Of Indian Wars and Indian solutions

Sub Title : A commentary on the uniqueness of Indian Defence Forces

Issues Details : Vol 16 Issue 2 May – Jun 2022

Author : Col Ashwani Sharma (Retd)

Page No. : 20

Category : Military Affairs

: June 1, 2022

Indian solutions for Indian Wars  do not mean only Indian equipment. We must factor in our strengths viz  India’s demographic dividend, geographic positioning, peculiar terrain characteristics and most of all the ethics and values that have been an inseparable part of soldiering in India since time immemorial to fashion our military doctrine.

Winning Indian wars with Indian Solutions’ has been a much-touted slogan for some years now. Coined by the then COAS, late Gen Bipin Rawat and the Deputy Chief Lt Gen Saha, the quote fundamentally underscores the increasing stress on indigenization and self-reliance in defence. Atmanirbhar Bharat, a clarion call given by the Prime Minister, inspired a number of policy initiatives and changes in favor of encouraging India’s R&D and defence industry. In recent times, the process has gathered even greater pace – with almost weekly announcements – to accelerate indigenization and ban imports of military technologies and products.

The term ‘Indian wars’, not fully explained, obviously implies wars fought by Indian defence forces, defending India’s borders and territorial integrity. ‘Indian solutions’ point to not just platforms and technologies designed and developed in India, but more importantly, with the philosophy and strategy of warfighting that best suits the peculiar Indian conundrum.  Given the massive drive towards indigenization of military hardware, Indian solutions are gaining relevance, especially as the domestic capacity and the capability, though limited at present, promises to grow at a rapid pace.

Indian solutions, should also not be seen as alluding to Indian equipment only. It is instead an all-encompassing term that begins with a basic review of our warfighting philosophy and ethos in the light of threats to our land and maritime borders. A factual assessment of the enemies’ fighting potential and the type of terrain are always necessary for a proper military response. And finally, our own military capability, strategy and tactics – as shaped by latest technology – will complete the Indian solutions paradigm.

Technology, pervasive as it is in impacting future wars, has a central link to the concept of Atmanirbharta. India must work towards developing key warfighting technologies, but it does not, and should not, mean that we deny ourselves the benefit of existing technologies, even if foreign, and start reinventing the wheel. This will only be to our peril as we will end up creating capability voids. Atmanirbharta can truly be achieved by a fine, judicious mix of indigenous production (where it’s available in the desired timeframe) and imported technologies and equipment where we currently do not have the requisite capability as yet.

Warfighting philosophy. It is imperative for a country to have a well-considered National Security Strategy. It defines national security objectives and assigns responsibility to various organs of the state. Military hierarchy then crafts a military strategy along with a matching capability in consonance with national objectives. Towards this, in India, there is only a directive by the Defence Minister issued in 2009. There is a definite need for a more comprehensive and contemporary National Security policy, not just because we are navigating such challenging times by way of internal and external threats, but also the ongoing technological revolution and rapidly changing geopolitical realities demand a holistic approach to national defence.

Has India evolved its own warfighting philosophy in the 75 years since independence? The answer is complex. Starting with what we inherited at the time of independence, Indian armed forces have acquired military hardware and capabilities not exactly as per a core philosophy, but more on account of availability. Post the 1965 war, the military has been equipped with Eastern bloc hardware and has adopted tactical doctrines to match the acquired arsenal rather than building a capability to suit the indigenous warfighting technique. France and Israel brought in military technologies post the Pokharan nuclear tests and after the Kargil war India opened the doors to other countries as well. Indian armed forces acquired military hardware that was available off-the-shelf, in what is termed as a supermarket strategy.

That raises a question whether there is a philosophy indeed, which enhances our strengths and minimizes the weakness? We must make optimum use of our strengths viz India’s demographic dividend, geographic positioning, peculiar terrain characteristics and most of all our ethics to fashion our military doctrine. These are differentiators, which will help us achieve a force multiplier effect. One is not sure if these aspects have been factored in, since our operations are largely based on ‘fighting with what we have’, ‘bash on regardless (josh)’ and developing tech which is often lagging behind a cycle or two – not quite the best way forward in dynamic scenarios. The first step towards Atmanirbahrta in defence thus would be to spell out clearly the Indian warfighting philosophy.

Ethos.  Indian armed forces adopted the organisation, traditions and doctrines that the British left behind, but the soul has always been Indian. There is no denying that our military fights differently – be it an external enemy or the insurgency within. Indian warfighting is studded with examples of valour, loyalty, obedience, compassion. We respect even the enemy, and all this despite extreme pressures inherent in kinetic military operations. In short, Dharam Yudha! Fairness, even in war, has been the abiding tenet, indeed the very ethos, of the Indian armed forces.

Indian troops fight on the precepts of ‘ Naam, Namak, Nishaan’ (Identity, Loyalty, Ensign). They are willing to sacrifice their lives to uphold the honour code. Their battle cries are mostly derived from the scriptures which inspire and motivate them to act righteously and achieve the impossible. This is unlike most other armies where elimination of the enemy is the only aim; where collateral damage, brutality and disproportionately excessive force are acceptable means to an end.  Our defence forces have every reason to be proud of their heritage.

It is absolutely imperative that merits and demerits of the controversial ‘Tour of Duty’ be assessed in the backdrop of how the Indian Army fights and what motivates the Indian troops. There are  a lot of intangibles that drive a soldier; unfortunately this aspect is not widely known outside the forces.  One option could be that such a proposal  be limited to certain support arms and the highly technical ones, where the war is more mathematical and unemotional.

Terrain Peculiarities. Every country is blessed with a distinct geography. With the mighty Himalayas in the North and a peninsular South, a sandy desert in the West and a forested Northeast, India is privileged with its own peculiarities. Defending such diverse terrain poses unique challenges. Equally though, this very heterogeneity in terrain also brings about advantages which can be maximized. While high mountains in the north can be used to stall the enemy, the oceans can provide a springboard to dominate the all-important sea lanes of communication and supplies.

A well-considered military thought would always seek to exploit the terrain operationally. For example, development of an extensive canal network in the plains of Punjab and the Thar desert should be a part of a security strategy.  At the very least, one would expect that security considerations played a significant role in deciding the alignment and dimensions of such a network in key areas. Similarly, growth  of communication networks in border areas in the North and the Northeast must, among other considerations, fit into the overall security architecture of the region.

Acquisition of military platforms, weapons and munitions must be terrain specific.  Owing to limited budgets and for the sake of standardization we often seek military technologies which can stretch from the extremely hot desert climate to the bone chilling cold desert of Ladakh. This ‘one shoe fits all sizes’ approach does not work. The lay of the land must determine what weapon system must it use to defend itself.

Technology. It was in the late 80s and early 90s that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) saw an exponential growth the world over. It also coincided with Operation Desert Storm and disintegration of the Soviet Union. It is interesting to analyze how the two completely different events and technology are connected.

ICT ushered in a technological invasion which revolutionized military technology and changed the face of war.  Operation Desert Storm validated the effectiveness of Air- Land battle concept. It was also perhaps the last occasion this concept would be put to test in a tactical battlefield. Similarly, with the Soviet Union breaking up, it  dawned upon the  NATO countries, and many others, that they had invested heavily into building conventional capabilities which may have been rendered redundant with the advent of newer technologies.

Three decades later, Russia-Ukraine conflict has ignited serious debates over future wars. New technologies have had a debilitating effect on military doctrines currently in fashion. Air-Land battle concept, which most militaries have been preparing for hitherto, appears obsolete with no new alternatives in sight yet. One thing that appears certain is that Space and Cyber domains have cemented their place in the tactical battlefield along with, or maybe at the cost of, more conventional land, maritime and air space domains.

Shortcomings in the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capability have let India down twice in the last 25 years. Intrusions in Kargil and Ladakh were a direct consequence of poor situational awareness as military commanders and intelligence agencies failed to detect and interpret the adversary’s moves and intentions. Improved situational awareness in space via SSA capability will enable the military to dominate the enemy in other domains. Similarly, Cyber space cuts across all the other domains. Domination of cyber domain or CEMA (Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities) will greatly enhance the effect of own kinetic action, and disrupt and deny the same to the enemy.

Emerging disruptive technologies have put a question mark on the effectiveness of conventional platforms across the battlespace. A furious debate on conventional systems is on, and fresh opinions emerge every hour. Announcing the demise of conventional systems may be hasty, but a change is certainly in the offing.

For India this may be a blessing. Having missed many a technology cycles in defence, this may be an opportunity to jump straight to emerging technologies, rather than playing catching up with ‘Miltech’ some of which is conceptually outdated or headed towards obsolescence already. For example, a lot is being said about the anti-tank missiles, but in actual fact loitering munitions are cheaper and far more effective. Similarly, precision munitions may be more expensive, but the effect is far greater than massed fire. Doctrines need a relook as well, as fixed defences have limited staying power.

Availability of Resources. Resources are always finite and place a premium on planning. In India’s case, terrain and the demographic dividends are obvious advantages. Limited military budget in a developing country is always a reality, and that puts pressure on acquiring new military hardware.  A pragmatic and holistic acquisition policy however, can ensure timely upgrades, carefully calculated reserves and longer shelf lives to mitigate financial woes.

Human resource is always expensive, given the costs on account of training and administration, in addition to emoluments. Yet in a country like India we have adequate young population to join military service. In such a scenario, certain amount of lateral placements in CAPFs and Para military forces, as a matter of state policy, can ameliorate the problem, and yet make the numbers available to military planners. No doubt, technology is fast replacing humans from a lot of areas, but we are a human resource-rich nation and that advantage must be maximized.

Industrial infrastructure is another important resource. Military manufacturing can, in fact, help build and increase this base. Redundant capacities must be phased out or utilized more effectively through reorientation.

Adversaries.  “Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle” – a famous quote by Sun Tzu in Art of War, sums up the wisdom contained in numerous pieces of literature on warfighting. Right from the national strategy down to the section level, this maxim holds good. If you can predict the moves of the adversary, you can prepare to counter him effectively; conversely, if you are caught by surprise, chances of defeat are high, even if you possess superior capability.

In today’s interconnected world, it is important to understand the global power architecture and to fashion geo-political strategies in line with your national interests. Accordingly, assessment of external threats, not necessarily military alone, starts from well beyond country’s borders. In case of hostile neighbors, their war waging capabilities and method of fighting wars deserve a detailed analysis and regular review. Constant updates on availability of new weapons’ technologies with the adversary are a must.  In the Indian subcontinent, belligerence against India has a history and it continues undiminished. The foundational animosity with both the adversaries is based on territorial disagreements inherited from a colonial past.

Expansion of the country’s natural sphere of influence in the region will bring along supporters as well opponents. In the Indian context it implies South Asia, IOR and countries in the immediate neighbourhood. India faces disputed borders in the North, Northwest and the Northeast with a fair amount of volatility. An armed conflict can flare up and quickly assume the proportions of a full-scale war. Even though the flavour in the recent past is that of local skirmishes, one needs to remain prepared for an all-out conflict.

India’s stated policy is defensive in nature – to protect the territorial integrity of the country. But does that imply a military response only when attacked? Certainly not. Does it preclude the possibility of offensive defence? Certainly not – we have a right to engage in preventive strikes in case a threat to our homeland is detected. Does it preclude the possibility of growing our legitimate interests and increasing the area of influence, of which military power projection is an integral part? Certainly not.

What then should be our capability, which promises to achieve well-defined military objectives? National security Strategy must outline that clearly and then leave it to the military brass to develop that capability by provisioning adequate resources. In these turbulent times, employment of military power may denote the last resort, but its deterrence and centrality in a conflict of interests must never be forgotten.