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MRSAM FOR THE ARMY: FINALLY ARMING TO HIT BULL’S EYE

Panjrath writes! The Indian defence forces have been facing flak for their ad-hoc approach to modernisation. Stephen P Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta, in their famous work titled, ‘Arming without Aiming’ argue that ‘India has long been motivated to modernize its military, and it now has the resources. But so far, the drive to rebuild has lacked a critical component—strategic military planning’…..

The Indian defence forces have been facing flak for their ad-hoc approach to modernisation. Stephen P Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta, in their famous work titled, ‘Arming without Aiming’ argue that ‘India has long been motivated to modernize its military, and it now has the resources. But so far, the drive to rebuild has lacked a critical component—strategic military planning’. Among the services, it is the army that has been at the receiving end of bulk of this criticism for its inability to transform fast enough. While the air force and the navy have been slowly but steadily acquiring modern platforms commensurate to their envisaged roles, the army is still perceived as a bulky force saddled with obsolete equipment and huge deficiencies unable to break the shackles of an archaic and inefficient planning-procurement-modernisation process.
Followers of recent defence policy announcements would agree that all this is steadily and firmly changing. In the past two months alone there have been inputs regarding the arrival of M777 Ultra-Light Howitzers , induction of indigenous Multi-barrel Rocket Launchers and the recently announced huge policy changes by the GOI to push for private sector in defence production through the Strategic partnership (SP) Model. However, if there is one landmark development that stands out as a firm sign of this positive change in approach – it is the approval of the proposal for induction of MRSAM for the army’s Corps of Army Air Defence at cost of Rs 17000 crores in February this year .
A detailed and informative write up on the capabilities of the system jointly developed by Israel’s IAI and Indian DRDO was published in the South Asia Defence & Strategic Review (Vol 11 May-Jun 2017) and can be accessed here . While on the face of it, this may appear to be the induction of yet another expensive hi-tech weapon system, a deeper analysis reflects the shape of things to come insofar as the way the Indian Army intends to modernise and prepare to fight in the future.
Addressing the principal threats in a conventional conflict –In any future conflict, the role of aerial platforms cannot be overemphasised. Recent conflicts across the globe have adequately demonstrated the role of UAVs, UCAVs, helicopters, and aircraft and not to mention missiles across all spectrums of conflict and in various missions – be it ISR, logistics or weapon delivery. Deployment of a state-of-the-art long range area AD system integral to the resources available to the ground force commander is indicative of the priority accorded to this threat and action being taken to ensure a certain degree of AD to all combat as well as support elements operating in the battlefield. This capability, hitherto-fore was limited and largely outsourced to the air force and the shift is particularly relevant for the battlefield environment Indian ground forces are likely to operate in the future – given the availability of Tactical Nuclear Weapons with the Pak Army and the threat from PLA Rocket Force in case of a conflict with China.
A fresh approach to jointness among the services – Hitherto, long range AD missile systems were the exclusive domain of the IAF. Induction of MRSAM under the command of the Field Force Commander to allow a much desired degree of freedom to army controlled AD systems in consonance with the requirements of contemporary war fighting indicates a major ceding of turf by the IAF. This is reflective of a fundamental and welcome shift in inter-services approach to jointness in operations – a trend one hopes to see much more in the future.
Towards a leaner, effective and technically superior force – The MRSAM is an effective Hi-Tech Area AD System capable of handling a large array of aerial targets at ranges upto 70 km and altitudes upto 16 km. Such capabilities empower just a single MRSAM group to provide an ‘AD umbrella’ to almost all combat and support units in an entire theatre thereby obviating a need for dedicated & exclusive AD for each of these units. Allocation and resultant requirement of shorter range close AD weapon systems can be restricted to critical elements or centres of gravity of a formation, whose loss would be unacceptable for the success of a campaign, mission or operation. Consequently, the overall requirement of AD batteries would remain under check despite the increase in number of units and installations to be protected from aerial attack – translating into low manpower requirements. Therefore, while the initial acquisition cost may appear high, dividends in terms of system effectiveness and reduced recurring establishment costs, more than compensate in the long run. This approach is perfectly in sync with the prerequisites of any modern army; high on capability – low on recurring expenses.
Boost to indigenous capabilities – No country can claim to be a great military power without indigenous capabilities and capacities to provide for its military hardware. Although Indian DRDO has been under criticism for long on this front, the MRSAM joint venture with IAI Israel marks a positive and long awaited shift. It is indeed a world class weapon system capable of competing with contemporary contenders with a fairly substantial contribution by the DRDO. One hopes that its induction serves as a harbinger of many such indigenous ventures in the not so distant future.
Coming back to Stephen P Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta and their analysis that ‘[India’s] Modernisation has lacked political direction and has suffered from weak prospective planning, individual service-centred doctrines, and a disconnect between strategic objectives and the pursuit of technology,” – induction of MRSAM for the army, slowly and surely marks a step towards correcting the above state of affairs!

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