The Indian Army soldiers deployed on the high altitude areas are facing critical shortfall of Extreme Cold Climate (ECC) Clothing and Equipment deployed on the high altitude areas; there is a need to overcome the deficiencies at the earliest coupled with equipping the soldiers with global standardized clothing and equipment by incorporating multi-risk protective fabric through public and private sector participation….
Indian Army with a total strength of more than 1.3 million individuals approximately is one of the largest consumers of specialty technical textiles called as 'Defencetech' or 'Protective Textiles' or 'Protech'. Out of these approximately 25-30% of the troops is involved in high risk, counters insurgency & special operations in super High Attitude Areas and requires protective clothing known as 'High Altitude Visibility Clothing Extreme Cold Climate (ECC) including Mountaineering Equipment' which are used for protection against extreme weather/atmospheric/environmental conditions like extremely low temperature, high velocity winds, snow fall, avalanches, landslides, frostbite and high-velocity winds especially in critical combat areas and so it is essential they meet both functional and comfort properties. It needs worth mentioning over that more than 90% of the casualties suffered by the Army soldiers on the high altitude areas have been due to extreme adverse atmospheric/landscape elements/conditions rather than enemy action. Rather, in the last 10 years, 163 soldiers have perished while deployed on the glacier due to factors other than combat.
During the period between 1984 to 2018, the Government has spent more than Rs 7,500 Crores in procuring special clothing and mountaineering equipment for the soldiers posted in high-altitude areas. At present, the High Altitude Visibility Clothing Extreme Cold Climate (ECC) accounts for the majority share with 44% of the total share of various Protech Products Market comprising of bullet proof jackets, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) suits, and fire retardant apparel other than it. Refer Fig.
Around 55 items are issued under Super High Altitude clothing and those items are divided into two categories 'Category I' for personal use (20 items) and 'Category II' for general purpose items (35 items). Out of these, 22 are one-time issue items, such as a down jacket or a sleeping bag, issued to an individual soldier and not recycled thereafter: nine of them are imported. The balance 33 items are unit issue items, such as special tents and ice axes: 11 of them are imported. These imported items are mostly made in China, although they are supplied by around a dozen foreign firms from US, Switzerland, Italy, Finland, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Norway and UK.
ECC Clothing - Product Characteristics
The High Altitude 'extreme winter' clothing and equipment, essentially, consisting of 55 items such as jacket and windcheater, waist coat, trousers, glacier cap, rappelling gloves and glacier gloves rucksack special socks, thermal insoles, snow goggles and High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPO) bag is required by the Army for its soldiers deployed in Siachen, Drass, Kargil Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. These are divided into two categories - the first lot for those deployed in the range of 9,000 feet to 12,000 feet and second category for those guarding the border beyond the heights of 12,000 feet.
The typical characteristics of high altitude clothing are:
- Hydrophilic - Waterproof and moisture resistant
- It has a breathable membrane of Poly Utherane
- Abrasion resistance
- Maintain high integrity
- The gear typically weight of special clothing is around nine to ten kilograms.
The material used for these clothing is typically hydrophilic polyurethane coating or PTFE coating, Gore-Tex coating or Sympatex coating. The hydrophilic properties are introduced by these coatings or laminates or micro-porous. The inner jacket is usually made of fleece and rest of the items is 100% polyester. The general specification of products is:
- Jackets are usually about 2.4 kg in weight and are made of fleece and polyester, having waterproof coatings and a thermal vest.
- Trousers are usually 1.2 kg in weight again made of 100% polyester
However, it is to be seen that most of the present High Altitude Clothing/Extreme Cold Climate (ECC) Clothing being used by Indian Army do not meet the above mentioned characteristics and are rather cumbersome as the jackets and trousers in use are very bulky restricting freedom of movement of the troops making use of equipment like radio sets & carriage of personnel loads difficult. These bulky suits have to be worn to withstand extreme cold, but they affect operations like long-range patrolling in knee deep snow, as soldiers get bogged down by the weight of their equipment including rucksacks carrying sleeping bags, rations, ammunition and rifles. Moreover, soldiers have to remove the entire suit after returning to their bases, thereby making the process cumbersome and time-consuming. Further, it does not offer weather proofing from rain and snow. The snow boots are also made of rubber and they do not offer good grip in slush or snow, in addition there is lack of air circulation in the feet. The cold climate clothing creates problems for users because of its bulk thereby restricting his ability to operate freely and is prone to very quick wear and tear thereby necessitating frequent replacements.
India has been importing these ECC clothing since 1980s in large numbers at high costs year after year. At present about 40-50% of their requirement of these clothing is met through imports. As per official data India spends around Rs 800 Crores annually in import of Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS) and mountaineering kits for soldiers guarding the glacier. Some of the critical items that are imported include woolen socks, rucksacks and sleeping bagsthese include 'outer shell parka” and the `fibre-pile pant' from Finland (Rs 14,174 each), Swiss down jacket from Black Diamond company (Rs 9,093), Italian MP Scarpa boots (Rs 6,990) and French `boot crampons' (Rs 6,990).Other basic gear like ice-axes, shovels, boot crampons, Stromeyer tents and the like are also being largely imported. It would be also worth mentioning here that a Swiss company, Black Diamond, Swiss is a major provider of winter gear that includes trousers, jackets and gloves. However, Army authorities had observed that the imported gear was bulky and uncomfortable on high altitudes. The Swiss gear helps troops in weather conditions where the temperature falls below minus 50 degree Celsius. The clothing provided is three-layered ECWCS and costs Rs 35,000 each. The Army bought around 42,000 suits for troops stationed in Siachen, Kargil, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Ladakh last year.
The annual requirement of (ECC) clothing and equipment for the Army is around 27,000 sets and is expected to increase to 38,229 sets. Further, the Army maintains a reserve for another year's requirement. Thus, the average shortfall of items in Siachen clothing is between 5-10 percent every year which is replenished from the reserves.
A CAG report which covered the period from 2015-16 to 2017-18, bought out facts that the troops deployed at high altitude areas are given old versions of face masks, jackets and sleeping bags. Citing an example, the CAG report mentioned that the stock level of 'Goggle All-Terrain' an ECC&E item used to protect soldiers from visionary ailments at high altitude was critically low. So much so that when demand was raised for 750 snow goggles for the issue to a unit of soldiers on its arrival in a high altitude area, they simply could not be provided for. As of June 2016, June 2017 and June 2018, the total stock of 'Goggles All-Terrain' ranged from just 5.6 per cent to 16.07 per cent against the total authorization rendering the stock 'critically low' due to poor supply.
To be noted that it takes around Rs 1 lakh to clothe a single soldier for the Siachen heights, the world's highest battlefield, which range from 16,000 to 22,000-feet. Recently, the Indian Army has planned to give its Soldiers a personal kit worth over Rs 1 lakh each during their deployment on the Siachen glacier to fight harsh weather conditions. The kit includes equipment worth around Rs 1.5 lakh, which can be used by the soldiers for survival and moving around the Siachen glacier during the deployment. In the personal kit, the soldiers have been provided with the multilayered extreme winter clothing worth Rs 28,000 each along with the special sleeping bag which costs around Rs 13,000. The down jacket and the special gloves of troops together costs around Rs 14,000 while the multipurpose shoes cost around Rs 12,500. The equipment provided to the troops includes an Oxygen cylinder that costs around Rs 50,000 per piece. The oxygen level at such high altitude is very low and that's why oxygen cylinder is required for the troops. Other equipment and gadgets for detecting avalanche victims are also being provided to the soldiers.
On the backdrop of growing imports of the ECC clothing items/equipments, the Army first mooted the idea of indigenous production of the high-altitude clothing and equipment around 10 years ago. The Land Force is aiming at saving nearly Rs 300 Crores annually by indigenous production of these items which are, at present, sourced from countries like the US, Australia, Canada and Switzerland. By deploying Indian produced clothing gear, the country will be able to save around Rs 2.5 Crores every six months. However, till date most of the items are imported and facing requirement deficiencies even for basic high altitude clothing items of regular use where no high-end technology is warranted; one of the major reasons being the Ordnance Factories and DRDO which are the major producer of clothing producing ECWCS jackets and Extreme Weather Clothing (EWCS) trousers and are not able to meet the total requirements and also the products developed are mostly substandard and of course, non involvement of private sector. Few specialized private players like TATA, Shri Lakhsmi Cotsyn Defence have started production of such clothing. However, these are still in pilot phase. And more private entrants are required.
Recently, under the 'Make in India' initiative, the Government is encouraging Indian suppliers for the first time to give the samples of their products for super High Altitude Clothing to the Army for trials in five items of Siachen and Super High Altitude clothing. Shiva Texyarn, National Textile Corporation, Sara Sae, Key Tent and Sabre Safety Ltd deposited the samples of their items with the Army. Some of the things that are aimed to be produced in India include snow goggles, ice axe, boots, thermal insoles, avalanche victim detectors, rock pitons, and sleeping bags and also pipelined to be supplied to Army personnel deployed in high-altitude locations like Doklam along the perfidious Sino-India border, it said. However, as of Feb 2019, out of the eight products which were sent for trial, only two of them met the Army standards. Proposal is in the pipeline to invite fresh proposals and also explore latest market technology.
The major market for High Altitude Visibility Clothing Extreme Cold Climate (ECC)' textiles and equipments is from the defence services, in particular Indian Army and seem very positive and poised for a growth. The key growth driver for high altitude clothing is the Indian Army and its consumption trends. In the last five seven years, the quality standards of the clothing being supplied to the Indian Army personnel has improved a lot. More sets are being provided with higher quality. Based on this trend the market is dependent on how the scale of clothing of high altitude operations would vary. In addition to that, the continuously increasing size of the Armed forces is expected to impact the market in a proportional manner. Secondly, growing threats and security in these areas coupled with lack of indigenous development will further drive the market.
Currently Indian Army has 1.3 million soldiers in active field area. Assuming that 20% of these would require high altitude clothing, the estimated demand for high altitude clothing is roughly 2.65 lakh and out of this approximately 10% of the total demand is of clothing for very high altitude. The market size for High Altitude Clothing/ECC was pegged at Rs 609 Crores in 2012-13 and is expected to reach over 9000 Crores approx. by 2021-22 growing at 8% CAGR, on account of growing demand from Armed Forces. Refer Fig.
Some of the major players in High Altitude clothing/ECC segment that have come up in last few years apart from Ordnance Factory Board and are now actively operating in the industry consists of TATA, Shri Lakshmi CotsynDefence, EntermondePolycoaters, KusumgarCorporate.
Incentives from Government
In the last few years, the Defence Ministry have initiated various programmes and also issued tenders for Special Protective Clothing and Equipments, however, there has been limited progress in each of the programmes with no major procurements done in last few years and whatever procurement imitated has been mostly via imports. Now, the Indian Defence Ministry is looking at more of local manufacturers and is creating awareness among the local industries on the defence requirements for protective clothing and has issued tenders for the same and also has come out with certain incentives to boost the indigenous manufacturing of High Altitude Clothing which includes:
- 5% credit linked interest subsidy under TUFS (Technology Up gradation Fund Scheme) scheme on purchase of Technical textile machinery approved by government
- Scheme for Integrated Textile Parks (SITP): 40% capital subsidy to a maximum of INR40 crore on total project cost on projects approved by government. Also, 100% FDI allowed for textile sector.
- The basic custom duty on imported technical textile machinery has been reduced from 10% to 5% and support to start-ups
Presently, the Indian Army imports even the most basic equipment and personal high clothing items required to sustain troops and that too at an expensive price. Moreover, the current inventory for such clothing is witnessing deficiencies in required number. But with the Government now focusing on a fully indigenous 'Made in India' clothing solution for our soldier, things are expected to change with the indigenous production increasing with involving the private sector in addition to the DPSUs. Also, perspective planning should be undertaken at regular intervals to foresee such deficiencies and pre-emptive action must be taken to indigenize these items. The need of the hour is to meet the deficiencies through indigenous manufacturing and incorporating global standards for High Altitude Clothing used by our Defence Forces having multi-risk protective fabric and simultaneously, to be comfortable, light weight, breathable and durable.
There is also scope for foreign companies to tie up with these entities to meet the demand as the foreign manufacturers will be given a chance to take part in the tendering process with the criteria that if the foreign vendor bags the contracts, they have to ensure that the source at least 50 percent of the product related components from Indian manufacturers. A number of foreign companies have also shown interest in co-production of high altitude ECC clothing and equipment along with Indian firms. Some of the potential collaboration opportunities are Global and Indian Defencetech/Protech product manufacturers can either setup their own manufacturing units or can out source the manufacturing of Defencetech/Protech products to contract manufacturers to realize cost benefits. Defencetech/Protech product manufacturers can also collaborate with research institutes like Ahmedabad Textile Industrial Research Association (ATIRA), Apparel and Leather Technics (ALT) Training College and National Institute of Design (NID) for manufacturing specialty products.