India's F-INSAS programme is long overdue and needs to be fast-forwarded as security threats posed by Pakistan and China are steadily escalating. An aggregate of 'System of Sub-Systems' to transform the soldiers into a self-contained fighting machine enabling him to operate across the entire spectrum of future battles including nuclear war and low intensity conflict in a network-centric environment.

Today's conflict situations require operational troops capable of dealing with hi-tech war that will be short and intense plus contending with fleeting opportunities. The technology enabled man-machine-technology mix, a weapon platform with adequate firepower, self-protection, night fighting capability, mobility and right kind of support systems is essential in today's context. However, there is little to talk of indigenous R&D in equipping the Indian combat soldier. The 5.56 INSAS rifle developed after an excruciatingly long period of 15 years, was hardly comparable to modern assault rifles. The DRDO has not even been able to produce an appropriate carbine and light machine gun, latter having failed during trials.

Future Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS)

The F-INSAS a multibillion dollar program to turn India's infantrymen into fully networked, digitized, self-contained 21st-century warriors, took shape in 2007 after several years of planning; combine a host of soldier-mounted technologies with the aim of creating a new generation of infantry soldier with better communications, lethality, all-terrain and all-weather survivability and improved situational awareness. This is primarily an aggregate of  'System of Sub-Systems' to transform the soldiers into a self-contained fighting machine enabling him to operate across the entire spectrum of future battles including nuclear war and low intensity conflict in a network-centric environment.

In January 2015, the Indian Army has splited the F-INSAS program in favour of two separate projects. The new program will have two components: one Soldier Modernization Plan (SMP) aims at arming the modern infantry soldier with the best available assault rifle, carbines and personal equipment such as the helmet and bulletproof vests and the second component is the Battlefield Management Systems

Protection & Survivability

The SMP will ensure the increased survivability of the soldier by providing various layers of protection, thus increasing his fight ability and endurance in the battle field. The figure is self explanatory. This is the 'don't be penetrated' layer of the survivability concept. Other areas of the F-INSAS programme incorporate the 'don't be targeted' and 'don't be hit' sections, but when these two barriers are broken down the survivability aspect of a soldier's kit becomes his first line of defence.

The Core System: Armies of 21 countries have so far launched the Soldier Modernization Programmes (SMPs) endeavoring to heighten the infantry soldiers situational-awareness capacity, fire power, protection and NATO-defined C4I (command and control, communications, computers and intelligence) potential. F-INSAS is based on five major technologies or sub systems:

  • Modular Weapons
  • Body Armour and Individual Equipment
  • Weapon Sights and Hand-Held Target Acquisition Devices
  • Communication Equipment to make soldiers capable of transmitting and receiving complex voice, data and video systems
  • Portable Computers in the shape of "wrist displays'' for soldiers and "planning boards'' for commanders

The infantry soldiers will be equipped with modular weapon systems & integrated clothing that will have multi-functions. The core systems will include following:

  • Protection
  • Ammunition

Integrated Clothing

The clothing of this soldier would be light weight with a bullet-proof jacket. The jacket would be non-flammable, waterproofed yet breathable. The new attire will enable him to carry extra loads and resist the impact of nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological warfare. The uniform will also carry solar elements for charging a palmtop and other attached electronic equipment. It will contain external oxygen supply and respirator to provide protection against gas and smoke and will include fire-proof knee and elbow pads and ballistic and laser eye protection goggles. An armored, electronic jacket with a load-bearing system which integrates the electronics (such as a computer unit, energy manager unit, peripheral equipment interfaces, user interfaces, a radio, a man-machine interface, a Global Positioning System (GPS), cables, connector, camouflaging system, wearable environmental control and a micro-climate cooling system). A flexible water bottle, magazines, grenades and other equipment holders and pockets optimizes weight distribution on the soldier. The new uniform will have vests with sensors to monitor the soldier's health parameters and provide quick medical relief. There is also a notion of lacing the fabric on uniforms with blood-clotting fibers, which could in theory be tied in with the “onboard” sensors.

Fiber undergarments; flame-resistant hand, face, and foot protection and a pair of non-skid shoes with mine detection sensors would complete the ensemble. The medical sensor suite is likely to rank as one of the most costly features of the F-INSAS package and may require capability re-tailoring to meet the needs of both budget and practicality.

Bullet-Proof Helmet

The bullet-proof helmet, capable of stopping a 9mm round at close range, contains a mounted flash light, thermal sensors, a night vision capability, a digital compass, video cameras, a computer, nuclear, biological and chemical sensors, and an audio headset. The visor is intended to be integrated and to act as a heads-up display monitor equivalent to two 17-inch computer monitors.

Weapon Sub System

The weapons sub-system is built around a multi caliber individual weapon system with the fourth caliber attached to a grenade launcher. These include a 5.56 mm, a 7.62 mm and a new 6.8 mm.  The UBGL (Under Barrel Grenade Launcher) will be capable of firing air bursting grenades. The sub-system includes a thermal weapon sight and laser range finder to provide the soldier with range and direction information. The GPS location information will allow the soldier to call for indirect fire accurately.

Communication & Navigation

The soldier will be equipped with a USB 2.0 digital data bus, Palmtop GPS navigation device, secured advance audio communication set, advance electronic warfare data manager, secured network connection where each radio can subscribe to two networks simultaneously. This offers the squad leader some flexibility in organizing communication networks in his section. Each network has an audio conference channel, with priority given to the squad leader, an alert channel from the infantryman to his leader, and a data transmission channel.

Night Vision Devices and Thermal Imaging Systems

 Indian Army's FINSAS programme endeavors to equip soldiers with cutting edge equipment thereby making them self sufficient in the most hostile terrains during times of conflicts. The soldier would be equipped with thermal sensors, night vision devices, digital compass and head-up display monitors.

Where the program got stuck?

Basically, the F-INSAS programme involves equipping over 305,000 infantry troops (359 battalions) and around 90,000 Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles soldiers deployed on conventional, counter-insurgency operations or both with a modular, multi-caliber suite of weapons and body armour. It has more than 50 items, which are required to be procured or developed indigenously. While the Army planned to cover every battalion with F-INSAS Project by 2020, similar, if not exactly the same, kinds of efforts, though on a much smaller magnitude, are being made to equip the CRPF and other forces fighting the Maoists. While the process for acquisition of 4000 human detecting night vision devices and 3000 binoculars with night sight capability for CRPF is on, sanctions have also been given for additional 1920 units of each for COBRA battalions. Similar sanctions are expected soon for ITBP and other border guarding forces as well.

The army has been battling to replace its two-decade -old indigenous INSAS rifles, and Carbine which has been a disappointment. The defence ministry preferred DRDO to design weapon systems and the Ordnance Factory Board and defence PSUs to produce them. With the pace of DRDO and deliverable experience of state PSU and Ordnance Factory Boards, the project was bound to be delayed. The ongoing tussle with in the MoD and the private and public players majorly responsible for the stucking of the future soldier programme.

Initially, the project was divided under four categories, i.e. Weapons, Night sight, Equipment and Communication, was working under an independent unit in the Infantry Directorate. But, presently, the independent unit of F-INSAS was dismantled and clubbed under the infantry directorate since 2014.

Though the Army claims to have all items at various stages of procurement, it appears to be unrealistic. The army itself is primarily responsible for the delays as it is unable to formulate the basic qualitative requirements for many of the planned weapons. The qualitative requirement for many items has not even prepared and in some it has been made unrealistic. Like the primary assault rifle case, bidders failed to meet the requirements asked by the army, which were found to be unsatisfactory and expensive and resulted in cancellation after years of deliberation. F-INSAS programme is long overdue and needs to be fast-forwarded as security threats posed by nuclear rivals Pakistan and China are steadily escalating.

Recently to counter the need of the hour and to fast-tracking long-delayed modernization of the Army's Special Forces to make them even more lethal and mobile for clandestine warfare, seven "restricted" tenders have been issued to select foreign arms companies for acquisition of new assault rifles, sniper rifles, general purpose machine guns, light-weight rocket-launchers, tactical shotguns, pistols, night-vision devices and ammunition.

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