Being responsible for maintaining sanctity of both the tenuous Indo-Pak and Sino Indian borders in J&K and Ladakh regions, Udhampur based Headquarters Northern Command of Indian Army is most unique in terms of fronts, terrain, weather and operational challenges.
While J&K is witnessing a full-blown proxy war being sponsored by the Pakistan Army, the belligerent attitude of People’s Liberation Army’s [PLA] in Ladakh is showing no signs of abating. Pakistan Army has unabashedly been arming terrorists to the teeth and of late has also been using drones to drop weapons and other warlike stores to supply them with arms and equipment to attack security forces and civilians. In such an environment where collusivity cannot be ruled out, threats and challenges get compounded many fold.
In February this year, Indian Army troops carrying out counter-infiltration operations along the LoC recovered sophisticated weapons and night-vision equipment of US make from terrorists killed while attempting to enter J&K. A senior army officer revealed that “… from the weapon and equipment which were recovered, we realised that there was a lot of spill-over of hi-tech weapons, night-vision devices and equipment, which were left over by the Americans in Afghanistan, now finding their way towards this side.” This concern has also been emphatically expressed by Army Chief Gen MM Naravane during the recently concluded Raisina Dialogue.
Since the number of such advanced US weaponry and equipment abandoned in Afghanistan runs into hundreds of thousands and is being provided by Pakistan Army to terrorists, it poses a serious threat to peace in J&K and a big challenge to the security forces. Several attempts by the Pakistan Army to tranship weapons and ammunition across the LoC using drones have also been thwarted. However, as the rugged and heavily forested terrain along the LoC makes it very difficult to detect drones, this becomes an area of serious concern.
Similarly, with the PLA building up defence-oriented infrastructure on its own side [but near] the Line of Actual Control [LAC] in Ladakh region and the setting up of advanced communication and allied facilities, the threat of intrusions and other such hostile actions has increased substantially. Collusive Sino-Pak threat, which was more of an academic issue in the past, has today become a stark reality.
While the Indian Army is capable of handling these emerging threats, there’s a definite need to further ‘sharpen’ its cutting edge, by acquiring state of art weaponry and equipment. While there’s no dearth of sophisticated weapons and equipment available in the international market, off-the-shelf purchases have three very serious shortcomings.
One, besides being a cost prohibitive option, the defence equipment available doesn’t fully meet all the specific requirements of the forces, and two, re-supply, advanced-maintenance and timely upgradation are not guaranteed. Lastly, since technology transfer is seldom forthcoming in such purchases, it invariably ends up in the buyer becoming a victim of ‘enforced dependency’. Even defence equipment purchased from reliable allies are prone to delays and run the risk of being stalled due to diplomatic sanctions.
Hence, ‘Raksha Atmanirbharta’ [Defence self-dependency] is the only viable alternative to ensure assured availability and high functionality rate of weapons and equipment and India has got down to ensuring this in a big way. From an enhanced budget and assigned target for procurement of indigenously produced defence equipment as well as earmarking 25 percent of the R&D budget for facilitating defence R&D by private players, the center has created a conducive environment for indigenisation of defence equipment.
However, being a relatively recent development, there are teething problems and the road map to ‘Raksha Atmanirbharta’ is in its trailblazing stage. To address these issues holistically, Headquarters Northern Command is conducting a ‘North Tech Symposium’ in Udhampur on May 6-7.
This symposium will include a seminar, during which both military and civil experts will discuss various aspects of the ‘Raksha Atmanirbharta’ project and will be followed by an exhibition of indigenized products and technologies the next day in which about 150 renowned innovators who are actively involved in India’s ‘Raksha Atmanirbharta’ programme will be displaying their indigenised defence related innovations.
Besides increasing awareness regarding the quantum progress that has been in this field, this symposium will also ignite young army minds and by providing an interface between the innovator and the actual end users, help in creating a broad-based data bank of practical and innovative ideas and suggestions, which would be of immense help to those involved in indigenisation of defence equipment.
While the audience will gain requisite knowledge about the nuances of this scheme and how this novel idea is proposed to be implemented and impediments overcome, the expert speakers will benefit from out-of-the-box ideas and practical suggestions coming from those in the field who would be the end users of indigenously manufactured defence equipment. Such an interactive meeting of planners, facilitators, manufacturers and users will certainly go a long way in accurately identifying the qualitative requirements of the indigenised equipment.