Capability Transformation: Military Hardware

Sub Title : New age warfare calls for a new set of capabilities to you future challenges

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2023

Author : Col Ashwani Sharma , Editor

Page No. : 41

Category : Military Affairs

: March 25, 2023

The military’s acquisition strategy describes the  plan to achieve equipment balance across the three services while engaged in conflict. At the transformational stage, the strategy must encompass three major lines of operation: simulation-based equipment model, operations in conflict scenarios, and building enduring readiness. Building enduring readiness is targeted at the institutional processes of the defence services.

Regional capabilities and Theatre Commands.  With the creation of theatre commands becoming a reality in the near future, our focus must be to create Regionally Aligned Readiness as the subcontinent’s geography presents very diverse operational requirements. So far the Army’s equipment philosophy has been to acquire platforms which can sustain an extreme climate in high altitude as well as arid, hot deserts simultaneously. There has been reliance on ‘sector stores’ to cater for specific terrain and climatic requirements which is a poor man’s solution to somehow manage, as the hardware does not support such wide variations in performance parameters.

HR Resource. More by default and less by design, the recently launched Agnipath scheme presents an opportunity to the armed forces to induct and retain troops who meet the exacting requirements of modern warfare and high tech hardware.  We need to ensure that we are getting the right people in the right unit. Officer cadets’ training too should be aligned similarly to prepare them to meet the emerging challenges. Leadership methods must be aligned to the demands of new age warfare; leadership traits though, remain unchanged.

Hardware in conformity with the Doctrine. In part I of the series we mentioned that the military doctrine derived from the National Security Strategy is the first step towards building an appropriate military power. To support the doctrine, the next logical step is suitable HR and military hardware. Peculiarities of the terrain that obtains in the area of operations and the geology of the theatre of ops have a profound effect on the platforms, weapons and munitions. This is particularly relevant in the case of a country like India which is blessed with extreme climate and terrain features in different parts of the subcontinent. Each theatre makes diametrically opposite demands from the other on the equipment. Therefore the practice of ‘one size fits all’ needs to be discarded. We should make platforms specific to terrain and geography and standardise components and assemblies instead, in order to optimise logistics and improve operational efficiency.

The next factor is technology- emerging asymmetric ones in particular. Military platforms usually last a few decades, till new technologies make their mark and new systems take over from the legacy with better specifications. Such evolutionary improvements do not necessarily make an impact on the tactical doctrine, instead they just promise greater speed, endurance and lethality. But the last three decades have brought about revolutionary changes.

ICT and CEMA have brought about a revolution in military operations which matches social and cultural revolutions which the society is confronted with. Cyber, telecom, remotely controlled machines, EW.. the list goes on. Entrepreneurial initiatives have kept pace with the tech revolution and the result is a deluge of emerging technologies. Traditional cycles of obsolescence are obsolete, at least till the ICT, CEMA and IoT revolutions last.

Emergence of space as the next military domain has impacted all the three traditional ones.  Its contribution is by way of 24×7 ISR, communications and navigation and increasingly as a medium for long range missiles. It is likely that in the near future we will also witness satellite wars – a more sophisticated form (in outer space) of dogfight or a meeting engagement.

Evolving Nature of Warfare and some Fundamental Changes in Conventional Military Operations

             Transparency in battlefield due to 24X7 surveillance through multiple means,

             Stand-off distances are ever increasing, from duels to swords to pikes and spears to Bow & arrows-Muskets and bayonets- machine guns – artillery – missiles and aircraft – Autonomous weapons, unmanned platforms and long range missiles,

             Increasing mobility in all domains, viz; land, air and maritime.  Static platforms and targets can be neutralised at will,

             Increasing stealth facilitated by long range unmanned platforms and munitions,

             Concept of protection and survivability. Steel and concrete are to be replaced by signature management, mobility and EW for survival on the battlefield,

             Emergence of space and cyber as new domains of warfare in addition to the traditional three. Dominance in these two domains will have a direct impact on operations on land, sea and air,

             Concept of occupying defences – fixed defences are vulnerable; mobile defence thus is more relevant,

             Blurring lines of operations and simultaneity of engagement imply that depth in defence/offensive operations acquires a new form,

             Electric battlefields are a reality with increasing requirements of power and energy, necessitated by sensors and machines which have recently invaded the TBA.

Equipping the Army.

The Army’s equipping strategy has to be a living document that will change to meet the operational situation in a dynamic mode. The Army must update its equipment philosophy by utilising lessons learnt from recent and ongoing conflicts, inputs from the field formations and units,  and changes to the strategic and fiscal landscapes. The Army Equipping Strategy must provide an affordable means to ensure soldiers have the right equipment, types and modernisation to meet their mission requirements – whether in combat, training for combat, operating in CI grid, or when engaged in Aid to Civil Authorities.

Impact of Technology on Land based Weapons and Platforms.  To put it briefly, major points can be summarised as follows:-

 Fixed defences and slow moving platforms will be an easy target,

             Linearity of battle space is compromised, as depth localities can be easily targeted. Logistic lines and concentrations in depth areas thus are vulnerable,

             Signature management is of utmost importance. In depth areas it is the sensors which are going to pick up the targets. We need to eliminate or significantly decrease IR and electronic signatures,

             Platforms will acquire the role of facilitating armaments, weapons and sensors mounted on them, and the munitions that they deliver. A tank or an aircraft is thus as important as the ordnance it can deliver with precision on to the target. The platform must survive in order to perform the changing role which is from a standoff distance and not a dogfight any longer.

             Dogfights are not completely ruled out, but their chances are diminishing by the day. Therefore the operational characteristics must be formulated as per the new role and reality rather than designing machines for direct combat, which may not take place.

             Long range, self-propelled, autonomous, precision vectors are weapons of the future. R&D must be directed to develop such armaments and less on traditional platforms. ‘The Times, they are a changing’ for sure.

Air Force and Aerospace

The challenge of transformation for Air Force should not be unfamiliar. It is closely related to the challenges for air power that arose in the aftermath of the two world wars. Aircraft were used in limited combat role during World War I. After the war was over the challenge for air power was to offer a military alternative to the stalemated carnage of trench warfare on ground. Air power offered the promise of leaping over those trenches and striking at the heart of the enemy in depth areas. Battle tanks too made their appearance on the battlefield almost simultaneously, but their potential remained restricted to ground operations.

World War II witnessed both the platforms tilt the balance of military power in favour of the side that exploited their potential. Air power came into being and its prowess as a battle winning force was established beyond doubt.  The challenge for air power after WW II was to offer the nations’ leaderships a military alternative to ground warfare especially for nations which could not hope to match the adversary in numbers. Air power, by then pumped up with nuclear weapons, again offered the promise of leaping over the masses of ground forces and soldiers and striking at depth areas,  avoiding the kind of attrition warfare on the ground that a nation could not hope to win.

While air power’s graph ascended, the point to note is the pattern of challenges and evolution of concepts. After each world war, air power developed by responding to the challenge posed not so much by the next war as by the military’s challenges evoked by the last war. Air power, with independent capabilities to transport, supply, rescue, conduct surveillance, and punish the enemy from up above, could be developed to address operational issues without being . Transformation, however, gives a nation the opportunity to conceptualise and prepare for future challenges and not remain rooted in lessons from the past.

According to its recently published doctrine, the IAF’s vision is ‘To be an agile and adaptable air force that provides decisive aerospace power in furtherance of our national interests’.  Addressing a gathering of Indian military and industry recently, ACM Chaudhary spoke about path-breaking technologies like quantum computing, artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous systems which are knocking at the doors.  “The application of these technologies in the aerospace industry has the potential to entirely transform the way wars would be fought.  AI-assisted military options will take the form of multi-domain integration, cross-domain attack and interfacing between manned and unmanned systems” said the Air Chief.

A Compass for the Future

While the IAF doctrine available in the open domain largely restricts itself to definitions and generic aspirations, the IAF Chief spoke more eloquently about the future of the Air Force. But there is a dichotomy here as well. Current programmes do not quite match the IAF Chief’s ambitions about the future of IAF. There is the stark reality of obsolete and ageing aircraft in the combat aircraft fleet, and the new inductions by way of Tejas family (see box) does not inspire much confidence due to conventional its capabilities and timelines. A decade from now, a modern air force must have combat capabilities far beyond what the Tejas family can bring about.

Phasing out of old aircraft can actually usher in an opportunity if the replacement is futuristic in nature. Adding conventional air power will not fit the bill. The real issue here is adding unmanned platforms of multiple capabilities, accepting MUMT as a concept and a steady transformation from air aerospace power.

Air space management with a plethora of unmanned and autonomous platforms and missiles will be a challenge. Some of the long range vectors will also compete with the Air Force as they can be used to interdict targets deep inside the enemy territory with precision.

Cyber Warfare Capabilities – With the increasing use of technology in modern warfare, a future Air Force must have advanced cyber warfare capabilities to protect its networks and infrastructure from cyber-attacks.

Multi-Domain Operations – A future Air Force should be able to operate effectively in all domains – air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace. This requires close coordination and integration with other branches of the military, as well as with allied nations.

Sustainability – A future Air Force should focus on sustainability, reducing its environmental impact and developing clean energy sources to power its aircraft and infrastructure.

Air Force of the future must also be capable of operating in a space environment. With the increased militarization of space, it is becoming increasingly important for air forces to have the ability to deploy assets in orbit. This includes not only satellites for communication and reconnaissance, but also the ability to deploy weapons from space if necessary.

Finally, an air force of the future must be able to operate in a decentralized manner. In the past, air forces relied on large, centralized bases to deploy their assets. However, in the future, it will be increasingly important for air forces to be able to operate from smaller, more dispersed locations. This will require advanced logistics capabilities and the ability to rapidly deploy assets to remote locations.

In conclusion, the air force of the future will be characterized by a number of key features, including the ability to operate UAVs on a large scale, conduct cyber operations, leverage advanced technologies such as stealth and hypersonic capabilities, operate in a space environment, and operate in a decentralized manner. In order to remain relevant and effective in the face of rapidly evolving threats, air forces must embrace these technologies and adapt to the changing nature of warfare.


It is going to take a couple of decades to get a hybrid fleet that the Navy may ultimately need in order to fight the way future navies ought to fight –  in a distributed manner, leverage networking and form a seamless part of integrated deterrence.

One raging issue that the Indian Navy (and the national security establishment) is grappling with is that of a choice – Aircraft Carriers versus island based assets versus a fleet of submarines. There is a huge trade off in initial costs and sustenance versus operational advantages in each case; the debate is indeed a difficult one and hopefully operational imperatives coupled with national objectives will decide what works best for the nation.

Despite Indian Navy’s laudable efforts, India may not have the capacity or the industrial base to churn out the desirable number of futuristic ships in a short period of time. It is perhaps going to take a couple of decades really to deliver, and to mature the fleet in a manner where it gets the desired composition that gives you the kind of power that you need to fight.

We must build future platforms with modernisation in mind—hardware upgradeable and software updateable at the speed of innovation. We must build adequate space, weight, and power into our large long-life capital investments to support evolving sensors and weapons systems.

The notional Indian Navy 2040 could comprise of the following:

             Aircraft carriers (say 03)

             Ballistic missile nuclear submarines and Fast attack submarines

             Large surface combat ships (destroyers and the next-generation destroyers)

             Guided-missile frigates

             Amphibious ships (large and light both)

             Logistics ships and auxiliaries

             Unmanned vessels- large surface and subsurface platforms which will act as sensors and as auxiliaries to the manned fleet

  • Aviation arm comprising of manned and unmanned assets.

Naval aviation calls for a mix of 4/5th generation carrier aircraft with a family of Next Generation Air Dominance fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, to include helicopters and maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft.

Unmanned Platforms.  The Navy must define what the (unmanned)ships will look like. A future navy should be equipped with unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) that can operate autonomously or be controlled remotely. These unmanned systems could be used for a variety of tasks, such as mine countermeasures, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and resupply.

Electromagnetic Railguns and Lasers. The navy is currently exploring the use of electromagnetic railguns and lasers as alternative weapons systems that could provide increased range, accuracy, and speed. These weapons systems could be used to engage targets at long ranges and provide a more flexible and cost-effective alternative to traditional missiles.

Energy-efficient propulsion. A future navy should be designed to operate with greater energy efficiency, including the use of alternative fuels and more efficient propulsion systems – reduce the navy’s environmental impact and increase its operational range.

Multi-mission platforms. A future navy should be capable of performing a variety of missions, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-air warfare, and surface warfare, using multi-mission platforms that can be quickly reconfigured and adapted to changing mission requirements. This would reduce the need for specialised platforms for each mission.

The Navy must set a sustainable trajectory now to ensure it remains the combat-credible maritime force that our nation needs in the future. Retiring legacy platforms that cannot stay relevant in contested seas and investing in the capabilities we need for the future is essential for our national security.


Tejas Series, Timelines and Relevance

In February 2023, the Government of India cleared the funding for building and testing of prototypes of Tejas MK2. HAL chairman made a statement during AeroIndia 2023 that it would take 30–36 months or almost 3 years to make and rollout the first prototype for testing – standard time for any aircraft manufacturing company. This dashes the hopes of those who expected the aircraft to be ready by year 2028/29.

Though the Chairman did add that some work has already begun,  there is not much visibile effort to back the claim on Tejas MK2. Some work by way of setting up teams and organisational structure may be on which does save time. Therefore it is fair to expect that the roll out of first prototype would happen by end of 2024 or in early 2025. First test flight could be expected by 2025/ beginning of 2026. Add five years for testing and certifications and IOC version of Tejas Mk 2 takes us to 2031 for the FOC version. Full scale production could be start by 2035, these being standard time lines.

In 2021, the IAF had placed an order for 73 units of  Tejas MK 1A plus 10 units of Tejas MK1 trainer. Tejas MK 1A would have 50+ improvements over Tejas MK 1 without a change in design. These changes are mainly with avionics and weapons and some of the trials are already in progress.  HAL has seven LSP units which they had developed for certification of Tejas MK1. These can help speed up the development of Tejas MK 1A.  Going by fair estimates and timelines all the certifications of Mk IA would be complete by 2026 followed by production thereafter. Factor in increased production capability by then and we can hope to have all the 73 units of Tejas MK 1A  delivered by mid 2030. From then till 2034 by which the Tejas Mk2 would be ready, HAL can make additional Tejas Mk IA for the IAF. It would help the IAF to fulfill the deficiency of fighter aircraft to some extent. In addition to MIG 21 many other combat aircraft in the current inventory of IAF would have become obsolete by 2030.   More importantly, new technologies may have altered the art of warfighting in air ands aerospace.