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Astr Defence’s ATAL polymer-framed, striker-fired handgun

In recent years, private enterprises have been at the forefront of innovation and indigenisation.

by Sanjib Kr Baruah

Sumeet can feel the cold in his bones. The winter air reminds him of his village in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. Posted at a mountainous forward post on the Line of Control, the soldier is on a hawk-like vigil. Nothing can be left to chance in an area prone to infiltration by Pakistan-propped militants.

Among the first recipients of these new-generation tools are the troops facing the Chinese.

India has designed and developed 75 cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence-based military products that have been offered for sale to friendly nations.

“[There is a] realisation that over-reliance on Russia and the west for weapons is curtailing India’s capability to manoeuvre in international politics.” ―Prof Kumar Sanjay Singh, Delhi University

A few metres ahead flows a mountain brook that marks the Line of Control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Sumeet’s guardhouse may appear the same to the untrained eye. However, a lot has changed in the last two years or so. Sumeet is accompanied by his faithful INSAS rifle, a 5.56mm x 45mm weapon leaning casually on the stone wall. However, at the barracks behind, there are several’sector-specific’ weapons to choose from, such as the American Sig Sauer rifle, the Israeli Tavor assault rifle, and the plain old AK-47.

Just next to Sumeet is a mounted telescopic sight, a four-screened CCTV set on a table, and a hotline, but mobile signals have improved significantly in the previous year or two. A solar panel on the guardhouse’s roof provides continuous power.

Sumeet’s body armour is composed of fibre, rather than iron plates, which reduces the weight by a third, to under 20kg.

Two troops amble onto a modern, US-made Polaris ATV (all-terrain vehicle), a far cry from the once popular Maruti Gypsy, to go on reconnaissance patrol a little distance behind Sumeet at another outpost. This unit is outfitted with quadcopters, Sako sniper rifles made in Finland, Israeli Negev LMGs (light machine guns), and handheld thermal imagers with rangefinders for surveillance….

“Most of the equipment is fairly recent; they have all come in the course of the past one or two years. With these cutting-edge equipment and installations in place, the efficiency of our border surveillance and security grid has greatly improved. “It’s practically impossible for infiltrators to get in now,” Sumeet says, a steely resolve on his face.

His confidence is enhanced by the fact that surveillance drones and counter-drone systems are active in the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Because of this impenetrability, militants have almost abandoned infiltration routes in north Kashmir. The routes have migrated south of the Pir Panjal range in districts around Jammu, Samba, Kathua, and Rajouri and Poonch.

The 15 Corps, often known as the ‘Chinar’ Corps, is the nerve centre of counter-insurgency operations in the Kashmir valley, with its base in Srinagar’s Badamibagh district. According to the corps’ commander, Lieutenant General Amardeep Singh Aujla: “We are rapidly absorbing technology, whether it is connected to surveillance, lethality, protection, communication, or battlefield transparency, and in space and cyber.”

These cutting-edge platforms and high-tech equipment have been installed all along the LoC and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with the China-controlled Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as the MacMahon Line in India’s northeast.

Major General Sanjiv Singh Slaria, who recently led the 15 Corps’ counter-insurgency Kilo Force, says, “We need to be able to predict new forms of terrorist threats to ensure we stay ahead of the curve.” The Kilo Force covers around 580 square kilometres in north Kashmir.

The troops facing the Chinese are among the first to receive these next-generation tools. With the insurgency situation in the northeast improving, the focus has switched to the northern opponent.

The Army’s tendering, Requests for Information (RFI), and Requests for Proposal (RFP) department has never been busier. Loitering munitions, a wide range of drones, counter-drone systems, improved radio systems… the list goes on and on.

In terms of strategic capabilities, the DRDO has done a commendable job of developing and deploying a credible second-strike capability from land, air, sea, and underwater. Quietly, 30% of the DRDO’s R&D budget are being used to meet the needs of the Strategic Force Command.

“Technology is being integrated at an unprecedented pace,” says Lieutenant General Harpal Singh, the Army’s engineer-in-chief. We have created high-altitude dwellings and technical storage in eastern Ladakh in the last two years. These can accommodate up to 22,000 troops as well as 450 armoured vehicles and weaponry. These

“A few shelters have been built with local materials. The temperature in these shelters is kept at 20 degrees Celsius, despite the fact that the outside temperature is minus 20 degrees Celsius. We are currently considering employing 3D printing technology to construct permanent defence bunkers. These can resist a direct tank hit. We have already tested them in particular settings and are currently implementing them gradually over the northern boundaries.”

The Growing Private Story

The sweeping changes in the military production scene have created a buzz among the private sector’s established players, midsize firms, and start-ups.

“Today, we see teaming and large-scale task sharing between public and private enterprises,” says Jayant Patil, who advises Larsen & Toubro’s CEO and MD on defence and smart technologies. This is seen in all defence power plants (public sector undertakings). The warship development programme, which comprises huge survey ships and shallow water anti-submarine warfare vessels, is one of the best examples. The same is true for the Akash (missile) programme. There is also pre-bid public-private partnership in the changing era to bid for mega programmes, including design and development programmes.”

As a result, an era of innovation in the Indian military industrial landscape has begun, a notion that was the core topic of the DefExpo 2022 in Gandhinagar in October. From the indigenous Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 basic trainer aircraft to the indigenous ‘Atal’ pistol (manufactured by Hubballi-based Astr) and the country’s first combat-ready drone (Jatayu Unmanned Systems), these products are not only catering to domestic needs, but are also aiming for global markets.

The world-class BrahMos missiles and the flagship Light Combat Aircraft Tejas have already sparked international interest, as has the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which has a displacement of approximately 45,000 tonnes and is a major talking point.

The country is also breaking new ground in the realm of specialty technologies. For example, India has designed and manufactured 75 cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence-based military technologies that have been offered for sale to friendly nations.

These are besides the country’s demonstrated skills in the developing and constructing of long-range surveillance systems, a wide spectrum of cutting-edge missiles, artillery rockets and undersea weapons. Other growing areas include general command and control systems, fire controls, and autonomous solutions.

In 2020-21, Indian weapons manufacturers exported approximately Rs13,000 crore in weapons and systems, with private enterprises accounting for 70% of the total. The first export of Indian-made artillery systems occurred in September, when Armenia agreed to purchase the Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers. A deal for the Kalyani 155mm cannon is also being discussed.

What is evident is the goal to use home-grown equipment and systems. One such initiative is being led by a young Army captain who has been handpicked and assigned to the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. Captain Rajprasad of the Army Design Bureau (ADB) has established a lab and an office on the IIT campus with the goal of advancing military research and development. His list of accomplishments

The ADB, which was established in 2016, is in charge of the Army’s ‘Make in India’ effort. “In the last three to four years, the entire ecosystem has gained a significant vibe,” says Rajprasad, who is in his 30s and goes by one name. “With so much eager talent, we need a body like the American DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in India to conceptualise cutting-edge technology and induct platforms and systems into the military.”

Investigating the Changing Narrative

China and Pakistan may have sparked the winds of change blowing over the military landscape. Their combative stances positioned India as a “hard state” that would not take things lying down.

The attack on the Indian military facility in Uri in September 18, 2016, which killed 19 troops, was the first major event in this timeline, prompting the now-famous surgical strike.

Later, on February 26, 2019, in response to the Pulwama car bombing on February 14, 2019, which killed 44 security personnel, an Air Force fighter aircraft crossed PoK to target terrorist installations in Balakot. The Pakistanis struck the next day.

During this time, the Army also conducted a series of operations to target rebels over the porous Indo-Myanmar border. However, China’s rapid infrastructural development and significant modernization created an increasing asymmetry with India, requiring it to modernise as well.

The border conflict with the People’s Liberation Army has been the most significant contributor to India’s modernization. It was set off by a series of violent brawls between soldiers across eastern Ladakh and north Sikkim, which culminated in the Galwan confrontation on June 15, 2020. While 20 Indian soldiers died, Chinese officials maintain only four of their men were slain.

“India is in a major arms race,” says Prof Kumar Sanjay Singh of Delhi University, who teaches modern history and specialises in Cold War politics. “It started with Pakistan but lately it is with China. China’s rise has been fueled by two factors. First, China has suddenly decided that it can unilaterally breach the SOPs put in place to prevent bloodshed along the LAC. Second, China has made fast advances in military modernization and combat capabilities, resulting in significant asymmetry between the Indian and Chinese militaries along the LAC. As a result, there is a compelling need to improve India’s military strength. It is centred on the acquisition of sophisticated weaponry and the indigenization of defence production. This is because of the knowledge that over-reliance on Russia

The Indigenously Designed, Developed, and Manufactured (IDDM) category was established by the government in 2016 as part of the wider policy of defence indigenisation and the Make in India drive. “Today, we observe that more than 80% of acquisitions are planned to be from Indian enterprises,” says Patil. “The four positive indigenisation lists (favouring domestic manufacturers) serve as a user’s commitment not to rely on imports of the commodities included therein. The idea to purchase indigenously had to be backed with fiscal support. The government’s commitment is seen in the increased allocation (68% of capital acquisition budget) for acquisition from Indian enterprises and 25% for acquisition from the private sector.”

The growth story is also spawning spinoffs in never-imagined domains. While two Defence Industrial Corridors (DICs) in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are being established, each with a Rs10,000 crore investment goal, the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (KINFRA) has come up with another plan. It has established a 60-acre defence park in Ottapalam, where approximately 50 defense-related enterprises and start-ups will be able to set up shop. There are facilities for storage, laboratories and research activity.

“The idea to build the park stemmed from the changing environment, with strong demand for high-tech defence and military equipment,” said Aneesh A.S., manager of the KINFRA defence park. We recently finished the park’s infrastructure development and have now begun the

Military-Industrial Complex

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India’s weapons import declined by 21 per cent between 2012-16 and 2017-21.

“Without doubt, the contours of a military-industrial complex are taking shape,” says Prof Singh. “This is resulting in a new ecosystem where there is a greater emphasis on a private role. This is a decisive step for the emergence of a military-industrial complex in India.”

Most major economies have established a military-industrial complex or the architecture that ties the military to the defence manufacturing industry, resulting in a win-win situation for both. The weapons are given to the military, while the industry benefits from their sale. “However, two concerns arise at the same moment,” Singh says. “The acquisition demands will be satisfied from the little share of the budget put aside for defence. This will have a negative impact on the procurement of cutting-edge military systems while pursuing indigenisation.”

Historically, one of the most unfavourable aspects of a big military-industrial complex is its influence over public policy and its formation. “It would be intriguing to see how this military-industrial complex evolves in India,” Singh says. The Paradise Paradise paradise paradise paradise paradise, paradis

However, given the rate at which India’s military-industrial complex is evolving, few would argue that the emphasis will shift from ‘Make in India’ and ‘Made for India’ to ‘India manufacturing for the world’ over time.

Trade Instruments

Innovations by Captain Rajprasad of the Army Design Bureau that are in various phases of induction and deployment

Mine and IED detecting vehicle that is unmanned
SARVATRA PEHCHAAN is an AI-powered intrusion detection system with an integrated command station. Integrates several sensor streams into a single module and performs AI-based analytics in real time. Enables AI-equipped command centres

However, given the rapid evolution of India’s military-industrial complex, few would deny that the emphasis will change from ‘Make in India’ and ‘Made for India’ to ‘India manufacturing for the world’ over time.

Trade Instruments

Captain Rajprasad’s Army Design Bureau innovations are in various stages of induction and deployment.

Unmanned mine and IED detection vehicle
SARVATRA PEHCHAAN is an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered intrusion detection system with an integrated command station. Integrates many sensor feeds into a single module and performs real-time AI-based analytics. Enables AI-equipped command centres

  • Autonomous surveillance and armed drone swarm
  • Swathi weapons-locating radar
  • Ultra-light howitzers, Dhanush (howitzer), K-9 Vajra artillery guns

In The Pipeline

Zorawar light tanks * Guided rockets for the already inducted Pinaka (multiple rocket launcher) * Integrated surveillance and targeting system * AI-enabled future ready combat vehicle * Enhanced missile capacities for Arjun MK1A and Arjun MK2 tanks * Futuristic infantry combat vehicle * New wheeled armoured fighting vehicle * Light armoured multipurpose vehicle * Look-deep drones * Advanced anti-drone capability * Look-deep drones * Advanced anti-drone capability * Look-deep drones * Look-deep drones * Advanced anti-drones * Look-deep drones * Look-deep drones * Advanced anti-drones * Look-deep drones * Look-deep drones *

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