November 24, 2011: The Indian Navy is seeking modern infantry equipment for its elite MARCOS unit (India's SEAL teams which perform special ops on the high seas). MARCOS wants equipment similar to what other commandos, especially the U.S. Navy SEALs have. The Indian government and defense procurement bureaucracy is aware of this need, not just from MARCOS and other special operations troops, but for all Indian infantry as well.
The government tries. Two years ago, with great fanfare, India announced an effort to design and create its own version of the U.S. Army Land Warrior system. Countries around the world (including Britain, France, and Germany) have been designing, trying out, and testing similar combat systems for over ten years now. The Indian effort is not going well. The Indian version is INSAS (Infantry-Soldier-As-A-System). 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 first set of INSAS equipment is supposed to appear next year, and by the end of the decade, some 500 infantry, paramilitary and special operations battalions will have this gear. But MARCOS knows that these projects never deliver on schedule, and are instead seeking foreign sources. There are several, including the U.S., France, Germany and several other European nations. If MARCOS gets away with this, it will encourage other Indian special operations forces to do the same.
India actually has lots of special operations outfits. These include;
Para Commandos form the parachute infantry of the Army, but have been given additional training and equipment to enable them to carry out commando type operations.
The Special Protection Group is assigned the task of protection for India's Prime Minister and VIPs from terrorist attacks.
The primary counter-terror unit in the country, however, is the 15,000 National Security Guards and the ones who have borne most of the responsibility for tackling India's persistent insurgent problems over the last couple of decades.
The army has created a force of over 7,200 commandos so that each of the 359 infantry battalions in the army has a twenty man Ghatak (commando) platoon. While this gives each battalion some shock troops, it also increases discontent among the rest of the troops, who now see modern equipment up close, and wonder why they don't have it.
India has been increasing spending on equipment for its ground forces over the last decade, but these efforts have been uneven. Some of this has been caused by corruption. Like many other nations, India has long had problems with kickbacks and favoritism in defense procurement. But it's been worse with India, which ranks 87 (out of 180) in an international survey of least corrupt nations. Last year India was 84. India has responded with a major effort to halt corruption in defense matters, but this has stalled some procurement efforts.
The end result of this is that 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.
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 list when it comes to spending in general.