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Opening Up The Doctrinal Space

A recent article on this website[1] carried mention for the very first time in the open domain that the revised versions of the Indian Army Doctrine (Doctrine 2004) (2004) and the army’s Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations (DSCO 2006) (2006) were issued respectively in the years 2010 and 2013. Whereas the Doctrine 2004 and the DSCO 2006 were released and placed in the open domain, this has not been done with their revised versions. Furthermore, no mention was even made of the fact of issue of revised versions through press releases as is usually the case.[2]

This implies that there are three degrees of transparency followed.[3] One is with the military releasing the doctrines publicly and keeping these non-confidential. The second is with the fact of doctrines being released being communicated through press releases, even while the doctrines themselves are kept confidential. And third, is keeping the very fact of existence of certain doctrines confidential as also their contents.

It appears that the Doctrine 2004 and DSCO 2006 when initially released were of the first degree. While this was true  of the DSCO 2006, it was only partially so for the Doctrine 2004 in that apparently only Part I was kept non-confidential while Part II was not released in the open domain. It later turned out that Part II found its way into Wikileaks[4] and has since been placed in the open domain also.[5] The Joint DSCO is also of the first type.[6] However, a soft copy of the JDSCO has not been placed on the HQ IDS website, even though it lists the other two doctrines, Doctrine 2004 and DSCO 2006.[7] Even so, while a link is provided, it fails to open. The doctrines of the Air Force (2012) and Navy (2009) are in the public domain. Most doctrines of western armies are in the open domain. Incidentally, the HQ IDS website helpfully provides links to about fifty of these of the US, UK and France, while mentioning only two Indian doctrines.

The second degree of transparency attends most joint doctrines such as for Special Forces, Psychological Operations, Air-Maritime and Land-Air operations. This is of a piece in light of a culture of confidentiality attending security affairs in India. Recall that official histories of most wars have not been released as yet even if their soft copies have been made it to the net.[8] A viable explanation is perhaps that the contents of these doctrines being narrowly military, there is little reason for placing them in the open domain. Doing so may also have adverse security implications in the enemy second guessing possible strategies that may derive from these by a close study of them.

The third degree is of keeping the very existence of a doctrine under wraps. This sacrifices the function of communication that doctrines enable. The military can through its doctrines convey the manner it intends to fight the next war to the public and to the enemy. The former stands to be reassured that a doctrine exists and the latter is deterred. In this case, that the Doctrine 2010 and DSCO 2013 are not known to the public or to the enemy, these advantages appear missing.

Take the case of Doctrine 2010. That there exists a revised version is clear from the article that cites from it. The reference in Para 5.2 on End State in terms of ‘qualitative improvement’ in Doctrine 2010 is at Para 5.1 in the 2004 version. Para 5.4 in Doctrine 2004 does not carry the term ‘facilitators’ and has a different content from that of Doctrine 2010 mentioned by the author. Therefore, it appears that Doctrine 2010 is different at least in some respects from Doctrine 2004. As to whether it is a new edition of Doctrine 2004 or a revised version it is not clear. Also the extent of the revision cannot be known since the very existence of the revision only now stands revealed. That the doctrine was under revision had found mention in the media in 2010 when media reported the formulation of a ‘two front’ doctrine.[9] But the outcome of the deliberations of the closed door seminar in New Delhi mentioned by the media in the form of a revised doctrine was never communicated by the army.

Firstly, it is successor to Doctrine 2004 which was precedent setting as an open source document. It is interesting that the Doctrine was itself a successor to Fundamentals, Doctrine, Concepts – Indian Army (ARTRAC 1998). The 1998 document was in the open domain till it was made confidential. General Vijay Oberoi who guided writing of the 1998 document when heading the ARTRAC remained a strong votary of doctrines being in the open domain. Therefore, as the third edition of doctrine, if the 2010 document is not made available in the open domain and, one step further, that  a revised version of the 2004 document has been approved and circulated within the army suggests a step backwards. Seen in light of the information environment in the 21st century this is difficult to understand, leave alone justify.

Second and more importantly, Doctrine 2004 attracted considerable attention, if not controversy.[10] It sparked off a veritable cottage industry on doctrinal writing, not only in India but also in Pakistan and the US.[11] So much so that at a point the government and the army chief had  to distance themselves from the so called ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, that the Doctrine 2004 came to be called colloquially.[12] In light of the public attention and analytical critique, it is only legitimate that its successor doctrine, in this case Doctrine 2010, would continue to be of interest. Given the nuclear context in which it is situated, whether the revised version has taken cognizance of the critique is a point of public interest. That the new version is an improved one can readily be granted. But the fact that it has been kept under wraps prompts the question: Why? It may even lead to the wrong answer to the question that the army has not been able to answer the critique adequately and therefore has attempted to avoid a discussion altogether. This would be unfortunate since the army has the intellectual resources to engage in debate and reassure skeptics that it is cognizant of the nuclear-conventional interface.[13] 

Next is a look at the DSCO 2013. That this is also a reworked doctrine to an extent can be easily seen by the quote from the foreword by the Chief not being in the DSCO 2006. A changed foreword implies a reworked doctrine, and not merely a second edition. It goes on to cite from ‘principles’ of counter insurgency, which are missing from DSCO 2006. Incidentally, while principles find mention in the Doctrine 2004, they are omitted in the DSCO 2006 and apparently find their way back in DSCO 2013. The excerpt in the article from the principles does not however figure in the principles mentioned in JDSCO 2010: ‘The political authority must lay down well-defined, militarily achievable objectives. These should be framed in consultation with senior military commanders.’

Clearly, the very important issue of principles could do with some more clarity than brought out here. If the DSCO 2013 has done justice to this aspect then it would have been better to have this in the open domain, considering it an improved version of DSCO 2006 that was not without its critics.[14] Keeping the public in the dark on DSCO 2013 is questionable since the DSCO directly and non-trivially impacts the army’s relationship with the civilian domain: the provincial authorities and public. Given that the DSCO 2006 had unveiled the ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ philosophy,[15] the public cannot be reassured by the surrounding secrecy that this key facet has not been trifled with.   

The foregoing discussion suggests that there are advantages in keeping the doctrinal space as open as possible. Where doctrines are narrowly military, there is no call to place these in the open domain. However, where there is a direct bearing on the civilian sphere and are relatively generic, such as the DSCO and Doctrine (owing to the nuclear context), these could be in the open domain. The benefits of this will be in a wider and better informed public discourse and commentary in the strategic community. It will force constructive engagement with the doctrinal space by the government that would be mutually beneficial to the civilian and military side of the security establishment.[16] The concluding recommendation is that the revised doctrines be placed in the public domain perhaps by replacing the non-functional links in the HQ IDS website and on the army website in emulation of its sister services that have  their doctrines on respective websites.

Ali Ahmed is author of India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge 2014), On War in South Asia and On Peace in South Asia (CinnamonTeal 2015), blogs at www.ali-writings.blogspot.in. Views expressed are personal.


[1] Samir Srivastava, ‘Indian Army In Counter Insurgency Operations: Search For That Elusive End State’, http://www.claws.in/1363/indian-army-in-counter- insurgency-operations-search-for-that-elusive-end-state-samir-srivastava.html

[2] For instance the release of two joint doctrines in 2010 was mentioned in a press report even if the two doctrines were kept confidential. See PTI, ‘Armed forces release two doctrines on joint warfare’, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/armed-forces-release-two- doctrines-on-joint-warfare/1/101813.html

[3] Presentation by Christopher Clary of his paper (forthcoming) in a Srinath Raghavan edited book on 30 March 2015 at IHC.

[4] https://wikileaks.org/wiki/Indian_Army_Doctrine-part2_2004

[5] http://ids.nic.in/doctrine.htm

[6] PTI, ‘India armed forces release joint warfare doctrines’, Times of India, 16 June 2010, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/armed-forces-release-two-doctrines-on-joint-warfare/1/101813.html

[7] See note 4.

[8] The 1965 War official history is at http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/ARMY/History/1965War/PDF/, while the Henderson Brooks Report is at http://www.indiandefencereview.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/TopSecretdocuments2.pdf.

[9] Rajat Pandit, ‘India reworks war doctrine for Pakistan, China’, Times of India, 30 December 2009, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Army- reworks-war-doctrine-for-Pakistan-China/articleshow/5392683.cms

[10] Waler Ladwig, ‘Cold Start to Hot Wars?’, International Security, Winter 2007/08, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/IS3203_pp158-190.pdf

[11] This author’s book India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia is an example. 

[12] J Sankaran, ‘The Enduring Power of Bad Ideas: ‘Cold Start’ and Battlefield Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’,  https://www.armscontrol.org/ACT/201_11/Features/Cold-Start-and-Battlefield-Nuclear-Weapons-in-South-Asia

[13] This is evident from army officers on sabbatical writing credibly on the issue. See for  instance Harinder Singh, ‘India’s Emerging Land Warfare Doctrines and Capabilities’, RSIS Working Paper 210, 2010.

[14] Gautam Navlakha, ‘Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations: A Critique’, EPW, April 2007,


[15] The phrase is associated with General JJ Singh, the then Chief, who mentioned it in his foreword.

[16] The wikileaks revelation of the US embassy cable on Cold Start doctrine showed the government distancing itself from the doctrine including a former National Security Adviser (https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10NEWDELHI295_a.html).

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Ali Ahmed
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Rahul Bhonsle
I strongly support the authors suggestion that the Doctrine should be placed in the public domain. A doctrine has limited security value unlike a strategy which is the manner in which the doctrine is to be implemented and which should be Secret. At the same time a major change in the Indian Army's doctrine of conventional warfighting is not envisaged given the 2014 offensive corps exercise is also being conducted on the basis of integrated battle doctrine. This would imply that the Army has not been able to graduate to the desired Net Enabled or Net Centric Warfare paradigm possibly due to technical challenges, it is hoped that the future exercises do this in a limited way using the test beds to develop the NCW doctrin.
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