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Ongoing Revision of Indian Army Doctrine

Ali Ahmed was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • January 06, 2010

    At a closed door seminar in the last week of the last decade, the Indian Army reviewed its doctrine. Presumably, it is gearing up for facing the challenges of the current decade and beyond. This is apparent from the sound bytes of the Chief on the occasion in which he referred to preparing for a ‘two front’ scenario. Armies as institutions cater for the ‘worst case’. A ‘two front’ scenario being the ‘worst case’ for India, the Army is evidently in the midst of thinking through how it would cope. Its earlier largely Pakistan specific ‘Cold Start’ strategy has been perfected over the past half decade. Over the same period, the Army in conjunction with the Air Force had moved towards a more offensive stance even against China with the IAF moving additional air assets towards that front and the Army raising two mountain divisions as part of a mountain strike corps. The new posture was termed ‘active deterrence’ as against the ‘dissuasive deterrence’ that was practiced earlier. The two distinct postures are perhaps being amalgamated to cater for the ‘worst case’ scenario.

    This is part of periodic updation of the doctrine of 2004 being conducted by the Army Training Command. As mentioned in the preface to the 2004 Indian Army Doctrine by the then Army Commander, ‘Part I will be reviewed every five years and updated, as necessary.’ This ‘main part’ was earlier accessible on the Army’s website; but is now available on the website of Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff. The second part is classified and is only for restricted circulation. As a whole, the doctrine is to be re-issued every ten years. It is likely that the open document is currently under review, though news reports let on that the ‘Cold Start’ strategy is also under review. Interestingly, the Cold Start strategy does not find mention in Part I and can be presumed to have been dwelt with in the restricted Part II. In effect, both parts are likely being dealt with in the ongoing review, though only the revised Part I would be placed in the public domain eventually.

    The Army’s commendable initiative is expectedly as per schedule. The ‘two front’ aspect is prompted, as the Times of India defence correspondent has it, by a ‘reconfiguration of threat perceptions and security challenges’. The backdrop to this is possibly the friction in India-China relations played out in the media late last year, particularly troublesome from the military point of view being border intrusions and the asymmetry brought about by Chinese military modernisation and infrastructure improvements in the Tibetan plateau. The Army Chief has been sanguine in his comment on the Pakistan front, stating as per Pandit’s report: "A major leap in our approach to conduct of operations (since then) has been the successful firming-up of the cold start strategy (to be able to go to war promptly)."

    The point of significance is that even as the Army in keeping with its social responsibility of provision of security prepares for the worst case, it would be a political-diplomatic-strategic exercise to ensure that such a scenario does not arise. Logically, a ‘two front’ strategy comprises first knocking Pakistan down by a blow from a Cold Start and then transferring the centre of gravity to the relatively slower paced, but more portentous conflict in the eastern Himalayas. As called for in the Draft Nuclear Doctrine of 1999, India’s conventional forces are to be of the order as to negate any call on India’s nuclear capability. Therefore any doctrinal and organisational moves of the military to cater for conventional capability to take on the worst case are mandated. However, despite growing defence budgets, the capability requirement of prevailing on both fronts may be an onerous strain. Therefore, it is a political call as to what level the Army needs to tread down this route.

    A response to the Army’s initiative in terms of political direction from the Cabinet Committee on Security, with input from the National Security Council Secretariat, is called for. This would help assimilate the Army initiative in a ‘whole of government’ approach to the problem to the levels warranted. The "proportionate focus towards the western and north-eastern fronts" referred to by General Kapoor at the seminar was restricted to force levels and capabilities distribution by the Army to both fronts. Instead, it needs to be widened through such direction to include diplomacy, the relative weight between the three services and between conventional capability and strategic deterrence.

    Rajat Pandit, attributing his information to ‘sources’, indicates that ‘The (Cold Start) plan now is to launch self-contained and highly-mobile `battle groups', with Russian-origin T-90S tanks and upgraded T-72 M1 tanks at their core, adequately backed by air cover and artillery fire assaults, for rapid thrusts into enemy territory within 96 hours.’ He states that this is in keeping with the lesson of Operation Parakram and is to undercut any delay that would enable Pakistan to shore up its defences and outside powers to intervene diplomatically. The launch from a standing start is operationally useful in that it would be against limited opposition and would facilitate more options for the subsequent deep-battle. Strategically, it has the advantage of heightening conventional deterrence directed at influencing Pakistani proxy war.

    However, it is politically problematic in that it restricts the time window of examining non-military options. In the event of a grave provocation for instance in the form of another 26/11, pressures to proceed on militarily sensible timetables arise. The resulting situation would be reminiscent of the The Guns of August. While preparedness to furnish the political head with options in the circumstance is the Army’s prerogative, care needs to be taken against being stampeded. Second, though the Cold Start strategy is reportedly cognizant of the nuclear overhang, a second opinion is necessary. This is not to second guess the Army, but since the judgment is at the interface between the conventional and nuclear planes, it is one best taken jointly between military and civilian principals.

    Part I under revision is sketchy on limitation in conflict. Having a section on limitation has the advantage of placing the Army on one page and informing the nation how the Army intends engaging with the nuclear overhang. Communication being useful for deterrence, knowledge of this with the enemy also helps in staying any itchy nuclear fingers. The current doctrine has rightly accepted that ‘victory’ can be ‘defined in other terms such as reconciliation, stabilisation (acceptance of the status quo) or acceptance of an agreed peace plan.’ The nuclear backdrop implies that military action supplement diplomacy, and not the other way round, though both are instruments towards the same political ends.

    The Army therefore needs to build in suitable ‘exit points’ in the unfolding of its operation, such as prior to launch of pivot corps offensive resources, prior to launch of strike corps, prior to break out of enemy operational depth and prior to developing a threat to terminal objectives. These would act as cues to maximising diplomatic pressures on the enemy leadership to concede legitimate and reasonable aims. In this conceptualisation, the military threat of incremental coercion brings Schelling’s concept of deterrence i.e. ‘the threat that leaves something to chance’, into the equation. The onus for things getting out of hand, resting with the enemy, serves to deter. That there would be no pauses at these junctures entails getting national political resources in concert. This necessitates explicit inclusion in doctrine after due consultations.

    This brings one to the issue of doctrinal formulation and promulgation in India. The absence of a Chief of Defence Staff leads to each service formulating and promulgating respective doctrine on its own. While admittedly this would be after due formal and informal networking with other services, yet organisational theory informs that this cannot be without the contaminating element of inter-service rivalry. The Joint Doctrine released earlier can serve to inform fresh doctrinal reflection, but not much more. The Ministry of Defence, which in the view of critics is by default exercising de-facto CDS functions, cannot be expected to adjudicate. Any faultlines that arise will then await the harsh test of conflict before being dispensed with. This is self-evidently untenable and requires attention at the political level.

    Understandably, Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit has said that the Army’s deliberations “betray a hostile intent as well as a hegemonic and jingoistic mindset which is quite out of step with the realities of our time." It appears that even the routine exercise, announced well prior, of doctrinal review has deterrence value. It remains to be seen how the final document addresses what Bernard Brodie described as the principle challenge for militaries of the nuclear age – that of deterrence rather than war fighting.