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International Land Forces Developments

While few global defense planners see the potential return of most former “Cold War” threat scenarios, there is growing universal recognition of national security threats posed by exploding local conflicts, both sponsored and non-nation terrorist acts, and cyber attacks, as well as a few lingering Cold War threats posed by things like weapons of mass destruction. That growing recognition has prompted a range of international land force development efforts, with common themes ranging from greater tactical mobility to networked operations. Several representative examples of these land force development efforts have surfaced over the past year in the eastern and southern Asian regions.


Republic of Korea

One clear example can be found in the most recent defense white paper issued by the Ministry of National Defense for the Republic of Korea (ROK). Outlining the new security environment, it states, “In addition to the traditional military threats, the nature of today’s changing security threats can be summed up as being complicated and multifarious due to the increase of transnational and non-military threats. Borderless threats that encompass the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction [WMDs], terrorism, piracy at sea and cyber attacks have been continually increasing, while non-military threats, including communicable diseases, natural disasters, global warming, and environmental pollution have also emerged as major security issues.”

ROK-manufactured K-11

A Republic of Korea soldier displays a K-11 Dual Purpose Rifle to Col. Pedro Almeida and his Task Force Falcon staff during a visit to the ROK base in Charikar May 4, 2011. The ROK-manufactured K-11 fires 5.56 mm ammunition as well as 20 mm grenades. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Todd Pouliot, TF Falcon

While acknowledging that “the likelihood of a large scale war has diminished in this post-Cold War era,” the paper notes that “Multifaceted local conflicts caused by a combination of factors, e.g., territorial and resource disputes, religious and racial conflicts, and separatist and independence movements continue to plague the world.”

Moreover, ROK defense planners have to consider recent “provocative actions and hard-line measures” by North Korea, which have ranged from the March 26, 2010, attack on the ROK ship Cheonan, with the resulting death of 46 ROK sailors, to the Nov. 23, 2010, shelling of a ROK Marine detachment and the civilian residential area on Yeonpyeong Island, in which approximately 170 artillery rounds resulted in the deaths of two ROK Marines and two civilians, along with the wounding of many others.

Against this extremely dangerous and complex environment, the ROK Ministry of National Defense has identified needs to establish “a sophisticated force system based on information and knowledge, which will guarantee victory in war, and secure weaponry and equipment with high combat efficiencies.”

One cornerstone of that system focuses on improvement to long-range precision strike and three-dimensional air-sea-land rapid mobility, as well as reinforced force protection capabilities. For ROK ground forces, that translates to the continued fielding of several new ground platform capabilities as well as upgrade programs for several existing systems.

As examples of new systems, the white paper notes that “the K-9 self-propelled artillery, large-caliber MLRS [multiple launch rocket system], K-21 infantry fighting vehicles, K-11 assault rifle and grenade launcher, K-2 tank and anti-artillery detection radar will be fielded” and that “New wheeled combat vehicles and upgraded MLRS programs will be developed.”

In a somewhat similar concept to the U.S. Army’s early efforts to merge assault rifle and grenade launcher into a single Objective Individual Combat Weapon, the ROK K-11 assault rifle and grenade launcher incorporates a laser rangefinder for precision strikes at various ranges as well as a thermal sighting/observation scope.

The white paper adds that new technologies will also be introduced into “outdated and obsolete combat weaponry.” Under these programs, upgrades will be applied to the army’s K-1/K1A1 tanks, K-200 armored vehicles, K-277 armored command vehicles, K-55 self-propelled artillery, and counter-battery detection radars.



With a similar view of the global security environment, Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and beyond (approved on Dec. 17, 2010) postulates that “the probability of large-scale war between major countries has declined due to increasing interdependence among countries.”

Japan Ground Self-Defense Force

Japanese soldiers from the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force train in urban assault with American soldiers from 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Brigade Oct. 17, 2008 during a bilateral exercise at Fort Lewis’ Leschi Town. U.S. Army photo

“[B]ut there is now a growing risk that the impact of unrest or a security problem in a single country will immediately spread worldwide,” it cautions. “Moreover, in addition to regional conflicts arising from ethnic and religious disputes, there are a growing number of so-called ‘gray-zone’ disputes – confrontations over territory, sovereignty and economic interests that are not to escalate into wars.

“In such an environment, we are witnessing a global shift in the balance of power with the rise of powers such as China, India and Russia, along with the relative change of influence of the United States,” it states. “On the other hand, the United States continues to play the most significant role in securing global peace and stability.”

Echoing several aspects of the ROK white paper previously noted, it adds, “Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, international terrorist organizations and piracy remain imminent security challenges for the international community, including Japan. Regional conflicts and the countries whose governance has weakened or collapsed also pose a challenge that could affect the global security environment. Moreover, risks concerning sustained access to the seas, outer space and cyberspace have emerged as a new challenge. From a long-term perspective, we should also be aware of the impact which climate change may have on the security environment.”

Under this vision, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) goals include: “achiev[ing] appropriate force disposition of highly mobile units with ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] capabilities according to geographical characteristics in order to integrally intertwine various functions and effectively respond to various contingencies. These units can be rapidly deployed to various locations, and are capable of performing diverse missions, including international peace cooperation activities. In so doing, priority will be placed on the defense of off-shore islands where SDF units are not currently stationed, and the organization and personnel structure of units will be reviewed so as to ensure thorough rationalization and streamlining of the defense forces.”

In addition, “[t]he GSDF will maintain mobile operating units sustaining specialized functions so that it can effectively perform such operations as air transportation, airborne operations, defense against NBC [nuclear, biological, and chemical] weapons, special operations and international peace cooperation activities.”

Finally, “The GSDF will maintain surface-to-air guided missile units so that it can effectively provide air defense to protect operational units and key areas.”


People’s Republic of China

While several global defense papers point to the rising power of the People’s Republic of China, that country has attempted to allay some concerns through the March 2011 release of its own national defense white paper: “China’s National Defense in 2010.”

The paper acknowledges the accelerated modernization of the armed forces, noting, “Bearing in mind the primary goal of accomplishing mechanization and attaining major progress in informationization [network operations] by 2020, the People’s Liberation Army [PLA] perseveres with mechanization as the foundation and informationization as the driving force, making extensive use of its achievements in information technology, and stepping up the composite and integrated development of mechanization and informationization.”

In terms of ground force developments, the paper explains that the PLA Army (PLAA) “has invested additional efforts in reform, innovation and development, and advanced the overall transformation of the service.The PLAA has emphasized the development of new types of combat forces, optimized its organization and structure, strengthened military training in conditions of informationization, accelerated the digitized upgrading and retrofitting of main battle weaponry, organically deployed new types of weapon platforms, and significantly boosted its capabilities in long-distance maneuvers and integrated assaults. The PLAA mobile operational units include 18 combined corps, plus additional independent combined operational divisions (brigades). The combined corps, consisting of divisions and brigades, are respectively under the seven military area commands of Shenyang, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

“The PLAA has made great progress in strengthening its arms,” it adds. “The armored component has strengthened the development of digitized units, accelerated the mechanization of motorized units, and improved its combat system, which combines heavy, light, amphibious and air-borne assault forces.

“The artillery component has been working on new types of weapons, equipment, and ammunition with higher levels of informationization, forming an operational and tactical in-depth strike system, and developing the capacity to carry out precision operations with integrated reconnaissance, control, strike and assessment capabilities.

“The air defense component has stepped up the development of new types of radar, command information systems, and medium- and high-altitude ground-to-air missiles. It has formed a new interception system consisting of anti-aircraft artillery and missiles, and possesses enhanced capabilities of medium- and low-altitude air and missile defense operations.

“The PLAA aviation wing has worked to move from being a support force to being a main-battle assault force, further optimized its combat force structure, and conducted modularized grouping according to different tasks. It has upgraded armed helicopters, transport and service helicopters, and significantly improved its capabilities in air strike, force projection, and support.

“The engineering component has accelerated its transformation into a new model of integrated and multi-functional support force which is rapid in response and can be used both in peacetime and in war. It has also strengthened its special capabilities in emergency rescue and disaster relief. In this way, capabilities in integral combat support and military operations other than war [MOOTW] have been further enhanced.

“The chemical defense component has worked to develop an integrated force for nuclear, biological and chemical defense which operates both in peacetime and in war, combines civilian and military efforts, and integrates systems from various arms and services. It has developed enhanced permanent, multi-dimensional and multi-terrain defense capabilities against nuclear, biological and chemical threats.”


Republic of India

In its own recent annual report, the Ministry of Defense for the government of India offers a “post cold war international scenario” in which, “the 9/11 terrorist attack against the USA and terrorist strikes in many other parts of the world have brought about greater international convergence on security issues and challenges. The emergence of ideology linked terrorism, the spread of small arms and the proliferation of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and globalisation of its economy are some of the factors which link India’s security directly with the extended neighbourhood.

Camp Bundela India Army

Indian army infantry vehicles move onto the firing range at Camp Bundela, India, Oct. 26, 2009. Soldiers from the 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, based out of Hawaii traveled with 17 of their Strykers to India for two weeks to train with the India army. U.S. Army photo

“South Asia hosts a diversity of political experiences and systems,” it states, adding, “The region also faces the menace of terrorism and problems by way of proliferation of arms and drugs. Against this background, India stands as a bulwark against fundamentalism and extremism. It is a centre of economic dynamism in the region and as a plural democracy, a bastion of stability and peaceful coexistence.”

These security challenges have provided Indian Army planners with a shared vision “to consolidate itself into a highly motivated, optimally equipped, modernised, operationally ready force, capable of functioning in a synergised joint service environment, across the spectrum of conflict.”

The annual report continues, “The modernization and transformation of the Army is being actively pursued to constantly evolve and develop requisite capabilities so that there is a lethal, agile and networked force prepared to meet the complex security challenges of the 21st century. The focus of modernisation efforts is on precision fire power, air defence aviation, infantry soldier as a system, infrastructure development, network centricity and achieving battle field transparency through improved surveillance, night vision and target acquisition.”

Several examples of specific measures supporting the Indian Army modernization plans can be found within the armored corps, where there is an identified focus on upgrading tanks and equipping them with modern fire control systems.

Similar activities are also seen within India’s mechanised infantry, where the report points to the recent concluding of “contracts for procurement of Environmental Control System and Instant Fire Detection and Suppression System for BMP-2/2K, Battle Field Surveillance Radar on TATRA 8×8 and Thermal Imaging Sight to replace Milan Infra Red Attachment (MIRA) night sight. …”

Other identified Indian Army materiel initiatives include:

  • Artillery, where “A proposal for procurement of BrahMos Supersonic Cruise Missile System for two regiments of the Indian Army has been approved. The contract has been concluded in March 2010.”
  • Infantry, where “The plan to modernise the infantry soldier is being given the desired impetus, through acquisition of Assault Rifles and Night Binoculars for Special Forces. Bullet Proof Vehicles for use in counter-insurgency operations are under trial-evaluation. Procurement of specialist weapons for Ghatak Platoons of Infantry Battalions is in progress. Procurement of advanced simulator systems for realistic training is also underway.”
  • Engineers, where “Contract for procurement of Gap Measuring Device has been concluded during the year. An indent for procurement of Mine Protected Vehicles has been placed on Ordnance Factory Board.”
  • Signals, where “The Corps of Signals has evolved a state-of-the-art communication plan comprising Microwave, Ultra High Frequency, Optical Fibre, Satellite Communication and Mobile Cellular Communication systems. Induction of Transportable Satellite Terminal in Strike Corps and other state-of-the-art non-communication equipment will enhance communication capabilities and improve synergy between all fighting elements. Contract for advanced technology Combat Net Radio, developed by Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) in Armoured Formations was concluded during the year.”
  • Army aviation, where “Procurement action for replacement of existing reconnaissance & surveillance helicopter by a modern helicopter with better capabilities is being pursued. Army Aviation is geared to weaponise the indigenously manufactured Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) to provide teeth to the existing fleet.”
  • Army air defense, where “The Corps of Army Air Defence is taking major strides in upgrading its gun systems. To enhance surveillance capabilities, upgraded Super Fledermaus and Flycatcher are planned to be replaced by 3D Tactical Control and Low Level Light Weight Radars. Self Propelled Air Defence Gun Missile System would also be upgraded. Procurement of successors to the vintage missile systems are also in the pipeline.”

Many of India’s land force efforts are reflective of the country’s enunciated “Look East Policy,” which “envisages a progressive and multifaceted partnership with the South East Asian Region with the long-term goal of creating harmonious and prosperous relations that would facilitate pooling of resources to tackle common challenges.” The policy views “a pluralistic security order based on a co-operative approach is the answer to the polycentric security concerns in the South East Asian region.”


Republic of Singapore

A recent example of India’s “Look East Policy” in action occurred in March of this year, when the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Indian Army conducted its seventh bilateral armor exercise, codenamed Exercise Bold Kurukshetra, at the Babina Field Firing Range in central India.

Singapore Army Leopard 2A4

A Singapore Army Leopard 2A4 during National Day Parade 2010 rehearsals. Photo by CABAL

According to SAF press announcements, more than 700 soldiers from Headquarters 4th Singapore Armored Brigade, 42nd Battalion, Singapore Armored Regiment and 38th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers, and the Indian Army’s 34th Armored Brigade, 12th Mechanized Infantry Regiment and 15th Armored Regiment, participated in the exercise. During the event, the two armies conducted joint planning and training, and executed an integrated live-firing involving the SAF’s BIONIX 1 infantry fighting vehicle and mortar track carrier, as well as the Indian Army’s BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle and T-90 main battle tank.

The event also serves to underscore the ongoing military land force efforts behind Singapore’s announced transformation into a “3rd Generation (3rd Gen) Army,” under which the service is redefining its capabilities by developing new warfighting concepts, streamlining organizations, and rapidly introducing new technologies through a “spiral” development process. Planners are quick to characterize the 3rd Gen Army as a “Full Spectrum Force” that is capable of flexible response and can be task organized – through combinations of a high readiness core with full force potential components – for a broad spectrum of operations.

Not surprisingly, many of these efforts are reminiscent of other regional land force development threads, like improved situational awareness or increased mobility/agility.

Examples of enhanced mobility and agility in Singapore’s 3rd Gen Army include the Primus Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (SSPH), which is “equipped with fully automated systems that allow for rapid deployment and firing.” The army is also acquiring personnel carriers to provide its infantry with improved mobility and protection.

Other new efforts target areas ranging from enhanced lethality and survivability to facilitated urban capabilities. They include new platforms like the Bionix II and the Leopard 2A4 tanks, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), remote sensors, and new battlefield management systems.

In terms of networking, the 3rd Gen Army concept also calls for integrating fires with air force and navy joint service assets, with descriptions noting, “By networking a suite of sensor and shooter systems such as the Primus Howitzer and the F-16 fighter jets across the different services, our forces can be synchronised and integrated to achieve maximum effects.”

Emphasizing the underlying common land force trend of networking/information operations, Singapore’s descriptions of its 3rd Gen Army transformation highlight “the set of information capabilities, structures and processes that can increase connectivity between our forces to enhance mission success. It includes sense-making capabilities that leverage on network and communications technologies to collate and make sense of the battlefield. These capabilities enable us to efficiently derive the desired effects from the battlefield situation, and translate them into actionable tasks.”

Cited examples of those capabilities include networked communications architectures, coordinating precision fires across joint services, and quality decision-making enabled through features like a robust C4I structure and unmanned aerial vehicles capable of autonomous reconnaissance.


Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...