The National Security Guard, India's special forces unit, plans to revive its 'future soldier' programme, which was shelved in 2013 due to logistics issues. The renewed project comes with a Make-in-India twist, as the elite force has roped in DRDO and IIT-Mumbai to give a final shape to the soldier prototype.
About 40 countries are working on similar programmes, including US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and Israel, that entails future ground warfare and survivability in diverse terrains. While the West has a clear head start on such projects, India is aiming to achieve the mission by 2025.
"Yes, we are working on reviving the future soldier project," NSG director general Sudhir Pratap Singh told Mail Today. However, Singh refused to divulge more details of the project.
PROJECT MORE PROMISING, RESULT ORIENTED: OFFICIALS ::
Originally mooted in 2011, after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack in 2008, the project was assigned to Bharat Electronic Ltd (BEL) but lost steam midway as costs of making of one unit of armour escalated. Sources said the BEL did come up with a prototype, with a whopping cost of Rs 12-13 crore for 30 soldiers.
However, a renewed commitment of the current dispensation with Make-in-India factor has given the 'future soldier' project a fresh thrust. A senior officer in the NSG described the project as "more promising and result oriented".
Lauding the indigenous push, former NSG DG Arvind Ranjan, who was part of the programme during his tenure in 2012, said it is important to develop indigenous programme as no country will share top secret project of this kind.
"I travelled to many countries (to study such projects), but they were willing to share only rudimentary technology," Ranjan said. "We have the best soldiers in the world, and if they are provided with the best technology, it will act as a force multiplier."
Comparing the project with US Navy Seals raiding party in 2011, R K Medhekar, also a former DG of the force, said once the commandos get advanced devices fitted to their body, NSG operations could be viewed real time by commanding officers as was in the case during the raid on Osama.
The world watched in bated breath as US Navy Seals swooped down on Abbottabad in a stealth helicopter killing the 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden, with live pictures being simultaneously broadcast to a control room in White House.
Medhekar said a lot of progress has been made in equipments since NSG's first project was shelved. "Now we have non-reflective goggles, night-vision glasses and communication on encrypted codes."
He said the idea of camera on top is to ensure that the soldier is not distracted by reporting back. "It had other advantages to know location of self and team mates. In the last project too, DRDO was working on a lighter uniform with GPS devices. But cost overruns took a toll. Experts said the project aims to equip our soldier with high-tech weapons to undertake specialised operations through land, air and water.
"We need mobility, lethality, survivability in our forces on par with world's best forces," major general (retired) P K Sehgal told Mail Today.