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Army’s New War Doctrine:SMALL STRIKE FORCE IN NUCLEAR ERA,by y B K Mathur,27 June 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 27 June 2006

Army’s New War Doctrine


By B K Mathur

The week-long military exercise in Punjab last month, code-named Sange Shakti, was designed to test the Indian Army’s new combat concept for conventional offensive operations in the plains. The exercise was basically aimed at concentrating and coordinating India’s military fire-power. With the creation of smaller strike groups, the exercise was also intended to fine-tune the Army-Air Force joint operation in a strategic battlefield and offensive operations against a nuclear backdrop. The idea of the new strike force is to speed up the troop movement to ensure early handling of any enemy attack.

The thrust of the new doctrine to suit the changing battle strategies across the world is on the formation of “integrated battle groups” drawn from the Army, Air Force and the Navy. These groups are being so trained as to be able to make swift and hard inroads into the enemy territory. The highlight of the doctrine is, and rightly, that the strikes are “limited and calibrated” to ensure that nuclear weapons do not come into play in a military operation. The need for swift strike by small integrated forces, unlike the earlier policy of moving to the front the entire strike Corps, was felt following the experience during  “Operation Parakram” in 2002.

The Army undertook a massive forward mobilisation for that operation from Mathura, Ambala and Bhopal to launch pads along the Line of Control (LoC) after the terrorist attack on Parliament House on December 13, 2001.  The movement of the three strike Corps took the Army nearly one month to get to the operational readiness along the LoC.  Imagine, if it was an actual war and the enemy attack had already taken place when the movement of the strike force started, the Indian Army would have been caught napping – and, perhaps, without the support of the air force.

Obviously, the concept of an integrated military action is welcome.  As disclosed during last month’s Operation, eight strike groups have been constituted, instead of the earlier three “strike groups” at the Corps level, based far away from a possible scene of operation.  The details of the composition of the smaller strike groups has been finalized by the Army and the Air Force commanders and approved by the Defence planners and the Cabinet Committee on Security. It is hoped that before the new doctrine was tried at last month’s operation, several aspects and drawbacks of the earlier system were considered carefully.

The concept of integrated military operation, inter-Service cooperation and joint command and control has been under discussion for a long time. At one stage the Government had almost decided to create the post of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) above the three Chiefs of Staff, those of the Army, Navy and the Air Force.  But certain difficulties were obviously seen in the CDS system which prompted the Government to re-think about the matter.  In fact, there have been sharp differences among the military commanders and Defence experts about the creation of the CDS.  One expert who has vehemently opposed the move all along told me the other day: “One of the achievements of the Vajpayee Government on the military front is its failure to create the post of the CDS.” 

The present Defence Minister was initially opposed to the creation of the post. He had indicated this in response to my question at a Press Conference.  But he seems to have changed his mind now, in pursuance to suggestions from various quarters after last month’s military exercise during which new strike concept was tried and its shortcomings were registered, especially taking into consideration the operational requirements in the nuclear era.  The Defence Minister has now sought the advice of all the political parties regarding the creation of the CDS.  The CPM has already raised some doubts about it. 

The creation of the post is a subject that requires examination in depth.  It will be taken up another time. At the moment, the creation of smaller strike forces, as tried last month, with the requirement of joint command and control needs to be carefully planned, against the experiences gained by the Army last month. Several things have to be considered, among these mainly three aspects: inter-arm cooperation within the Army, inter-Service understanding, proper training for a joint military action and ability to undertake successful operation against possible use of nuclear weapons by the enemy.  Remember, Pakistan which continues to be India’s potential enemy despite the present peace efforts by both, is a nuclear power and Gen. Musharraf had threatened several times before the peace moves about the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a war.

Experience during the wars India has fought post-independence, including the Kargil operation which professionally cannot be described as a war, shows that inter-arm and inter-Service coordination miserably failed.  In 1962, the Army was caught unawares when China attacked. The Henderson-Brooke Committee went into the causes of the disaster the Indian Army suffered. Its report has not yet been disclosed. and the Defence planners have failed to make use of the findings of the Committee for improvement in the operation strategy subsequently during wars against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. Years after the report was submitted, Major-General Henderson-Brooke, who lived in Australia after retirement and passed away recently, told me during his short visit to New Delhi: “Total failure of command and control” was the cause of India’s reverses.

Several Regiment-level commanders who fought the 1971 war against Pakistan now tell us of several incidents when they failed to get air support for their forward moves. At times they had to depend only on artillery support, that too of the field artillery because till then the gunners were not provided with gunships, that is, armed helicopters, even though the other major armies of the world had them.

The Air Force failed to provide timely support because of a lacuna: faulty system being followed even now, irrespective of the composition of the strike force.  The demand for air support has to follow a chain of command that causes delay. Beside this, any war doctrine or integrated operation strategy requires a well-trained force.  Fist of all, the Army needs to be freed from increasing deployment in aid of civil power. The troops require to be put on vigorous training at all levels and in all possible scenarios.  For joint operations, the integrated groups for rapid deployment have need to be trained accordingly under joint command and control with complete coordination of the three Services.  Then only can the new war doctrine be successfully implemented. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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