The role of the Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) has gone beyond the traditional axiom of operating in conjunction with tanks, a concept that has been evolutionary in the realms of mechanised warfare. Today the world is witnessing the pre-eminence of urban terrorism, sub conventional conflicts and the growing need for conventional deterrence.
Given these overarching combat scenarios, the ICV should evolve as a versatile platform that remains indispensable in any form, to provide the much-needed interoperability in a networked environment for ground forces besides providing lethal fire support both direct and indirect based on extensive use of standalone UCAs while ensuring an on-board carriage of a combat subunit all together constituting a reckonable force multiplier in all scenarios.
The world over, the endeavour has been to optimise the cardinal characteristics of firepower, mobility and protection in the face of growing lethality of tanks whereas integration of systems to counter informationalised warfare as well as enhanced surveillance and electronic warfare capabilities are issues that need careful consideration.
In the realms of conflict, a conventional, mechanised manoeuvre warfare is a remote possibility in the current world order. However, sub-conventional skirmishes leading to limited localised conflict seem higher on the escalation ladder while counter terrorism remains a conflict in being.
These conflict scenarios necessitate rapid deployment of forces with adequate networked intelligence and effective firepower. It is here that the capability of the ICV can play a transformational role across the combat as well as terrain spectrum. Hence evaluation of the potential threats in the foreseeable future will dictate the design configuration.
In the Indian context, the focus has gradually shifted to the northern borders while retaining combat potency along the western front. Skirmishes at Galwan and China’s belligerent standoff all along the northern borders call for relook at the strategic and doctrinal dimensions of China which in turn will dictate the design configuration.
Strategic and Doctrinal Dimensions
China’s military strategy lays great emphasis on exploiting ‘strategic configuration of power’ or ‘shi’ to achieve its political objectives aimed at relative positioning of its resources to gain position of advantage rather than attempt outright annihilation. The strategy is not to fight an adversary but to create a disposition of forces so favourable that fighting is unnecessary. It is focused on winning ‘local wars under the conditions of informationization’ as part of ‘Active Defence’.
The PLA’s basic war-fighting philosophy of ‘Active Defence’ is fundamentally a defensive political and strategic stance, enabled—when required—by operational and tactical offense encompassing all three levels of warfare. At the strategic level, the PLA uses superior manpower and greater political will to defeat opponents in defensive wars of attrition.
At the operational level, a combination of mobility, deception, and willpower allow formations to rapidly manoeuvre and close with the enemy in order to engage it in close combat, offsetting limitations in firepower, technology, and training.
At the tactical level, units aggressively manoeuvre in order to create massive advantages in combat power at key times and locations, while simultaneously preventing enemy response through effective deception operations. Infiltration techniques allow small units to close with and defeat the enemy in detail.
At all levels, PLA units rely on superior technology, cohesion, deception, willpower, and manpower in the emerging information environment. The PLA recognizes the importance of the digital battlefield, and it has emerged as a world leader in integrating cyber warfare into its operational construct.
The strategy of anti-access/area denial is an accurate depiction of the PLA’s approach to active defence. Conditions of informationization, when applied to the ‘local war’ concept, is frequently referred to as ‘winning informationized local wars’.
System warfare is PLA’s capability to build task-organized suites of capabilities designed to strike specific weak points of its opponent’s key systems. These suites of capabilities are called ‘operational systems’. Each operational system consists of five main subcomponents: the command system, the strike system, the information warfare system, the intelligence system, and the support system.
At the tactical level, system warfare centres largely on targeting high-value battlefield systems such as radars, command and communication nodes, and field artillery and air defence systems, and it can include selective armoured vehicles and critical logistics support means. Examples of tactical system warfare include using heavy rocket artillery to defeat or destroy enemy radars and artillery systems, EW to suppress or neutralize enemy command and communication networks, and deception operations to target enemy leadership’s situational understanding and state of mind.
Each system has inherent strengths and weaknesses. System warfare involves:
- a) Bypassing enemy systems’ areas of strength, thus gaining a combat advantage by approaching them asymmetrically.
- b) Developing systems that excel at exploiting perceived weaknesses in enemy systems, thereby offsetting their strengths by undermining the systems’ ability to perform assigned missions.
The most common examples of system warfare are actions such as targeting networks instead of shooters, sensors instead of aircraft, or command and communication nodes instead of manoeuvre forces.
As a sequel to system warfare, the PLA is actively seeking to enhance multi-domain capabilities and cross-domain integration. It envisages application of all of its basic military philosophies and principles of active defence, deterrence, and deception to operations in all domains.
The overarching PLA’s theoretical framework for its multi-domain effort is system warfare. The system warfare concept seeks to identify critical or vulnerable system components, then degrade or destroy the effective use of larger systems through targeted attacks on these vulnerabilities.
The primary principle of system warfare is the identification and isolation of critical or vulnerable subsystems or interdependence of these subsystems. The PLA believes that if key threat systems are rendered ineffective, the threat’s ability and will to resist will crumble.
System warfare is the most recent PLA effort to operationalize the principles of force concentration and asymmetric attack while accounting for the lethality, cost, and complexity of modern weapons systems in an ‘informationalized and intelligentized’ environment. The PLA classifies all capabilities, ranging from ballistic missiles and strike fighters to cyber operators and special operations forces, as military systems.
Employment of System Warfare
The PLA’s employment of system warfare supports the development of several traditional military strategies, such as preclusion, isolation, and sanctuary, throughout all domains and at all levels of war.
- a) Preclusion is achieved by keeping enemy commanders and forces off balance through asymmetric means, such as deception and information warfare, while simultaneously denying use of wide geographic areas through long-range reconnaissance-strike capabilities.
- b) Isolation is achieved by jamming or manipulating communications between units, employing psychological warfare to confuse and segregate enemy units from one another, then, rapidly manoeuvring to physically isolate them.
- c) Sanctuary is achieved through a mix of protection, defensive planning, information warfare, and deception operations. Sanctuary includes not only safety from physical attack, but safety from enemy information operations.
The PLA anticipates ‘Informationized Warfare’ evolving into ‘Intelligentized Warfare’ in the relatively near future. ‘Intelligentized Warfare’ incorporates numerous emerging technologies—including decentralized computing, data analytics, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and unmanned or robotic systems—into the PLA’s conceptual framework.
‘Intelligentized Warfare’ seeks to increase the pace of future combat by effectively fusing information and streamlining decision-making, even in ambiguous or highly dynamic operating environments.
Operational Tenants Affecting Design Parameters
The above clearly illustrated that future contact battle will need greater emphasis on denial of information while simultaneously degrading the adversary’s information seeking capabilities. That apart, depth areas have to be addressed in real-time to degrade the adversary’s firepower potential as well as interdict troop build-up and logistics, most crucial in mountainous terrain.
Further, rapid deployment and redeployment of troops at the tactical level as well as movement of reserves require a very flexible agile and operationally self-supportive system. Thus, from a technical stand point the essential characteristic that need to be addressed are:
Fire Power: The most important aspect of design is the provision of a long-range weapon that has the capability of destroying a tank and its equivalent hard targets of that variety while retaining the capability to provide close support to infantry. In addition, the provision of loiter ammunition that has a visual control will be highly effective for depth area interdictions.
Protection: Given the fact that the ICV will be operating in a low mechanised environment, protection can be compromised for the weight penalty. Basic protect with electronic protection can offset the need for heavy armour protection.
Mobility: As mentioned earlier, rapid deployment as well the compromise on protection will have to be necessarily augmented by a very high mobility factor including amphibious capability. In so far as operations in mountainous terrain is concerned a wheeled version is most ideal for obvious reasons.
Reconnaissance and Surveillance: Informationalised warfare thrives on information. The need for onboard reconnaissance and surveillance capability cannot be over emphasised. An on-board remote controlled and autonomous UAS becomes an essential prerequisite.
Counter intelligentized Warfare: The ability to degrade the adversaries intelligentized warfare capability focused on AI-based computing, hacking, decrypting data analytics, counter-artificial intelligence, and disruption of unmanned or robotic systems using disruptive technology miniaturised and mounted onboard should form part of all the command versions.
To put these characteristics in a clear perspective, in addition to the traditional parameters of firepower protection and mobility, the ICV must include short range autonomous UAV, loiter ammunition with self-seeking and self-destruction fuses, the entire system riding on a battlefield management system designed to counter EW, ECCM, NBC detection and a high reliance on computer aided anti-aircraft capability.
It can therefore be seen that given the burgeoning operational requirements, it is a design quagmire having to incorporate all the available technologies on board a single vehicle. This will inadvertently put a heavy demand on the weight factor triggering an upward revision of a chain of design parameters. However, the key features which remain inexcusable are the need to cater for a robust counter intelligentized warfare.
Suggested Design Parameters
A pragmatic design would be a light armoured wheel-based platform with a weight classification of 25 to 30 Tons, armour protection of 4th generation armour, besides incorporating anti-ATGM system.
The primary armament could be a cannon of 30mm calibre sufficient to cater for close support, a secondary armament of 5.5/7.62 mm /12.5 for close support as well as anti-aircraft role and a 5th generation fire-and-forget top attack missile with a self-seeking warhead capable of destroying targets at a range of 5 km with a 90 per cent kill probability.
In addition, the ICV must have a loiter munition system with a loiter time of minimum 60 minutes with 10 km data link range and kill probability of 100 per cent. The ICV must also incorporate a mini-UAV for beyond line-of-sight intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) with a range of 10 km and endurance of 60 minutes. The minimum configuration of crew and stick should be a section strength of 3 crew and 8 stick members. The ICV will require a matching engine to produce 1100 to 1200 HP with an operational range of 450 to 600 km driving at a max speed of 60-70 kmph.
The new age ICV must aim to make the mechanized infantry capable of operating in an intelligenzied environment. This unique requirement has to be fundamental to the design while ensuring self-sufficiency in all aspects of operational necessities likely to be encountered in a future tactical battle arena. The design should be universal in enabling the equipment to be used in either front with alacrity.
–The writer is a former GOC-Indian Army and presently a Strategic Consultant, Principal Advisor. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda