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Chief Interview

Sub Title : COAS, Gen Pande’s interview with South Asia Defence & Strategic Review

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2024

Author : Editorail Team

Page No. : 19

Category : Military Affairs

: January 27, 2024

On the occasion of the 76th Army Day, Chief of the Army Staff, General Manoj Pande, engaged in an extensive dialogue with our Editor-in-Chief, Colonel Ashwani Sharma (retd). The discussion covered a spectrum of current issues. In a candid interview, General Pande addressed every query presented by the Editor. Selected highlights from the interview are featured:

Defstrat: The Army designated 2023 as the ‘Year of Transformation’. What were the objectives and what was achieved during the year especially in the aspect of modernisation?

COAS: The Indian Army is currently transforming and we observed the year 2023 as the ‘Year of Transformation’. The overall aim of ongoing transformation is to enhance operational preparedness and increase efficiency in functional and administrative domains. The desired outcome is to make a transition into a modern, agile, adaptive & technology enabled future-ready force.

Our endeavours towards “Modernisation & Technology Infusion” are progressing well. Our approach in this regard, stands firmly rooted on the edifice of Atmanirbharta. Overall, 86 Capital Contracts have been concluded in this financial year for an amount of Rs 12,725 crore. Last year Acceptance of Necessity was obtained for 37 cases for procurement worth approximately Rs 74000 Crores. As part of the Fourth Tranche of Emergency Procurement, 73 schemes worth Rs 11000 Cr, have been contracted catering for capabilities ranging from mobility solutions to communication systems, energy solutions, individual protective equipment, drones and counter drones, armament and simulators.

In addition, Niche technologies like logistic & nano drones, Counter-drones, Loiter Munitions, Unarmed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) launched Precision Guided Missile, Automatic Spectrum Monitoring Systems etc are being procured. Four Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX) projects and two Make II projects, worth approximately Rs 180 Crores have also been contracted by the Indian Army.

Defstrat:  How is the modernisation of arms like Armoured, Mechanised Infantry and Infantry progressing? What are the specific procurements undertaken so far and those in the pipeline?

COAS: Under the ongoing modernisation drive, the Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry received a significant boost. Focus is being accorded to enhancing Night enablement, Mobility, Firepower, Armament upgrade, ISR & acquiring Futuristic Platforms. Contracts for High Mobility Reconnaissance and Support Vehicles (HRMVs), Advanced Land Navigation Systems (ALNS), ULPGM, Containerised Autonomous Launcher Modules (CALM), and Spike Anti-Tank Missile Launchers have been finalised. The ongoing procurement includes Light Tanks, Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) Command Vehicles and others.

The infantry also witnessed substantial enhancement in their capabilities. Contracts were signed for 6 lakh AK-203 Rifles besides Sniper Rifles, Light Weight Rocket Launchers (RLs), Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) systems, MILAN 2T ATGMs, Bulletproof Jackets (BPJ) & Ballistic Helmets, Telescopic Sights, Body-Worn Cameras, Logistics Drones, Surveillance Copters, All-Terrain Vehicles, Quick Reaction Force Vehicles, and Rugged Terrain Bikes.

Defstrat: We have witnessed that impetus is being given to development of infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control. Could you give an update on major forward connectivity projects along the Northern Borders and J&K?

COAS: The criticality of infrastructure differential along the LAC is being addressed jointly by both military as well as civil administration. We are giving impetus for enhanced forward connectivity by constructing critical roads and railway lines along with tunnels. Simultaneously, we are also undertaking the construction of airfields, ALGs and helipads to enhance connectivity in remote areas and difficult terrain.

Based on our joint deliberations, 365 priority roads (18,200 km) have been listed in the Long Term Roll on Works Plan of Border Roads Organisation for period from year 2023 to 2028. Nechiphu Tunnel and Sela Tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh and Z Morh Tunnel (J&K) have been completed. Construction of Zojila Tunnel (J&K) is also likely to be completed soon. Construction of the Shinkun La Tunnel has been approved and likely to commence this year.

Katra-Banihal Rly link will be operational shortly which will enhance connectivity to the Kashmir Valley. Similarly, completion of Rishikesh-Karanprayag Rly Line & Sevok Road-Rangpo Rly line will enhance the connectivity in the Central Sector and Sikkim considerably.

We are working in close coordination with the Ministry of Power & Telecom and proactively looking at extending the reach of basic needs of Power (102 Army locations) & 4G connectivity (355 sites) to forward areas for the benefit of troops.

Defstrat:  There are concerns regarding the move to consolidate the logistics and maintenance services in the Army. What is the rationale behind and how do you plan to make this happen?

COAS: Recent conflicts have brought to fore the importance of maintaining a lean and efficient armed force. Advancements in all sectors being made by the nation provide us with greater access to services and commodities even in the far-flung regions. Hence, the age-old concept of the Armed Forces being completely self-contained and inherently developing all capabilities, in today’s conditions becomes both unviable and uneconomical.

It is therefore imperative that efforts towards the logistic sustenance of forces be optimised by suitably exploiting civil-military fusion. Exploiting these Dual Use Facilities is helping us in force optimisation and improving teeth-to-tail ratio.

Indian Army has interfaced with PM Gati Shakti to take into consideration our requirements & optimally utilize the civil infrastructure thus enhancing the overall logistic capability. More than 100 dual-use proposals made by Indian Army have been co-opted in the National Master Plan (15 Projects – MoR, 47 Projects – MoRTH, 25 Projects – MoCA, 14 Projects – MoP, one Project each with DoT and MoPNG).

We have also made policy changes to tap into nationwide maintenance & repair facilities of vehicles especially those having wide usage in the country. Joint Logistic Nodes have been established to deliver common commodities and services by a lead service at common military stations. Three Joint Logistics Nodes are fully operational, with plans for establishing joint nodes at four more locations.

We are undertaking outsourcing of services with aim to relieve combatant manpower in non-core and administrative tasks. This is being done with aim to enhance efficiency and facilitate optimization of logistics efforts and manpower. Presently, 1200 outsourcing projects for an outlay of Rs 1228 Crore are being progressed.  We are also looking at the option of TA-isation of Logistic Entities like 3rd line MT Battalions and Pioneer Companies.

A comprehensive exercise is in progress to streamline inventory management by reducing the dead inventory and capitalizing on availability of items ex-trade. We continue to reach out to all Ministries, Agencies and State Governments towards synergizing efforts for pursuing border infrastructure, that would address not only our operational and logistic requirements, but also the local communities.

Defstrat: What has been the major lessons learnt by the Indian Army from the Russia-Ukraine War and other such conflicts around the globe?

COAS: The events unfolding in the Russia Ukraine crisis have churned out important geopolitical, technological, economic and military lessons.  The first lesson that emerges is that the Duration of war remains unpredictable and we need to be prepared for a protracted war and there is a need to enhance war stamina and sustenance.

Another lesson learnt is the importance of Operational Logistics (OL). It is being witnessed that OL is playing a lead role and driving the Operational Plans. The war has also showcased the primacy of Information Warfare which remains a Prima Donna besides underscoring the importance of Survivability of Massed Forces & Conventional Platforms. In addition, Junior Leadership has emerged as an important Battle Winning Factor.

Self-Reliance or Atmanirbharta is another imperative that we have drawn for ourselves. We cannot let our national security be affected by global disruptions. Apart from this, the war has also highlighted the importance of synergy between the services not only during application of forces but also during the planning process. The side that was able to use Niche and Disruptive technology like UAS, C-RPA, Satellite guidance, Dual-use technologies, STARLINK, Hypersonic Missiles, Loiter Munitions etc had an advantage. It also emerges that Whole of Nation effort is inescapable to win a war being fought in Multi Domain – all elements of national power have to be leveraged towards attaining the politico-mil objectives.

Recent conflicts across the globe and extant situation along our borders demonstrate the centrality of the Land domain in ensuring the security of the Nation. Indian Army is closely monitoring these developments.

Defstrat: Army has an important role in developing bilateral ties in view of India’s geopolitical stature. How is Indian Army enhancing military cooperation with friendly countries?

COAS: The Indian Army is playing an important role in developing bilateral ties with friendly foreign countries.  Many initiatives have been undertaken, to boost engagement and enhance cooperation between militaries.

Indian Army is engaged with 110 countries through defence cooperation activities and we have Defence Cooperation Agreement with about

70 countries. These activities include hosting/ participation in 39 Joint Exercises, a flagship activity of our engagements. In addition, we hold bilateral Army level Staff Talks with 19 countries. Presently there are 26 Indian Army Defence Wings located all over the world. Four new Defence Wings are planned in Algeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Poland by the end of 2024.

Indian Army alongwith US Army co-hosted the 13th Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs Conference (IPACC), 47th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS) and 9th Senior Enlisted Leaders Forum (SELF) in September 2023 in Delhi. 30 countries participated in the event and an unprecedented number of 18 countries were represented by Chiefs of their respective Armies. Apart from this, we also conducted the first edition of Chanakya Defence Dialogue recently.

Indian Army has been playing a crucial role in promoting multilateralism. Efforts to promote India’s leadership for Global South and extend strategic partnership with Africa has been undertaken. Indian Army conducted its Inaugural India- Africa Army Chiefs’ Conclave (IACC) at Pune in Mar 2023, which witnessed participation by 31 countries. Similarly, AFINDEX (2023) themed on Humanitarian Mine Action & Peace Keeping Operations was conducted in Pune in March 2023, wherein 124 participants from 26 countries participated.

In addition, Indian Army contingent led the Tri-Services marching contingent participating in the Bastille Day Parade 2023 at Paris in France. Contingent of Punjab Regiment along with band of Rajputana Rifles Centre participated in the event, which was witnessed by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi as the Chief Guest. This was the second representation of Indian Army in Bastille Day Parade after 2009.