February 18, 2010:
India is under increasing pressure, from below, to honor promises to upgrade the weapons and equipment of the infantry forces. These troops have fallen far behind other armies, and the troops, and especially their officers, are not being quiet about it. But government plans to upgrade infantry weapons and equipment have not amounted to much. The troops are not happy with this.
The government has already, with great fanfare, announced an effort to design and create its own version of the U.S. Army Land Warrior system. Countries around the world have been designing, trying out, and testing similar combat systems for over ten years now, including Britain, France, and Germany. The Indian effort is not going well.
While India spends a lot of money on its fighter aircraft, naval vessels, and heavy ground equipment like tanks and APCs, very little is spent on taking care of the infantry. This isn't unique to the Indians, it just happens that the infantry historically doesn't get first grab at funds within the military and are usually at the bottom of the totem pole.
The Indians are trying to change that by building an ambitious Infantry-Soldier-As-A-System (INSAS). One of the major things the Indians want to build as part of the program is a domestically produced multi-caliber individual weapon and a programmable airbursting grenade launcher for the infantry. This is basically the exact same thing that the U.S. Army's OICW (Objective Individual Combat Weapon) was supposed to be. The Indians are hoping their weapon will be more successful. But so far, progress, much less success, has been scarce.
Other plans include introducing new anti-tank weaponry, laser rangefinders, a new carbine/submachine gun, new combat uniforms for the infantry, better communications, and improved body armor. The new platform, the Indians are hoping, will reduce the load carried by the individual soldier by 50 percent. The helmet device the Indians are designing is equipped with video cameras, thermal sensors, and a visor set-up that contains two computer monitors. Plans to issue each infantryman with a "palmtop" computer are a high priority. But there's little to show for all these ambitious plans.
The Indians currently have 28 line (non-specialist) infantry regiments and 28 infantry divisions total when the 10 specialized mountain divisions are included. The Indians also have 7 separate infantry brigades along with 4 RAPID (Re-organized Army Plains Infantry) Action divisions. This totals 359 infantry battalions, plus 66 paramilitary units that need better gear to deal with terrorism. The entire army numbers around 1,325,000 active soldiers with another 1,800,000 troops in reserve. Despite the massive amounts of money the Indians are spending on their military, equipping all 28 infantry regiments with the new system (which hasn't been designed or manufactured yet) by 2020 is already being recognized by members of the Indian military as a major drain on resources, and not really possible. Even for a wealthy country like France or the US, completely re-equipping 28 regiments with entirely new weapons and gear is an expensive and lengthy proposition.
Most of the Indian sergeants and junior officers, trained in the practical and common sense tradition of the British Army, would be happier with more modest goals, like an improved assault rifle, better boots, and body armor that actually stops bullets, rather than with a computerized infantry system that shoots around corners and gives the troops instant message capabilities. In particular, better load bearing gear and better quality rations tend to be high on the list of wants for the foot soldier, especially in a country like India.
The sergeants and junior leaders are also smart enough to realize that the country is getting ahead of itself. The Indian Army, for example, only introduced their current standard assault rifle, the 5.56mm INSAS (Indian National Small Arms System) during the late 1990s and even this weapon has yet to be issued to every soldier in the Army, particularly in reserve units. About 300,000 are currently in circulation in the Army, including the carbine and light machine gun versions. Older equipment is still in use and, in a country like India, introducing and issuing any kind of new weapons or gear to every single soldier in the Army is an expensive, lengthy, and often difficult task.
Seven years ago, the government attempted a stopgap. They spent $65 million over the next four years to train and equip a commando ("Ghatak") platoon for each of its infantry battalions. The new platoons were intended to make the infantry more effective in dealing with irregulars in Kashmir and the northeast tribal areas. The Ghatak troops would be trained to perform commando type operations (raids, long range patrols), especially at night. Thus one of the things the Ghatak troops will get will be night vision equipment. There will also be more radios, probably including individual radios. There will also be additional weapons (sniper rifles, more compact assault rifles, day/night scopes) as well. The Ghatak training enabled the troops to specialize in the more dangerous aspects of dealing with irregulars, thus making duty against irregulars less unpopular with the troops. This program gave India another 12,000 commando type soldiers. In addition to the Ghatak units, $62 million was spent to equip engineers with better mine detection and clearing equipment, as well as equipment for detecting and disabling all manner of explosive devices irregular forces use in ambushes. The mines and booby traps are, as can be imagined, bad for troop morale, and this program is expected to be even more popular than the Ghatak platoons.
The 20 man Ghatak platoons gave each battalion some shock troops, but it also increased discontent among the rest of the troops, who could now see modern equipment up close, and wonder why they didn't have it. The army also added modern equipment to units in crucial areas, like Kashmir, where soldiers fighting Islamic terrorists from Pakistan, got night vision gear and better radios to deal with the situation. But for the rest of the infantry, second best was all they could expect.