Interview: COAS

Sub Title : The Chief’s views on a wide array of issues

Issues Details : Vol 16 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2023

Author : Editorial Team

Page No. : 28

Category : Military Affairs

: February 6, 2023

As the Indian Army celebrates the 75th Army Day on 15 Jan 2023, General Manoj Pande, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, ADC, Chief of the Army Staff, in a frank and forthright interview with South Asia Defence & Strategic Review (Defstrat) articulated his views on a number of contemporary issues facing the Indian Army. The COAS, in a freewheeling manner, addressed questions related to transformation, combat readiness and HR management in the Army amongst others. Excerpts from the interview:

General Manoj Pande, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, ADC, was commissioned in December 1982 in the Corps of Engineers (The Bombay Sappers). General Pande has commanded an Engineer Regiment during Operation PARAKRAM in the sensitive Pallanwala Sector of Jammu and Kashmir, along the Line of Control.   He is a graduate of Staff College, Camberley (United Kingdom) and attended the Higher Command (HC) and National Defence College (NDC) Courses.

In his four decades of distinguished military career, he has tenanted important and challenging command and staff appointments in different operational environments which include command of an Engineer Brigade in the Western Theatre, an Infantry Brigade along Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, a Mountain Division in the High Altitude Area of Western Ladakh and command of a Corps, along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Command.  The General Officer has served as Chief Engineer in the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. He has also tenanted the appointments of Additional Director General in the Military Operations Directorate at Army Headquarters, Chief of Staff Headquarters Southern Command and Director General Discipline Ceremonial & Welfare at the Army Headquarters. He was C-in-C, Andaman & Nicobar Command (CINCAN) from June 2020 to May 2021 and GOC-in-Chief, Eastern Command from Jun 2021 to Jan 2022.

Colonel Commandant of The Bombay Sappers, Gen Pande was the Vice Chief of Army Staff before assuming the appointment of the Chief of the Army Staff on 30 Apr 2022.

DEFSTRAT: Recent wars, in particular the ongoing Russia – Ukraine conflict, geopolitical developments and emerging technologies mandate a relook at the ‘art of war’. Is the Indian Army looking at doctrinal changes, while it embarks on the process of modernisation of military hardware?

COAS: Yes, we are closely monitoring the events unfolding in the Russia – Ukraine conflict, as it will churn out important geopolitical, technological, economic and military lessons. Not only India, but all countries of the world would be analysing these.

♦             Disruptive and dual use technologies are impacting the changing character of war and making battle spaces more complex, contested and lethal. Grey Zone aggression, characterised by its deniability quotient, is emerging as a strategy of choice. Our adversaries are also constantly striving to widen this band of grey zone in the conflict spectrum, by employing kinetic and non-kinetic means.

♦             Our doctrinal precepts always remain dynamic and evolve with the changing character of war, technological developments and threat paradigm.

♦             The continued relevance of Hard Power as the ultimate instrument to preserve national interests when ‘red lines’ are breached and all other instruments of the State appear ineffective, has been adequately reaffirmed.

♦             Land has yet again featured as the decisive domain of warfare. It is clear that conventional wars are still a reality and India must remain adequately prepared.

♦             Capability development for full spectrum of conflict must remain an ongoing endeavour. Self-Reliance or Aatmanirbharta is a major lesson that we have drawn from the conflict.  We cannot let our national security be dependent upon global disruptions.  Hence, the approach towards self-reliance is an extremely pragmatic and relevant one.

♦             At the military level, we are undertaking various studies to derive lessons on relevant aspects from all recent conflicts, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and these are being assimilated into our training. These include aspects related to the tactics and technology being employed, leadership qualities on display, effect of morale on fighting and force structuring and combined operations.

♦ The Indian Army’s initiative and efforts towards creation of Integrated Battle Groups is progressing well. The concept envisages restructuring of existing organisations into lean, agile, tailor-made and versatile entities with integral combat, combat support and logistics elements which can be launched in a compressed time-frame to achieve operational objective in a time-critical operational milieu.

♦             Our defence strategy and doctrines are being constantly refined keeping in view the changing security paradigm in our immediate and extended neighbourhood, and the world at large. Infrastructure development, force restructuring and modernisation are being implemented accordingly.

♦             A Change Management Philosophy document has been issued to addresses senior leadership for managing aspects at apex and policy level and junior leadership at the functional and implementation level of the Change.

♦             Accordingly, I would like to assure you that our Doctrines and Techniques, Tactics and Procedures are being refined so that the rank and file remain prepared for the future battlefield.

DEFSTRAT: Adoption of niche technologies must be preceded by doctrinal changes and requisite ‘enabling infrastructure’. Indian Army (and the armed forces) are in the process of inducting a number of new-age weapons and munitions. Are there adequate preparations and infrastructure (Op philosophy, storage, maintenance, training, logistics etc) in place for the absorption of new technologies into the system?

COAS. Issues of doctrinal changes, induction of niche technologies and creation of enabling infrastructure and conditions are all being addressed holistically. The underlying precept being to ensure the highest standard of operational preparedness through training, force modernisation and capability development to meet present and emerging challenges.

♦             We are pursuing Modernisation & Technology Infusion, through a focused road map for bringing in niche and disruptive technologies. These include creation of enabling infrastructure for absorption of Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Systems, Quantum Computing, 5G, Space, Precision Fires etc.

♦ This entails a major intellectual investment into restructuring our force structures and operational philosophies.

♦ Special focus is devoted to train on New Generation Equipment (NGE) with a view to develop core teams, instructional material and training aggregates to ensure smooth adaption of this equipment.

♦             The technical threshold of all ranks is being enhanced to facilitate ease of technology infusion. Technical awareness of current and emerging disruptive technologies like robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Swarming, Cyber, Nano technology, Big Data analysis, Space applications & so on through institutionalised interventions.

♦             The induction of Agniveers will lead to a much more technically oriented, young and proficient force. We are also looking at diffusing technologies for specific tasks and capabilities such as lethality, ISR, night enhancement, stealth, mobility and AI-enabled systems. The intention is to enable the cutting edge i.e. the units and subsequently small teams to take actions as per emerging situations.

♦             The wide-ranging span and pace changes and underway mandate that the transformation be seamlessly managed without impacting our operational and functional effectiveness. We have released a Change Management Philosophy for the Indian Army which lays down the broad contours of our approach as a common framework for adapting and managing this transformation.

DEFSTRAT: There is a fair amount of activity in procuring platforms and munitions through the emergency purchase route facilitated by the GoI. But the caveat is ‘Made in India’ only, and with a cap on budget per item. Is there enough capability and capacity within the country to deliver? Will this help the long-term cause of Aatmanirbharta as the industry may be hesitant to invest overnight for limited orders? Would it have been a better option to buy off the shelf globally to fill in the gaps in capability?

COAS: As a major global player, India is moving ahead with the mantra of Make in India – Make with the World & Make for the World. Thus, two aspects are evident – first is the need for capability development based on the principle of self-reliance and second, catalysing niche technologies to facilitate the same.

♦             By undertaking emergency procurements, we could organise early induction of equipment to operational areas due to waivers accorded by the government.  To answer your question, the thrust area was to procure smaller quantities initially “off the shelf” for exploitation and fulfilment of our urgent requirement. Based on feedback of exploitation by units, larger quantities will be progressed as regular capital cases.

♦             Indian Industry is producing modern and state of the art equipment, which will enable us to expeditiously enhance its capabilities, as also make up deficiencies, if any. Indian Industry is also in a position to make the equipment as per our specific needs based on its unique terrain and operational requirements.

♦             Our procurement procedures and SOPs are now aligned to facilitate our defence startups, MSMEs and big firms so that they are able to cater to our operational requirements within a stipulated time frame.

♦             Long term sustenance is feasible by procuring equipment from Indian Industry. I am confident that Indian Army will win future Wars with Make in India weapons and equipment. We are confident of the robustness and the operational lethality of the weapons and equipment being made in India.

♦             I have visited some of the Indian Industry and have seen first-hand, modern production techniques and research processes. These equipment are comparable with some of the best in the world.

♦             Positive Indigenisation Lists have provided the focus areas for the Indian Defence Industry. Each item in these lists has been mapped against a particular embargo year, beyond which that particular item shall not be imported.

♦             Indian Defence Industry is rising to the challenge and is investing into the necessary R&D to ensure development of the prototypes. Every industry in India has started evolving a dedicated defence vertical.

♦             Defence Acquisition Process 2020 and the provisions therein provide adequate opportunities to ensure that necessary weapons equipment and ammunition is available to the Armed Forces.

DEFSTRAT: India’s R&D and the defence industry have been trying to catch up with military technologies developed in technologically advanced countries. This often results in delays and at times the advanced countries move on to the next level while we are still struggling with the previous version. In effect, we get left behind and try to catch up. In such a scenario, would it be better to forego an entire technology cycle and opt for a revolutionary system rather than an evolutionary one in order to avoid obsolescence?

COAS: The Aatmanirbhar vision of the Nation has empowered the Indian Army to procure more diverse equipment & technologies in larger numbers through indigenous sources.

♦             Technology cycles can be skipped temporarily, but in the long term you need a basic level of innovation on which you can build up. A start has been made and we are trying to facilitate and accelerate the technological base of our defence manufacturing sector.

♦             We also have to remember that the Indian civil sector is much ahead in terms of technology and digital technology is diffusing to us slowly. We need to select the relevant ones and encourage and handhold our defence sector so that are able to cater to our technological requirements.

♦             We have launched several initiatives to provide a major boost to indigenisation research and development. The capital procurement pattern of the Indian Army has always been inherently aligned with the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

♦             The recently concluded DEFEXPO-2022 with its theme ‘Path to Pride’ was a grand success proving that we are indeed, moving on that path with a strong focus and genuine commitment.

♦             Many established players worldwide have shown their interest in collaborating with indigenous defence industry. This will lead to development of technological base in own defence industry.

♦             While going through any R&D process, irrespective of success or failure, there are learnings and spin offs which act as building blocks for future or a different requirement and also create novel competencies. Therefore, foregoing an entire technological cycle may not be the best way ahead.

♦             Therefore, a simultaneous approach to R&D is being adopted by the Indian Army. While, certain projects address current technological requirements, others are futuristic/revolutionary/disruptive technology related projects.

DEFSTRAT: There have been instances of technology and product development by R&D and industry which appear to be suitable and practical options for the Army. However, they face rejection as some parameters do not meet certain service-specific requirements – a clear case of dissonance between the end user and the R&D/Industry. How can we avoid such instances in future?

COAS: For a long time, DRDO was the only source of critical defence technologies and equipment. However, now with the maturing of the Indian Defence Industry, most of the contemporary technologies can now be indigenously developed and manufactured.

♦             The Indian Army’s requirements are unique as we operate in the most challenging and wide ranging terrains obtained in the World. The equipment which may work perfectly well in plains may not operate in High Altitude Areas (HAA) or jungles and hence the equipment which may appear to be suitable option for the Army does not meet service specific requirements.

♦             To bridge the gap a large Number of measures have been taken. These include the following.

♦             In order to promote the Indian Industry, one of the most important aspects is handholding and providing opportunities to the indigenous players. There has been manifold increase in the value of indigenous contracts placed by the Army with the Indian Industry from 2018-19 to 2021-22. By 2024-25 more than 230 major contracts worth 2.5 lakh Crores are likely to be with Indian industry. The Indian Army is the largest contributor to the Positive Indigenisation lists.

♦             Forward Area Tours. To give a first hand experience of terrain, weather, atmospheric and operating conditions we conduct Forward Area Tours for Industry and Academia.

♦             Provision of Field Firing Ranges. 13 Indian Army Field Firing Ranges have been offered to Defence Industry for carrying out trials & testing. In last one year various ranges have been utilised by private Industry for more than 200 days.

♦             Internal Evaluation. To facilitate development of indigenous solutions, internal evaluation by Industry is being facilitated at suitable locations during developmental stage. For example, the internal evaluation of drones for High Altitude Area was organised over a prolonged period from January to July 22 at Leh. The window has once again opened from 01 December onwards.

♦             Formulation of PSQR/SQR. In D&D cases, Preliminary Services Qualitative Requirements (PSQR) are formulated with due consideration to indigenous Industry’s capability. A balance is drawn between Industry’s capability and user requirements. Post development of prototype, the PSQRs are converted to SQRs once again drawing a balance between what Industry has been able to achieve and our operational requirements.

♦             Establishing of Regional Technology Nodes.  To expand our outreach and accessibility to the defence Industry, we have established Regional Technology Nodes at Pune & Bengaluru. These Nodes provide the requisite interface between the developer and the user at regional level and facilitate defence manufacturing system.

♦             Spiral Development. As far as facing rejection is concerned, I wish to highlight that the Indian Army is also encouraging spiral mode of development. In iDEX cases, we are procuring limited quantity of equipment which would allow for exploitation in field, while enabling simultaneous further development of equipment based on user recommendations & improvements.

♦             Parallel Modes of Development.  To give adequate opportunities to the Defence Industry, various projects are being progressed through multiple routes by collaborating between Industry, Academia, MSMEs, Startups & DRDO. This includes development of equipment of strategic nature, upgradation of legacy item & introduction of niche technology through Make, iDEX, TDF & ATB routes.

♦             The Indian Army has demonstrated its resolve and commitment to the

♦             Make in India Defence initiative. We are fully committed to winning India’s wars with Indian Solutions. It now remains for all of us to translate this wonderful opportunity into a tangible success story on ground. I would summarise by saying that we have evolved from a Buyer-Seller relationship to one of partnering with the Industry.

DEFSTRAT: Six months after the announcement of the Agnipath scheme, is the IA prepared to put the scheme into action and ensure that it delivers by way of well-trained Agniveers and releasing a disciplined youthful HR into the society? Have there been any special measures to ensure this?

COAS: The “Agnipath Scheme” is a transformational reform for the Army and the Nation and aims to bring paradigm changes in the Human Resource Management of the Indian Army.

♦             The scheme, one of the most significant initiatives, aims to make the Army a future-ready fighting force, capable of meeting multiple challenges, across the full spectrum of conflict. This effort complements other ongoing initiatives to transform the Indian Army into a modern, technology driven, Atmanirbhar and battle worthy force.

♦             The scheme envisages the induction of selected youth for four year period as Agniveers into various branches of the Indian Army. Due preparatory actions were instituted and measures put in place for the smooth roll out of the scheme.

♦             The training duration has been optimised without reducing training standards. A scientific training methodology has been adopted leveraging modern technology such as simulators, AR, VR, etc for accelerating training. A period of ‘On Job Training’ has also been catered for Agniveers so as to transition them into the allocated op role and unit life.

♦             The entire process from recruitment, assessment to selection has been automated ensuring transparency, fairness and credibility. A software application called ‘Army Software for Agnipath Administration and Networking’ or ASAAN has been developed for recording and managing the entire database for all Agniveers.

♦             In keeping with the needs of the rapidly evolving and technologically intensive modern warfare, the scheme shall provide a youthful and adept human resource to the Indian Armed Forces. On the other hand the Agniveer shall return to the environment duly empowered with the values, education and skills to further contribute in nation building.

♦             We are ensuring that all stake holders come together with a “Whole of Government Approach” and implement the scheme in right earnest.

♦             We have also catered for the empowerment of Agniveers during their Term of Engagement. We have been able to ensure the service period contributes towards Agniveer’s educational upgradation and up-skilling, duly certified as per prevalent industry standards. The Banks shall extend preferential soft loans, such as ‘Mudra’, towards encouraging Agniveers in becoming ‘Entrepreneurs’. Reservations in select Govt jobs and preference in civil industry will further assure their continued contribution in Nation building.

♦             With values and skills inherited from the uniformed forces, the Agniveers will be ‘Ideal Citizens’, disciplined, empowered and confident. I am convinced that they shall not only continue to contribute, but will eventually transform the society and the nation within the decade.

DEFSTRAT: Women’s entry into the officer cadre has generated a lot of interest and debate. There are emerging voices to induct women Agniveers as well. The situation, however, may not be conducive to

large-scale induction looking at operational scenarios, hostile conditions and limited infrastructure among other considerations. Your views on the subject.

COAS: Women are serving proudly and confidently in various operational theatres of the Indian Army.  Women Officers are being given opportunities at par with their male counterparts. The process for selection of Women Officers to tenant command assignments in Colonel rank is in progress.

♦             Women soldiers are being inducted through the ‘Agnipath Scheme’ as well. We have been receiving overwhelming response from the women youth of the country. The first batch of over 100 Women Agniveers will join their Training centre at Bangalore in March 2023.

♦             Women soldiers who are already part of us are making a mark for themselves and are even part of Joint exercises with friendly foreign countries. We have considerably stepped up the role of our women soldiers in various UN Peace keeping missions. In consonance with the United Nations’ Gender Parity drive, we recently deployed an Enhanced Female Engagement Team comprising of two Officers and 25 Women Soldiers to the strive torn Abeyi region of Africa to provide relief and assistance to women and children in one of the most challenging operational and terrain conditions under the UN flag.

♦             We are committed to create suitable conditions and infrastructure in difficult areas to provide equal opportunities to women soldiers and officers. You would be aware that we have deployed a women officer to a challenging post in the Saichen Glacier.

♦             In another initiative to promote “Nari Shakti”, we have so far recruited six meritorious sports women into the Corps of Military Police under our Mission Olympic Programme.

♦             While women officers are already part of various adventure activities and part of airborne formations for operational employment, recent sky diving activity by three women soldiers is a new beginning and Indian Army is planning to conduct more such activities to motivate the female youth to join the Indian Army.

♦             For the first time, five Women Officers (WOs) have cleared the prestigious Defence Services Staff Course (DSSC) and Defence Services Technical Staff Course (DSTSC) Exam , which is held annually in the month of September. The five WOs will undergo a one year course and give them adequate weightage while being considered for command appointments.

♦             Woman Combat Aviators have joined their counterparts at various Aviation units. Women Officers as part of the Engineers, Army Air Defence and Signals are already making a mark in the forward areas of deployment.

♦             We have forwarded a proposal to the government for expanding the role of women by allowing women officers into the Regiment of Artillery, which is a major combat support arm.

♦             We have just concluded the selection board for empaneling 108 women officers to tenant command assignments in Colonel rank. Posting orders for these empanelled women officers are also being issued so that they assume these command appointments without any delay. As we go forward, we will bring about more proactive changes, to remain aligned with the future requirements.