India-Pakistan air strikes: Changing nature of terrorism demands focus on manpower-centric deployment of troops

  • Are civil service generalists in the MoD equipped with the skills to respond to the evolving nature of challenges?

  • In the way India’s security concerns are developing, it needs to be prepared for cold starts.

  • On the traditional lines, within the army, there are corps, commands, divisions and brigades.

The era of conventional wars was followed by sub-conventional counter-insurgency challenges; the method of war corresponds both to the challenges in the field and the technologies available to the army taking on those challenges. After the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, India’s current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had spoken about the need to shift from ‘defensive defence’ to ‘offensive defence’.

Hours after the counter-terror air strikes occurred beyond the Line of Control (LoC), it is worth taking note of the way the Indian Army is preparing for the security challenges it faces.

India’s porous borders lie at altitudes of 4,500 metres and troops fight in life-threatening climatic conditions that demand ‘ab-initio deployment’ of a huge number of troops. The versatility of the nature of terror threats and limited defence budgets necessitate a manpower-centric deployment of troops. The truth is that all forces of the Union need to be synergised for fighting a war whose complexity is increasing. One way of doing this is the integration of civil infrastructure and resources to reduce the teeth-to-tail ratio. After the Kargil War of 1999, the Andaman and Nicobar Command was created as the first step towards integrated services as it was realised that single service silos had not been effective in acquiring necessary assets for them to execute their tasks.

 India-Pakistan air strikes: Changing nature of terrorism demands focus on manpower-centric deployment of troops

Representational image. PTI

The Ministry of Defence, on its part, could have coordinated within the three services through logistical and procurement services. The broader question is: are civil service generalists in the MoD equipped with the skills to respond to the evolving nature of challenges? The shift from attrition to manoeuvrability lies at the core of military operations that are offensive in nature. In obstacle-ridden terrains, force multipliers like helicopters and bridge-laying tanks are needed to enhance mobility. What the army requires to execute swift operation, along with the unafraid political backing that it now has, is the integration of its brigade groups.

On the traditional lines, within the army, there are corps, commands, divisions and brigades. These are self-sustaining fighting units. The creation of integrated brigade groups will do away with the divisional commander, so they report directly to the corps. This can offer flexibility to smaller, self-sustaining units. Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd), under whose watch the 2016 surgical strikes were conducted, submitted a report to the National Security Advisory Board in 2017.

He recommended that like America and Israel, India should set up a ‘reserve force’ (combat and logistics units) that can be called up during war. Army chief General Bipin Rawat is of the view that the implementation of this could create integrated groups that could be mission-deployed adroitly. Earlier this year, the army chief spoke of testing IBGs.

Last year, the biennial army commanders conference decided to proceed with the formation of IBGs. The operationalisation of the IBGs is India’s official acceptance of the doctrine of cold start, which is letting your forces remain in the hinterland and moving them to the desired operational sector in a minimum period of time. One example that perhaps indicates the need of IBGs is Operation Parakram.

Critics of General Padmanabhan's management of Operation Parakram, which was launched after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, have argued that air strikes against terror training camps could have been carried out immediately. During the operation, the three strike corps took longer to mobilise. The baggage of old strike formations need reform, because all three corps were moved at the same time and that had huge cost and time implications.

Back in 2003, the then Defence Minister George Fernandes had said that the number of personnel killed or wounded in Jammu and Kashmir and the western sector during Operation Parakram stood at 1,874 (more than the reported casualties in the Kargil war). In the case of Operation Parakram, the Indian military leadership was directed to hold back a huge offence operation against Pakistan’s defence positions in PoK. At that time, India seemed to have lacked the political will to thrust into Pakistan through the Rajasthan border, even though this was the biggest troop mobilization since 1971.

The concept of offensive defence isn’t new to Indian military history. In 1986, when General Sundarji was the chief of the army, he decided to use the IAF’s new Russian-made heavy lift MI-26 helicopters to air land a brigade at Zemithang, that lies south of the Sino-Indian border. They took up positions on Hathung La ridge overlooking Sumdorong Chu. It was not the Chinese but the Indians who held high ground. Subsequently, in 1987, Sundarji launched ‘Exercise Chequerboard’ to reinforce the Indian posture in the Himalayan region.

In the way India’s security concerns are developing, it needs to be prepared for cold starts, which will enable it to retain the advantage of surprise.

Updated Date: Feb 27, 2019 22:24:14 IST