By Lt Gen AB Shivane
Mechanised Forces constitute the critical component of a nation's defence forces in the overall security matrix, being the spearheads of the newly constituted Integrated Battle Groups. They are the instrument of deterrence in peace and force of decision in war. Enriched by their intrinsic characteristics of being a mobile protected platform with lethal firepower and shock action, they play the dominant role of ensuring victory at least cost and minimum time, over the entire operational spectrum. Thus, their capability development and modernisation finds increasing focus to prevail in today's war and win in future wars.
The focus must be to maintain combat overmatch through progressive, time-critical, prioritised and technology enabled modernisation cum capability development. Future mechanized force modernisation will thus have to build on the principles of retaining the capacity and readiness to accomplish combat overmatch, expand new capabilities to deter and defeat emerging threats, and optimizing force capabilities through a combined arms force application in an essentially joint force application environment. To build and maintain these fundamental capabilities, we must make affordable, sustainable, integrate rapidly evolving mature technologies to avoid obsolescence while investing in military-unique technologies for the future, and cost-effective decisions which provide versatile and tailorable capabilities. The challenge lies in devising a balanced strategy must rest on five key aspects; sustain current fleet and address voids; upgrade legacy fleet to bridge technological gaps; develop new future capabilities for combat overmatch by way of time-critical induction of next-generation fleet; replace obsolete and beyond service life equipment progressively; and optimize indigenous capability for a spiral approach to technological challenges and combat vehicles production.
Mechanised Forces modernisation faces several inherent challenges related to size, cost and indigenous desired capabilities :-
(a) A large fleet of over 7000 AFVs poses challenges of fleet modernisation / upgradation both in terms of fiscal cost and transition time for combat overmatch.
(b) Need to shift from the erstwhile Iron Triangle of Firepower, Protection and Mobility to a more relevant and holistic model of Lethality, Survivability, Agility, sustainability, connectivity and affordability based on the commonality of the base platform and technology convergence with the foundational edifice of indigenisation or indigenous solutions.
(c) Right-sizing and balancing the fleet modernisation/upgradation, fleet replacement and fleet expansion, based on realistic fiscal envelop and our operational imperatives, in time and space.
(d) A judicious mix of mature, contemporary and state of art technology, based on pragmatic and realistic qualitative requirements. A good mature technology may be more sensible than the immediate chase for state of the art technology across the entire fleet.
(e) Short evolutionary cycle/time sensitivity is another important factor. "Concept to Product Cycle" must be shorter than the "Technology Cycle". Also, for upgrades and legacy fleet modernisation, the product to fitment cycle must be compressed with modular form fit upgrades at field level.
The art of modernisation will be to balance capability, sustainability, and readiness within the allocated resources to achieve the desired ends. This requires us to build our equipping priorities based on value, vulnerability and risks in temporal terms. Such a strategy should mandate firstly, prioritised and tiered modernisation based on acquisitions adding maximum value to combat effectiveness, mitigating critical vulnerabilities and accepting certain risks in temporal terms, secondly, spiral approach to technology induction with the sensitivity making cost informed decisions to manage 'best bang for the buck', thirdly, the fiscal requirements for modernisation must be carefully balanced against the fiscal requirements necessary for sustaining the force at hand in its life cycle. Thus, standardization and commonality of a family of platforms and interoperable technologies will reduce sustenance cost with better inventory management and lastly modernisation must be based on indigenous capabilities even if marginally lower, and were insufficient then based on a joint collaboration with an Indian firm, ensuring levers in our hand. Make in India requires an integrated defence ecosystem and a defence industrial base as a prerequisite to finding technical solutions to tactical technology challenges in the field.
Mechanised Forces Fleet Management Philosophy essentially comprises of three facets; Long Term Eqpt Management Plan including Future Capability Development, Upgradation Philosophy cum Plan and Sustenance Plan ensuring the operational readiness of current fleet through cogent equipment sustenance, repair and spares support.
The key issue based on past lessons of delayed modernisation and upgrades is to have a paradigm shift in the upgrade philosophy from 'scheme' based approach to a 'platform' based approach. Further, upgrade classification, intervention, scope and procurement route merit a de novo look. A suggested approach to upgradation could be:-
There is thus a need to review the present ceremonial 30:40:30 concept and graduate to technology-empowered actionable concept of 30:30:20:20 ie 30% state of art (first quarter-life), 30% current (second quarter-life) which need subsystem product improvement and system upgrade/ replacement, 20 % vintage (third quarter-life) which need platform upgrade and 20% obsolescence (being phased out and replaced by next-generation AFV). The focus must be to push up the second and third category to the next higher cat through modernisation/upgrades aimed at achieving a higher weapon effectiveness index.
The upgrades visualised at development stage must be put through digital modelling, e prototyping and dynamic analysis integrated with the digital design of the basic platform. This would address the conflict zones for resolution and address the challenges of power, weight and space management. There is also the need to clearly spell out the requirement of installation during RFP, TEC and field evaluation stage. The responsibility of installation and work share of various agencies and all kind of spares and infra requirements must be clarified at CNC stage itself. The commonality of technologies, upgrades and platforms should also be encouraged. All upgrades planned must have the Indian OEM of that particular equipment as the principal lead integrator as the design is best known to them. Past experiences like ECU for BMP planned in isolation threw up challenges at a later stage. Thus every five years the production/maintenance intervention of the same product if required must be churned out with upgrades and better weapon effectiveness index.
There is a pressing need to review the modernisation strategy and upgradation philosophy for modernisation of mechanised forces. Slow decision making, lengthy procedures, and requirement of modernising a large mechanised fleet and the sub-system approach have been contributory factors to the delay. The present procedure lacks focus, priorities and urgency being a procedure oriented, rather than being time-sensitive outcome-oriented. Thus given the fiscal envelope and procedural restraints there is a need for a de novo look at the modernisation strategy and up-gradation philosophy of mechanised for ensuring combat overmatch.
(The author is an Army Veteran and former Director-General Mechanised Forces. Views expressed are personal)