Ideating Structural Rebalancing

In a recent article catchily headed, The Army in Indian Military Strategy: Rethink Doctrine or Risk Irrelevance, the author states that “…Indian Army’s prevailing doctrine leaves the military with two choices: do nothing or risk wars it cannot win.  The Indian Army needs to rethink its use of force to meet today’s new challenges.”[1]  Again, in recent webinars conducted by think tanks, it was stated by two erudite and very senior (fresh!) veterans that 60 to 65% of the Indian defence budget goes into the (Army’s) Western Front and that there is an imperative need to rebalance from the Western Front! (No names as bound by Chatham House Rules.) These are potent statements that cannot be summarily negated for being out of synch with threats and challenges.

John F. Kennedy had once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to past or present are certain to miss the future.” But again, it has also been said, that change simply for the sake of change is an abdication of leadership. Again, fixing the substantive problems is harder because those fixes require changes in organizational culture.’[2] Army has been on the verge of transforming for over a decade or so. Conflict and tension of devising military strategies are neatly captured in a pair of rival maxims: first, ‘war is too important to be left to generals’; and second, ‘war is too important to be left to politicians’.[3] The all-important question is, that changes mandatory at this stage? Four distinct rationales stand out.

Firstly, China, after a long hiatus, has finally shown itself as muscular, aggressive and expansionist. Our architecture of LAC management with China had ever remained anarchic, and peace was only guaranteed by deliberate restraints exercised by India. Realism for India is that balance of power had been severely disrupted in China’s favour, and this unbalanced power has become a potential threat.[4] Any nation that has gained surplus comprehensive power as China has will always be tempted to use it. Contextually, hence it is imperative that India accepts China’s mammoth behavioural and attitudinal transformation as a challenge.  There will remain a constancy of threat that calls for India to envision the changed threats paradigm, and ideate on structural rebalancing, preparing for newer realities.

Secondly, it had been authoritatively stated “…battle-winning factor in future combat may not be numerical equivalence but technological superiority. Brick and mortar military structures and capacities will perhaps matter less; technological capacities in enabling domains like AI and cyber will decisively tip the military balance.” [5] There is this sprint for military technologies, especially in China, and by extension with Pakistan, which will have an immeasurable effect on warfighting. The information age has diktat on warfare – Artificial Intelligence, autonomous weapon systems, space and cyber warfare, precision projectile warfare including hypersonic glide and high powered microwave weapons and aerial drone swarms, electronic, space and network warfighting capabilities. These all indicate an amending paradigm in warfighting. The converse option is of incremental enhancement of force capabilities with the select acquisition as hitherto fore. This will prove strongly counter-productive – as with the passage of time there may be strong evidence of glaring weaknesses, which will be exploited by adversaries. As is apparent in the current ‘mirror’ deployments on the Northern Front, Indian Army may have lost flexibility in force levels for a two-front war.  Time hence is for bold and even distasteful decision-making that would create capabilities for fighting modern wars, shedding intra and inter-service silos.

Thirdly, PM Narendra Modi on Red Fort Ramparts on 15 August 2019 had plainly stated that entire military power will have to work in unison, acknowledging that their current approach was “fragmented,” and that there is need for the three Services to “march in step”. It has oft been stated that jointness among armed forces within the next few years is a given, the impetus being provided by the political establishment.  Need is for Services to prepare for oncoming integration.

Fourthly, no broad-based change is feasible without the revitalisation of operational doctrines or strategy, the formal pronouncement of plans to modernise within existing force ceiling, and management of available budget with the appalling revenue-capital mismatch.  These are often different and contrasting requirements, as newer doctrines require newer structures and force accretions, which eventually lead to even more adverse revenue-capital budgeting. Naturally, all these have to be parallelly examined and via media evolved.

Indeed, the doctrine of punitive deterrence against Pakistan has been unsuccessful, as a threat of ‘punitive’ punishment has not been able to deter it from ad-lib support to proxy war. The punitive cost often takes the form of capturing enemy territory, destruction of adversary’s warfighting machine or capturing prisoners of war, as bargaining chips. This mandates the Army to re-examine internal doctrines, strategy and structures, that will form part of integrated warfighting systemic.  The traditional Indian theory of victory—a punitive cost-imposition strategy whereby land is seized to be later traded for political concessions—is based on an outmoded character of war in South Asia.[6] If wars are to be short and most likely limited, intense, and lethal, the concept of victory needs a change.  The goal of war needs to be redefined as a success rather than victory, where success is measured as much in avoiding excessive casualties, suffering and destruction, furthering political goals, and paralysing adversary’s decision-making processes.

In the above-quoted paper, the author emphasises two dozen times that the Indian Army has an ‘orthodox offensive doctrine’.  This is examined in three-pointers.  First, the mention of orthodoxy in the offensive doctrine would refer to traditional war-making concepts of capturing large territory, destruction of adversary’s military forces or strategic reserves, and attacking fortified defences.  This is an approach of use of force that centres on large army formations (strike corps), operating relatively autonomously from the political direction, seeking to impose a punitive cost on the enemy.[7] These have become less relevant in modern warfare.

Large scale operations in very highly urbanised and over-populated areas on the western borders will cause untold collateral damage. Redrawing of recognised international borders by wars is difficult to construe. Indeed, nuclear deterrence will also have a role to play.   A Blitzkrieg (orthodox large mechanised offensive, carried forward from World War 2) entails massed manoeuvre elements, deep thrusts, occupying, manoeuvring through or threatening lived-in large urban centres (or even vast tracts of barren land).  Blitzkrieg will inevitably cause great collateral damage and immense hardships to civilian populace, and will be unacceptable on either side of the borders, or internationally.  In any future conventional operations, front, depth and rear areas would get engaged multi-dimensionally, simultaneously.  Battlefield will become battlespace, non-linear, possibly to point of having no definable battlefields or fronts.

Second, is defend ‘every inch of territory[8] relevant when international borders cannot be redrawn by force?  Linear defences stretching the length of plains and deserts; epitomising the ‘Maginot Line’ (France-German Border World War 2 or Bar-Lev Line in Israel) and slogging attritional force-on-force warfare retain primacy now and ever. The defensive strategy of the sixties and seventies rested on the dictum of no loss of territory, gave rise to the linearity in defences which had served India well in the last forty years.  Linear defences, which have long been the forte of the western borders, are past. It is time to reconstruct combined arms, mechanised heavy forces blitzkrieg operations and Maginot line type defences that have dominated warfighting thought over the last half a century. 

Third, proactive strategy at the turn of this century created the pivot and strike formations, former with some offensive punch though largely mired in defences akin to a tram-line. Proactive strategy (or cold start as it was colloquially dubbed) of the last decade and a half, is the basis of Western Front operations. Interchangeably, however, on personalised basis were included coinages of incrementalism, seamless continuums, full-spectrum, manoeuvrist approach and decisive victory.  In the journey, lapped up and jettisoned in quick regularity were many an acronym like the snipe, heavy degradation and heavy breakthroughs.  It became obvious later that this pivot corps-strike corps operational continuum would lead to a large quantum of combat power ‘left out of battle’.

It is hence time to re-envision and rebalance the Western Front. Four broad pathways are listed below:

  • The near 2500km Western Front South of Chenab River (LOC has different connotations, and hence separated) has three Command HQ, seven Corps with 16 infantry divisions, nearly seven armoured divisions, three artillery divisions, and a number of engineer and air defence brigades. This is an excessive weight on a front, which has even then not provided the requisite punitive deterrence. Accordingly, a rebalancing is recommended as follows:
    1. In the context of joint structures and tasking eventually, two commands Western and Southern would be optimal. This should be as was existing pre-2005.
    2. Two Corps and one artillery division should be detached from the Western Front. Of these one Corps and the artillery division should be transformed to create the offensive component for the Northern Front. There will also be a need for regrouping the increasing numbers of long-range force multipliers of artillery in conventional missile brigades, under the artillery division.
    3. Pivot and Strike Corps should be subsumed, and created into sectorally configured and offensive task-relevant Integrated Battle Groups. As war is a national effort the linear defences be tasked only to PMF/ CAPF. (The PMF/CAPF are nearly one million strong, and to allocate the force to occupy defences is feasible.)
    4. The Infantry formations on the Western Front must be provided requisite mobility and become technology-intensive formations.
  • The second Corps relieved from the Western Front should construct an expeditionary force, for our long-term aspirations. Indeed, Indian Armed Forces do not profess expeditionary role. However, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had commented in 2013 that India sees itself as a “net security provider” to the region.  Raising the bar for India’s global stature and pushing for a proactive foreign policy, FM Jaishankar had recently in Raisina Dialogue stated that India will be “a decider and shaper” rather than a mere onlooker to international developments and India has been “prisoner of its past image” and the country must get over it. In the light of these natural aspirations, Indian Armed Forces must not lose the opportunity. In case the word expeditionary seems offensive, a new coinage, like airmobile corps, can be adopted. This Corps should be ‘light’, with task-oriented configuration, and with the amphibious component be placed under the Peninsular/ Maritime Theatre Command, also catering for strategic and tactical mobility.  The Corps also becomes a national reserve, where none exists.
  • On the Western Front, punitive deterrence should give way. A tailored Pakistan centric joint war-winning doctrine and strategy is imperative, and the joint capabilities should be developed accordingly. This multi-domain strategy should plan a modern war amalgamating technological strength (Information Warfare, cyber, EW, space), the conjoined weight of airpower, long-range vectors, missiles, precision-guided munitions, rockets, heavy artillery, and offensive operations all along the Front, creating the overwhelming force asymmetry.
  • India also requires a modern composite Integrated Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) system. It should be permanently in place along the battlespace, duly configured into sectors, networked and with data mining capability. Initially, it could be initiated with reconfigured SATA Regiments that become static profiled units.

In sum, the current imbroglio in Eastern Ladakh, with the impetus given by the political establishment mandates clean drafting pads and a clutch of thought leaders – military and civilian alike, and afresh contemplation of utilisation of military power optimally, and strategising 21st-century war-fighting concepts. Capabilities planned for should abide by us till mid-century. The landscape of multi-domain warfare should facilitate the creation of new and innovative ways against adversaries, as the future of warfare.

The war-fighting doctrinal transition must precede any force restructuring, and contextually, rebalancing the Western Front is mandatory, as symbolism and substance, together.                

 

Notes

[1] Arzan Tarapore, The Army in Indian Military Strategy: Rethink Doctrine or Risk Irrelevance, Carnegie India, August 2020, accessed at https://carnegieendowment.org/files/Tarapore_Ground_Forces_in_Indian_Military.pdf

[2]  William S Lind, An Officer Corps That Can’t Score: How military careerism breeds habits of defeat accessed at http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/an-officer-corps-that-cant-score, 17 April, 2014

[3] Colin S Gray, War, Peace and International Relations, An Introduction to Strategic History, Rutledge, Oxon, 2007, p7

[4] Rakesh Sharma, Inflexion in Sino-Indian Relations: Case for Strategic Pragmatism, Vivekananda International Foundation, 21 Aug 2020, accessed at https://www.vifindia.org/article/2020/august/21/inflexion-in-sino-indian-relations-case-for-strategic-pragmatism

[5] Gen Bipin Rawat, Nature of Future Wars and Indian Army, CLAWS Manekshaw Paper, Knowledge World Publishers, 2019, New Delhi,

[6] Ibid Note 1.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Karnad Bharat, Why India is not a Great Power (Yet), (Oxford University Press, 2015), p309.