“If you do not like change. You will like irrelevance even less”.
— Gen Eric Shinseki
COVID-19 has turned out to be a highly disruptive event sending tremors across political, economic, social, and information domains world over. Though there were concerns of a likely pandemic threat, the origin, spread, and scope of destruction wrought by COVID-19 was not foreseen in entirety. The mightiest of nations armed with overwhelming military strength, state of the art technology, best of health care and vibrant economies have been rendered irrelevant by the scale and fast-paced progression of events. The response was slow, the strategy was hazy, preparedness was lacking, leadership was found wanting and probably nations were preparing for a different threat altogether. While the crisis has struck in the field of public health, there are larger lessons for Indian Armed Forces in doctrinal, organisational, and technological domains that can be contextualised with emerging conflict scenarios in the future.
Post Pulwama terrorist attack in Feb 2019, Balakot strike was a similar seminal event in the trajectory of Indo-Pakistan relations wherein IAF fighter jets struck at a JeM terrorist camp located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province beyond POJK. While Pak had considered retaliatory airstrikes as a viable option, the depth of strikes and the choice of target was unexpected. India exhibited a firm resolve for punitive retribution and enhanced risk appetite by undertaking daring airstrikes. A ‘Whole of Nation’ approach and willingness to achieve coercion/compellence with threat/use of force across the spectrum of conflict also came to fore. Pak had long believed that the use of Sub-Conventional Warfare (SCW), exploitation of topography & demography of Kashmir backed by nuclear deterrence has led to the truncation of asymmetry enjoyed by India. Nuclear deterrence premised on risk manipulation remains a stated Pak’s strategy to deter conflict yet continuing with its thousand cuts policy. The dynamic response displayed post-Uri & Pulwama has injected an element of unpredictability in India’s response repertoire by calibrated application of conventional vectors in the sub-conventional domain.
The advent of Dynamic Response as an alternate response option short of full-scale conflict indicates a momentous doctrinal shift from an ‘All or Nothing’ approach. The shift offers a disruptive change in seeking retribution and enhanced flexibility in response options post any act of terrorism or as pre-emptive action to safeguard national interests. Importantly, it also satisfies the requirements of the use of force by invoking legitimacy, necessity & proportionality principles. In the field of Physics, the behavior of a complex system is observed by applying a force to it and studying the direct and indirect relationships of cause and effect. And if the system’s behavior has to be influenced, knowing the dynamic response of the system is essential. Likewise, Dynamic Response seeks a behavioral change in Pakistan’s policy of employing terrorism as a tool of state policy by applying kinetic force in the sub-conventional domain and seeking a favorable effect. Herein, an appropriately structured & self-sufficient force like IBG becomes imperative for the successful execution of response options in an acceptable timeframe.
The future conflicts are expected to be fought as a sum of sudden, sharp, intense, and violent smaller skirmishes/engagements being waged across the spectrum of warfare that may occur in the continuum or is separated in time, space and domain. World over nations like the US, China & Russia have ushered in transformational changes in military structures and organisations leading to smaller and leaner integrated battle formations which are an improved/upgraded version of bulky and unwieldy organisations. IBG concept in the Indian context is also driven by a felt need to right-size and restructure in light of our operational environmental realties and perceived shortcomings of existing structures. IBG-isation is a promising solution in resolving the challenges of doctrinal stagnation, budgetary prudence, competing modernization pulls and hierarchical structures.
Prosecution of Dynamic Response options would require a very high degree of operational preparedness, responsiveness, and focused training as essential pre-requisites. IBG being an integrated & cohesive structure would be capable of executing varied operational tasks in a flexible manner as compared to existing ad-hoc arrangements. The choice of targets in the sub-conventional domain (terrorism-related infrastructure) and conventional domain (complicit to acts of terrorism) enables a robust response which does not limit options in J&K and can be exercised across the front. The hardened nature of likely targets anticipating an assured response, terrain friction, force ratios, and first strike dynamics would necessitate a substantial force to achieve the intended outcome. Despite anticipation, surprise can be achieved in terms of time, choice of target, choice of sector, and audacity in plans. In a short cycle of conflict, the first blow being crucial, must lead to out of proportion psychological, moral, and military ascendancy and drive own narrative in the information domain. IBGs are the key to open the door of opportunities with a homogenous application of force at time and place of own choosing. IBGs also provide flexibility to launch multiple, swift & shallow offensives across theatres where success is imminent leading to early securing of gains made.
Escalation plays an interesting and complex role in Indo-Pakistan context. In background of conflicting ideologies and well-dug positions, the resolve to back down adversary with more coercive measures is likely to persist. Articulation of Pakistan’s Quid-Pro-Quo (QPQ) Plus strategy by Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai (Retd) during a workshop on Strategic Stability, Deterrence, Nuclear Weapons, and Arms Control reiterates a robust reaction to any kinetic response by India. Escalation being an essential mind game cannot be premised on the bluff and herein IBGs could play a pivotal role in deterring adversary from undertaking QPQ actions either by skillful posturing or threat of upscaling of response in next cycle by undertaking controlled & calibrated actions. IBGs are apparently a logical conclusion of India’s graduated escalation and punitive retaliation strategy against Pakistan wherein transition from sub-conventional domain to the conventional domain or higher escalatory ladder(s) may be accepted as an unintended consequence. The dent made by IBGs can be further exploited by accretional strike forces in the achievement of political-military aims. Thus, IBGs provide leverage in terms of not only deterrence but also in signaling willingness and readiness for both vertical & horizontal escalations in case deterrence fails or adversary chooses to push the envelope further. The mobility, agility, and doctrinal flexibility in the employment of IBGs across defensive and offensive roles across varied theatres and borders further bring much-required stability in response options across the conflict spectrum and in escalatory continuum.
Creation of IBGs across theatres needs to be in consonance with the existing terrain and operational imperatives. It must be contextual, assist in decision making and enable execution of response options amid uncertainty. Merely doctrinal shift is not adequate to achieve desired outcomes unless it is backed by the technological edge. As the adage goes “Threats are cheap to make but costly to credibility when they fail”, modernization of IBG components is a must. Enhanced ISR capability, T-90isation of IBGs, night-enablement of Mechanised Infantry units, mediumization & precision capability of IBG Artillery, mechanization of infantry battalions, provisioning of swarm drone capability, integral Air Defence assets, compatible software defined communication systems, dedicated Attack Helicopters support, grouping of Information Warfare and Hybrid Warfare agents will not only enhance the bite but make it deeper and painful too.
The growing complexities and emergence of new forms of conflict will require a mix of smart strategies and narratives in the future. While in the current context the IBGs are being looked through the hard currencies of military power i.e. fighting, destruction and to back up the threat in coercive diplomacy across immediate borders, however, they also lend themselves for potential employment in softer currencies of military power i.e. protection including peacekeeping operations, assistance like humanitarian aid, disaster relief and joint exercises. In keeping with the growing aspirations of India as a responsible net security provider in the greater neighborhood, IBGs have immense potential in the future by virtue of its agility, balance, and strategic mobility. India’s capability to defend its legitimate interests from Persian Gulf to Indo-Pacific and its calibrated response to any crisis gets magnified in a smart manner by the employment of IBGs.
The variable and intangible nature of likely conflicts/conflict like situations entail harmonisation of the trinity of Ends-Ways-Means wherein the ends are seeking behavioural change in adversaries, ways are raising the punitive cost through Dynamic Response options and means are IBGs. IBGs offer enhanced response options with greater degree of dynamism, control, and confidence to achieve compellence against an incorrigible adversary like Pakistan. While doctrinal shift and organisational changes like Dynamic Response and IBGs do pose a greater perplex to our adversaries, the acme of own leadership lies infusing these changes within the evolving strategic construct to achieve assured favourable outcomes, even in times of uncertainty.
 The future of Power by Joseph S. Nye, Jr, BBS Public Affairs publications, New York 2011