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F-INSAS: Arming the solider of the future

Last updated on: October 26, 2011 19:17 IST

Technology is a continuum and so is the concept of warfare. We are witnessing a revolution in military affairs and influx of technology into the defence weapon systems, leading to sharpening of the cutting edge of the fighting forces is the most important aspect of this revolution. These critical advances in the emerging technologies in turn enhance military capabilities and create an enormous impact on the armed forces.  

It is thus very important, that our armed forces remain in sync with state of the art emerging technologies and maintain an edge over our potential adversaries by developing conventional, non-conventional and strategic war fighting capability.

One of the most significant issues in the ongoing process of development both in terms of doctrine and technologies for land warfare is undoubtedly the emergence of what are normally referred to as "future soldier system" programmes.  

This necessity derives from the fact that modern battlefields continues to become more and more diverse, multifaceted and lethal against the backdrop of ever increasing threat of the looming asymmetric warfare. Operating in these complexities a soldier needs to be empowered with emerging technologies.

This is the reason why most of the developed armies are trying to build up "soldier modernisation programmes" that seek to empower the dismounted soldier with every conceivable piece of electro-optical situational-awareness enhancing kits along with the much required lethality, sustainability and ever needed protection.

Concept behind infantry soldiers modernisation

In today's modern and evolving armies world wide, the infantry soldier continues to play a central role in all kinds of operational scenarios and terrain. His mission spectrum is complex, it requires him to be enabled with enhanced capabilities, that would to sustain him in high mobility operations in difficult and unfamiliar terrain.

The infantryman operating in urban areas and under extreme climatic conditions has to prepare to face asymmetric threats. To meet these operational requirements and to enable the soldier to fight better and survive, most of the armies worldwide are engaged in infantry soldier's modernisation programmes. Many countries today are engaged in future soldiers programmes and are equipping their soldiers with advanced versions of existing systems and emerging technologies.

At this juncture, most of these programmes are in the nascent stages of implementation and only some of them are in the stage of advanced planning of design and implementation. The large number of countries undertaking such modernisation programmes makes this specific domain of the defence industry an attractive and important market for the future. The most significant of these programmes are Land Warrior of USA, IdZ-ES of Germany, FIST of UK and Felin of France.

'Future Soldier' programmes, started to emerge in late 1990's  with a view to addressing five essential requirements, as defined by NATO, namely the C4I(command and control, communications, computers and intelligence), Lethality, mobility, survivability, and sustainability. These capabilities are logical complements to net centric environment that was forecast for the medium-term future, allowing every single soldier to exchange all necessary information with higher command echelons.

All seemed poised for rapid development, at least in some countries; but the process and the pace of modernisation was an arduous one. Some main reasons that retarded this process are the need to wait for the advent of certain technological breakthroughs and the usual financial constraints combined with the more recent emergence of the so-called 'urgent operation requirements' for contingents deployed in various theatres of operation slowed down many of those programmes.

Turning to the management structure of these programmes, contrasting approaches have been adopted; while most the Europeans, for instance, have selected one leading agency responsible for integration, the others, especially the United States, left this task to the military. Various programmes have reached different levels of maturity taking different developmental paths. Indeed, some involve full integration of all the sub systems that have been developed from the ground up, while other chose a more conservative approach, contemplating integration of existing or modified equipment.  Most of them, however, agree with the necessity of integrating dismounted soldier through vehicle platforms to the overall architecture of command and control.

Many of the sub components developed under the various national programmes are being offered for adoption to other nations undertaking soldier modernisation pgme by the agencies involved trying to capitalise on the expertise gained with their research and development experience devoted to this sector.  

The problems common to all systems are weight and power consumption. Another concern is interoperability, as coalition operations are sceptical of current missions, although seldom troops would mix at tactical level. Indian Army is today at a threshold of massive modernisation drive and it is progressing the Infantry Soldier's Modernisation Programme F-INSAS. 

Undoubtedly, Indian Army is one of the most professional armies of the world. Perseverance in the face of heavy odds, selfless devotion and supreme sacrifice in battle, makes the Indian soldier ultimate in combat. History of India is replete with examples of patriotism, courage and fortitude of our soldiers.  Besides our outstanding success in the four wars since independence, our sterling performance in the ongoing proxy war in J&K and counter insurgency operations in the North East are testimony to our capabilities.

It goes without saying that we in India have a long history of involvement in such conflicts right from independence. The prolonged deployment of the Indian Army in counter insurgency operations has taught us extremely invaluable tactical lessons that have over the years been formalised into our training for low intensity conflict, so much so that we are now widely acknowledged as masters in this field. Performance of Indian contingents in UN peace keeping operations abroad has also raised the esteem of the Indian Army in the eyes of the international community.

Nature of Warfare

India today is faced with complex, diverse and evolving security challenges and the Indian Army continues to play crucial role of preserving the peace and security of the nation. The future wars are likely to be short, intense and characterised by greater transparency, increased accuracy and lethality, with much higher tempo of operations.  The current situation of continuous commitment of Indian Army in counter insurgency operations is also a reality. Hence, the need for a pragmatic balance between the two operational requirements. 

The future paradigm of warfare would have numerous dimensions – environment would be information warfare oriented, operational and tactical situations would call for speedy decision making and integration with other arms and services would be vital. 

There will always be pressure to respond quickly to any crisis.  The requirement would be of effective military response through rapid deployment of a capable force to shape or regain the initiative. Today the Indian Armed forces are maturing, in pace with the growth of the nation and will continue to play their part in ensuring unhindered progress of the nation.  With rapid advancements made in the field of science and technology, the nature of warfare is also changing.

Future wars are likely to be swift, violent and technology heavy. Fourth generation warfare would make the battles infantry predominant involving close combat and fighting in built up areas. Technology will play a major role in future battlefield in deceiving, demoralising, disintegrating and destroying the enemy.

Indian Army is at threshold of transition from conventional warfare to information – enabled warfare, that is, from platform centric to network centric warfare. The future warfare and conflict scenarios would therefore, pose a large number of challenges to a soldier. However, infantry will invariably be the first to be called and deployed to operate in various terrain profiles across the entire spectrum of conflict.

In this evolving scenario, we can no longer address today's problems with yesterdays solutions/technologies, would have to leverage tomorrows ideas, strategies, and technologies in order to be prepared for the complex and diverse challenges we are likely to be confronted with.   

With the ultimate aim that infantry soldiers are equipped with the best of the weapons and equipment, have the best of the battlefield support systems that would connect the soldiers 24x7, all weather in the network centric battlefield of tomorrow and enable the soldiers to sustain themselves in a challenging tactical environment in the dynamic battlefield with a matching mobility to move about the battlefield with accompanying load to execute assigned missions.

"Future Infantry Soldier as a System" concept is based on the lessons gained from conflicts worldwide and intends making the Indian soldier a 'self-contained fighting machine'. F-INSAS perceives a multi mission, multi role war fighter who is part of the system that contains numerous modular integrated sub systems. The concept identifies the need to provide infantry soldier with enhanced capabilities in terms of lethality, survivability, sustainability, mobility, communications, and situational awareness.

The future infantryman will be provided with effective sensor-shooter interface; each soldier is integrated with his section, platoon and company. Needless to say, the entire soldier system would be user friendly, not only with regard to what is delivered but how each component is used in conjunction with other components.

Modernisation of infantry in Indian Army is already underway.  As part of current ongoing modernisation a few new generation weapons and equipment have already been or are being inducted.  However, there is a need to simultaneously empower the infantry soldier with capabilities that would make him more efficient and an integral part of the war fighting system. It is also necessary to achieve full integration of the individual into the higher level (beyond bn) of combat architecture. Selective and prudent use of high technology modules will provide effective sensor – shooter interface to enhance the soldier's ability to destroy the enemy and conduct effective operations with optimum utilisation of resources. The ongoing process of modernisation is governed by the desire, need and capability of the soldier.

Today Project F-INSAS has indeed moved beyond the conceptualisation phase and stands at a point where procurement of major systems and sub systems are underway. The programme is being processed under four sub systems:-

     (a)  Weapon sub system.

     (b)  Body armour and individual equipment.

     (c)  Target acquisition sub system.

     (d)  Computer & communication sub system.

Some terms of reference which cannot be overlooked are enumerated.  

(a)  Firstly, it is of utmost importance to have light weight, small size systems for the individual soldier. The soldier can not be over-burdened with needless amount of data. He should only get what is needed, rest getting automatically discarded, in the format that he can understand and most of all without any delay.  After all, time is of paramount importance to him in the field – a matter of life and death. 

(b)  Secondly, consistencies in performance in all weather all terrain and day & night (24 x 7), in all conditions is the key to success.  

(c)  Thirdly, low power consumption to increase his sustainability as well as reduce the weight on his shoulders.  

(d)  And last but not the least is of course, the cost effectiveness of the system. The project has indeed moved beyond the conceptualisation phase and stand at a point where procurement of major systems and sub systems are underway.

Several countries are already engaging the future soldier concept by having the infantryman equipped with advanced versions of existing systems and emerging technology. But soldiers of the future will require not only enhanced versions of existing equipment (rifle, pistol, knife, helmet, armour, clothing), but also new forms of equipment that will become possible as new types and combinations of technologies become viable for battlefield deployment such as exoskeletons, micro robot vehicles, surgery-enhanced vision, invisibility shrouds, and other new technology.

We have to draw from the lessons learnt from the experiences of other armies in conduct of warfare in complete spectrum of conflict and compare the same with our requirements / needs as driven by our philosophy, doctrines and tactics. Over reliance on technology and expensive weapon systems for shock-and-awe style warfare is definitely not our style.

What we look forward to is an agile, networked force, fighting on transparent battlefields with seamless integration across technologies and transfer of information both horizontally and vertically in the field army.

S R Rakesh