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PROTECTIVE TEXTILE (PROTECH) & EQUIPMENT

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The poor characteristics of textiles with the Indian defence forces, coupled with critical shortfall of Protech, there is a need to overcome the issue at the earliest. Need to incorporate global standards for protech by incorporating multi-risk protective fabric through PPP model...

Defence forces on land, sea and air throughout the world are heavily dependent on protective textiles of all types since they offer invaluable functional properties for military forces. Technical Textile or Protective Textile (Protech)/Clothing basically refer to garments and related paraphernalia/fabric related items designed to protect the wearer from harsh and uncertain environment/surroundings. Different types of protection are required in defence like environmental, thermal, ballistic, nuclear, biological, chemical and flame, heat and flash.The ultimate success of combat troops depends not only on the superiority of weaponries/technology but also on the comfort, mobility and protection provided by the protective clothing of the Defence personnel as well. The technical textiles are used for various protective clothing which is manufactured with high performance fibers. Fabrics are tailored in such a manner so that they provide protection to the defence personnel against hazardous environment or operating weather conditions (heat, cold, wind, rain) as well as detection from the surrounding terrain to achieve mobility, concealment and survival by camouflage effect.

Protech Segment

The usage of protective textiles in defence basically comprises of bullet proof jackets, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) suits, high altitude visibility clothing and fire retardant apparel, basically can be segmented into five broad categories:

  • High Altitude Clothing
  • Ballistic Protective Clothing - Bullet Proof Jackets (BPJs),
  • Ballistic Helmets
  • Fire Retardant Fabrics/Apparels
  • High Visibility Clothing
  • NBC Suits, CPC, Industrial Gloves & other

The Indian Armed Forces and Paramilitary Forces depend heavily on imports for their protective gears. Be it bullet proof jackets, high altitude clothing, fire retardant apparel and NBC suits, about 60% of their requirement of protective clothing is met through imports; while rest of the requirement is usually met by Ordnance Factories and DRDO which are not able to meet the requirements and also the products developed are substandard.

Market Size

Globally, the Protective Textile segment stands at $5.2 Billion with the consumption to grow at 10-12 percent per year. As for India, the growing security concerns have pushed the requirements of these protective textiles or Protech and the market which was pegged at Rs 1259 Crores during 2007-08 escalated to Rs. 2021 crore by 2012-13 and are expected to grow at a rate of 9.8 percent annually and reach a size of Rs 2675 Crores by 2015-16. The Defence Forces especially the Indian Army and the Paramilitary forces are the major users and the largest consumers of the protective textiles. With a total strength of around 1.5 Million individuals comprising the Army, Navy and Air Force, around 25-30% (mainly Army personnel) are involved in high risk, counter insurgency & special operations. In addition, Paramilitary Forces and other security forces have around 1.2 million personnel. On an average it takes around Rs 16000 to clothe a single soldier every year. Roughly, the Protech Market accounts for around 3-4% of the total technical textile market. High altitude clothing, ballistic protective clothing including BPJs and fire retardant clothing account for 44%, 21% and 17% of the Indian Protech market, respectively. Refer Fig.

The market for these textiles is very positive and poised for a growth. In the past few years, the growth in revenues has been led by surge in the strength Armed Forces coupled with growth in defence budget allocation year on year. Another major factor that would lead to the growth in market is the fact that the Indian Army & Paramilitary Forces often require Camouflage Uniforms, FR suits, bullet proof jackets (BPJs), gloves, jackets, socks, shoes, tent material, tarpaulins, and many more textile items more so for the high altitude and super high altitude areas, thus there will be a constant demand for these clothing/textiles offering lucrative opportunities to the private sector companies to tap. Refer Table.

Resources: The Indian Armed Forces invest almost over Rs 2000 Crores yearly into protective textiles. The annual budget for general clothing of the Indian Army is about Rs1100 Crores and Rs. 400 Crores of this goes to purchases from the trade and the rest to ordnance stores. Apart from these, imports are worth more than Rs 200 Crores. The super high altitude clothing is mostly imported from the European countries. The Navy, on the other hand, has a annual budget of around Rs. 100 Crores towards clothing which includes Protective Clothing, Safety Footwear, Technical Textile and Extreme winter clothing items. Navy FR protective wear, Low weight, durable Tarpaulins and covers, Filteration systems for Ships and Submarines, Ropes, Hoists and other Load bearing textiles, Wound dressings, personal Sensor based monitoring of vitals, Fire Proofing, NBC protection, Inflatable, Footwear, Gloves and other PPE, Surveillance Balloons, etc.

Demand of Some of the Protech Clothing By Indian Armed Forces (Qty in pieces)-

Camouflage Uniforms

Rainwear

FR Suits

High Performance Uniform

Bullet Proof Jackets 

4.7 Mn

2.3 Mn

0.2 Mn

25000

Over 0.2 Mn 

Market Opportunities

As of now, the Defence Forces are having shortfall of the required quantity in every segment of Protective clothing items especially when it comes to Ballistic Protection Clothing (Bullet Proof Jackets/BPJs) which is an important life saving device and has not been purchased in recent times jeopardizing the lives of thousands of soldiers. A parliamentary Standing Committee on defence report tabled in 2014 found out that soldiers are short of nearly 2,17,388 number of High Ankle Boots, 13,09,092 Canvas brown rubber sole shoes with laces, 4,47,000 Cap Balaclavaor masks to keep their faces warm, 65,978 Durries ITOG and 1,26,270 number of Net Mosquito and 186,138 bulletproof jackets.

Though, 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 that too most of it via imports. Rather about 50-60% of their requirement of protective clothing is met through imports. But, the Indian Defence Ministry is now looking at more of local manufacturers and is creating awareness among the local industries on the defence requirements for protective clothing. Some of the major players that have come up in last few years and are now actively operating in the industry includes MKU, Shri Lakshmi Defence Limited, Jeet and Jeet Glass, Indian Armour, Star Wire Private Limited, Ashok Leyland Defence Systems, Defence Land Systems India.

Detailed features and uses of the Protech products are enumerated in succeeding paras.

High Altitude Clothing/Extreme Cold Climate (ECC) Clothing - High Altitude 'extreme winter' clothing are required by the Army for its soldiers deployed in "super high-altitude” areas. India has been importing these since 1980s in large numbers at high costs year after year. Basically, soldiers deployed beyond an altitude of 14,000 feet in Siachen, Kargil, Drass, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim are issued Siachen and Super High Altitude clothing which consists of 55 items. Out of 55, 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 Switzerland, Italy, Finland, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Norway and UK.

It takes around Rs 1 lakh to clothe a single soldier for the Siachen heights which range from 16,000 to 22,000-feet. Other basic gear like ice-axes, shovels, boot crampons, Stromeyer tents and the like are also being largely imported. The annual requirement of Siachen clothing for the Army is around 27,000 sets. The army maintains a reserve for another year's requirement. The average shortfall of items in Siachen clothing is between 5-10 percent every year which is replenished from the reserves.

Recently, with an aim to boost indigenous manufacturing, the Indian suppliers have been asked for the first time to submit their samples to the Indian Army for trials in five items of Siachen and Super High Altitude clothing. As of now 5 samples have been submitted. The trial report shall be available to the defence ministry by April and based on technical evaluation and lab testing by DGQA, the suppliers will be finalized. This time the Ministry is not going for generic specifications, but going by user approved samples.

Protective Clothing - This consists of general clothing items like camouflage/military uniform, tents, tarpaulins and Body Armour Protectives like combat helmets and ballistic resistance of personal body armour (bullet proof jackets).

  • Military Uniforms and Boots: Many materials currently in use are outdated and needs immediate upgrading. These must meet specific protective performance requirements related to their use in battlefield, tanks, aircrafts, underwater etc. including the high hazards such as gravitational forces during high acceleration-deceleration, extreme temperatures ambient conditions, immersion hypothermia etc.
  • Bullet Proof Jackets (BPJs): Most of the Bullet Proof Jackets used by the Defence Services especially the Indian Army are more than 15 years old and the protection level provided is also low. Besides that, the current bullet-proof vests weigh very heavy over 10-11 kilogram thereby hampering the agility of the soldier who carries other equipment as well and greatly restricting their mobility during counter-insurgency and other operations. In 2003, the parliamentary standing committee on defence reported that only 124,000 BPJs are available with the troops when 353,000 jackets were required.

On the backdrop of this critical shortage, the DAC accorded Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) in October 2009 for capital procurement of Bullet Proof Jackets (BPJs) inclusive of quantity 1,86,138 to be procured in 11th Army Plan at a cost of around Rs 50,000 each. All these 1.86 lakh jackets, each costing around Rs 50,000 were to be inducted by 2012. Subsequently, Request for Proposal (RFP)/tender was issued in March 2011. However, the present requirement since then has gone up to over 350,000. Rather, there is now a major criticality as the life of the in-service BPJs are to expire by end-2015 or early 2016, leaving the soldiers deprived of protection. The GSQR after a number of iterations was approved in December 2012 which included:

  • Modular jackets to provide “graded levels of protection.”
  • The jacket should weigh less than 4 kg with a trauma pad and all-around soft armour plate, including front, sides, back, collar and neck for a “low threat perception” when executing CT/CI operation.
  • The jacket's weight could go up to 11.5 kg with hard armour plates for front, rear, sides, upper arms, groin and throat, capable of protecting against 7.62 mm x 39 mm mild steel core ammunition fired from an AK-47 from 10 metres as for conventional wars, the soldiers will need higher protection like NIJ level 4.

However, the RFP was retracted, on 5 October 2015, as the samples of BPJs fielded by the vendors failed in the trials. The entire process is now likely to begin afresh this year, with "suitable'' tweaking of the GSQRs. Also, one time relaxation in existing financial powers of Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) has been given to procure 50,000 bullet proof jackets through revenue route. Recently, two private companies - Tata Advanced Materials and MKU have been shortlisted for supply of 25,000 units of bulletproof jackets each for the Indian Armed forces through the revenue route. Currently the price negotiations are going on and the contract is to be finalized soon. Additionally, Commands have been given approval to procure minimum inescapable quantity of bullet proof jackets through Army Commanders Special Powers Fund to meet urgent operational requirements.

There is also seen an acute shortage for BPJs for the six Para Military Forces (PMFs). Currently, it is estimated that the India's paramilitary forces face a shortage of around 90,000 jackets (over 40%) of their BP jacket requirements. The Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs has recommended Level IV "bullet resistance jackets "to replace the Level III jackets which are inferior and cannot resist bullets fired from AK-47 rifles. In 2009, the Indian Government procured 20,000 jackets from a company named Anjani Technoplast on an urgent basis.

  • Ballistic Helmets: At present, the Indian Defence Services are using Ballastic Helmets that have been developed by DRDO and are of decade old technology and design. In 2009, DAC also approved procurement of 328,000 ballistic helmets and RFP was issued in August 2011, for a lightweight helmet which provides ballistic protection including neck and is comfortable to wear unlike the present helmet. The ballistic helmet has two versions, commander's version with a headset for hands free operations and a soldier's version. The trials have been completed and way long in 2013. The procurement needs to be processed on priority but no progress is seen so far.
  • Internal Communication Gear: The case for internal communication gear is yet to make any headway.

 

SHORTAGE OF BPJS-

Indian Army

CPPF

NSG

CISF 

Shortage of over 1.8 lakh BPJs approx. (1,86,138)

Shortage of 40,069 BPJs (largest shortfall)

Shortage of 1,725 BPJs

Shortage of 15,127 BPJs (largest shortfall percentage wise) 

  • Fire Retardant Fabrics/Apparels: There is a demand of around 0.2 Million FR suits from the Indian Defence Services.
  • High Visibility Clothing: These are also known as reflective-wear and have become very essential for the protection of soldiers and to lesser extent NBC Emergency response units (National Disaster Management Authority)/Paramilitary Forces etc. who always have uncertain environment. In the dark, the high visibility clothing increases the ability to spot working and guiding personnel. There are broadly three types of high visibility clothing: Reflection materials which shine when struck by light, Photo luminescent material which give yellow light in dark, Fluorescent material which is more visible even during the day Photo luminescent materials absorb the artificial light and emit green-yellow light in the darkness.

Other Protech Clothing Items: NBC Suits, CPC, Industrial Gloves etc.

  • NBC IPE: These products essentially cover the areas like detection, individual and collective protection, decontamination and medical and first aid systems. As per the classification used by Indian Army, NBC Individual Protective Equipment (NBC IPE) comprise of a set of nine items viz. NBC Suit, Over boots, Gloves, Respirator Mask, Integrated Hood Mask, Canister, Haversack, Personal Decontamination Kit and Three Color Detector Paper. In the NBC domain not much has been done to enhance survival and force protection. Most of the above mentioned protective items developed by DRDO have been inducted into services in large numbers and productionised through ordnance factories.

Over a period of 5-10 years, the overall requirement of NBC IPE is likely to be of approx 6-7 lakhs, however, requirement of Respirators and Filters may be much more depending on the shelf life of particular equipment. The likely overall opportunity would be over $ 1.0 billion.

  • IA: 4-5 Lakhs
  • IAF: 1.0 Lakhs
  • MHA: 1-1.5 Lakhs

There is also a requirement of other equipments like CBRN shelters, decontamination kits, ground vehicles and robots, underground facilities etc, and are being developed indigenously/ JV. The Army has already inducted an NBC reconnaissance vehicle and ordered eight such vehicles to counter future threats posed by hostile state and non-state actors and has introduced more than $140 Million of NBC defence equipment and an additional $400 million is in the pipeline. The MoD has been issuing RFIs/tenders in piecemeal basis for CBRN equipments.

Apart from NBC IPE there is also quite a good amount of requirement for Industrial Gloves & also CNC products and engineering equipments like flexible revetment for fire trenches, support kit overhead protection and shelters by the Armed Forces.

Conclusion

As per a DRDO, FICCI report the current characteristics of textiles for Indian defence are not adequate and thus there is a need to incorporate global standards for textiles and technical textiles used in our defence having multi-risk protective fabric and simultaneously, this needs to be comfortable, light weight, breathable and durable.

A 21st century battle suit embedded with nanotechnology can stop bullets, detect chemical and biological agents, monitor wounded soldier's vital signs, administer basic first aid and also communicate with headquarters. In the last few years, deficiencies of basic items of regular use where no high-end technology is warranted, was allowed to exist due to non involvement of private sector. Perspective planning should be done to foresee such deficiencies and pre-emptive action must be taken.

 

 

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