The 1.1 million-strong Indian Army is going hi-tech to turn its troops into fighting machines of the 21 century, complete with the latest multi-function weaponry and uniforms with sensors to monitor their health parameters.
"We have put in place an action plan to modernise the armed forces in all dimensions. A project, code-named F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier as a System), has been taken up to train futuristic soldiers, equipped with latest weaponry, communication network and instant access to information on the battlefield," Chief of Army Staff General Joginder Jaswant Singh said.
"In my view, the next war will be won by the side that is adept at high technology with all-weather fighting capability," the army chief said on the sidelines of a military function here.
With IT and electronic gadgets calling the shots in the armed forces worldwide, the Indian Army is gearing up to equip its soldiers with war-fighting capability and to prevent battle fatigue.
"As in civilian and other sectors, we would like to make optimal use of ICT (information and communication technology) for which Indian tech firms are known worldwide. We will be investing substantially to make our operations -from war zones to civil lines - digital, with seamless connectivity for online access to information systems," Singh said.
Under the F-INSAS project, the troops will be put on a multi-mission mode to accomplish different tasks with speed, precision and lethality. In the first phase, to be completed by 2012, the infantry soldiers will be equipped with modular weapon systems that will have multi-functions.
Thermal imagers, sensors and night vision equipment, currently deployed in weapon systems such as artillery and main battle tanks, will be customised to make them portable for carrying by the soldiers in the battle ground.
"Apart from imparting modern training and providing hi-tech gadgets, we are also working on a new attire that will enable the troops carry the extra load and resist impact of chemical warfare. The new uniform will have vests with sensors to monitor their health parameters and provide quick medical relief," Singh pointed out.
Singh said during his visit to the US this month he had a first hand account of the training systems and the latest equipment being used by the American army for combat operations.
"Though my recent visit to the US was to enhance our military-to-military ties, as strategic partners we exchanged views on several issues relating to transforming the armed forces for the future, on how to modernise the equipment and handle challenges of low-intensity conflicts. I also got acquainted with their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan," Singh disclosed.
As part of its strategic military ties, the Indian Army plans to take the joint exercises with the US Army to the battalion level from the platoon and company levels at which it had four such exercises so far.
Admitting to the shortage of about 12,000 officers in the army, Singh said in-take capacity in the NDA (National Defence Academy), OTA (Officers Training Academy) and IMA (Indian Military Academy) were being increased.
New schemes like technical entry at 10-plus-2 (after school) level and the entry of women have been introduced to attract the youth for a career in the army as commissioned officers.
"The reason for shortage of officers is because of new units coming up such as Rashtriya Rifles, which have to be manned by officers from the regular army. As a result, there is a reduction of officers in the combat units," Singh said.
The army chief, however, maintained that in the event of being challenged, all officers posted across the country in normal peacetime operations, instructional and training duties, extra regiments and NCC (National Cadet Corps) would be recalled to join the combat units.
"I would like to reiterate that there is no shortage of youth in our country wanting to join the armed forces voluntarily. Whenever and wherever recruitment camps are held, there are no less than 5,000-6,000 aspirants at a time to join us. Many also apply for an army job through the Union Public Service Commission examinations. All our defence academies are functioning at full strength.
"Since we don't want to either lower the standard of training or the quality of intake and reduce training time, the absorption is on merit and on competitive basis. The rejection level may be high at the entry level but the attrition is contained later," Singh added.
The Chief of Army Staff was here to present colours to the Pioneer Corps and take salute at a ceremonial parade of its troops.