The CDS post – recommended after the Kargil conflict – has been lying vacant since Gen Bipin Rawat's death. Defence ‘Theaterisation’ – a process to integrate all the forces into theatres – is work in progress. The Mountain Strike Corp plan to counter China is only half-done. New weapons and equipment are being brought and bought, yet feeding the 14 lakh force is no mean job

New Delhi: As the grateful nation bows in reverence to the sacrifices of young Indian defence forces' officers and soldiers – officially, 527 killed and 1,363 injured – in the 1999 Kargil conflict, the lessons drawn are stark and well-acknowledged.

From acclimatisation of soldiers for taking on the well-entrenched enemy at 16,000-18,000-feet heights to weaponry and strategies, the Indian defence forces have come a long way, though substantially, yet not comprehensively, a lookback would suggest.

Rafale With Stand-off Weapons

The Indian Air Force has added two squadrons of Rafale fighter jets to its armoury. The IAF has hardly 30 squadrons (each consisting of around 18 fighters) against the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons. The 36 French Rafale are equipped with air-to-surface Hammer all-weather smart weapons apart from air-to-air MICA, METEOR missiles and air-to-ground SCALP stand-off weapons. The Hammer is a fire-and-forget weapon that can be launched from a very short range to a very long range of 70 km without the availability of GPS and has high resistance to jamming and target location errors.

CDS Post Still Lying Vacant

The first was the need to have a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for greater coordination, inducing 'jointness', carrying out reforms and optimum utilisation of infrastructure. The appointment of a CDS was one of the most significant recommendations made by the K Subrahmanyam-led Kargil Review Committee (KRC) that came into being in the immediate aftermath of the 1999 Kargil war. Its mandate was to examine lapses that allowed Pakistani soldiers to occupy strategic heights, the initial sluggish Indian response, and suggest measures to strengthen national security.

The fact that it took almost two decades for the government to appoint a CDS (late Gen Bipin Rawat) reflects the casual approach to matters of defence paramountcy. Today, seven months after Gen Rawat died in a tragic helicopter crash, India has no CDS.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said in June that the "process to appoint the CDS is on" and that such an appointment would be made "soon." That is the state of a defence force, which has a strength of over 1.4 million active personnel -- the world's second-largest military force.

Defence Theaterisation Is A Work In Progress

The 'defence Theaterisation' too is a work in progress. This is supposed to be India's biggest military transformation exercise meant to integrate all the forces into theatres. The differences between the three forces and the death of Gen Rawat have prolonged the Theaterisation exercise.

Growing Defence Budget

In 1999, India's military spending was $13.90 billion and it rose to $ 49.6 billion in 2021-22. The growing defence budget points at massive defence buys along with a rise in salaries and pensions in line with the Seventh Pay Commission. The salary and pension component in the 2021-22 defence budget constituted 30 per cent and 28 per cent respectively.

Agnipath Scheme

Enter the new Agnipath scheme. Notwithstanding the countrywide protests and pandemonium in Parliament, the first objective of bringing the scheme is to lower the age profile of the armed forces. Secondly, Agnipath proposes to bring down the pension payout by the government. What the government would save through the pension payout route can be invested in capital expenditure to modernise our armed forces, which according to experts, is the "need of the hour."

As the country continues to debate over the Agnipath scheme, the Modi government can safely claim to have expedited major defence deals, which are still import-oriented despite a continuous emphasis on 'Atmanirbharta' (self-reliance). No doubt, the new weapons and systems can be game-changers in the event of a short-duration war (like the Kargil conflict) and long stand-off situations (like in eastern Ladakh along the LAC with China).

On January 1, 2014, Major General Raymond Joseph Noronha hoisted the flag of the newly-sanctioned XVII mountain strike Corps in Ranchi. The XVII Corps' principle is: 'The best defence is in offence'. Military planners expected a corps of 90,000 men for the Himalayan frontiers, with two divisions armed with integral air assets like attack and transport helicopters and drones. But, the XVII Corps, also known as Brahmastra Corps, has only one infantry division with 16,000 men in Panagarh, West Bengal. The proposed second division in Pathankot has reportedly been shelved.

With the ongoing border tensions with China, the Army has added 10,000 more troops to the XVII Corps. The Army's Operation Snow Leopard, to occupy Kailash Ridge in August 2020, is projected as proof that a defensive strategy no longer works with China.

Decoding India's Ammo

The following are some of the weapons/equipment/machines that have sharpened the Indian defence forces' response since 1999, giving the much-needed reassurance to itself as well as the people who place immense trust in the strength of our forces:

Helmets/Body Armour

In 2020, the Indian Army started the process to acquire over one lakh 'AK-47 protected' helmets. It is one of the world's largest procurements of these specialized ballistic helmets. The Army soldiers are now protected against 9 mm carbine bullet strikes with the new 'Made in India' bulletproof helmets. The new helmets were the first major contract for modern composite helmets placed under the Make in India initiative, and the contract between UP's Kanpur-based MKU Ltd and the Ministry of Defence was signed during the tenure of the then defence minister Late Manohar Parrikkar in 2016. The contract was for over 1.5 lakh Bullet Proof Helmets (BPH).

Early this year, some terrorists in the Kashmir valley used American armour-piercing bullets in encounters with Indian security forces and were successful in breaching the bulletproof jackets of soldiers. "The terrorists have used these bullets during the encounters and they breached the jackets in a few cases. We were using level 3 jackets till now and from now on, we would soon be getting the level 4 jackets which provide protection against these bullets," the top officer from the Srinagar-based Chinar Corps told news agency ANI.

Reports said the Indian Army was on the verge of inducting 'Sarvatra Kavach', a full-body armour suit, for its soldiers which will not carry any Chinese raw material and is designed, developed and manufactured in India.

Besides, an exclusive armour unit to manufacture bulletproof jackets of international standards and protective gear and to supply bulletproof vehicles will come up at Mishra Dhatu Nigam Ltd (Midhani) in Hyderabad's Kanchanbagh area.

The bulletproof jackets are named 'Bhabha Kavach' since the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) developed the technology. These jackets can even stop a bullet fired from an AK-47 as well. Hundreds of such body armour are said to be already in use, media reports said.

SiG-Sauer And AK-203 Rifles

In 2019, the Indian Army decided to replace its glitch-prone indigenous INSAS rifle (which saw action in the Kargil war, though these guns were not a favourite with soldiers) with the US-supplied SiG Sauer rifles for its frontline troops. The deal was worth Rs 90 million. Reports say a repeat order of 73,000 SiG Sauer 716 G2 rifles is on the cards even after "operational glitches," which included jamming while firing locally produced 7.62-millimetre rounds.

Reports said India has already received 70,000 AK-203 rifles from Russia. Sources said that the first batch is likely to be used by the air force, while the rifles to be manufactured at UP's Amethi factory will be delivered to the Army, which is the main customer, with a requirement of over 6 lakh AK-203s.

Swathi Gun-Locating Radar

The Army plans to acquire 12 Swathi Weapon Locating Radars (WLRS) indigenously developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at a cost of around Rs 950 crore in a major boost for the Army on the China front. The Swathi WLRS will help the forces to know the exact location of the artillery guns fired by the enemy, media reports said. The radar can also simultaneously handle multiple projectiles fired from different weapons at different locations.

Ultralight Howitzer Guns

The Indian Army has received in batches 145 M777 Ultra Lightweight Howitzers from BAE Systems at a cost of about $750 million under the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The M777 is the world's first 155-millimetre howitzer weighing less than 10,000 pounds (4,218 kg). Partly made of titanium, the gun can be airlifted swiftly to high-altitude terrain and is ideally suited for mountain warfare. The M777 has a firing range of up to 25 km. The Indian Army plans to induct the new gun into its new 17 Mountain Strike Corps.


Defence Ministry has issued a request for information for the purchase of two versions of surveillance quadcopters. The Army is seeking new drones that can operate in extreme weather conditions found at high altitudes. The Defence Ministry has issued a request for information (RFI) for the purchase of two versions of surveillance quadcopters or drones which can be deployed above as well as below 4,000 meters above mean sea levels.

The surveillance quadcopters should have a self-destruction mechanism in case of capture by hostile persons and should be hardened against electromagnetic (EW) interference with anti-jamming and anti-spoofing properties, media reports said quoting the RFI.

Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH)

During the Kargil war, Indians did not have a chopper to operate at those heights. Besides, the Air Force had to contend with deadly Stinger and SAM missiles. It took almost two decades for India-made helicopters to support troops deployed at forward posts through the winter season in Ladakh.

Two new types of choppers have proved their worth during flights in the high-altitude cold desert. The in-service Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), has successfully undertaken supply missions to the Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battlefield. It is manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).