Integrated Theatre Commands Considered A Necessity Since Kargil War And Will Gradually Unfold Over The Years: Indian Army Chief Gen M.M. Naravene

Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane speaks exclusively with BW Businessworld’s Manish Kumar Jha on the Indian Army’s steady march into the next era. The Indian Army is one of the world’s finest institutions hallmarked by its strength, historical glory and impeccable peace-keeping record. The institution has needed far reaching reforms in the new century in its continuing quest for modernization. Gen Naravane speaks on a range of topics including Integrated Theatre Commands, artillery modernization, the LAC Standoff with China, military equipment and new tech such as anti-drone capability, the OFB, defence industry, the procurement process, J&K and the situation in Afghanistan and his initiative to have an independent human rights cell within IA--its unique and humane nature. Excerpts:

China has been scaling up its  military post right next to the unsettled conflict zone at LAC in Ladakh, artificially creating settlements in the sensitive buffer zone like in Arunachal Pradesh. Do you see this as a cause of major concern?  What is the Indian army’s strategy to neutralize such vicious tactics of the PLA -- People's Liberation Army?

Army Chief: No settlements have been constructed in the buffer zones of the disputed areas either in Eastern Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh. There is constant misinformation about the issue, therefore, it is pertinent to mention that both sides have gone back to mutually agreed positions. 

No construction has been carried out in the contested areas by either side, either at the LAC in Eastern Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh. Not a brick has been placed in the contested area either at LAC in the Eastern Ladakh or along the buffer zone in Arunachal Pradesh.

Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane in Ladakh

Has the Indian Army redefined its doctrinal architecture in terms of shifting threat perception so that the road map to building capability or bridging the increasing gaps with potent adversaries is addressed in earnest?

Army Chief: Doctrines are instruments that are constantly evolving. It is always a 'work in progress' and updated from time to time, contingent upon new concepts/ structures, fresh policy directives, advent of new technology and most importantly, changes in geo-strategic political environment.

Starting from early 2020, China undertook unilateral and provocative actions to change the status quo along our Northern Borders. Similarly post abrogation of Article 370, there was a relative increase in Ceasefire Violations and infiltration attempts across the Line of Control on our Western Borders. These have formed the basis for undertaking a change in our doctrine.

Talking of specifics, we have reviewed own force capabilities and as part of the re-balancing, reoriented our forces towards the Northern Borders, while retaining effective capability/ responses along the Western Front.

IBG-isation in the Indian Army is being carried out in a phased manner and would be implemented in the near future, commencing with one Corps each on the Western and Northern Front. A whole of Nation approach towards integration of logistics has been adopted to ensure optimal utilisation of national assets for improving military capabilities with reduced financial liabilities.

We are analysing, acquiring and absorbing niche technologies, as part of a deliberate and continuous process. An all encompassing process called Integrated Capability Development System (ICADS) has been formulated which holistically examines the threats from our adversaries, assesses capability gaps thereof. Based on these identified gaps a very systematic capability development plan is formulated.

There are concerns that Integrated Theatre Commands though inevitable are being formulated in haste, knowing that the Armed Forces are in the midst of a standoff.  

Army Chief: Integrated Theatre Commands are necessary to bring required coordination and synergy amongst the tri services. The concept has been deliberated since the Kargil war and will gradually unfold in a couple of years. 

Indian Army Chief_Commanders conference 

There is no perfect time. Situations keep changing but we continue building the theatre command.  As far as capability is concerned, it will gradually evolve along the Command. As we say in the Army--one foot on the ground and one forward. Can’t wait anymore.

The LoC in J&K is generally quite but the bullets are raining within UT. Has the infiltration increased substantially? The Army said we want to break the cycle of violence by targeting the OGW (Over Ground Workers) network that feeds and sustains terrorism. 

Army Chief: The understanding of ceasefire reached between the two DGMOs on 25 February this year is being implemented by both sides with due sincerity. There have been no Ceasefire Violations since 25 February 2021.This is a welcome development.

The situation in Jammu & Kashmir is improving gradually. There has been a considerable reduction in terrorist Initiated Incidents and the number of terrorists killed as compared to last year. All agencies are making concerted efforts to discourage youth to join the path of violence. The OGVs who misguide youth and force them to join terrorist ranks will be brought to justice.

In J&K, besides conducting counter-terror operations, the Indian Army is providing medical help, disaster relief and community-building expertise as part of a collective responsibility. 

We don’t see it as burden, as we consider the Army to be a part of the society. This is evident from the fact that a large number of youth from J&K form a significant part of units in the Army.

How do you see a long term solution in the light of the inevitability that Pakistan will intensify terrorist activities as it plunges deeper into turmoil?

Army Chief: The long-term solution lies in providing a secure environment and ushering in development in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir towards fulfillment of aspirations of the people of the Union Territory.

Pakistan continues to maintain terrorist infrastructure and provide support to Kashmir-centric terror groups. Concerted effort needs to be made to encourage Pakistan towards shunning support to terrorism. 

Till that happens, we would continue to maintain robust Counter Terrorism posture to prevent infiltration and ensure that violence levels reduce in the hinterland.

You initiated a Division of Human Rights within the Indian Army which is seen as a unique and far reaching progressive move among Armies around the World? How does it address the anomalies, if any, within?

Army Chief: Human Rights are one of the prime concerns of the Indian Army, deployed in remote areas in counter-terror and counter-insurgency environments. The very nature of these conflicts entails a direct and regular interaction between the locals and the Security Forces, especially in the North East and J&K. This has led to allegations of human rights abuses against the security forces which are viewed very seriously in the Army. Here the Vice Chief of Army Staff looks after such issues. The department investigating these alleged abuses is independent and all complaints are handled by senior officers independently. That is about being impartial. It is strictly followed. Complained is reviewed seriously.  At the same time, if it is found that complaint is mala fide, then we will take action against the complainant. It is to ensure that such initiative is not misused within.

The Indian Army accords maximum respect for Human Rights (HR) while conducting conventional as well as counter terrorist operations. 

Whenever we are called upon to operate in a counter terrorist environment, our operational approach is centered on the principle of 'Iron Fist in Velvet Gloves' wherein " Minimum Use of Force" and "Good Faith" are important guiding principles for us.

To ensure high standards of HR record within the Army, we had set up a Human Rights Cell in the Army Headquarters way back in March 1993, which was even prior to the enactment of the Protection of Human Rights Act and the establishment of NHRC. 

Similar structures down to the Corps level were established and are functioning well.

The creation of a new directorate under an Additional Director General is indeed a progressive step and is indicative of our commitment towards upholding and respecting human rights values.

The current organisation has been upgraded to act as a nodal point to examine and address all HR related issues, including any allegations of HR violations and address concerns of one and all expeditiously, so that justice prevails.

Indian Army’s Artillery modernisation will be impossible unless the OFB takes a leap forward investing in new technology and replacing its archaic factory assembly line with modern tech. Corporatization is just not sufficient by itself. What is needed to implement an overhaul? Why not call for disinvestment?

Army ChiefOFB’s corporatization is a step in the right direction.  It will now be broken into seven entities and they will be audited for better accountability. 

Senior officers from the Indian Army will be part of the management to mitigate the shortcomings highlighted at various instances.

Our mantra for modernisation is ‘Modernisation through Indigensation’. The artillery modernisation is planned to replace 105 mm Gun Systems with 155 mm Gun Systems. While critical requirements have been progressed through import, primarily due to lack of indigenous capability, our focus has always been indigenisation.

This indigenisation is being supported both by the OFB and Private Industry with DRDO spearheading the R&D effort. Induction of world class Pinaka Weapon System and the ongoing development of the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) have been two successful joint efforts by the DRDO and Private Industry.

The Private Industry has also been involved in procurement of two imported Gun Systems, the K-9 Vajra Self Propelled (Tracked) Gun System - where more than 50 % of the product is indigenised by L&T, and Ultra Light Howitzers. On the other hand, Dhanush Gun System, an indigenously upgraded version developed by Transfer of Technology from Bofors and upgrades of the existing 130 mm Guns to 155 mm Caliber, are two major projects under progress with the OFB.

The Indian Army has a set of challenges in dealing with the OFB - delays in delivery, poor quality, cost overruns and rising number of accidents. Delivery of the Dhanush Gun System has been delayed since the production process has still not stabilised even after two years.

I expect that by the recent decision of the Government to corporatise the OFBs, the seven new professionally managed entities will help overcome various shortcomings in the existing OFB set-up by eliminating inefficient supply chains and provide these companies incentives to become competitive.

What exactly is the Indian Army looking for in the Light Tank in terms of weight, mobility and firepower? When does the Indian Army get that?

Army Chief: There is a need for a rapidly deployable Light Tank with adequate firepower, protection, surveillance and communication capabilities for current and future threat challenges.

Modern technology now facilitates a 'Light Tank' to be as capable as a ‘Medium Tank'. Further, lesser weight provides additional advantage such as better mobility in High Altitude Areas and marginal terrain, ease of air transportability and agility on the battle field - hence, the need for Light Tank.

Future Tank Concept DRDO

We have initiated the procurement process for a tank weighing less than 25 tons and we expect to induct Light Tanks in the next three to four years.

We have so far vastly different tanks: T72M1 ‘Ajeya’ main battle tanks (MBTs), T90S ‘Bhishma’ platforms, alongside 124 indigenous Arjun Mk1 MBTs and on June 1 Indian army invited  (OEMs) to its RfI for the planned acquisition of 1,770 medium weight Future Ready Combat Vehicle’s (FRCVs) by 2030 at undefined cost. No other armies have so many tanks? What is the strategy?

Army Chief: We don’t have many types of tanks. T-72s & T-90s belong to the same family. We envisage their employment for the next 10 years and our RFIs underline the essence of our requirement. 

Right now, our focus is on FRCV. We need diverse range of tanks as one type doesn’t fit in all terrains.

Army Design Bureau has been designated as a central Repository for Army-related technological & military innovations. How do you see its role & task, especially with respect to emerging technologies? Do you see its role & tasks evolving in the coming years?

Army Chief: The Army Design Bureau (ADB) has been established to act as an interface with industry, R&D organisations, academia and for tapping in-service ideas & innovations. In the short duration since its raising, the ADB has been able to establish a sustainable and result oriented bridge between the end user & technology, both from indigenous industry & in-service capacity.

ADB has a comprehensive yet versatile charter to remain updated with the technology developments, both indigenous and global, and to identify and put forth solutions to the Field Army for further assessment.

ADB has played a major role in promoting indigenous defence industry contributing towards the goal of achieving self-reliance in defence. Our recent procurements highlight the contribution of the ADB in successfully reaching out to the Indian Defence Industry for meeting the critical operational requirements of the Indian Army.

Universal combat weapon platform concept by DRDO

ADB's efforts towards initiating R&D for critical niche technologies with the Academia are also finding traction. The MsOU signed with various lITs have facilitated R&D essential technologies for the Indian Army such as the development of High Altitude Habitat, Micro Power Grid for extreme cold regions, development of critical sensors for surveillance and various other armament improvements.

ADB also guides the progress of innovations within the Service. Last year, 80 innovative solutions were fielded by our soldiers to ADB ranging from drones, counter drones, Al, robotics, and even a machine pistol. Some have already been deployed, while the rest are at different stages of optimisation.

The future will witness the fructification of efforts of ADB into technology solutions that will address the critical operational requirements of the Indian Army.

The Indian Army’s formulation of General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs) is often seen as too complex and ambiguous to achieve, often leading to a gap between expectations and delivery of technologies. In the context of the expansive procurement process that prevails within the structure, what has been streamlined?

Army Chief: The geographical expanse of India stretches over varied terrain from Siachen glacier to deserts and from mountains to coastal areas, with peculiar terrain attributes. Hence, 'One Size Fits All approach to formulation of QRs is difficult. The Army has in the past few years put in place a robust, transparent and interactive system for formulation of QRs where the emphasis at all levels is on formulation of realistic, practical and achievable GSQRs.

QRs are prepared taking into account the operational employment, claimed capabilities by the defence industry, global technology scan and the adversary's capabilities. Evolution of a robust and viable GSQR involves several iterations and collegiate views of multiple agencies so that the solution arrived at is realistic and achievable. The focus is on ensuring that only those parameters are included in QRs which are operationally mandated. With the raising of the Army Design Bureau, there is greater synergy in matching User Requirements with the capabilities of the Industry and the global advancements.

For indigenous design and development Projects, support for the development cycle is ensured through formulations of Preliminary QRs which, based on the final success achieved by the developing agencies are then converted to GSQRs. This automatically matches the QRs to the technology threshold of the industry.

The result of this focused approach is evident in the fact that in the last four years only three RFPs have been retracted due to equipment not meeting the QRs as against 13 in similar duration earlier.

It is our endeavour to formulate realistic, broad based and achievable QRs for which we have recently further refined our processes.

Worldwide, as also in India, it is the private defence industrial ecosystem that works for information technology.The Indian Army needs cutting edge information systems. How do you intend to collaborate with Indian defence entities beyond the realm of the government?

Army Chief: There are two distinct requirements of Indian Army in terms of automation needs, one in the field of operational systems and the other in the management domain. Most operational systems of Indian Army, as has been rightly brought out, are being developed by defence PSUs. One of the most successful operational system being used in Indian Army is the ACCCS, which was developed by BEL.

However, some of the other projects being undertaken by government agencies have not been deployed on ground the way they were envisaged, nevertheless, they have been a good learning for us to develop new age systems.

Management Information Systems like MISO, ARPAN, HRMS, IQMP and CICG have been developed by the Indian software giants like HCL, TCS, Tech- Mahindra and L&T Infotech.

Establishment of the Army Design Bureau is a step in the right direction to provide innovative and cost-effective solutions for requirements of futuristic information warfare.  Institutes like Bhaskaracharya National Institute for Space Applications and Geo-informatics (BISAG (N)) are in the process of developing softwares for the requirements of Indian Army, thereby promoting self-reliance.

We are collaborating with the MeitY to address our automation requirements. Our future automation projects like Army Integrated Decision Support System (AIDSS) and Indian Army Information System (IAIS) will be outsourced within the parameters of the Defence Procurement Procedures and private agencies are free to participate in the process of automation of Indian Army.

What are the procurement plans of the Indian Army for ISR Capability, all-weather surveillance and targeting, drone and counter-drone technologies, night fighting capabilities and communication technologies to include battlefield management systems?

Army Chief: Indian Army’s capability development plans are aligned to meet diverse operational challenges. There are a number of plans to enhance our ISR, Night fighting and communication technologies.

Bulk of the procurement schemes are aligned to promote indigenous design & development and self-sufficiency in defence design & manufacturing.

There are a number of schemes to improve our ISR capability including all weather surveillance and targeting systems which are in advance stages of procurement.

We are in the process of procuring drones of various categories including ISR Drones, Logistics Drones and Armed Drones. Countering enemy drones is also essential to dominate the modern battle field.

We have enhanced the Night Fighting Capability of our forces by acquiring advanced Thermal Imager Sights and more are in the pipeline. All frontline troops and crew served weapons will be equipped with Night Vision Goggles and TI sights.

We have recently concluded contracts to enhance our communication networks in forward areas with modern technology which aim to exploit the backbone network provided by NFS. We are moving towards Software Defined Radios and Satellite Enabled Devices for which schemes are in the pipeline.

Representing Indian Armed Forces, you have been engaging with global leaders in the sphere of defence and security. You have just returned from the UK and Italy. What did you discuss? Did you discuss strategic matters along with issues relating to technology and military equipment that could add more firepower to India?

Army Chief: We are working on the implementation part of the framework that is agreed upon by the governments led by the political leadership. 

Army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane meets U.K.'s Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nicholas Carter. Photo: @adgpi 

Military visits help in preparing a framework to implement various agreements made between the two nations in exchange of technology, equipment and military exercises among other strategic issues. 

In Afghanistan, the Taliban is closing in around Kabul, which might pose a difficult situation for India. It looks like there will be a third front for India while Pakistan and the ISI begin to exploit the Taliban militia for terrorist activity across J&K. Is that a major cause for concern?How do you plan to deal with the possible threat?

Army Chief: Peace process in the country must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.

(Note from Editor: Disputed areas --Raki Nalla, Galwan, Gogra, Pangong Tso North and South Bank and Rezangla-Rechinla Complex, disengagement zones or buffer zones –no change in status quo. It is also an assurance by the Army that Black Top and Helmet are unoccupied by the PLA, that no clash took place at Galwan on 02 May 2021, or any such date.)

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DRDO' s Enhanced Pinaka rocket


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