Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Women in command: The decision on permanent commission was long overdue

Captain Tanya Shergill commands a contingent of men soldiers in the Republic Day parade

By Ajai Shukla
Unsigned editorial in Business Standard
18th Feb 20 

India’s military has a well-deserved reputation of being a meritocracy that treats its members equally, irrespective of religion, caste or colour. Unfortunately, it has never been gender neutral, steeped, like most militaries worldwide, in patriarchal notions of gender roles. As a consequence, even though women were allowed to serve as officers since 1992, their terms of service have remainied severely circumscribed, especially compared with their male counterparts. The Supreme Court’s judgment on Monday goes a long way towards levelling the playing field.

In its essence, the court has addressed a petition by a group of 332 women officers challenging the terms and conditions of service imposed arbitrarily by the defence ministry in 2006. In that, the government permitted women to serve for 14 years (as against just five years earlier), but denied them eligibility for permanent commission (PC), which would allow them to continue serving for 20 years, by when they would be eligible for a pension. The SC judgment now allows women officers to opt for PC, whichever stage of service they are at. It also removes the bar the government has imposed on women tenanting command appointments, allowing them to command military units.

The rationale presented by the defence ministry to argue for restrictions on the role of women officers makes for depressing reading. It argues that the military is not just a profession but a “way of life” that requires sacrifices and commitment, which women officers would find a challenge “owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations…” The government went on to argue that soldiers rely heavily on physical prowess in combat and that “inherent physiological differences between men and women” make it a challenge for women to command military units – even non-combat units. The argument against women also cites “minimal facilities for habitat and hygiene” in forward posts. Women, the government goes on to argue “have a negative impact on unit cohesion”. The apex court has done well to dismiss this deeply entrenched misogyny with the observation that this is a stereotypical and constitutionally flawed notion and that assumptions about women in the social context of marriage, family and society are not a constitutionally valid basis for denying equal opportunity to women officers.

The judgment has found merit in the argument that the army’s hierarchy must begin accepting women as equal colleagues. It has noted that, over the last 26 years, women officers of all ages and service profiles have been posted to sensitive places, including tough field areas, and that they have performed excellently for the most part. The only persuasive logic that defence ministry deployed was that changing the terms of women officers’ service from Short Service Commission (SSC) to PC, would militate against the findings of the Ajay Vikram Singh Committee that sought to create a leaner permanent cadre of officers, supplemented by an enhanced SSC cadre, which would serve a few years and then go home without competing for higher ranks. It was calculated that the PC:SSC ratio should be 1:1.1, in order to reduce the army’s worryingly pyramid-like promotion structure. Currently, that ratio is skewed at an unsustainable 3.98:1. The induction of hundreds of women officers from the SSC into the PC cadre will skew the promotion pyramid further. This, however, could be managed, since women officers constitute just four per cent of the overall officer strength: a total of 1,653 women officers out of 40,825 officers in all.

Permanent commission, command roles for women in Army get Supreme Court nod

Rejects ministry’s argument that ‘troops not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units’

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Feb 20

In an important step towards granting women the right to serve in the military on equal terms with men, the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday granted women the right to permanent commission (PC), and the right to command.

This opens the doors for women to command military units, such as logistics, signals or engineer regiments, thus placing them in the position of leading bodies of 500-600 men in combat support duties.

The apex court rejected the defence ministry’s argument that “(Indian) troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command of units” because they (the men) are “predominantly drawn from a rural background.” In so arguing, the defence ministry had implicitly invoked a social order in which women normally take orders from men.

The SC rejected that outright. “The submissions advanced in the note tendered to this Court are based on sex stereotypes premised on assumptions about socially ascribed roles of gender which discriminate against women,” said the judgment.

The apex court also dismissed the defence ministry’s contention that “owing to their prolonged absence during pregnancy, motherhood and domestic obligations towards their children and families,” women are not equipped to deal with “the hazards of service.”

The judgment called this “a strong stereotype which assumes that domestic obligations rest solely on women.”

“Physiological features of women have no link to their rights. This mindset must change,” said Justices DY Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi, who were on the two-judge bench that delivered the landmark judgment.

The petition was filed by a group of 332 women army officers, who joined the army from 1993 onwards. Their petition was partially accepted by the Delhi High Court in March 2010, a verdict that the defence ministry appealed against in the apex court.

Importantly, this Supreme Court ruling does not grant women the right to serve in combat units. However, it dismisses the government’s contention that women would be permitted to serve only in staff assignments, and not in command billets.

“An absolute bar on women seeking criteria or command appointments would not comport with the guarantee of equality under Article 14… The blanket non-consideration of women for criteria or command appointments absent an individuated justification by the Army cannot be sustained in law,” the judgment stated. 

Women already serve in combat roles in the air force, which last year qualified its first women fighter pilots. Navy chief, Admiral Karambir Singh, pointed out in December that women naval officers already perform combat tasks, such as firing torpedoes and missiles at enemy warships while serving as observers and weapons systems officers on board maritime aircraft like the P-8I Poseidon. Women officers also serve on board naval warships in combat, albeit discharging non-combat roles.

However, there remains strong institutional resistance to allowing women into combat roles in the army, where the infantry, armoured corps, mechanised infantry, army aviation and artillery could often be involved in close-in, hand-to-hand fighting with the enemy.

At the time of filing the petition, woman officers were permitted PC in only two services – the Judge Advocate General’s Branch and the Army Education Corps. Women officers in all other units were entitled only to a “Short Service Commission” (SSC), which allows them to serve five years, extendable to 10 years; and then a maximum of 14 years. Earning a pension requires an officer to have served at least 20 years.

However, on February 25, 2019, the defence ministry permitted SSC women officers in another eight arms/services to be granted PC.

Women doctors and dentists have long been allowed permenent commissions, as are women in the Military Nursing Service (MNS). Women doctors and dentists comprise one-fifth of all medical corps officers, while the MNS is an all-woman service.

In contrast, just 3.8 per cent of the army’s 42,253 officers, 6 per cent of the navy’s 10,393 officers and 13.1 per cent of the air force’s 12,404 officers are women. Many young women say they are deterred from joining the military because of the SSC restrictions.

Women in uniform^

Total officers held
Women officers held
Air Force
Medical corps
Dental corps
Nursing service
(Figures compiled from responses to Parliamentary questions)

^ As on January 1, 2018

Now the Supreme Court ruling will allow women to opt for PRC at the time they join, without the periodic reviews and extensions inherent in the SSC route. 

The judgment cited 11 examples of women officers who had performed acts of gallantry or exemplary service.

“After nearly three decades of meritorious services and numerous medals won by women officers, it is unfortunately still argued that they do not fit due to physiological features. I hail this judgement, which is perhaps the only way to bring much needed change,” says Wing Commander (Retired) Neelu Khatri, who was amongst the first batch of women officers commissioned in 1993-94.

The SC ruling only applies to women in officer rank, since women do not currently serve in the rank and file. The first step towards that has been taken last year, with the defence ministry informing Parliament that 1,700 women would be enrolled into the Military Police as enlisted personnel, below officer rank.

In another measure that opens the door wider for women, the defence ministry has approved the admission of girl children in Sainik Schools, starting from academic session 2021-22. This decision follows the success of a pilot project in Sainik School Chhingchhip, in Mizoram, which began two years ago. 

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Boeing to offer F-15EX fighter to India, will have two aircraft in contest

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Feb 20

Seven of the world’s premier fighter aircraft are already competing in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) global tender for 114 medium fighters. There could soon be an eighth: the F-15EX fighter, developed for the US Air Force (USAF) by The Boeing Company.

On Wednesday, Boeing confirmed to aviation magazine FlightGlobal that it has asked the US government for sanction to offer the IAF its F-15EX.

“While awaiting further definition on the Indian Air Force’s requirements, we have requested a license for the F-15 so that we’re ready to share the full spectrum of potential solutions across our fighter portfolio when appropriate,” stated Boeing to FlightGlobal.

Boeing would thus be fielding two fighter aircraft in this tender. It has already offered its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter in response to a “Request for Information” (RFI) the IAF floated last year.

Boeing has also offered the Super Hornet in response to a separate RFI the Indian Navy floated for 57 fighters, to be flown off its aircraft carriers. 

“We continue to offer the F/A-18 Super Hornet to both the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force, and our F-15 is experiencing a resurgence in interest in the US and around the world,” stated Boeing to FlightGlobal.

Boeing has requested a licence in order to be able to share details of the F-15EX with Indian officials. This is a mandatory requirement under the US government’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The other fighter manufacturers that have responded to the IAF’s RFI include: Lockheed Martin, with its single-engined F-21; Saab with its single-engined Gripen E/F, Dassault with its twin-engined Rafale, Eurofighter GmbH with its twin-engined Typhoon, and Russia with two twin-engined fighters: RAC MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-35.

The IAF’s procurement of 114 fighters follows the cancellation in 2015 of its 2007 tender for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), and the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters in 2016. Short of numbers, the IAF has launched the procurement of 114 medium fighters in an exercise that closely mirrors the MMRCA tender.

The F-15 Eagle programme, like that of the F-18 Hornet, dates back decades. However, Boeing has developed futuristic versions of both fighters for the decades ahead. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is slated to equip US Navy carriers into the 2040s, while the F-15EX (which is still to be named), will provide the USAF with multi-role capability during this period.

The F-15 Eagle, which is flown by several air forces, including that of Israel, has a formidable air-to-air combat record of 104-0. Along the way, Boeing developed a ground strike version called the Strike Eagle. Now, equipped with a new cockpit, airborne electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, integrated electronic warfare suite and fused sensors and data links, the F-15EX is a multi-role fighter capable of the full range of missions.

Capable of flying at Mach 2.5 (two-and-a-half times the speed of sound), the F-15EX is the world’s fastest fighter aircraft. It carries 13.5 tonnes of weapons load, more than the Rafale or the Sukhoi-30MKI. And with a range of 1,000 nautical miles (1,850 kilometres), it can strike targets deep inside enemy territory.

Based on publicly available US budget figures, the F-15EX costs $80.3 million per fighter. The cost of the twin engines and armament could be half that again. However, building the aircraft in India, which involves setting up and certifying a new factory and training workers could take that up significantly, as would adding the cost of spares and weaponry.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

DRDO chief interview: “We must work today to develop the technologies of tomorrow”

At Defexpo 2020, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chief, Dr Satheesh Reddy, spoke to Ajai Shukla about the “Make in India” initiative. Edited excerpts:

Q.        How can multiple agencies -- the DRDO, defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) private industry and academia function cooperatively in developing and manufacturing defence equipment?

In the “Make in India” programme, the role of the DRDO is to support industry with technologies that are, as far as possible, developed within the country. These technologies must be transferred to the industry so that they are not reliant on outside technologies. Most technology transfer that happens is “manufacturing technology.” There is very little transfer of “know how” and “know why”. In contrast, technology developed by the DRDO has been completely developed in-house and in the country. This has involved a knowledge-debate within academia, within R&D organisations and within industry. So the DRDO must focus on developing as many critical technologies as possible and transferring them to the industry.

Meanwhile, the industry’s role should not be that of a mere producer. It must upgrade skills from “build to print” (i.e. translate a blueprint into a product) to “build to specs” (translate product specifications into a blueprint, and thence into a product). That would take much of the development load off the DRDO, which can then concentrate on developing core technologies. Today, if we want to satisfy the armed forces, or to address the export market, we need to make systems that incorporate state-of-the-art technologies. So we must work today to develop the technologies of tomorrow, in order to become state-of-the-art.

India has been mostly a technology follower. Weaponry and products come to us and then, years later, we try to develop the technologies in those. That has to change, and we have to become a technology leader, or at least contemporary. I cannot sell a system that incorporates decade-old technology.

Q.        Given that we are technology followers, isn’t this going to take a long time?

No. In some technology areas, we are already very strong. For example, we already have all the technologies that are needed in missile systems. Today, we can develop any missile system that may be required. Similarly, in radar technology, we are completely self-sufficient. Even industry is equipped and experienced to support us in this field. We are also strong in fields like sonar, torpedoes, electronic warfare systems, airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) and artillery guns.

In building these systems we operate at the technology frontier. We are amongst the six or seven most advanced nations in these areas. So, in these areas, we should think innovatively about what will be required after five years and start developing that today. In five years, we could have a technologically leading, first-of-its-kind system.

Q.        Who should be responsible for this technology anticipation and planning?

It has to be a combination of R&D organisations and academia, with inputs from the armed forces.

Q.        Under someone like the DRDO chairman, or the Scientific Advisor to the Government?

We already meet regularly and talk to the armed forces for drawing up its LTIPP (long term integrated perspective plan). We also take feedback from academia about what basic research and applied research is under way, and we try and assess what shape the country is in terms of scientific and technological capability. We have not set up a formal body for this purpose, but we have prepared a technology roadmap in DRDO based on these discussions. Each of the DRDO’s laboratories has a technology roadmap and all of this comes together in the larger assessment.

Q.        In developing weapons platforms in India, traditionally DRDO has functioned as a systems integrator. Do you believe DRDO should concentrate on developing core technologies, while capable private firms take on the role of systems integrators?

Absolutely. The days when DRDO used to be systems integrator have gone. Already, some DPSUs have begun functioning as systems integrators and soon private industry will also do systems integration. We have brought in a concept called DCPP – development cum production partner. This involves selecting a private firm as the DCPP, who joins on Day-1 of the project and works and learns with the DRDO, which also benefits from the firm’s capabilities. The firm then becomes the manufacturing partner when the product goes into production.

Q.        But in the model you describe, DRDO seems to be the lead integrator…

No, the private firm is the integrator; the DRDO only oversees. The first time, it will be difficult for him to be the lead integrator. For example, in developing a new missile system, we would oversee the working of our DCPP. By the end of the development phase, the firm will have absorbed the technology and developed capability and experience. The DCPP also manufactures the system, so there is a smooth induction into service in large numbers.

Q.        With the DPSUs not having functioned well as production partners, is it time to give private firms greater opportunities as production partners?

I believe that DPSUs and private industry can co-exist. There is an excellent model for cooperation in the Akash missile, for which the military has placed orders worth Rs 25,000 crore. Bharat Dynamics is the lead production agency, but 85 per cent of the production value has gone to private industries as Tier-1, Tier-2 and Tier-3 suppliers.

Q.        But is private industry confined to the role of lower order suppliers?

No. The Akash missile has four sections and there are private firms that supply an entire section, fully integrated with all its electronic and mechanical packages. There is a tier-ised production chain that enables BDL to produce a significant number of missiles every month. So there is space for both public and private firms to operate. We cannot just close a DPSU. And, when we give the job of lead production agency to a private sector firm, there is a need to protect the Tier-1, Tier-2 and Tier-3 suppliers. Otherwise MSMEs will vanish.

Cracking defence exports

By Ajai Shukla
Unsigned editorial in Business Standard
10th February 2020

New Delhi’s aim of increasing defence exports ten-fold, from the existing level of about 2,000-3,000 crore annually to over $5 billion (Rs 35,000 crore) each year, was first enunciated in the Defence Production Policy of 2018 (DPrP-2018). At Defexpo 2020 in Lucknow last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reaffirmed that pledge. Helped along by adding the export of civil aerospace products to that of defence kit, the export figure has reached a high of Rs 10,700 crore this year. Even so, meeting the DPrP-2018 export target still requires a three-and-a-half fold increase, which will take some doing. 

Multiplying defence exports is crucial for meeting the DPrP-2018 target of taking India into the league of one of the world’s top five defence producers, with an annual turnover of US $26 billion (Rs 180,000 crore). Currently, defence production is a mere Rs 90,000 crore per year and doubling this would require vastly increased exports. The currentdefence capital allocation is Rs 118,534 crore and the lion’s share of this is spent on foreign equipment. Next, the defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) get to feed at the table, with the defence ministry ensuring their order books are full. The left overs, if any, are then made available to India’s private sector defence firms. The defence ministry official who interfaces with industry explicitly spelt out in a seminar of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in June that the private sector must export to survive. He warned the limited capital budget would be barely enough for paying instalments for equipment purchased in previous years, and for purchases from the public sector defence production units. Private defence firms could expect only “a small share of the pie,” he said.

To be sure, the government has moved purposefully to boost defence exports. It has charged defence attaches posted to Indian embassies across the world with seeking out opportunities to supply their host countries with Indian military equipment. New Delhi has created a liberalised trade environment for Indian defence exports by obtaining entry into the four global export control regimes. India is already a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. Entry into the fourth – the Nuclear Suppliers Group – could be nigh. In October, Indian officials invited in 50 foreign military attaches posted with their embassies in India and made a pitch for Indian defence and aerospace products. To facilitate sales, New Delhi has offered friendly foreign countries such as Myanmar, Maldives and Sri Lanka “credit lines” for purchasing Indian defence equipment. DPSUs have been given export targets of 25 per cent of their turnover. A nodal agency, the Indigenous Defence Equipment Exporters Association (IDEEA), was set up in October for processing defence export inquiries from prospective customers across the globe.

Notwithstanding these measures, a large boost in defence exports requires the emphasis to change from exporting low-value ammunition, spares and aerospace components to the export ofhigh-value, complex combat platforms such as the Tejas fighter, Dhruv and Rudra helicopters, the Arjun tank, Akash air defence systems, Pinaka rocket launchers and a range of indigenous warships including corvettes, frigates and destroyers. The Indian military’s reluctance to buy these platforms raises legitimate questions amongst potential customers. The defence ministry must ensure the defence forces induct indigenous weaponry into service, working with industry to incrementally develop and improve the products, even as the resulting exports create economy of scale, bring down equipment prices and generate strategic heft for India.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Delay in ordering Arjun tank underlines the army's reluctance to “Make in India”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Feb 2020

Although “Make in India” has been the central motif of the on-going Defexpo 2020 in Lucknow, the army continues to block further purchases of the Arjun main battle tank (MBT), years after it has met all the army’s ever-increasing demands.

With the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) awaiting a long-cleared order for 118 Arjun MBTs, the ministry of defence (MoD) instead asked the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) last November to build 464 Russian-origin T-90S tanks at the Heavy Vehicles Factory, Avadi (HVF). With each T-90 costing about Rs 28 crore, the order is worth an estimated Rs 13,000 crore.

The army continues to block the indigenous Arjun tank even though, in a comparative trial the army conducted in the Rajasthan desert in March 2010, the Arjun proved itself equal to, or better than, the Russian T-90.

In the trial, one squadron (14 tanks) of Arjuns was pitted against an equal number of T-90s. Top army generals who witnessed the trial admitted the Arjun performed superbly. Whether driving cross-country over rugged sand dunes; or accurately hitting targets with its powerful main gun; the Arjun established it was a tank to reckon with.

Yet, the army refused to order more Arjun tanks, beyond the 124 it had already inducted into service. Army insiders say there is an ingrained belief that Russian tanks are better than Indian ones. However, it was officially stated that the 62.5-tonne Arjun was too heavy for roads and bridges along the Pakistan border, and too wide to be transported by train.

Under pressure from the MoD to order another 118 Arjuns, the army then demanded several capability enhancements in the tank to make it more effective. At a meeting of the MoD-led Arjun Steering Committee in 2010, the army demanded an improved version of the tank, which would be called the Arjun Mark 2.

The Arjun Mark 2 was required to have 83 capability enhancements, including 15 major and 68 minor changes. Incredibly, given the army’s complaint that the tank was too heavy, the new enhancements would make the tank heavier by another 6 tonnes.

These included the fitment on the tank of mine ploughs (1.6 tonnes extra), explosive reactive armour (1.5 tonnes), suspension improvements (one tonne) and another two tonnes in other areas. Having complained earlier that a 62.5 tonne Arjun tank was too heavy, the army signed off on a six-tonne weight increase to 68.5 tonnes.

In August 2011, the MoD announced it had “cleared the proposal for placement of indent for 124 MBT Arjun Mark 2”. It said each enhanced Arjun would cost Rs 37 crore and the first batch would roll out by 2015.

By June 2012, the DRDO offered the Arjun for trials with all the enhancements, except one: a cannon-launched guided missile (CLGM) the army wanted to fire through the Arjun’s main gun. The DRDO had sourced the Lahat CLGM from Israel, but that could strike targets between 2-5 kilometres (km) away. The army insisted on being able to strike targets as close as 1.2 km.

The DRDO pointed out that the Arjun’s powerful main gun had already proved its ability to destroy targets at ranges out to 2 km. But the army insisted the CLGM should be usable against targets 1.2 km away. So the DRDO began work on an indigenous CLGM to meet those specifications. 

By 2015, a series of trials had validated the improvements the army demanded. Even the CLGM’s laser designator was tested and validated with Lahat missiles. The DRDO asked for production order, promising to develop and supply the missile on priority. 

However, the army dilly-dallied for three years, until March 2018, when it was agreed that the next batch of Arjuns would be supplied without missile firing capability, which would follow up separately. This version would be designated Arjun Mark 1A.

After several months of delay, Arjun Mark 1A trials were held in December 2018 and the tank found fit in all respects. The army’s trial team recommended the Arjun Mark 1A be inducted into service.

Incredibly, more than a year later, the army has not yet placed an indent for 118 Arjun Mark 1A. It has raised numerous issues – including ammunition availability, non-availability of spares and low indigenous content – to successfully avoid placing an order.

Were an indent to be placed today, it would still take HVF about 36 months to start delivering completed Arjun tanks. The DRDO is confident it would develop the CLGM by then, so those 118 tanks will actually be Arjun Mark 2, with full CLGM capability.

Asked whether there was frustration over the lack of orders, DRDO chairman, Satheesh Reddy told Business Standard: “No, we cannot get frustrated. We are very positive. The user trials for the Mark 1A have been completed in December 2018 and we have even developed the ammunition now. I am sure that the Indian Army will soon be inducting the Arjun Mark 1A.”

Saturday, 8 February 2020

No coordination in radio procurement, army, navy and air force could be fighting in silos

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Feb 20

Owing to the absence of tri-service coordination in buying radio equipment, the army, navy and Indian Air Force (IAF) could find themselves cut off from each other in future operations, simply because they are unable to communicate and share data.

In planning and procuring their next generation of tactical radio sets, all three services are moving in completely different directions, which could result in their being isolated in battle and unable to coordinate operations.

The IAF is equipping its aircraft and ground stations with cutting edge “software defined radio” (SDR), which will be integrated onto its platforms by Israeli firm, Rafael (not to be confirmed with the French Rafale fighter). The radio sets themselves will be manufactured in India in a joint venture (JV) between Rafael and Indian firm, Astra Microwave, called Astra Rafael Comsys (ARC).

In contrast, the navy has chosen to source its future radio equipment from Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), which has developed its own SDR sets. Warships have the luxury of ample space to install their SDR sets, unlike fighter aircraft in which space is critical. Therefor, the navy is not concerned about the size and weight of BEL’s SDR equipment, which is too bulky for aircraft.

Meanwhile, the army is following a third line by inviting India’s defence industry to compete in developing SDR equipment under the Make-2 procurement category. Under Make-2, companies develop equipment at their own cost and offer it to the MoD, which chooses what it likes.

Unless there is intervention by the newly appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), whose mandate includes coordinating equipment procurement between the three services, the military’s inter-operability could be seriously undermined.

To this day, the army’s armoured regiments encounter serious interoperability problems, simply because some units were equipped with Israeli TADIRAN radio sets, while others operated STARS V2 radio sets built and supplied by BEL.

With these two sets operating on different encryption algorithms, and therefore unable to communicate with each other in secrecy mode, armoured forces are forced to communicate in clear, allowing the enemy to easily intercept and monitor our radio communications.

Starting from 2004, the army bought some 20,000 TADIRAN radio sets. Despite the problems of interoperability with BEL’s equipment, another purchase is being made of over 5,000 more.

In switching to next-generation communications, the IAF has taken the lead. Starting from 2012, it identified SDR as the technology of the future and initiated the purchase of 450-500 radio sets. These are to be fitted across its entire aircraft fleet, as well as ground stations, ensuring secure communications across the entire operational spectrum.

In 2017, a contract worth over $100 million was signed with Israeli firm, Rafael, for almost 500 SDR sets. In 2018, Rafael and the IAF began the complex process of integrating the SDR sets into all the different fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters in the fleet. 

Once that is completed, ARC – the Rafael-Astra JV – will begin manufacturing the SDR sets in India. Contacted for details, Eli Hefets of Rafael stated that Rafale has placed an SDR order worth about $30 million on ARC, and that the radio sets the JV would supply the IAF would have an indigenization component of over 80 per cent.

Hefets stated that, while this production would bring in offsets credits for Rafael, it would continue production even after the Indian military’s requirements were satisfied. “We cannot have a short-term approach towards setting up production of such sophisticated equipment in India. We have trained the workers, bought machinery, qualified the product and sourced sub-systems and components from over 100 small Indian companies. This is for the long term,” said Hefets.

It is learnt that ARC would also be participating in the army’s tender for SDR. However, there is no certainty it would win, which would leave all three services with different – and probably incompatible – radio equipment.

The army order is potentially massive, due to its size. The tri-service Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP), which spells out the three services’ equipment requirements out to 2027, states that the army could require about 60,000 radio devices – which include vehicle-mounted, man-portable as well as handheld sets. However, a back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that the real requirement could be twice that number.

The army has already issued a Request for Information (RFI), which envisages a futuristic IP-based, flexible, redundant communications network, based on SDR.