Foreign rifles trump “Make in India” - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 4 May 2018

Foreign rifles trump “Make in India”

Army shutting indigenous, high-tech network project to save money for foreign rifles

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th May 18

The ministry of defence (MoD) is shutting down the high-tech indigenous project to develop a Battlefield Management System (BMS) – a 21st century digital network that interconnects combat soldiers on the frontline, giving them all a common picture of the battlefield and greatly reducing the “fog of war”.

Business Standard learns the army wants to save the Rs 5,000 crore (50 billion) needed to develop the revolutionary BMS, in order to buy foreign rifles and carbines – weaponry in which technology has advanced only incrementally over the last century.

Last October, the vice chief of army staff (VCAS) ordered the BMS project shut down to save money for “more urgently needed equipment.” That was endorsed in November by the Defence Production Board, chaired by Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra. In December, the Integrated Project Management Team (IPMT) that oversees the BMS project ruled that it was not required “in its current form”.

“The army brass has failed to grasp the importance of BMS. Probably, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will go along”, say officers familiar with developments.

In fact, there is now another arbitrator – the new high-power Defence Planning Committee (DPC) that was set up last month. Headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the DPC is aimed at imparting a long-term perspective to defence procurement. This would involve evaluating what provides greater benefits: an upgrade in small arms, or a transformative force multiplier like the BMS.

The criticality of battlefield transparency – or “knowing what is on the other side of the hill”, as soldiers put it – has been understood and pursued for over two centuries. Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz lamented “the fog of war” in his classic book, Vom Krieg (On War).

The power of a networked force was dramatically demonstrated in the First Gulf War in 1991, when Saddam Hussein's Iraqi Army collapsed in 96 hours before a new-generation US military that had married sensor technology with real-time, cross-force networking, creating for their soldiers a transparent battlefield.

Younger Indian mid-level commanders who are comfortable with digital technology believe our mid-20th century army must be similarly networked through systems like the BMS. But many senior generals, who grew up before smart phones became ubiquitous, are more comfortable with rifles and guns than with digital networking.

BMS networks frontline combat troops in infantry battalions and tank regiments. It works like Google Maps, which gets drivers to their destinations quicker by “crowd-sourcing” traffic information from various sources, including drivers’ mobile phones. BMS similarly “crowd-sources” battlefield information from its own soldiers, communicated over small “software defined radios” (SDR) that equip each soldier.

Each soldier in a BMS-equipped combat unit has a unique digital identity and is interconnected with other soldiers via a MANET (mobile ad hoc network) that rides on their personal SDRs. This uses the same principle as a home Wi-Fi internet router, with each family member exchanging information through the Wi-Fi router, while also accessing the external internet through it.

Defence industry sources also point out that cancelling BMS would be a blow to the “Make” procurement category. BMS is one of only three on-going “Make” projects, in which the MoD selects two Development Agencies (DAs) to design and develop the system, later reimbursing 80-90 per cent of the DAs’ development costs.

Defence industrialists and MoD bureaucrats have termed “Make” projects the “soul of indigenisation”, and recommended launching 8-10 “Make” projects every year to build indigenous defence capability.

Yet, now, the army has recommended scrapping Project BMS and the MoD is poised to okay that.

Two DAs were chosen for Project BMS. In one, Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division) is in partnership with L&T. The other DA is a consortium between Bharat Electronics and Rolta India.

Each DA quoted about Rs 2,500 crore (25 billion) to design the BMS and build four prototypes for evaluation. That is significantly higher than the Rs 350 crore (3.5 billion) per DA that the army arbirarily sanctioned in 2007. Now the MoD is bargaining with DAs to slash costs.

The army says equipping the army’s 800-plus combat units with BMS would cost Rs 50-60,000 crore (500-600 billion), judging by the cost of prototype development. But industry sources argue that prototype development costs far more than industrial production, where scale drives down prices.

Paradoxically, while shutting down BMS for its combat echelons, the army is going ahead with various projects to network higher headquarters. These include the Tactical Communications System, Command Information and Decision Support System, Artillery Command, Control and Communications System and the Battlefield Surveillance System.

“What is the sense of a 21st century command and control network that controls an old-fangled combat force?” wonders one defence expert anonymously.

Within the defence industry, there is concern at the army’s unilateral closure of BMS. If cost is the issue, industry says the MoD must sit down with the DAs and discuss and analyse costs in detail.

“Shutting down the project arbirarily will destroy trust with industry. Private firms have put money and effort into this project. Now, without discussion, the project is being closed”, says a senior executive in one DA firm.


  1. NSR says ---

    It evokes the ghosts of HF-24 Marut fighter bomber scuttling and going with Migs and destroying entire aerospace infrastructure...
    India suffered grieviously due to this mistake and is still trying to recover...

    No wonder India or its armed forces never learn...

  2. The BMS raises the question of who makes decisions for the forces when they are engaged in combat. Perhaps it is opined that such a system is more efficacious for the higher echelons to communicate with each other.
    Is the army not adequately equipped with small arms and other requirements for it's basic units? Then, it is better to make up this shortfall at the earliest, perhaps.

  3. Though there can be points and counterpoints in support of futuristic systems. Much of this has been lifted off the thousands of pseudo intellectual published by Arms majors abroad. In the last decade lip service has been given at expensive seminars while the DA firms have kept on rolling up the price of such projects to such an extent that the initial installment will bring them profits and they know thereafter the project will automatically collapse in an inward spiral due the the differences in user perceptions over a period of time. Better to get weapons for the soldiers where a thousand cuts are being inflicted by our enemies the conventional way

  4. am sure army would hated doing this. Years of delayed decisions and returning money , this is what has led to this.
    There seems to be no link between budget and multi year perspective plan !

  5. BMS ? Credibility?? Please give us concrete evidence that BMS has actually helped any nation / army, if at all . Would appreciate an in depth report on its use by Israel - the only nation / armed forces I believe , who could give us an in depth knowledge on the system.Again , the same needs to be counter checked any number of times. Let us not put our country at peril by basing our decisionssolely on info available on the internet.
    In the absence of any credible int / info , i would rather go along with equipping our soldiers ( infantry and or soldiers from other arms / services performing infantry oriented roles) with a good quality weapon.

  6. Ah, Ajai working hard again to keep 'scientific bureaucrats'employed. Incidentally how many of these lovelies from indian r&d establishments are in any battle shape..lets chin up and face the truth..indian r&d sucks. Despite the money. Because the money brings into existence a gigantic machinery that spends all its time working for the next windfall...lets stop bullshitting ..current BMS plans are already outdated with the advent of machine learning, AI and Deep Learning creating new defence neural networks.

  7. This is just a reflection of the strategic philosophy of the armed forces. As Abhijit Iyer-Mitra has been eloquently pointing out elsewhere, our approach to war is predicated on losing 1/3rd of warm bodies in the armed forces, which is no different from the general national consensus that human life is cheaper than equipment. Ergo a Mughal approach to defence where numbers = security, especially infantry. This government's hands are cleaner than the previous one's but security outcomes are sadly similar. The abject civilian disinterest in defence matters makes a case for compulsory draft. Unless the middle and upper class folks have family serving in the forces, this cavalier attitude will persist. Will it take a war to jolt us out of this reverie?

  8. another good move by MoD. shut down all the projects which are nearing a decade in processing. this way at least all stakeholders can replan their resources rather than waiting forever for an elusive order. I think the nomination concept will continue and all private players must give up hopes of getting huge orders. that will never happen no matter who is in power. they should be happy to play second fiddle to DPSU's and this way there will be no controversy and no media house will show interest and no allegations will ever come. playing safe is best approach even though armed forces will get what they want after a few decades!!

  9. The problem with the IA concept of Net-Centricity is that it just doesn't exist. The IA has not been able to deploy or expand a Tactical C3I system despite a horror-show collection of CIDSS design & development gaffes. Even the rudiments of kitchen-garden MIS have eluded the IA units and headquarters - here crores of Rupees have been spent in the name of 'automation'. In all seriousness, the Army has just about mastered 'cut-and-paste' and rudiments of word processing; conceptualising and development of network-based systems for decision-suppport and operational command are eons away. In a world of 'big data' and geo-informatics, the IA top-brass and the General Staff are very, very IT-challenged due to limited exposure and training, and camouflaged by their propensity to create inflated staff and office establishments at a whim, where Computer Operators form the cutting edge of clerical hordes.

    A glance at the photos of the turret interiors of the Pak Al-Khalid will reveal that the PA has used a simple (COTS) flat-panel display as a (prototype) BMS interface. The ad-hoc system is likely to upscale, evolve and mature with use. Given that Pak has had a mature air-defence C3I system well before us, there is little doubt that they will develop a working BMS protype and proceed to expand and upgrade it.

    The IA's stumbling efforts at BMS conceptualising were fatally flawed. They roped in big-guns to field prototype designs using fancy GIS platforms, showcased the pimped-up prototypes in lab conditions to obtain approvals for further development and then 'asked for the moon' including Software Defined Radio (SDR) and backbone infrastructure. At no time was the concept ever tested or evaluated on a field test-bed by actual users, using a basic prototyping approach to capture and hone user requirements, using existing data-capable combat net radio.

    I think the IA is best served with WhatsApp and Google Maps! We are not BMS-ready, and will not be ready for another 25 years.


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