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Indian armed forces call apparel manufacturers to make them ʻcombat-readyʼ

The bulletproof jackets worn by soldiers weigh around 10.3 kg which needs to be reduced

The ‘Make in India’ initiative has emerged as a platform to change the dynamics of the manufacturing ecosystem that will hugely impact the nation’s economy and improve the GDP of the country multifold as well. Filled with unprecedented sense of optimism, the step has been given a boost by the Indian Government with a recent move to shift the procurement of 48 items for the Indian Army from Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to the private sector. But, the biggest question mark that arises is whether the manufacturers are ready to cater to the highly specialized products’ demand. Do they have the capacities and the understanding of the standards required for troops to sustain in harsh terrains? Team StitchWorld explores the expectations of the Indian Army from the local Indian manufacturers.

The Ordnance Factory Board, controlling 41 ordnance factories, comes under Department of Defence Production (DDP) of the Ministry of Defence, which has the sole responsibility of indigenous production, testing, logistics, research, development and marketing of defence needs. Recently, the removal of 48 personal equipment articles including blankets, socks, boots, rain capes, clothing etc. restricted for production in the ordnance factories has opened the opportunity of growth for the private sector.

Indian Army locally procures Siachen items worth Rs. 100 crore on an annual basis

Now that the Government has legally allowed the Armed Forces to procure from private sources, they no longer require the NOC (No Objection Certificate) from OFB. “We have a window of 3-4 years to develop the private vendors. We have reduced our orders to OFB by 50% this year, and by next year, it will be cut by 25%. I am sure that within the next 2-3 years, we will entirely source these items from private parties,” informed Major General BV Rao, VSM.

The standards required for Indian Army uniforms have been set based on the conditions in which the soldiers operate. The highest terrain and battlefield in the world, Siachen, is considered as the toughest battlefield, not because of the enemies, but because of the environmental conditions. Blizzards, avalanche, snowfall and temperature of (-) 50°C are frequent characteristics of the inhospitable terrain. The altitude of approximately 18,000 feet above sea level at which the soldiers operate demands an equivalent unquivering clothing that adapts to the soldier’s motions, besides keeping him warm.

Out of an expenditure of Rs. 14,000 crore on procurement of ordnance items, about Rs. 3,000 crore have been allotted for the clothing.

The clothing requirements of Indian Army are grouped into three categories, namely Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) for soldiers operating at 18,000 feet-20,000 feet; harsh climate clothing required for soldiers operating at an altitude of 6,000 feet-12,000 feet; and lifecycle clothing for soldiers in plains.

There are many other items such as tents, sleeping bags and even boots which are being imported from Switzerland, Finland and Norway for which the Army is looking at developing the local vendors who can manufacture the products in set specifications though the specs may be hard to match.

Annual requirements of Indian Army Clothing
• Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) – 40,000 pairs
• Harsh Climate Clothing – 6 lakh pairs

Rucksacks (with 70 litre capacity), thermal insoles, two-layered socks have been successfully labelled as ‘indigenized’. Earlier, they were imported from Norway. However, the manufacturers are facing much bigger challenge in indigenizing three-layered ECWCS, gloves and four-layered socks. “Till now, only one vendor has successfully developed the three-layered snow suits which enables the soldier to be agile and it is combat-effective besides giving higher thermal insulation,” said Rao. The essential requirements for three-layered ECWCS include five years shelf life, withstanding temperatures up to (-) 50°C and wind speed of up to 40 km/hour, with enough room for physical movements, usable for 36 hours without any allergic sensation to the skin, easy maintainability, black/olive green in colour without any shine and weight not more than 4000 gms. Shockingly, from the last three years, the samples have been failing the test for these items.

Indian Navy’s clothing catalogue has 409 items, including protective clothing, safety footwear and extreme winter clothing items

“We have been able to successfully indigenize about 30-40% of these items and are trying to completely procure them domestically in the next 2-3 years,” said Rao.

While Army has been working through its ordnance factories, Indian Navy has Material Organizations (MO) responsible for the procurement. The facilities are located in Kochi, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. Captain Sankardeep Bharali, Principal Director of Clothing and Victualling, Indian Navy said, “Procuring for Indian Navy might be challenging as the quantities can be as low as 1/15th of Indian Army requirements.” The clothing inventory of Indian Navy has 409 items which include protective clothing, safety footwear and extreme winter clothing items.

“Uniforms required by elite force soldiers Marcos should be of dark blue colour made with a yarn composition of Meta Aramid/Para Aramid/Anti Stat (93:5:2).” – Captain Sankardeep Bharali, Principal Director of Clothing and Victualling, Indian Navy

There are certain special clothings that Indian Navy is keen to procure domestically and one of them is clothing worn inside submarines. There is a tremendous shortage of water and space inside a submarine and the temperature is also comparatively higher. The naval soldiers wear garments whose shelf life is maximum 3 days, which are then disposed of. Currently, the garments are made of 100% cotton causing no harm to the environment and the standards include anti-fungal treatment. “We are also looking for the replacement of cotton fabric,” said Sankardeep.

Another extreme tolerance uniform is for Navy’s elite special force, Marcos, which specializes in counter terrorism, underwater operations and sabotage to anti-piracy operations. The uniform required by such elite force soldiers should be of dark blue colour made with a yarn composition of Meta Aramid/Para Aramid/Anti Stat (93:5:2).

The Navy is also introducing a new uniform with digital camouflage similar to Indian Army. The composition of the fabric could be polyester/cotton (50:50); polyester/cotton (80:20); and nylon/cotton (50:50) giving an expectant life up to 18 months.

Marcos are experts in amphibious warfare, close quarter combat counter-terrorism and hostage rescue

Presently, the Navy procures polyester/viscose (70:30) for the general service uniform and stitch in its factories. In the words of Sankardeep, “The standard requirement for the fabric are its whiteness retention, breathability and anti-wrinkle treatment and good crease recovery, the specifications of which are highlighted in Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) standards booklet.”

Annual requirements of Indian Navy Clothing
• Submarine Clothing – 10,000 pairs
• Digital Camouflage – 60,000 pairs
• General Service Uniform – White – 4.5 lakh metre
• Navy Blue – 2 lakh metre
• Light Blue – 2 lakh metre
• Marcos Uniform – 1,000 pairs

A lot has been expected by the stakeholders from the BIS who has been working on the development of some important standards on protective textiles for defence forces. The standards on which the body has been working on are bullet resistance jackets, bullet resistance vests, full body protectors, LLIN, specification for waterproof multipurpose rain poncho with convertibility as bivouac, camouflage pattern clothing made of nylon and cotton blended material, specification for coat parka/ECC/Siachen clothing, cut resistance clothing and specification for lightweight groundsheet.

Made in India: Bullet proof jackets and ballistic helmets

Apart from personal protective clothing, are the equipment obligatory for the protection of a soldier’s life during challenging situations. Some of these are bullet proof jackets and ballistic helmets. MKU Pvt. Ltd., a Kanpur based facility, has been designing body armours for Indian army and other security forces. It also exports products across 100 countries. It has been operating under three product verticals: personal protection, platform protection and electro optics.

Instavest-G6 has been patented for its quick release system

The company has recently developed Instavest – G6, which has been patented in Europe, US and India for its quick release system. The tactical vest for special forces is 40% lighter, 30% thinner and 50% more flexible. The weight of the ammunition and the equipment a soldier carries limits his movement and combats effectiveness. The 6th Generation of MKU’s armouring technology, AMMOFLEX 6 soft solutions offers excellent comfort and ease of movement, while POLYSHIELD 6 hard armour solutions demonstrate better energy absorption and dissipation. “We look forward to BIS for conforming standards for ergonomics and comfort for body armour which are not available in India,” said Vaibhav Gupta, Director, MKU Pvt. Ltd.

NSG commandos have got new ballistic helmets with glass visor and best bulletproof protection

It was last year when MKU was given the order of 1,58,000 ballistic helmets by Indian Army. It has recently delivered the first tranche of helmets. A head gear is the most vital protection required by a soldier to be ready in any lethal situation. MKU manufactures specialized helmets to provide protection against bullets and fragments. While the Indian army kept the requirement of Behind Armour Blunt Trauma (BABT) of 13 mm, the company has been able to offer a BABT in single digit, that is, 9 mm. This means that the helmets can bear the impact of 9 mm ammunition fired from a short range. Vaibhav also highlights the need of helmets to be mould and fungus resistant. A helmet tends to stay at very extreme climates which increases its tendency to grow fungus on it, thus shortening its shelf life. He said that the BIS should also formulate standards on the same.