India's defence modernisation goes apace; but are China, Pakistan getting the right messaging?

While the Army, Navy and Air Force are doing whatever is required to maintain their battle effectiveness, there is a dichotomy that prevails in how New Delhi is dealing with China and Pakistan.

Col Anil Bhat (retd) Feb 24, 2024
Rajnath Singh at Defence Ministry meeting

India's high-powered Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh approved pending contracts amounting to approximately Rs 84,560 crore on February 16, 2024, for enhancing India's overall defence requirements and infrastructure.

This approval covers considerably but still not completely, a wide range of crucial requirements of weapons, armoured vehicles, advanced communication systems, and surveillance equipment. While details of the contract have not yet been made public, it is expected that a substantial portion of the procurement will be for upgrading current weapon systems and kickstarting production of cutting-edge weapons indigenously under the 'Make in India' drive.

DAC has granted Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) under the Buy (Indian-Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured) category, which includes the procurement of a new generation of anti-tank mines equipped with seismic sensors and remote deactivation capabilities, incorporating additional safety features. The aim is to enhance operational efficiency and dominance in the Tactical Battle Area, enabling engagement with targets Beyond Visual Line of Sight by mechanised forces.

AoN has also been accorded for the acquisition of

(a)      Canister Launched Anti-Armour Loiter Munition System, enhancing the capability to engage targets effectively. This procurement is under the indigenous development category.

(b)     Air Defence Tactical Control Radar under the Buy (Indian-IDDM) category. This decision is geared towards reinforcing Air Defence Systems, particularly in detecting slow, small, and low-flying targets. The radar system will play a crucial role in the surveillance, detection, and tracking of diverse targets, contributing to the overall security apparatus.

(c)     Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft, falling under the Buy and Make category. This is for enhancing the surveillance and interdiction capabilities of both the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) in India’s vast maritime region.

(d)    To boost the Indian Navy’s battleships' readiness against potential threats, procurement under the Buy (Indian) category has been granted for Active Towed Array Sonar, designed to operate at low frequencies and various depths, enabling long-range detections of adversary submarines.

(e)     Procurement of Heavy Weight Torpedoes, contributing to the attacking capabilities of Kalvari Class submarines.

(f)     Sustainment support through Follow On Support (FOS) and Repair Replenishment support through Follow On Supply Support (FOSS) for 24 MH60R aircraft under the Foreign Military Sale route with the US Government.

Role of technology

This announcement comes a month after Indian Army Chief, General Manoj Pande, declared 2024 as the "Year of Technology Absorption" and a cornerstone of the Army's Vision@2047. Several items mentioned in the announcement are necessities for the Army mentioned by the Army Chief.

It may be relevant to mention that the Indian Army which in both the First and Second World Wars was acknowledged as the best in the world, fought most of India’s post-independence wars with some to more than some deficiencies. While in 1962 it fought with sheer courage but with many categories of deficiencies against China’s well-equipped Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), it fought and won all other wars and conflicts with sheer courage, but with weapons and equipment which were of more vintage than its adversary’s. And ironically, after fighting the bullet-shy PLA for fifty-three years 1967 (after Nathu La and Cho La skirmishes) till May 2020- by wrestling/grappling/fisticuffs, on 15-16 June 2020 at Galwan, it fought and beat the PLA which resorted to using medieval barbaric weapons. Yet, the PLA is feverishly modernising and because it is firefight-phobic, it is waging war in every possible bullet-less way, particularly through propaganda/psychological warfare, espionage cyber etc. Indian Army needs to take to technology like never before to cover both conventional weaponry and the other aspects just mentioned.

At the pre-Army Day 2024, annual press conference General Pande highlighted the pivotal role of technology as a catalyst for monumental change within the Indian Army. The adoption of a forward-looking operational philosophy marks a paradigm shift in how the Army perceives and employs technology across various domains. The emphasis lies not only on acquiring state-of-the-art systems but also on fostering indigenous expertise to drive innovation and address operational exigencies.

Five pillars of technology absorption have been identified:

1. Aligning and synergizing technology with existing systems for enhanced effectiveness.
2. Mapping Futuristic Technologies to stay ahead in technological readiness.
3. Strengthening the defence technology ecosystem through collaboration with industry, academia, and government bodies.
4. Modernizing acquisition and procurement processes for rapid technology integration.
5. Training techno warriors and commanders to leverage new technologies efficiently.

Emphasising the integration of cutting-edge technologies across all operation levels to maintain a competitive edge, the Indian Army has laid out a framework, the focus areas of which include:
- Advanced Communication Systems for secure and robust links.

- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) for predictive analytics and automated threat detection.
- Cybersecurity and Electronic Warfare for information protection and exploitation.
- Robotics and Autonomous Systems to enhance operational capabilities.
- Space Technologies for improved reconnaissance, navigation, and communication.
- Quantum Technologies for secure communications and computing.
- Biotechnology to boost soldier resilience and performance.

A detailed action plan has been formulated for incorporating technology into logistics, training, healthcare, and surveillance to bolster the Army's capabilities. Key projects include:

- Video Surveillance and Analytics with AI and 5G technology for enhanced monitoring and quick response.
- Field Wireless Access for seamless soldier and equipment connectivity.
- Immersive Experiences using 360° viewing and holographic solutions for better decision-making.
- Health Services improved through remote surgeries, diagnostics, and telemedicine.
- Remote Management of drones and equipment using AI and virtual reality technologies.
- Miscellaneous Applications like smart military vehicles and automated inventory management powered by robotics and big data.
- Education and Training automation with virtual reality and AI for skill development.

Foremost among some actions on the ground is the integration of drones and counter-drone systems at the battalion level, encompassing infantry, artillery, and armoured units. General Pande's assertion reaffirms the Army's commitment to staying ahead of emerging threats while leveraging indigenous capabilities.

Along with its focus on aerial platforms, the Army is bolstering its cyber warfare capabilities through the establishment of Command Cyber Operations Support Wings (CCOSWs). These specialized units, organized into four verticals, are tasked with fortifying cyber defences, conducting proactive threat assessments, and ensuring the seamless integration of digital technologies into military operations. General Pande's delineation of the CCOSWs underscores the Army's proactive stance in safeguarding national interests in cyberspace.

A notable highlight of the Army's technological endeavours is the deployment of Secure Army Mobile Bharat Version (SAMBHAV) handsets. Developed in collaboration with National Centers of Excellence and industry partners, these 5G-compliant devices exemplify India's quest for self-reliance in defence technology.

Enhancing connectivity

In addition to technological advancements, there is a focus on enhancing connectivity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and bolstering forward bases, which the Army seeks to adapt to evolving security challenges seamlessly. The impending induction of light tanks and the pursuit of 4G connectivity underscores the Army's unwavering resolve to bolster its operational readiness across diverse terrains.

The Indian Army's quest for specialized expertise is underway to recruit Mandarin linguists and cyber experts. These initiatives underscore the Army's proactive approach to talent acquisition and capacity building, ensuring that it remains abreast of emerging threats and technological advancements. The Indian Army's technological advancement in 2024 is geared towards ensuring that it remains a formidable global force, redefining warfare and safeguarding national interests with cutting-edge tech. This transformation underscores the Army's commitment to readiness and operational efficiency in the modern battlefield.

Policy dichotomy

While the Army, Navy and Air Force are doing whatever is required to maintain their battle effectiveness, there is a dichotomy that prevails in how New Delhi is dealing with China and Pakistan.

In the case of China, it is of playing the ostrich on PLA’s second major aggression cum intrusion along/across the LAC since May 2020, denying Indian Army to patrol on its side of the LAC and even allowing the PLA to construct fully built-up “villages”. And by repeatedly stating publicly that not an inch has been taken by China, we are only legalising China’s continuing “salami-slicing”. Why should we do so when the Indian Army has all the capability required to oust the PLA? Maintaining muscle on the terrain and accepting the Chinese Communist Party’s bullying and hegemony on the negotiating table is a great risk to India’s security.

In the case of Pakistan, even five years after the abrogation of Article 370, the Pakistan Army has succeeded in inducting terrorists and making the Indian Army pay a high price in the continuing asymmetric war. Are those surgical strikes of 2016 meant only to be a capability demonstration? A few periodic repeats of such well-planned operations targeting Pakistan-based terrorists and their commanders and instilling fear in them may begin to show some much-needed success.      

(The author is a former spokesperson of India's Ministry of Defence and Indian Army. Views are personal. He can be reached at

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