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Roll out of Integrated Battle Groups delayed due to coronavirus pandemic: Army Chief

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NEW DELHI (PTI): The planned roll out of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Army Chief Gen MM Naravane has said, noting that a comprehensive "test-bedding" of the proposed structure has already concluded for its introduction.

The Indian Army planned to introduce the IBGs, comprising a mix of infantry, artillery, air defence, tanks and logistics units, by first half of 2020 as part of a far-reaching revamp of its war fighting capability, particularly along the borders with China and Pakistan.

"The roll out of the IBGs has been delayed due to the outbreak of the pandemic and the need to divert critical resources towards containment efforts," the Army Chief told PTI.

"However, I can assure you that we will roll out the IBGs in the requisite time frame as the conceptual groundwork has already been laid out and extensive test-bedding had already been carried out prior to the outbreak," he said.

The Army Chief also said that there could be some disruptions in defence production and procurement in the wake of the pandemic, but it will be a "temporary phase".

After years of deliberations, the Army decided to raise the IBGs along the borders with China and Pakistan that will help it carry out swift strikes in case of a war. Each IBG will be headed by a Major General and comprise around 5,000 troops.

Ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to India in October 2019, the Indian Army carried out the "Him Vijay" exercise in Arunachal Pradesh primarily to test the effectiveness of the IBGs in mountain combat exercise.

Each IBG would be modelled on specific operational requirement considering the topography as well as threat perceptions.

Asked whether the financial burden triggered by the pandemic will have a bearing on the Army's long pending military procurement programme, he said it may have some impact in the short term.

"Defence production and procurement are elaborate and long drawn processes involving integration of various systems and subsystems and dependent on global supply chains. Due to the pandemic, there could be some disruptions, but I see this as a temporary phase," he said.

At the same time, Gen Naravane said there have been "numerous buffers" which will be leveraged to fast track production once the situation normalises "as it is a matter of when and not if".

Though indigenous manufacturing will be impacted, he said, its magnitude will be much lower.

"We are therefore reviewing our contracts and procurement plans in detail to ensure that delays are minimised and local vendors are not affected greatly and are in continuous dialogue with all stakeholders," the Army Chief said.

He said the Indian Army has invested heavily in indigenisation of supply chains and inventory over the last few years.

"So this crisis will not affect us as adversely as other countries. Most of our ongoing procurement are under 'buy Indian' categories from Indian industries which retain adequate reserves of assemblies/sub-assemblies from foreign suppliers to cater for contingencies," Gen Naravane said.

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