Crafting Victory

Sub Title : Understanding Military Doctrine and its Impact on Warfare including a commentary on the Indian Military’s journey post-independence

Issues Details : Vol 18 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2024

Author : Vikramaditya Pal Singh

Page No. : 11

Category : Geostrategy

: March 22, 2024

Carl von Clausewitz in his seminal work, “On War” (“Vom Kriege”), emphasized the importance of understanding the “trinity” of war, which consists of the interplay between the government, the military, and the people. He argued that successful military strategy must take into account not only the military dimensions of warfare but also its political and societal aspects.

On December 13, 2001, the Indian Parliament was rocked by a terrorist attack when five assailants breached the security perimeter at Gate 12. The attack resulted in killing seven individuals and ended with the attackers being neutralised by Indian security forces. In the wake of the assault, India commenced a massive military deployment along its border with Pakistan, marking the most significant military mobilization since the 1971 war. This military operation was designated as Operation PARAKRAM by India.

At the moment, India enjoyed a definitive qualitative and quantitative advantage in its military capacity, despite the fact that the delivery mechanisms for nuclear armaments were basic, tactical nuclear devices were yet to be developed, and Pakistan was in a state of chaos in the aftermath of 9/11. In spite of India’s superior military capability, the green light to engage in full-scale conflict and shift the balance of power on the Western frontier would not be given, even against a backdrop of decade-long insurgency.

The civilian leadership, grappling with the absence of any historical precedents for guidance, found itself navigating uncharted territory. With no definitive contingency plan and an adopted ‘wait and see’ strategy, the forces withdrew after an eight-month-long deployment, incurring nearly two billion dollars in costs. Consequently, the Western front’s status quo would persist unchanged for another twenty years.

The Israeli Way of War

The IDF doctrine was laid down in 1953 by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime minister. Ben-Gurion understood that Israel’s advantages derive from a combination of human excellence, along with national spirit and the ability to exploit the topographic conditions that facilitate rapid mobility of concentrated groupings of forces in order to create local superiority in every arena. On this basis, he said that: “we will not be on the defensive, but rather on the offensive”. These conclusions led Ben-Gurion to opt for the strategy of manoeuver to push the war swiftly into enemy territory. These principles forged the Israeli doctrine for the next three decades and led to a series of impressive military victories.

Although Israel has benefited from nearly absolute military superiority in recent decades, it appears, paradoxically, that its achievements against its enemies are diminishing. The cause is put down to a devolution in the fighting doctrine.

Let’s see how this came to be, After the Six Day War, a long and protracted trend of erosion of the importance and centrality of the Doctrine and Training Division began, and correspondingly, Israeli military thinking steadily weakened. The Doctrine and Training Division was downgraded from a division of the General Staff to a division subordinate to the Operations Directorate. This caused the division a steady and substantial loss of influence in designing and formulating the force buildup and the operational approach in the IDF. This implied that military thinking in the IDF was of lesser importance, and was a paradigm shift in what was deemed the core of quality, from military thinking to technology. Instead of doctrine being the engine driving the conduct of war, technology took its place.

The Yom Kippur War signaled a negative turning point, but the lessons of the surprise attack were attributed more to intelligence than to aspects of military thinking, and operational plans.

The farther that the IDF marched along the path toward a technological military, the less that attention was given to exercises, equipment, emergency stores, and reserve duty; all of these became secondary. The technological approach was not questioned, even after the IDF suffered failures in the battlefield (the security strip, the Second Lebanon War, and the various operations in the Gaza Strip).  Combat doctrines were no longer the engine that pulled technology along behind it, but rather, the opposite.

Today, the IDF faces the challenge of multiple potential conflict fronts with unclear strategic goals. As Israel navigates these complex security landscapes, it remains to be seen how current strategies will influence the Middle East’s stability. Will Netanyahu’s way of war change the status quo in the Middle East? We can only wait and see.

The American way of war

In April 2022, the US Army announced the winners of the Next Generation Squad Weapon (NGSW) programme. The programme will see the US Army replace the 5.56 rifle cartridge, and 7.62 LMG cartridge replaced by a common 6.8x51mm cartridge, and Sig Sauer was awarded the contract to supply the Army with a new line of weapons the XM7(assault rifle), and the XM250 (LMG). The new 6.8 mm round, brings an affective range of 600mts, and a cartridge that delivers twice the energy at that range as compared to a 5.8mm round being used by PLA. The NGSW programme also awarded Vortex Optics to produce the XM157 fire-control system, a ballistic computer fitted to the rifle, to ensure a high hit probability at extreme ranges.

The Doctrinal Directive driving this decision is ‘Overmatch’. This typically refers to a military’s ability to possess capabilities that significantly exceed those of potential adversaries, thereby providing a decisive advantage in combat.

The immediate aftermath of  World War II saw the advent of the assault rifle as most combat was being fought within 300 metres  and did not need the long barreled full power hunting cartridges. Now with the availability of high quality optics, where a target is visible at 600 m and a round capable of reaching that range, with an on board ballistic computer we will see engagement distances increase once again.

Another product of a Doctrine driven weapons development is the Future Vertical Lift (FVL), a family of military helicopters for the United States Armed Forces. A product of the programme is The Bell V-280 Valor, a tilt rotor aircraft with a cruise speed and combat radius (520kmph and 900 to 1400 kms) double that of the existing UH60 Black Hawk. Tactical constraints brought about by the limited range of their existing helicopter fleet, and the large distances between the islands of the South China sea led to the FVL programme. In short,  another programme necessitated by a new war fighting doctrine.

The Indian Armed Forces

Raised, trained, and organized by the British, the Indian Army served the empire overseas in both the World Wars and the net result of such a heritage was two-fold: a lasting impact on organisation and doctrine, and looking to the West for new ideas and weapon systems. The armed forces drew their ideas of force structure and doctrine from the West, ignoring at times the threats on the ground.

These traditions continued to dominate its thinking in the immediate period after independence. British doctrine advocated giving ground to the invader and then launching a major counterattack. Such a strategy was easy for the British since they were fighting in alien lands and could afford to trade ground for time.  In post-independence India, however, nationalistic compulsions demanded that territory not be ceded to the invader. The Army’s doctrinal response thus was to establish a defensive network along the borders. The lack of mechanisation placed an emphasis on infantry-oriented tactics.

The 1962 Sino-Indian war brought about a sea change in Indian defence planning as India now faced a two-front threat. A defence perspective plan was drafted which recommended expanding all three services. The Army was to be enlarged by raising ten mountain divisions, six additional infantry divisions, and a second armoured division; an increase from nine divisions to 25 by the time the 1971 Indo-Pak war broke out. Six new ordnance factories were set up to produce small arms and ammunition. The Air Force, similarly, was to be raised to 45 squadrons with a phased withdrawal of its subsonic aircraft.

In 1975, in an effort to encourage the development of a doctrine, the Indian government appointed an expert committee consisting of General V Krishna Rao, M L Chibber and K Sundarji to develop a 20-year perspective plan. The recommendations of this committee, with a few modifications, were carried out in the 1980s.

The committee stated that primary goal of the Army was the prevention of war and it recommended that India’s R&D capability be used to minimise the Army’s dependency on imports. The expert committee saw Pakistan and China as the main threats to Indian security and recommended that a force structure be evolved that would deter both. In operational terms this meant that the Indian Army should have a force advantage of two corps (six divisions) over the Pakistani Army while the existing balance of forces with China was considered sufficient to deter China. Further, the tank regiments in the army were to be doubled from 27 to 58, and two mechanised infantry divisions were to be added to the existing force structure.

The recommendation to increase indigenous arms production was made primarily because of the hard currency crisis. By the early 1970s, the government had already decided to produce a follow-on tank to the Vijayanta-the Chetak. Along with the Chetak, the Army was also to benefit from the planned development of an Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), but neither project came to fruition.

The 1980’s buildup

The period 1980-87 was marked by a major military buildup. The Army acquired T-72 tanks, Bofors 155 mm howitzers, and BMP-2 ICVs. The Air Force emerged with one of the most modem fleets in the developing world – Mirage 2000s, MiG-23s, 27s and 29s, and the Jaguar ground attack aircraft. It also built up a strategic transport component with the acquisition of the IL-76. The most spectacular growth, however, was of the Navy, which acquired 12 submarines (8 Soviet Kilo class and 4 German-type 1500s), a second aircraft carrier, squadrons of Sea Harrier aircraft to equip both carriers, Tu- 142 long-range maritime patrol aircraft, and a leased Charlie I nuclear attack submarine.

This buildup was possible for a number of reasons: –

  • First, India’s foreign exchange situation had improved by the early 1980s and it was able to procure major weapons systems from Britain, France, Germany, and Sweden.
  • Second, fearing a reduction in its influence, Moscow viewed these purchases from the West with concern; also, it was keen to secure India’s support for its Afghan policy. Throughout the 1980s, the Soviets offered India virtually every conventional weapon system in their inventory.
  • Third, the political leadership sought to use India’s military strength to pursue its foreign policy goals. When Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980 she faced a changed threat environment in South Asia. The Soviets were in Afghanistan and the United States was rearming Pakistan as a frontline state. This conflicted with India’s desire for a South Asia that was free from superpower influences, thereby allowing it to be the predominant power in the region. To achieve this goal, Mrs Gandhi espoused the South Asian (Indira) Doctrine in 1983. The doctrine was operationalised when India sent peacekeeping troops to Sri Lanka (1987-90) and to crush a coup in the Maldives in 1988.

Doctrinal developments in the 1980’s

A new military doctrine, rewritten in the 1980s – largely through the efforts of General Sundarji- was to use India’s growing mechanised forces strength to carry out deep thrusts into enemy territory. Having broken through enemy lines, Indian forces were expected to seize significant amounts of territory and fight the enemy on grounds of their own choice. But the real shift, and its impact on proposed force structure, came after General Sundarji became Chief of the Army Staff and planned Operation Brass-tacks.

From a doctrinal standpoint the goal of Operation Brasstacks, the largest military exercise in Indian history, was to try to give the army experience in using multi-corps formations. It used for the first time Reorganized Army Plains Infantry Divisions (RAPIDS); each division had one mechanised brigade for greater mobility. Sundarji also planned to set up Reorganized Army Mountains Infantry Divisions (RAMIDS) and an Air Assault Division. In Brasstacks, he labeled the 54th Infantry division as an air assault division even though it did not have the necessary aerial capability. The eventual goal, however, was to establish a division that would be fully air mobile and could be moved in helicopters to a battlefield, allowing a deep strike.

The development of this new force structure was put down in Sundarji’s 1987 perspective plan-Army 2000. According to this plan, by the year 2000 the Army was to build up to a force level of 45 (from 34) divisions including four tank divisions, eight mechanized infantry divisions, seven RAPIDS, and two Air Assault Divisions. However, the proposed expansion could not be completed because of a worsening economic situation.

Indian Naval Doctrine

The recent Indian Navy interventions off the coast of Somalia in its anti piracy operations falls well within its stated doctrinal directive, which is to pursue a policy of sea denial within the Indian Ocean. Its outer area is described as stretching to the channel between South Africa and Madagascar on the southern end, to the Red Sea/Suez Canal area on the western side, and to the Straits of Malacca on the east. In this outer ring India would have a fleet that could inflict sufficient damage to deter a superior extra regional navy. This entailed the complete denial of access routes available to India’s regional competitors and the maintenance of absolute control over their contiguous sea zones through which naval power could be brought to bear in either a coercive or a supportive mode.

This was not always so. Post-independence, the Navy’s role was to protect India’s maritime assets (commercial and fishing vessels), guard harbour installations, and arrest smugglers and poachers. The Navy was expected to deter a Pakistani attack by the sheer existence of a large, though admittedly antiquated force. This existential deterrence ended with the 1965 war when the Pakistani Navy attacked the naval base at Dwarka.

In the 1971 war, therefore, the Navy planned a campaign of “sea denial” by attacking Karachi harbour in the West and bottling up Pakistani surface shipping in the East. The event in that war that had the most long-term effect on naval planning was the US decision to send the USS Enterprise into the Indian Ocean proving the threat of coercive superpower naval diplomacy. But it was regional events in the mid and late 1970s that gave the Navy the threat rationale it required to make a case for modernization. The growing superpower presence in the Indian Ocean, the militarization efforts of the Shah of Iran, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan were all seen as leading to a deteriorating regional environment.

The Navy’s plan for a third aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, stated to be delivered by the mid 2030’s and the ambitious P-75I submarine programme are well within the doctrinal directives of the navy, to maintain a fleet that could inflict sufficient damage to deter a superior extra regional navy, within the outer ring of its operational area.

The Air war

The Air Force’s role, however, has not changed as dramatically as the Navy’s. Its primary mission is intraregional, countering the Pakistani and Chinese air forces, and it does not envisage playing an extra regional role. The nature of the air war demands a platform centric approach, which needs a robust R&D ecosystem, supported by a network of reliable vendors. In the absence of this, the option is costly imports, which is the route we have taken except for recent initiatives.

Under the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme, the government has extended funding to its own 5th Gen fighter. A push to develop the LCA Tejas Mark2 and further acquisition of The LCA Tejas mark 1A underline this approach. However, the contours of combat air operations are changing rapidly and the IAF needs to refresh its operational and acquisition strategies.

Interrnal Security Duties

Armed forces doctrine may also be affected by internal events. In the 1980s and 90s, internal security missions increasingly tied down the military, particularly the Army. In many situations, the Army alone can maintain order because it is seen as the best available and impartial broker by Indian ethnic and religious groups. But it would prefer not to carry out this role which distracts it from its main mission and thus reduces its war-fighting ability.

The extent to which such operations tie down the Army can be seen from its experience in Punjab where during Operation Bluestar, seven divisions were tied down to maintain order. In 1990, during the war scare with Pakistan, almost four divisions were used to maintain internal security in the border states. In a future war the existence of such insurgencies would constitute a serious handicap for the Indian Army.

In Conclusion

The last time the Indian state enforced a change in the status quo, in 1971, the Armed forces enjoyed exceptional conditions – commanders with extensive operational experience acquired during the wars, a clear strategic goal that constituted the basis for military thinking and knowledge, coupled with the “intellectual arm” of officers who were battle hardened. The military leadership possessed a wealth of operational experience gained from past conflicts and a clear strategic vision that anchored military thinking and knowledge. This, in conjunction with a cadre of battle-tested officers, bolstered the foundational military education that had evolved from a mere necessity to a core principle of the Indian Armed Forces’ service ethos, underpinning its culture and professional advancement. The intellectual calibre stands as the singular force capable of cultivating and wielding an effective national power to meet future adversities.