Real-time, operational picture among several automation initiatives of Army

Context: Army formations at all levels — from the Commander on the ground to the Corps level will soon have a real-time, common operating picture, with information and data from various sensors and inputs fused into one comprehensive image for quick decision-making.

  • A new Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS) under Project Sanjay is in the process of being deployed, after extensive validation carried out in the plains, deserts, and mountains.
  • Under BSS, the aim is to have surveillance centres for all field formations by December 2025. It will integrate thousands of sensors which will enable provision of an integrated surveillance picture to commanders and staff at all levels, besides completing the sensor-shooter grid by integrating with the Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS)
  • This is among a series of automation projects being rolled out which are expected to cumulatively improve operational efficiency, enhance battlefield awareness for Commanders on the ground, and also provide functional efficiency for human resource management, logistics, inventory management, medical services and other administrative functions.

India’s Defence Modernisation Challenges:

The pace of modernisation of the Indian Armed Forces over the years has been rather slow and, technologically, they are not where they should have been. Indigenous development of modern defence hardware continues to remain a concern, and Indian policy aspiration for defence self-sufficiency remains largely elusive.

The Indian defence industry suffers from major policy, structural, and cultural challenges that beset a military-industrial complex that continues to struggle in terms of delivering modern defence hardware that could have added to the greater Indian defence indigenisation and production.

  • A Military Strategy to address National Security– National security is determined by the threats that a nation faces. Military strategy is the ability to identity and respond to a threat. In olden times armies fought in battlefield. Today there are terrorist, insurgency and cyber threats. The armed forces have to modernise to face such threats. 
  • The lack of military inputs in decision-making is considered to be the most significant lacuna. It is also observed that the national security strategy of India suffers from flaws such as the absence of a National Security Doctrine and the absence of a long-term defence planning. 
  • The decision making in India on national security and strategic matters have been however projected to be slow and complex because of the hierarchical structure of the decision-making process. Further observers have questioned the efficacy of the established process of decision-making in defence acquisition or during times of crises, which is managed by Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS)
  • Economy – The country’s economy is determined by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The bigger the GDP the faster is the economic growth. Faster the economic growth, quicker will be the modernisation of the armed forces. 
  • It is to be noted that capability building of the Army is a continuing process, where budget, especially capital funds, are requested for annually, based on the projected needs for implementing a 15 year long term perspective plan. However, it has been the experience for many years now that adequate capital funds for modernisation are not allotted, and consequently, there are major shortfalls in acquiring new equipment and other war-fighting capability in a time bound manner.
  • Adequate Budget Allocation – Defence is allotted budget every year as part of the country’s yearly budget. Modernisation requires a huge allocation since modern arms and ammunition are purchased from other countries. This allocation of budget depends upon the economic growth. India is now under ‘Make in India’ project and is hoping to reduce dependence on other countries and also save money. 
  • The Standing Committee on Defence (2018) had recommended that the Ministry of Defence should be allocated a fixed budget of about 3% of GDP to ensure adequate preparedness of the armed forces. However, over the last decade, India’s spending on defence has consistently been lower than this recommended level. In 2023-24, allocation to the Ministry is estimated to be marginally lower than 2% of GDP
  • Challenge within forces: The Indian Army has continued to expand, in manpower terms, in its quest to build up capability to deal with potential threats and challenges. The problem was compounded by some faulty human resources (HR) policies of the Army in recent years, which had incentivised holding of more manpower by linking it to calculation of senior rank positions in the Army.
  • There is lack of expertise within the Army in the field of weapon designs and technology, resulting in lack of meaningful inputs for the indigenous defence industry. 
  • The Army remains rooted to the outdated policies of employing ‘generalists’ rather than ‘specialists’ to man the weapon procurement functions at Army Headquarters. Unless serious efforts are made to create a cadre of specialists to man critical functions related to procurement of Army weapons and equipment, starting with the Apex level, the situation is not likely to improve
  • Research in Military Technology, Artificial Intelligence and Cyber Warfare – A portion of the defence budget is given to research and development. A good research and development will make the country self-sufficient in critical technology. For this we must modernise Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and Defence Public Sector units such as, Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), 
  • These organisations are marred with inefficiency and apparent lack of accountability which are responsible for indigenous design and manufacture of weapons, equipment and ammunition for the Army, namely the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs)
  • Further the indigenous defence industry, mostly based on the public sector, is unable to provide items of desired quality in a timely manner. Most procurement through this route is affected by huge cost overruns.

Recent steps taken by the government

  • DRDO has established 05 DRDO Young Scientist Laboratories (DYSLs) to provide solutions in advanced technology areas viz artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, cognitive technologies, asymmetric technologies and smart materials to tackle emerging challenges in military warfare.
  • Announcement of 18 major defence platforms for industry led Design & Development in March 2022.
  • Notification of three ‘Positive Indigenisation lists’ of total 310 items of services and two Positive Indigenisation lists of total 2958 items of DPSUs for which there would be an embargo on the import beyond the timelines indicated against them.
  • Launch of innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) scheme involving start-ups & Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
  • Launch of an indigenisation portal namely SRIJAN to facilitate indigenisation by Indian industry including MSMEs.
  • Opening up of Defence Research & Development (R&D) for industry, start-ups and academia with 25% of defence R&D budget earmarked to promote development of defence technology in the country.

The defence ministry is seriously looking at implementing the ambitious Strategic Partnership model for defence production, it could not firm up any major deal under it. Under the policy, government had planned to rope in foreign defence majors to build key military platforms like submarines and fighter jets in India in partnership with Indian companies.

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