DURING the ongoing military stand-off with China in eastern Ladakh, the 1 Strike Corps of the Indian Army — headquartered at Mathura and tasked westwards — was given a mandate along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Hundreds of tanks and infantry combat vehicles — colloquially known by their Russian brand name ‘BMP’— were moved from the plains to the LAC.

For years, regiments of BMPs and tanks have been positioned on the plateau of eastern Ladakh and northern Sikkim. The stand-off forced fresh inductions since the Army assessed that “threats on the northern borders are likely to remain in the foreseeable future”.

Learning a lesson from the stand-off, the Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry of the Army are undergoing their biggest transformation in decades. Former Director General Military Operations (DGMO), Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd), says, “The Indian armed forces have built requisite capabilities and enhanced capacities to deter China’s aggressive behaviour along the LAC.”

A series of changes include equipping the regiments with drones that can function as a swarm, addition of loitering ammunition, beyond-line-of-sight guided missiles, systems to bring down enemy drones, swifter and more powerful tanks, specialised high-altitude tanks, new generation armoured vehicles and missile launchers, besides better anti-tank guided munitions (ATGM).

The infusion of greater technology and precision strike capability will keep the armoured and mechanised forces relevant as ‘new’ airborne threats like drones and loitering ammunitions have emerged. Former Western Army Commander Lt Gen KJ Singh (Retd) says the “focus has to be on boosting protection against top attack (from air); tanks need to have agility and imaginative dispersed deployment”.

Loitering Ammunition

It can stay up for a specified period and be programmed and controlled from the ground to hit specific targets at the desired time. The plan is to acquire a canister launch system that will be integrated on the ‘BMP-2’.

Swarm Drones

The two arms of the Army are now getting niche technology — one of them is ‘swarm drones’ sourced from two Indian start-ups. Swarm drones consist of a number of drones controlled from the ground station that can carry a variety of ammunition. They are capable of overwhelming enemy defences. Tests have been carried out in Ladakh.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows a swarm of drones to communicate with one another and also the control station. AI-based ‘swarming algorithms’ enable the drones to automatically distribute tasks among themselves to target the enemy equipment on ground like artillery, air defence equipment, command and control centres and vehicles.

AI-Based Targeted Attack

The Army has also initiated a case for drones that can autonomously do surveillance and also be armed to launch a strike when needed. This includes operations in high-altitude areas like Siachen, eastern Ladakh and Sikkim.

Known within the Army as the Integrated Surveillance and Targeting System (ISAT-S), it enables beyond-line-of-sight attack. The surveillance drone will fix targets and launch smart munitions automatically on identified targets for a precision kill. Artificial Intelligence ensures recognition and differentiation between targets like tanks, gun positions, vehicles and humans.

These are to be integrated with tank formations.

The ISR Punch

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) will provide a better picture to commanders on the ground in case of a conflict. These will use mini-UAVs, specialised equipment to ‘see through armour’, and autonomous combat vehicle — the last one being a ground-based unmanned vehicle that can be sent ahead to tackle the enemy. “Fuel cell and alternate fuel-based technologies are being worked on to ensure a system that allows for silent overwatch,” said a senior Army official.

An AI-based surveillance system allows for an alarm to be triggered in case of unusual movement, facilitating faster decision-making. Gen Bhatia adds: “High-altitude warfare now includes light tanks, drones, loitering ammunition, night-fighting capability, better surveillance, well equipped and armed soldiers and long-range artillery guns.”

New Light Tank, Zorawar

After the recent experiences along eastern Ladakh, the Army is looking at an indigenous light tank in the range of 25 tonnes. Named ‘Zorawar’ — after Zorawar Singh, the Dogra General who captured Ladakh in 1834 — the tank is being designed to be transportable in a C-17 plane of the Indian Air Force for rapid deployment.

Zorawar will have niche technologies to include artificial integration, drone integration, and have a high degree of situational awareness. “The next generation of tanks is to be based on minimising radar signature, enhanced agility and countering drones,” says Gen KJ Singh.

China has inducted a large number of medium and light tanks. In contrast, the Indian Army had to induct a considerable number of T-72 and T-90 tanks (weighing 41 tonnes and 46 tonnes, respectively) in operational areas. “These helped in gaining tactical surprise. However, these tanks were primarily designed for operations in plains,” said a serving officer.

Future Tanks

The Army has a considerable fleet of battle tanks consisting of T-72s, T-90s and Arjun. While the T-72s have been the main battle tank of the Armoured Corps for close to 40 years, the time has come for induction of modern tanks. The target is a state-of-the-art future ready combat vehicle (FRCV) as future conflicts are estimated to be intense, fast-paced and multi-dimensional. It will carry niche technologies to include AI, drone integration, a protection system, have a high degree of awareness about the battlefield and be capable of operating with the unmanned ground vehicles.

“FRCV will be able to integrate itself with all war-waging platforms on land and in air while being seamlessly networked with each other,” a senior officer said. FRCV will be inducted in a phased manner from 2030.

The main battle tank, the Arjun MK-1A, is a technological improvement over the Arjun inducted a decade ago. This version will carry 71 new features, and is all set to acquire missile-firing capability from its main gun. The missile firing from the main gun has been tested successfully.

The tank would ensure effortless mobility in all terrains, besides precise target engagement during day and night. The Army has placed an order for 118 Arjun MK-1As.

Mechanised Forces’ Changes

In the past four decades, the Mechanised Infantry has been employed in conventional and unconventional operations and terrains — in the high-altitude areas of eastern Ladakh and Sikkim to the deserts of Rajasthan and plains of Punjab. For Mechanised Infantry, the target is replacement of vintage equipment with futuristic platforms, and capability enhancement of existing equipment through upgrades.

One of the biggest changes is an indigenous engine. It’s being trial-evaluated. Multiple projects are also being progressed for better survivability, modern navigation aids, effective communication and critical operational logistic requirements.

A Futuristic Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) is to replace the existing lot of BMP-2s. The project is all set for getting an approval from the Ministry of Defence. The Mechanised Infantry is getting lethal capability beyond visual range (BVR); this includes automatic 30-mm cannon and co-axially mounted 7.62-mm machine gun to engage aerial targets.

Changes In Tank Formations

Niche technologies to include AI, drone integration, higher situational awareness and ability to work with unmanned teams.
It will synchronise with technological advancements to dodge and negate enemy surveillance systems, counter aerial threats and enhance own survivability.
Arjun MK-1A tanks will have 71 new features, and have missile firing capability from its main gun. 118 Arjun MK-1As have been ordered.
Indigenous light tank ‘Zorawar’ is designed to operate in varying terrain. Niche technologies will include AI and drones.
The future ready combat vehicle (FRCV) is targeted for induction in 2030. It will be a force-multiplier for future conflicts, which are expected to be multi-dimensional.

About The Mechanised Infantry Modernisation Plan

Acquisition of contemporary, adaptable and niche technology, along with interoperability with other arms.
Replacement and new acquisition of equipment capability enhancement include night ops, better lethality, firepower, ISR (intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance).
State-of-art missiles & lethal capability beyond visual range.
Fire and forget ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles).
Futuristic infantry combat vehicle to replace BMP-2.
Nag Missile System (NAMIS): MoD okayed 13 such systems and 293 Nag missiles this July.
Infantry combat vehicle — command and control platform. 177 such vehicles okayed.
Wheeled armoured fighting vehicle — 105 okayed.
Light armoured multi-purpose vehicle with enhanced mobility and protection for platoon to replace Maruti Gypsy.