios. The advancements range from weaponization of commercial instruments, digital resilience, expansion of conflict domains, cyber- space and electromagnetic spectrum are making battle fields transparent and introducing niche systems.”
He reiterated the fact as to how technology had evolved as a new strategic arena of geo-political competition. “Self–sufficiency in critical technologies and investment in R&D is an unescapable strategic imperative: Security of nations cannot be outsourced nor can it be dependent on the largess of other nations,” said the Chief.
He uprised the audience on how the Indian Army had prepared its transformation road map, “There are five fundamental pillars of which modernisation and technology inclusion is key. Major projects are under way to transform our army into a modern, technology driven, atma-nirbhar and a battle-worthy force.” He further went on to breakdown the nuances of the technology being used in the various fields such as soldier centric: to transform a solider, both him or her, to meet challenges of modern warfare, by identifying key priority areas of the arms and services. In the Infantry or fighting soldier the Army was looking at enhancing fire-power with new generation fire arms, surveillance capabilities, better survival capabilities, protected mobility and increasing the quotient of night-enablement. As far as the Mechanised Forces were concerned, they are looking upgrading existing armaments and augmenting the night fighting capability.
For the Artillery: precision long range fires through mediumisation and long-range vectors were in focus, in addition enhanced ISR and target acquisition capability. For the Army-Air Defence: very short-range Air Defence Systems, missile systems and modern fire control system was to be put in place.
For the Aviation: induction of new platforms, engaging ground targets from air, air to air missile system, surveillance and better load carrying capacities. For the Engineers: new families of bridges; mines, induction of new generation earth or plant moving equipment. In the field of Signals: improved communication in the tactical battle area, enhanced Electronic Warfare capability and counter drone capability in the non-kinetic domain.
In Operational Logistics: investing in improving capacities and efficiency with induction of logistics drones for animal transport and how the army was planning to cut down 75% of their animal transport fleet by 2030. “Sustainability and survivability of existing systems for a reliable, operational, logistics quotient is being enhanced by better asset visibility and inventory management,” he added.
To full fill these pursuits, he said, “the Indian Army is committed to find indigenous solutions. We have been proactively reaching out to domestic industries. So far six editions of compendium of problem definition statements have been published entailing more than three hundred problem definitions. More than 50% of these problem definitions in the last five editions stand initiated.”
He said that, “ In the Design and Development category, 40 projects close to 60,000 crores are being pursued. 17 of these are underway with premier institutions such as IIT. We have close to 45 make-to projects amounting to about 28,000 crore under progress. We are leveraging the vibrant start-up eco-system wherein we have 42 projects currently ongoing of which 9 projects worth 3,000 crore are under procurement. The Indian Army has identified 47 niche technology for military application.”
He spoke highly about quantum technology and its major applications in communication, secure computing and in cryptology work of rolling out quantum secure operational links, the first trial of which was carried out along 120 kms without any interference. He spoke about tele-medicine, smart surveillance, drone control including exercises in digital domains of satellite communication, cyber and electromagnetic spectrum to validate technological processes.
Speaking about AI the Chief said, “In the field of AI and Machine-Learning we have focused on the use of AI in natural language processing. In the field of ISR, healthcare, facial recognition, swarm drones, satellite image analysis AI is in advanced stages of deployment.” Under the gambit of Robotics, he added, “We are pursuing robotic surveillance platform, autonomous combat vehicle, unmanned combat vehicle, remotely piloted aircraft and new ammunitions are being developed for deployment in tactical battle area and operation areas. MoU with Drone Foundation of India for testing and manufacturing of drones has been pursued. We are exploring our indigenous space assets. The project for Indian Army for its own satellite ITI SAT-7B is under progress.”
From the field of hyper sonic weapon systems where the DRDO was pursuing couple of projects. Production of spares through 3D printing had begun. As regard to block chain technology the Indian Army had reached out to the industry seeking specific solutions to meet military requirements.
On the overall challenges being faced in pursing these goals the Chief stated’ “firstly, we need to find balance between conventional and niche capabilities; secondly our existing inventory is a fair mix of war fighting system in term of vintage and theatre specific requirement; modernization of all or replacement of all in one go is not feasible, it has to be phased out. Thirdly each technological absorption comes with its own impact, implication, man-power staffing and legacy system; in addition to this we need to synergize and harmonize with other services for better compatibility.”
He concluded by stating, “The Indian Army is an adaptive, responsive and resilient force. Transformation and absorption of technology, we believe, remains pivotal for a future ready force.”