Doctrinal Changes for Land Based Operations

Sub Title : Land Forces must move away from the rigid templates of the past

Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2022

Author : Lt Gen Arun Sahni, PVSM,UYSM,SM VSM (Retd)

Page No. : 26

Category : Military Affairs

: January 21, 2022

The changing character of war and the speed and pace of change in an integrated and networked battlespace, have made it incumbent for the Land Forces to move away from the rigid templates of the past and formulate realistic strategies and concepts in line with the likely battlefield milieu of the future

India’s military strategy has been primarily tailored to meet the security threats astride its land periphery with its western and northern neighbours. The emphasis has been to have conventional combat power to undertake ‘punitive strike’ against Pakistan and have ‘dissuasive deterrence’ against China. The military doctrine has evolved based on the experiential learnings since Independence of the five conflicts that India has had with its neighbours, on territorial issues. India’s western front strategy evolved from defensive to offensive defence to a ‘cold start’ doctrine and finally the ‘proactive strategy’. On the northern front the emphasis has been to develop communication linkages of road and air, along the rugged frontiers and carry out forward placement of minimum essential forces in the three sub sectors. Undoubtedly military strategy and doctrine have been refined and optimised with time, but the primacy has always remained centric to the Land Forces.

However, in the intervening period since the last conflict in 1999, the strategic landscape has undergone major changes, the rise of China has made it belligerent and assertive in pushing its agenda, on the neighbourhood, be it Hong Kong, Taiwan, South China Sea or Ladakh and the advent of advanced military technology has changed the potency of weapon platforms and revolutionised systems and sub systems. Niche technologies have already started reshaping warfare. Information warfare, grey zone operations, non-contact engagements and ‘hybrid war’, have in separate incidents, in different part of the globe, been successful in achieving strategic objectives. It is also a fact that the current security strategy has proved inadequate, as it has failed to stop the Pakistan State from conducting a ‘proxy war’ in the UT of J & K and deter China from periodically nibbling away at Indian territory. Therefore, it is important that the current strategy be reviewed and how should the Indian Army adapt to these challenges? The new doctrine that is promulgated should incorporate the contours of this ‘new age warfare’ and changed strategic realities?

The aim of this article is to examine the changed fundamentals and recommend the essentials for consideration in the new military doctrine.

What has Changed ?

Geo Strategic Realities

The geo strategic landscape in India’s near and extended neighborhood, is turbulent and in a state of flux. A consequence of the transition of ‘balance of global economic and military power’, from the Euro Atlantic to the Asia Pacific, China’s vigorous push for a global position of preeminence, its intransigence and bellicosity in the Indo – Pacific region and the strife with India’s aspiration for regional leadership. The security environment in the region is also impacted by the strategic competition of dominance, between China and USA. These changes will influence the shape and type of future conflicts. Threats have increased in scale, diversity and complexity. In addition, to legacy threats due to territorial and ideological differences, disruptive technologies, militarization of cyber and space, emergence of ‘non state ‘actors, pandemic, rising social inequity, scarcity of critical resources and impact of climate change, has crowded the threat landscape. The safety and security of the nation and its citizens can now be marginalized without crossing national borders, with anonymity and apparent deniability, while political objectives, can be achieved by means, other than military.

To counter China’s influence, the USA has enunciated its Indo Pacific policy and started forging groupings with likeminded countries of the region. As also build resilience in the global supply chain. India’s growing economic and political stature and its primacy of location in the Indo Pacific has made it a natural partner for groupings like Quad, much to China’s dislike. On the other hand, continuous overtures by China in South Asia, island countries of the Indian Ocean and with India’s traditional allies, aimed at marginalizing India’s influence, and the standoff in Ladakh, have cumulatively contributed to subverting the Sino India relationship.

Security Situation. China’s pugnaciousness towards India in Ladakh, in 2020, has ‘thrown down the gauntlet’, that its intentions towards India are hostile. It has territorial ambitions that it wants to resolve in its favour, while confirming the worst case scenario for India, of a ‘two front threat’, along its external frontiers. There are innumerable scenarios of the extent and intensity of this collusivity between Pakistan and China and the manner of its manifestation. But, it is apparent that there will always be overt and covert support for each other, in case of hostilities with either of our inimical neighbours, including in the ‘no war no peace (NWNP)’ situation, that now exists along the western and partially along the northern borders. It is a matter of concern that the border clashes with China have stalemated to a permanent ‘face-off ’, astride the LAC, in the Ladakh sector. In addition to that existing in Siachen and the LoC with Pakistan. This further stresses the combat resources of the Land Forces and alternative solutions will have to be found.

The Rise of China. China’s rapid modernisation of its combat resources and military capabilities has indeed exacerbated the security challenges for India. China is already in advanced stage of employing high technology and disruptive platforms in the battlespace. The pace of change has been to achieve parity with USA and is across all domains, be it land, air, maritime, space – counterspace, electronic warfare (EW), and cyber. It has carried out organisational restructuring for promoting joint operations and raised the PLA Strategic Support Force (SSF) to optimally exploit the multiplier effect of harnessing the potential of the new domains of space and cyber. It lays emphasis on its “Three Warfare Strategy” that comprehensively addresses public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare. The recent promulgation of the ‘Land Border Law of the People’s Republic of China’, with effect 01 January 2022, is an example of the legal prong of this strategy. It is according primacy to military space operations and counterspace capabilities, like co orbital, EW and directed energy capabilities. It is employing more sophisticated satellite operations and is testing dual-use technologies in space, that could be applied to counterspace missions. The Information operations includes technical reconnaissance, EW, cyber warfare, and psychological operations. This has showcased China’s capabilities to exercise ‘non-contact’ options, for achieving its objectives.

Technology Impact. The greatest change in both the modern weapon platforms and the legacy systems has been steered by innovative and disruptive technological developments. These have transformed the modern weapon platforms, with greater lethality, longer ranges and pin point accuracy. The impact of 5G communication, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Big Data Analytics, IOT, augmented and virtual reality and nano technology are leading to revolutionary changes in the capabilities of the weapon platforms, data processing and military hardware. Expertise in these fields is manifesting in induction of disruptive platforms like Swarm drones, Loiter Munitions, Armed UAVs/ RPAs, Robots and Autonomous weapon platforms in the military arsenal. Technology is also upgrading the capabilities of the current generation of surveillance systems and sensors. The state of art communication and advanced computing technology have assisted in induction of command and control systems like C4I2SR. Advanced sensors and cognitive systems with quantum communication are likely to be the next big disruptors. AI, Machine Learning, data analytics and innovative SW algorithms have facilitated integration and processing of data for predictive analysis and generating intelligence. Facial recognition as a tool to control and subjugate local population in Xinjiang and Tibet, has matured with dangerous ramifications.

Cyber Disruptions.

Exploitation of the Cyber domain has indeed been revolutionary. The pace of digitisation has created a very interconnected world with ever-increasing dependence on cyberspace and the internet. for most aspects of governance, public utility services and security. This has created new vulnerabilities for the Armed Forces and the Nation. Its exploitation to disrupt and deny its use by the adversary, can now create leverages to achieve strategic goals. This was amply highlighted by Russia in getting its way with Estonia with non-attributable DDOS attacks and the power outages against Ukraine, in the recent past. Implying that the battlespace is no longer restricted to the military dimension but includes non-military domains and can be waged without physical contact. This denial of service is a prime example of non-contact war. China is a leading player in exploiting this domain for creating leverages and promoting its agenda globally.

Influence Mechanisms – Concurrent, to exploitation of the cyber domain, rapid advancements in internet and web based applications, have led to free flow of information and mushrooming of innumerable media and social networking sites. These platforms are interactive, have empowered people to create, share and exchange information, thoughts and ideas, in virtual communities and networks. This unique characteristic of seamless outreach of cyber space with anonymity, deniability, non-attributability and relative impunity, lends itself to manipulation of Information and news by States or other inimical elements, to mould opinion and influence the cognitive domain of the people, on the platform. This has given an impetus to fake news, manipulated reportage of events, doctored videos and messages, etc, all tailored to a narrative. These are the new tools for Information warfare, wherein, repeated bombardment of falsehood negatively impacts morale, creates unnecessary caution and can create emotional hype in the public, forcing unbalanced decision making. Information operations thus has become an important subset of Cyber Warfare.

Non State Actors The next aspect is the emergence and primacy of non-state actors. They have proved to be a potent security challenge, as is being experienced by India, in fighting a three decade old ‘proxy war’, in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir. Non State Actors, with Pakistan State support, have kept the conflict below the threshold of war, while furthering their ideological agenda and bleeding the Indian State. Globally we have seen the security turbulence caused by Taliban, ISIS and IS K and AQI. India’s contiguity to this most violent afflicted region of West Asia and Af – Pak Region and role of Pakistan as the prime propagator of this form of irregular conflict, will continue to see waxing and waning of violence and threat from this source, within the country in the foreseeable future. Irrespective to the claims in Pakistan’s recently released ‘National Security Policy’ of wanting 100 years of peace with India. The Land Forces will therefore, have to always be prepared to fight this low intensity threat.

Space Militarisation. The advantage of space based assets for ISR and seamless communication for the Armed Forces and the Nation is obvious. Though India has been using satellites for communication, resource mapping and research, it is in the last few years that baby steps have been initiated for military usage. Military satellites are being used for strategic communication linkages, deployment of ISR assets, enhancing ROA of UAVs, domain awareness etc. The employment of LEO Satellites in the immediate future will facilitate IOT and use of military systems and sub systems. China’s militarisation of space is far advanced and confirmed by the path breaking test of ‘hypersonic glide vehicle’ circumventing the globe, in 2021.

Battlefield Survivability. Chinese capabilities of standoff weapons and advanced munitions, requires priority to be accorded for the survivability of combat resources, in the open and barren terrain of Ladakh. The Force will have to be dispersed and distributed , with inherent mobility for movement, to avoid providing a static target. In addition, robotics, autonomous weapons and means for timely ‘early warning’, are essential for this future force. There is no doubt that the ‘survivability of combat forces’ in the battle space should be a priority.

Threat Assessment

China’s rapid development and militarisation has been incentivised by its aspiration to compete with USA and be a Super Power by 2049. It has outstripped India economically and technologically, as also in harnessing the capabilities of cyber and space. It has honed advanced skills and tools to undertake Cyber and Information Warfare. It has also penetrated the public mind space in India and other target countries innovatively, giving it the opportunity to exploit these at the opportune time. China’s capabilities for Information Warfare have also become more efficient, as PLAs strategy of INEW (Integrated Network Electronic Warfare) is now reflected in its joint organisational structures. Deployment of smart weapons, long range precision missiles, weapon systems exploiting disruptive technologies, robotics, autonomous systems, swarm drones and space based military assets have given China a distinct advantage in waging ‘non-contact’ and standoff strike capabilities. It is increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean, seeking naval bases in the island countries, South Asia and African continent, CPEC in Pakistan is its flagship project under the BRI and being the upper riparian State for South Asia, it has control on the water systems sourced from the Tibetan plateau. It retains linkages with the Indian Insurgent groups in the NE of India and remains the source of illegal weapons for them. It would be a fair assessment that China has developed capabilities to not only confront India on land frontiers but across the complete spectrum of engagement. Also, the complexities of conflict in South Asia are further aggravated as all three protagonists are recognized nuclear weapon states.

Though the threat profile indicates increased probability of non-kinetic engagements, there still exists a real possibility of a short and intense conventional conflict, even under the nuclear umbrella. Thus, while ‘capability development’ and ‘force modernisation’ for ‘non-contact’ warfare will have to be made, attention will need to be accorded for retaining the edge and modernising the conventional military strength.

The Approach

India’s force structuring and disposition, till recently, was poised for a punitive strike capability against Pakistan, in the conventional spectrum. It was articulated by a matured ‘proactive strategy’ and was the foundation for ‘integrated theatre operations’ on the western front. The LoC due to active, face to face deployment, in hilly to mountainous terrain astride the borders with Pakistan, is more tailored for positional/ attrition warfare. The Chinese front had defensive deployment, with combat forces located appropriately, to a plan in the various sub sectors. These were progressively and selectively postured forward, in tandem with development of road infrastructure. Fortunately, the pace of infrastructure development, including road connectivity in the remote corners along the northern borders, has seen a renewed time bound impetus, in the last few years.

Hostilities against China were premised on availability of a protracted ‘warning period’, allowing for move of appropriate accretional/dual tasked formations to the desired area of operations. Operational expediencies and road accessibility have resulted in deployment of Mechanised combat elements and Force Multipliers along the northern borders. Also, recent years has seen a review of the land forces operational logistic plans, resulting in placement of ammunition and logistic loads for speedier distribution, from a ‘western front biased’ profile. There has been redistribution of combat resources in their tasking and deployments, to address the state of contestation with China astride the northern borders.

The Future Direction

It has to be appreciated that the confrontation between adversarial States in the future will be a combination of a few or all of the following – non-contact, nonattributable cyber engagements on both military and critical infrastructure, including ISR assets in space, creating disharmony in public by targeted messaging/ false propaganda over a period of time, instigating riots and uprisings with irregulars/ non state actors in the target country on sensitive issues, engagements by standoff weapons to cause extensive damage to combat resources and a kinetic engagement.

Apropos, the changing ‘character of war’ and the speed and pace of change in an integrated and networked battlespace, have made it incumbent for the Land Forces, to relook at the current doctrines and strategies for conducting conflict on the land frontiers and maritime domain, with air assets and at the challenges of exploiting the new dimensions of space and cyber, duly synergized with related organizations of the nation, to develop capacities to fight in these disruptive domains. The ongoing ‘proxy war’, remnants of insurgency in the NE States, and continued vulnerability to presence of nonstate actors within the nation, with or without adversarial State support, will continue to be an active threat for the nation. India therefore will have to be prepared for CI/CT operations for the foreseeable future.

India’s growing stature will require it to have a correspondingly potent military with expeditionary capabilities, for executing ‘out of area operations’. This would require agile combat elements with adequate strategic lift capability or a tailor made Airborne Force. In the changing dispensation the role and task of Special Forces will need to be revisited. China’s advanced Information War capabilities and Information Dominance Operations will continue to be a threat, in both war and peace. Therefore, India will have to develop capacities to not only wage Information Warfare, but have capacities to defeat Pakistan and China’s initiatives targeting the mind space, in its future military doctrine.

The Land Forces will have to display ’strategic adaptability’ by being prepared for Multi Domain operations as the era of a ‘single service operations’ is over and individual Services will have to be part of a Joint Doctrine. Land Forces Military doctrine will have to be a subset of the overall Joint Forces Strategy. It needs to be reiterated that successful Multi Domain Operations are premised on jointness, technology and the human resource. The reskilling of the human element will have to be a priority and will require appropriate ‘professional military education’, for the changed operational landscape. It needs to be highlighted that empowerment of the Armed Forces and the Land Forces in particular, with niche technologies and path breaking innovations, is only possible indigenously. To harness the capabilities of these emerging technologies it will require the Land Forces to be an equal partner in the R & D and development of tailormade innovative solutions. It will also have to hand hold private and public enterprises, in their design, development and manufacturing. Thus, ensuring that the civil military synergy empowers the nation and the Armed Forces.

Let a pragmatic assessment guide the apex leadership to accord developmental priorities, in harmony with the available budgets. And institute measures that the allocated budget is expended in time and judiciously, to build up the desired capacities.