Integrated Capability Development

Sub Title : Army needs to evolve integrated metrics of force readiness

Issues Details : Vol 16 Issue 2 May – Jun 2022

Author : Lt Gen NB Singh, PVSM, AVSM,VSM, ADC (Retd)

Page No. : 33

Category : Military Affairs

: June 1, 2022

We need  to evolve integrated metrics for operational preparedness. It is time the Army moves away from traditional methods of assessing operational  preparedness through perception, bluster and vaunt. It needs to evolve integrated metrics of force readiness based on capability gaps and  failure rates

General Manoj Pande is the new COAS. He has aptly spelt out the key focus areas; operational preparedness to face current, contemporary and  future challenges across the entire spectrum of conflict and leveraging new technologies through the process of indigenization. The war in Eastern Europe has reinforced the need to evaluate military capability in terms of daily fighting rates and staying power. It has confirmed the fact that in conflicts involving a superpower, international opinion will have very little leverage. This could prolong the duration of war.

To keep its equipment ready to fight, the Army needs metrics that portray the actual condition of weapon platforms i.e. its condition both in garages and during missions. An integrated  set of metrics are needed to accurately assess daily war fighting capabilities over long durations.

The oft repeated claims that future wars will be swift and short has little locus standi now. This brings onto the radar screen the importance of individual capabilities of all constituents of a fighting force, else even the most formidable and vaunted military can see its operations fizzling out. The flood of images showing Russian tanks mired in mud with turrets blown off, destroyed by anti tank guided missiles and drones has raised serious questions about their survivability  against superior ISR and technologies like fire and forget and explosively formed projectiles. Combat power has finally come down to staying power under adverse conditions and excessive combat damage.

It appears that in situ combat force regeneration (CFR) was either not foreseen or could not be executed.

Military capability development has to factor in  capability gaps that are specific to adversarial capabilities, terrain challenges and the overall technological envelope prevalent in the area of operations. Gaps will establish the necessity for new tactics, techniques and systems, e.g. videos of tanks, artillery positions and troops being hit by unmanned aerial systems or what some have called “off the shelf air power“ show how the battlefield has changed technologically. It is important that such developments  are war gamed to identify capability gaps that pose unacceptable risk to achieving the aims of national & military strategies. While maintaining near-term readiness and the ability to fight  terrorism, the goal must be to possess integrated military capabilities with a wider range of options to discourage aggression or any form of coercion.

Military capability

Military Capability denotes an integrated and agile combination of trained personnel, mission capable equipment, infrastructure, information systems, organizational structures & processes that can create a military effect in a range of operational contingencies. It is important to note that this capability has to be sustained for the duration of the combat pulse. Hence all constituents of a fighting force have to possess capabilities to perform their combat functions in the stride.

Soldier readiness and System (platform) readiness have been the principal battlefield operating systems since times immemorial. Increased sophistication of military technology has led to high tempo of operations and heavy attrition which calls for higher personnel and platform efficiencies to ramp up overall force readiness. Just as ill trained and poorly motivated soldiers are a liability in any conflict, unreliable weapons too cause loss of personnel and impede tempo of operations. With enemy drones and sensors constantly on the hunt for targets, force survivability will be a major challenge in future operations. Therefore, CFR has to become an integral part of operational planning to ramp up daily availabilities of platforms.

This is where the concept of Integrated Capability Readiness (ICR) comes in. Combat platforms be it tanks, ICVs, guns, rockets and missiles have been designed by engineers with an engineering life. If a gun is expected to fire 100 rounds per day for an operation stretching over a week without any mission critical failures, it should be able to deliver such a capability. Else alternative options will be needed, to maintain the tempo of operations. The gun is operated by a skilled operator, made mission capable by maintainers and the rounds are ferried by logistic vehicles. This chain of operator, maintainer and ammunition resupply personnel has to be connected by an information – communication network that is fail safe  in a contested electromagnetic environment. If one link in this chain yields, the result will be what happened to Russian tank columns around  Kiev. If Western reports about dysfunctional radio sets, unreliable logistic vehicles with Chinese tyres and partially mission capable weapon platforms are true, any  fighting force will find itself suffering heavy attrition.

General K Sunderji, a former COAS had always strived for providing matching capability  to each constituent of the fighting force. As a consequence, the Army developed all round integrated capabilities through acquisition of combat engineer tractor, gun missile systems, electronic warfare equipment, armoured recovery vehicles, etc. Sadly, in recent years  one has seen siloed working as if infantry, armour, aviation, artillery will fight their own disconnected battles. Procurement of imported assault rifles, ATGMs, guns and UAVs on piecemeal basis will not add to operational preparedness, instead could end up creating a serious liability over the life cycle. It is here that the initial fissures of hollowness will set in as sustaining them through imports will become unaffordable.

Personnel Efficiency. Knowledge, skills and aptitude of soldiers are critical abilities to respond to present day combined arms warfare. Old, scripted training methods have to make way to competency based training. Severe curtailment on use of ammunition and missiles has had its effects on gunnery skills. It needs to be understood that despite massive advances in technology, on an average only 25% missiles and PGMs are expected to hit  target areas in actual combat: free flying rockets and shells to a much lesser extent. A soldier’s individual competence and abilities will be crucial as the Ukrainian fighters have shown. Data centric demands of modern warfare need grooming of new type of warriors. Soldier readiness would therefore demand painstaking efforts to develop combat skills with enabling capabilities and retaining talent in fields like EW, space, cyber, etc. Manoeuvres that seem easy in stage managed exercises are hard to replicate in the fog of war and under fire. In 1973, Egyptian gunners spent hours of training on simulators and fired up to 25 missiles a day to develop gunnery skills. The result was destruction of more than 300 Israeli tanks in the first few days of Yom Kippur war.

System Efficiency. It is directly related to  equipment capability (EC). EC is the enduring ability of weapon systems to generate a desired operational effect relative to the threat, terrain & maintainer capability. Platform  capability has come to be identified as the 3M triangle – Man (operator), Machine, Maintainer. Each platform comes with an engineered battle endurance. The maintainer’s  role is to sustain Equipment Readiness(ER) 24×7. During Second World War Rommel’s spanner patrols and during Yom Kippur war Israeli maintainers enabled superior daily warfighting rates. In the 21st century the work span of the maintainer has increased manifold covering twenty plus disciplines. This fundamental change has been understood by most armed forces and suitable organizational changes done; like incorporating separate engineering vertical to sustain force readiness. Our own Air Force and Navy have adopted this concept. Sadly, the Army`s focus remains on garage availability; the perils of such oversight have been authentically demonstrated in this war in East Europe.

Force Self Sufficiency. The nature of terrain at the LAC dictates that force self sufficiency should be the goal if desired force ratios are to be maintained consistently. A lot with depend on the combat pulse envisaged viz. high intensity, short duration or low to moderate intensity, long duration. Attention has to be given from acquisition stage onwards, at higher integrative level to see that each individual scheme fits well in the overall force design and combat support elements too are modernized and equipped. Greater situational awareness, sensors, networks can reduce the required number of combat platforms  as a result of information dominance. Similarly , responsive combat force regeneration(CFR) in the area of operations can create a strategic surprise for the adversary. In Yom Kippur, Israeli maintainers regenerated more than 200 damaged tanks in 2-3 days, which were then regrouped with new crews for the counter attacks that halted the Egyptian advance. Fig below demonstrates the immense power of CFR.

Acquisition Planning

The current acquisition process guarantees  obsolescence by the time a platform is fielded in adequate numbers. Acquisitions are a capability development opportunity and  should end up adding not only an operational capability but a technological and through life sustainment (MRO) capability in the stride. This alone can guarantee that combat platforms will remain in a ready to fight condition in garages. It is only with a strong focus on through life capability readiness, that formations can be provided with contemporary capabilities to meet mission requirements. It is time to look at operations and engineering as two sides of the same coin, engineering provides Army`s hardware the enduring ability to fire and manoeuvre, just as it enables continuous   operations of fighters, warships and submarines.

Mission profile should become the kernel for future acquisition planning rather than attributes. If a howitzer is required to fire one second line every day over a projected medium to high intensity combat pulse of 10 days, it should ideally possess a mean round between critical failures of around 500-600 rounds. A tall order considering the complexity of the entire weapon equipment module. If such operational inputs form part of the qualitative requirements(QR), designers could adopt a progressive capability centric development process through technology refresh initiatives. Instead QRs get cluttered by numerous peripheral attributes mostly copied from foreign platforms. Attribute centric QRs have been the biggest road block in maturing of  indigenous systems like the assault rifle, Arjun, the LCA , Rustom and so on.

Through Life Capability Readiness

The ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe has clearly   highlighted the difference between garage and operational availabilities and reinforced the need for through life capability readiness. T90 tanks will serve the Indian Army for at least half a century. The Army does not have a culture of preserving/honing equipment capability be it through  warehousing, mothballing, technology insertion or comprehensive maintenance. In fact, more often than not, reliability linked maintenance interventions like medium reset and overhaul get questioned  by some omnicompetent commanders leading to what may be called a “do nothing syndrome“. It is an established fact that EC degrades with usage, age and  deployment. Most armies place a great focus on warehousing and preservation. Modern day complex systems could lose EC @ 2-4% annually, implying that in a decade  equipment capability degrades  to 50-60% .This is probably what happened to the vintage tank columns in Ukraine. The graphs below explain it all.

The “do nothing” syndrome creates hollowness

Almost all complex systems show reduced EC due to increasing  failures with age & usage. It is through well engineered  maintenance support that resuscitation can be carried out to restore mission reliability. Such interventions alone can fix hollowness, enabling a tank to assault an enemy position without experiencing a critical operating failure, a missile to complete its flight without a malfunction; infantrymen to complete the mission without the rifle breaking down. A cue needs to be taken from modern MRO capabilities  which the Air Force & Navy have established. The `Do Nothing` syndrome could result in  the Infantrymen not getting crucial fire support, as happened at Rezangla(1962) and Kargil(1999).

Self reliance

The Make in India initiative is a strategic step towards Defence Industrial capability building and long term technology security. It is important that dependence on foreign platforms and sourcing of military capability from overseas is reduced or else the likelihood of capability failure at crucial times will always be high. A three pronged approach can be adopted; realistically assess capability gaps, plug these through technology insertion and develop bespoke home grown platforms. This becomes important strategically because soldiers can then be assured that  weapons on which they depend for warfighting will always be available in a highly reliable state. It would be interesting to see the relative impact on operational outcomes from critical performance parameters like mobility, lethality and survivability on one hand and higher metrics like reliability, maintainability and operational availability on the other.

In conclusion, I will reiterate that weapons and equipment will seldom throw up performance issues, till  they are not operated at operational tempos akin  to actual combat. If a combat platform is to move in mountains from 15,000ft & commence warfighting at  higher altitudes, it must be subjected to such a duty cycle. The Russian experience has shown how fire and move that seemed easy in exercises became difficult to replicate under enemy fire. It is time the Army moves away from traditional methods of assessing operational preparedness through perception, bluster and vaunt. It needs to evolve integrated metrics of force readiness based on capability gaps and  failure rates. Both personnel competencies and platform effectiveness should get measured as a system. This simple reform would bring in a sharp focus on integrated capability development. It will allow commanders to realistically assess how far their  fighting force can run and how much staying power it  has, in the face of serious enemy threat.