Soldiers On Foot: Need For Better Gadgets & Guns

"The Infantry remains the main arm of the Indian Army, constituting one-third of the total forces. With changing military tactics and to keep pace with high - tech warfare, the infantryman's equipment needs to be upgraded so that he has the right weapons "

Soldiers On Foot: Need For Better Gadgets & Guns

Editor's Note: This visionary piece on the Infantry (soldiers on foot) by Maj Gen. VK Madhok (of 1st course JSW/NDA) was written 32 years ago and was published on 3 Aug 1990 by the Statesman. Although it's over three decades old, the article's contents remain relevant in these times of 21st-century warfighting.

It is said that the infantryman still walks to work. This is basically true as the last stages in any tactical battle consist of clearing, reorganization and consolidation and this task is done by the infantry. World War II saw the use of the infantry as motorized and parachute battalions and the marines (sea borne infantry). But these are essentially means of military transport which considerably cut short the approach march. Once delivered near the scene of Battle, the task of these troops is the same as any other.

The infantry forms one-third of the Indian Army and is the only combat arm which can move silently in the dark, survive at high altitudes, live off the land, and fight on its own when the occasion demands. It has to fight alone as the tanks have to return to base or a safe sanctuary for refuelling and maintenance and the artillery guns of necessity have to stay behind to support the front.

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Historically, World War I saw the infantryman enter the battlefield as a simple rifleman, at the end of the war he was as highly decorated as a Christmas tree. He had to contend with not only hostile machine guns and barbed wire, but also the burden of his own equipment. This image of an infantryman as an overloaded, tough soldier running through smoke across mind fields to charge at enemy bunkers may change to that of a sophisticated technician using modern weapons and accessories. The technological wave now sweeping the developing countries promises to do just that.

Today, approximately 28 regimental centres, all based on fixed class composition - except for the Guards who have a mixed class structure train - infantrymen. Some of these centres are more than 200 years old. They train a recruit to fight in the mountains, jungles, plains, cities and deserts. After he becomes a trained, specialized infantryman he learns to parachute land from ships, fight along tanks and protect them and operate from armoured personnel carriers. Indeed though wars have been fought without infantrymen, no battle has ever been won without them.

The infantry clears an objective physically and, having done so holds it, ready to repel and counter-attack. The action to restore normalcy in the Maldives in November 1988 was one such example of a self-contained infantry action. Efforts are now being made to increase the firepower and mobility of the infantry, give it more surveillance gadgets, improve its survival rate and to reduce its load. But before that, it is important to take a look at the impact of technology so far as the infantry is concerned.

Technology is well on its way to giving shape to an infantryman’s desire to see far and beyond his section or platoon post with portable surveillance radars of different ranges, intruder alarm systems, sensors and night vision devices. The infantryman may soon be able to hit the enemy and its tanks or hostile helicopters with missiles and top attack ammunition which can be fired from mortars with accuracy.

Technology is thus making sure that tomorrow's battlefield will be dominated by firepower instead of numbers. The current emphasis on density and superiority in the numbers will, therefore, become outdated. An unarmoured man cannot be expected to charge at enemy defences as he will be butchered.

The doctrine of superiority in numbers at the ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 therefore, requires careful consideration.

A drastic review of manpower in infantry battalions, each of which has an approximate strength of 900, is inescapable. Instead, infantry units will now need additional automatic weapons, electronic countermeasure cells, surveillance platoons, chemical decontamination squads, logistics platoons, anti-aircraft sections and technical manpower to look after the equipment.

Therefore by the middle of this decade, we may see the existing infantry manpower reduced by 30 to 40% and better weapons and machines to fill the gaps. Also during an attack on artillery fire has to be stopped to allow infantrymen to close in on the enemy, armoured helicopter or gunship support may become the norm. and infantry unit is equipped with four types of personal weapons, two types of mortars, up to two types of automatics, close defence anti-tank weapons and an anti-tank gun. Experts are of the opinion that two more types of weapon systems - an integral area neutralization weapon and missiles- should also be considered. The 81mm mortar, which is now available with the infantry needs to be replaced with an automatic motor, as the present rate of firing 10 to 15 bombs per minute is too slow. The new mortar should have magazine-fed bombs so that it can fire automatically. In due course, it should be possible to develop a mortar Bomb (top attack ammunition) which can home in on an armoured concentration preparing to assault infantry defences.

As regards missiles, NATO infantry battalions are for example, equipped with the simplest vigilant (British), TOW (American) and Hot (French). In India, infantry battalions will need a surface to air and two types of anti-tank missiles - a short-range wire-guided missile to hit tanks at a range of up to 2 kms and a medium-range missile which can take on tanks from a distance of 5 to 6 km. The latter would have to be a command signal or radio-guided.

In addition, the availability of a rocket launcher at the section level should provide sufficient anti-tank capability. In Yugoslavia, the infantry is experimenting with a light anti-tank rocket launcher RBR M 80 of 64 mm calibre which is dimensionally different from the soviet RPG 18. Whichever rocket launcher is finally selected, it should be a section weapon.

As for as small arms are concerned, research is now trying to develop a futuristic 9 mm calibre assault rifle instead of 5.56 mm. Besides, a combat shotgun with a short diverter which will prevent the shots from scattering, is being developed for "close-quarter battle", particularly in jungle terrain.

Should there be a greater standardization of weapons than already obtained? As far as weaponry is concerned, one can find absolute standardization of weapons and hardware in the Warsaw pact countries. It is however debatable as to which is better- versatility with diversity or standardization primarily for the purpose of interchange of ammunition. Selective standardization may appear to be the best answer.

The yardstick for mobility is no longer the foot soldiers marching speed of 20 to 25 miles a day. Long approach marches are more or less out in the plains or the desert. However, this will be unavoidable in the mountains even if a sufficient fleet of helicopters does become available, which is unlikely to happen in atleast 8 to 10 years. "Ditch- cum- Bund" or pillboxes on a defensive line, like those along the cease-fire line in Jammu and Kashmir may also fade out. While the former became useless in view of air mobility the latter is being replaced with stationary or mobile missile-carrying weapon platforms.

Extensive research has also been carried out to create equipment which will enable infantrymen know what lies ahead of them and take appropriate action. What is required is a suitable man-portable surveillance radar of which some variations are already available the Oliphabt 11 handheld Radar made in France, or in Sentinel manufactured in Italy, can be bought off the shelf. As for night vision devices, there is the OS 24 infra-red Binocular (France), infantry support weapon sight (Canada), Orion 60 passive night sight (Germany) or Tulux SA weapon sight (UK).In addition, Intruder alarm systems like Fobias Seismic and Tris infrared(UK) and the Persid 4 Seismic (USA) are being developed.

Survival and protection from high-velocity fragments, conventional rifle fire, chemical and biological warfare and nuclear weapons will be ensured through the development of body armour and protective vests which will not hinder soldier's movement too much. Resin reinforced glass fibre combat helmets with an expanded foam liner have proved successful.

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From earliest times, with every new military development, there has been a tendency to overload the infantryman. Therefore, the problem of load continues to be addressed with concern. Besides a personal weapon, an Infantryman's load includes his squad weapon with spare parts and ammunition, his anti-gas equipment, perhaps a wireless set and his personal belongings including his rations.

Research aims at reducing the weight of squad anti-tank weapons like a Carl Gustav 84 mm or the LAW  80 (light anti-armour weapon). This can be slung on the shoulder or carried in a rucksack. But the debate on whether to wear a belt carrying web equipment or a jacket with pockets continues. It is still a problem to carry heavier weapon system,  a heavy machine gun tripod, mortar barrels and mobile firing posts.

This decade and the coming ones will witness an inevitable change in weapon systems and technical equipment for infantry units ranging from missiles (air defence or anti-tank) to radar, night to firing devices to communication equipment. Their handling and maintenance will be time-consuming. But whatever the development, the infantry will continue to occupy a key position on the battlefield as without it no battle can be won.

The infantry remains the main arm of the Indian Army constituting one-third of the total forces, and able to fight battles that can be fought only on foot. But with changing military tactics to keep face with high-tech warfare, the infantryman's equipment needs to be upgraded so that he has the right weapons says Major General V. K. Madhok (Retd.) outlining the various areas in which reform is called for.

About The Author

Maj Gen. VK Madhok is a product of the 1st Course JSW/NDA and was commissioned into the 3 GR. He was the BGS HQ Southern Command and the COS at HQ 4 Corps. He retired as the ADG (TA). He lives in Pune. The author can be reached on Email: [email protected]. Views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India'

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(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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