Awaiting RMA: Indian Army
Lt General Davinder Kumar, PVSM, VSM Bar, ADC (Retd.)

Throughout history, advances in technology and strategy have revolutionised the way wars are fought. But never before has the spread, influence and penetration of a technology been so rapid and wide spread as the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Media. These have brought the world together through globalization and have become the drivers for economic growth. Not only have they created a new security paradigm but have greatly revolutionised the way we conduct warfare. The battlefield has been transformed into a digital domain with Technology and Information as the new parameters of power. This transformation is at the heart of the current Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Central to this RMA is the, “Synergy and Effects” that are created through connectivity and information transfer by the communication networks; thus giving rise to the concept of Network Centric Warfare. RMA results when a nation seizes an opportunity to transform its military, doctrine, training, organisation, equipment, tactics, operations and strategy in a coherent pattern in order to wage war in a novel and more effective manner. RMA can thus be defined as “A major change in the nature of warfare brought about by the innovative application of technologies, which combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine and operational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and conduct of operations.” RMA has the following main components:-

  • Political will
  • Doctrine
  • Organisation Transformation
  • Technology and
  • Operational concepts

The Indian Army doctrine of 2004 carries a full section on RMA as envisaged by India. General N C Vij, the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) wrote in the foreword: “Like all other modern armed forces, the Indian Army has been considerably influenced by the Revolution in Military Affairs and the great strides being made in technology development. This has necessitated a transformation in strategic thinking along with a paradigm shift in organization and conduct of operations. As a consequence, military doctrines, weapon systems and force structures need to undergo a review. Our vision for the twenty-first century is to have a well-equipped and optimally structured army, enabling it to respond effectively to varied situations and demands whilst it continually adapts itself to meet future challenges.” India, thus recognizes the emerging nature of warfare but is constrained by the ground reality to move rapidly to a Western style RMA.

The Ground Reality

  • India’s primary security challenge essentially remains the same and that is defending Indian Territory by conventionally deterring Pakistan and dissuading China.
  • Being a status quo power, India’s security culture has always prioritized defence over offence. Nature of RMA, therefore, does not fit very well in Indian Military posture, at least in the minds of political decision makers.
  • Barring 1962 war, Indian Military has done well in all operations. This has given an impression to the political masters that the Indian Army, in its present form, is capable to deliver under any circumstances. This leads to lack of political will.
  • Extensive employment of Army in the Counter Insurgency (CI) and Counter Terrorism (CT) operations which are manpower intensive and are conducted mostly at tactical level.
  • Role of Indian Army makes the transition to western style RMA very complex.
  • Resources for modernization are limited.
  • A fractured higher defence organization, bureaucratic control and painfully slow and opaque procurement process
  • Near absence of Defence industrial base and poor delivery on the R&D front and manufacturing.

Hence, India has to find a home spun solution of carrying out RMA through “gradual incrementalism” over a period of time while carefully managing the transition from an industrial age army to an Information driven, technology oriented, lean, mean and agile force operating in the digital battlefield.

Such an approach places emphasis on the ability to augment existing strengths, develop new skills, think imaginatively and attempt innovative approaches to cope with the emerging environment. We need to visualize what our Army of the future should look like and accordingly develop suitable approaches to structures, equipping, logistics and training. While doing so, our plan has to be flexible to cater for both the technological or operational surprises.

The Indian Army has to maintain a high level of readiness for war in varied terrain conditions and should have the capability to operate in the complete spectrum of conflict. The Indian Army Doctrine outlines a framework for a better understanding of the approach to warfare and provides the foundation for its practical application. While resource constraint is faced by all armies, Indian army will have to be innovative in her approach and utilise the resources most optimally. Technology and information will have be exploited to create synergies and economy of effort. There will invariably be technological gaps between the systems that we possess and those developed up to that point in time. We will have to examine the asymmetries and develop anti-technology capabilities, processes and procedures to overcome the same. This would require technical intelligence, innovation and adaptation.

Information Warfare, consisting of Command and Control Warfare, Intelligence based warfare, Electronic warfare (EW), Psychological warfare, Cyber warfare, Economic Information warfare and Network Centric warfare has emerged as a major force multiplier and is at the heart of ICT driven RMA. This seems to be the weak point in our arsenal demanding immediate and focused attention.

The Indian Army Doctrine issued in 2004 was in two parts. Part 1, which is meant for open domain, was to be revised every five years and the classified Part two after ten years. While we await the revised and updated version, what is apparent is that the Army has not come out, at least in the open domain, with any corresponding action plan and an audit of capacity build up. There is no mention as to how the capabilities are to be integrated and measured towards India’s comprehensive national power. Hence while it conveys the intent, actual implementation and associated time frame are not clear. Consequently, the development has largely been haphazard and personality based. The situation is further compounded by the inordinate delay in the approval, execution, delivery and operationalisation of projects. Net result is that notwithstanding the doctrine, the “Indian Army still awaits the RMA”.

This is a serious strategic deficiency due to years of political neglect of more than a decade. Compare this with China, which has undergone more than three decades of modernisation, doctrinal changes and organisation transformation and currently going through a process of consolidation and integrating cyberspace and outer space as part of her warfighting capabilities while concentrating on C4ISTAR capabilities, potent missile force, infrastructure, focused R&D and a strong defence industrial base.

Let us analyse each component of RMA in an Indian context and ascertain why still the Indian Army awaits the RMA.


Indian Army is still organised for the last war in an industrial, platform centric environment. It needs immediate and focused organisation transformation to the information age Network Centric Warfare in a digitised battlefield characterised by long range precision weapons, almost total battlefield transparency and very high velocity of operations encompassing the entire nation across full spectrum (NBC to Asymmetric and OOW) and at all levels (strategic, operational and tactical).

While the Government must appoint a Chief of Defence Staff without any further delay, there is an urgent requirement of organisation transformation to create resources and efficiencies for the new organisations and capabilities. There is a need for bold and hard decisions to streamline the logistics chain through application of technology and outsourcing. There is also a case to dispassionately examine the combat units to release resources in view of the revised strategy and operational doctrine, quantum increase in firepower, mobility and induction of force multipliers. Our strategy to deter Pakistan definitely requires a review and offensive orientation of our doctrine. The revised doctrine must include offensive actions at multiple levels in a nuclear environment with emphasis on Survivability, Deception, Perception management, Mobility, Integrated Network, Electronic and Optical warfare; Air Defence, Intelligence, Surveillance, Fire power, Special Operations, focused logistics and other force multipliers to counter night fighting capabilities, surveillance and intelligence. These capabilities be built in mission specific battle groups under an Integrated Theatre Command with appropriate Command and Control elements. Deployment of these capabilities would have to be in consonance with the political aim and must be a part of overall comprehensive national power.

These thoughts will require serious and detailed deliberations as these indicate a doctrinal transfer from Attrition to Effect based operations. The point being made is that while most of these are included in the Army Doctrine 2004 as intent, there is negligible evidence of such capabilities being available on ground and integrated in our war fighting effort.

Similar effort needs to be made on our Eastern front. The raising of a mountain strike Corps affords us a unique opportunity to build an organisation which not only negates the capabilities of our adversary but gives us the ability to exploit the red lines. Our focus must be to effectively overcome the asymmetry in the fields of cyberspace, missile and outer space warfare. The political authority must be made aware of the serious differential both against Pakistan and China and the urgent and inescapable necessity of organisation transformation particularly if engaged in a two front war while still engaged in CI/CT operations.

The suggestion is that let us make a beginning and create such organizations and capabilities in a time bound manner; develop strategies for their exploitation, train and rehearse in an information rich environment. Let these be the maiden long awaited efforts towards realizing an India specific RMA on ground.

Technology and Military Modernisation.

Our record in developing indigenous technology and the corresponding defence industrial base has not been encouraging. We continue to import about seventy percent of our equipment and that makes the country very vulnerable. The ground situation gets compounded further with the inordinate delay in the approval and execution of projects. We need to take advantage of the political will being shown by the present government through “Make in India” drive. In the succeeding paragraphs, we will examine the status of some of the critical projects for realising the Indian Army RMA

F-INSAS (Future INfantry Soldier As a System)

In 2007, F-INSAS- one of the biggest programme ever for Infantry modernization, was undertaken by the Army with the objective of transforming the Force into a “fully networked, digitized self-contained 21st century warriors”. The aim being to transform the “future Infantryman” into a “sensor” rather than a “deliverer” of fire power, his own and those of multitude of indirect precision weapons in support.

The project involved not only meeting the long lasting demand for an innovative rifle system for Indian infantry but also equipping it with night vision capability; thermal, chemical and biological sensors; ability to operate in the NBC environment, helmets integrated with a head-up display, palm top GPS system and cutting edge communications enabling battlefield transparency. The intention was to equip the soldier to ensure a dramatic increase in his lethality, survivability and mobility while making him "a self-contained fighting machine”. The weight carried by soldiers was planned to be reduced by at least 50%.

In the first phase, to be completed by 2015, the infantry soldier was to be equipped with a modular weapon system that would have multi-functions. The Indian Army intended to modernise its entire 465 infantry and paramilitary battalions by 2020 with this program.

However the Indian Army, in January 2015, decided to drop the F-INSAS program in favour of two separate projects. The new programme will have two components: one to arm the future infantry soldier with the best available assault rifle, carbines and personal equipment, such as helmets and bulletproof vests; the second component is the Battlefield Management Systems (BMS). The Army has thus wasted eight years. It will have to wait at least for another four to five years before the first component becomes available and two to three years after that for BMS to be inducted and operationalized. In the meantime, Indian Army awaits the RMA!

Battlefield Management System (BMS)

Battlefield management system (BMS) is a system meant to be deployed at a unit headquarters forward, down to a soldier to enhance command and control, situational awareness and decision making through integration of information acquisition and processing. It was conceptualised in 2002 primarily to extend the reach of the Tactical Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (Tac C3I) system forward of unit headquarters.

As an example of modern combat force Pakistan Army has been using integrated battlefield management system called PAK-IBMS (Rehbar).

The Project, at an estimated cost of 40 to 50 thousand crores of rupees, is believed to be Indian Army’s biggest project ever. It was approved by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) in July 2013 as a “Make in India” project. The Expression of Interest was released in November 2013.

In an important development, two consortia of Indian companies have been given the project to develop a “Battlefield Management System” (BMS). The Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 25 February 2015 instructed the consortia – one consisting of BEL and Rolta India, and the other of Tata Power SED and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) – to register “special purpose companies” for this project. Each of these development agencies (DAs), will separately develop a working BMS consisting of four prototypes, one each for mountains, plains, desert and jungle terrains in a time frame not exceeding three years. The MoD will reimburse 80% of the development cost estimated around 67 million dollars. The MoD has moved unusually fast in the BMS contract, which industry sees as evidence of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s seriousness in pushing indigenization and give a boost to the Make in India programme.

Time Lines for BMS

With the prototypes likely to be available by February 2018, the evaluation will take atleast another year and award of contract one more. With minimum two years for engineering into production, the Indian Army, therefore, is not likely to see the induction of BMS before 2022. Its integration with the future soldier system and Tactical Communication System (TCS) and subsequent operationalization is not likely before 2024. Till that time, the Indian Army would have to prepare for and await the RMA.

Tac C3I System and TCS

Indian Army’s foray in the digital era began some forty years ago when a fully automated Tactical Command Control Communication and Information (Tac C3 I) System was conceptualised. At the heart of this system was the CIDSS (Command Information Decision Support System) connected with other sub-systems like the ACCCS (Artillery Command, Control & Communication System), BSS (Battlefield Surveillance System), ADC&RS (Air Defence Control & Reporting System), Electronic Warfare (EW) and Air Support Systems. All these sub-systems are integrated through a Communication Data Network System (CDNS) to realise Tac C3I System. These are in various stages of development, trials and fielding. The main issues are the inordinate delay, the rapid pace of technology, obsolescence management, and emergence of new threats like the cyber and EW and finally the availability of complete and operationalized System in the field. While nominating one of the Corps as the Test Bed is a good idea, availability and subsequent operationalisation of the system seems to be at least two to three years away. This presents associated challenges on operational planning, training, organization, cyber security, resource availability and survivability.

The most critical issue is the availability of Tactical Communication System (TCS) which is the backbone communication network for the Tac C3 I System and a fully secure, spectrum efficient, jam resistant robust Combat Net Radio system for its components. The TCS was conceptualized in 1996 as TCS 2000 to replace the Army Radio Engineering Network (AREN) system. It was approved by three successive Defence Ministers. Finally, after some revision and detailed deliberations, the DAC, in 2012, directed TCS to be a Make in India Project - the first project to be so classified. The MoD short listed two Development Agencies (DAs) in early 2014. The first is a consortium composed of private sector defense companies, and the other is state-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL).The private sector DA includes Larsen & Toubro, Tata Power SED and HCL Ltd., which have formed a special purpose vehicle based on an equity-sharing basis. Under the "Make in India" category, each DA will develop two TCS prototypes at a cost of $100 million each. The government will finance 80 percent of the costs for the prototypes, which will then be evaluated, tested on the ground and one will be shortlisted for production. The process is expected to take about 36 months.

Procedural disputes have delayed the development of the Indian Army's Tactical Communication System (TCS). The private company consortium said it would not proceed with development of a TCS prototype until it receives the same tax incentives as are given to BEL, and insisted that the intellectual property rights of the system be vested with the developer and not the Ministry of Defence. It seems that the issues have since been resolved to a large extent and that the Purchase order for making the prototypes and test bed may be issued by end of 2017.

Projected Time Lines

Assuming that Purchase orders are placed by early 2018, the test bed will take at least two years to make and field. Giving one year for evaluation of the test bed, the supply order is not likely before 2022. Thereafter, the first system is likely to be available by mid-2024. It’s fielding and operationalization is not likely before end 2025 and integration with Tac C3I system and backbone networks like ASCON and DCN by 2026. Issues like management of technology and spectrum; sanitization against cyber-attacks, encryption and key management; obsolescence, security against new threats, training and survivability will have to be managed in the most innovative and efficient manner to ensure that the systems remain relevant across its designated time frame. The issue of a TCS for mountains is still pending and requires immediate attention. Till that time Indian Army will have to manage with ad hoc and interim solutions. The classical RMA will have to wait.

Other communication projects like the Army Wide Area Network (AWAN), Army Static Switched Communication Network Phase IV (ASCON Phase IV), Cellular network, Network For Spectrum (NFS), Mobile Satellite Communication project are all in various stages of implementation. They are likely to become available by 2020 and will certainly add to the net centricity of the Indian Army. The challenge will be their integration and interoperability with the Air force, navy and national networks in a seamless manner.

Related Technologies/Capabilities

For a true net centric capabilities and RMA, the Indian Army has to substantially increase its capabilities in the areas of cyber espionage, cyber warfare, outer space exploitation and counter space capabilities; intelligence and counter-intelligence; information management through establishment of data centres, big data and analytics; image interpretation, unmanned platforms for combat, surveillance, communications, dynamic spectrum management and EW; robotics, deception including physical, electronic and cyber; social media engineering and perception management; long range precision strikes and “no contact warfare” capabilities; cryptology and key management. Each of the above capabilities would require an organization to develop and field these capabilities, skilled human resource, training curricula and associated infrastructure. It is presumed that these issues would find a place in the revised Indian Army doctrine.

In the interim, a concerted and comprehensive drive in acquiring these capabilities is lacking; though there are some islands of excellence created by some line Directorates. We need to take immediate corrective steps both to make the Indian Army, a force relevant to 21st century warfare with full spectrum capabilities along with the Air force and Navy and counter China’s rapid and comprehensive development with three decades of modernization and the recent organization transformation and induction of high technology systems with indigenous R&D, production and skilled human resource. Indian Army cannot afford to wait any longer. It must assert itself and become a catalyst for speedy implementation of a home grown RMA and a truly net centric capability. It is a strategic imperative that the Indian Army owes it to itself and the nation.

The author is former Signal Officer-in-Chief of Indian Army and MD and CEO of Tata Advanced Systems.

Published in Defence and Security India, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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