Time for the Army to face reality

| | in Oped
Time for the Army to face reality

The Indian military, especially the Army, needs to change its mindset on warfare. If done, Pakistan will feel compelled to control its proxy war into India; and China will become careful in its intrusions

Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat’s recent call for the Army’s supremacy as compared with the Air Force and the Navy for winning war is worrisome because it undermines modern war dynamics. Moreover, this will make bringing about military reforms, essential for winning the next war, difficult.

According to him, “Wars will be fought on land, and, therefore, the primacy of the Army must be maintained. The other services, the Navy and the Air Force, will play a very major role in support of the Army which will be operating on the ground because no matter what happens, we may be dominating the area or the air, but finally war will be won when we ensure territorial integrity of the nation. And, therefore, the supremacy and primacy of the Army in a joint services environment becomes that much more relevant and important.”

Talking of ‘Army’s supremacy and primacy in a joint services environment’ in today’s wars is akin to the French fighting the Second World War with the First World War tactics. The French, who had built the Maginot Line (defensive fortifications) in the 1930s believed that they could stop Hitler’s Army’s invasion. Unaware of the doctrine of fast mobility (blitzkrieg) which had been perfected by the German Panzer divisions, who managed to move their tanks through the Ardennes forest by passing the Maginot Line, the French lost the war even before it was joined. The lesson from this episode is that warfighting doctrines must keep pace with technology.

Today, technology has changed the complexion of warfare vertically and horizontally. Instead of the earlier three warfighting mediums, namely land, air and sea, three new ones have been added. These are cyber, space and electromagnetic mediums. Moreover, capabilities exist for long-range targeting with accuracy by precision guided munitions, beyond visual range missiles, surface-to-surface cruise missiles, unmanned combat air vehicles, to be used in real time by networking with help from space-based assets. Amongst the defence services’, the Air Force — given its reach and flexibility — is the best equipped to optimally utilise these technologies, while the Army is least suited to exploit them fully.

Given this, the primacy for land-warfare should go to the Air Force, so that it is able to shape the battlefields for the Army in a reasonable timeframe. Without this, the Air Force and the Army would end up fighting their own wars with sub-optimal results. Instead of separate service’s doctrine — as is the case now where the Army and the Air Force follow their own doctrines — the need is for a single doctrine for combined services warfighting. In addition to this, the Army and the Air Force should hone their core competencies through intra-services (within the service) training. This is why comprehensive military reforms are needed to win the next war.

General Rawat’s another contention that “war will be won when we ensure territorial integrity of the nation” is questionable. Winning war (with offensive capabilities) and maintaining territorial integrity (with defensive capabilities) are two different issues. While territorial integrity involves maintaining the status quo, winning war suggests a change in status quo in some fashion, be in the form of territory, prisoner of wars, attrition of opponent’s warfighting machinery, or compelling the opponent to negotiate on one’s terms.

Thus, while the Army has the primacy in upholding territorial integrity, this does not automatically win war. For example, the Indian Army maintains a robust defensive management posture on the Line of Control to ensure that the Pakistan Army does not alter it to tactical advantage. But this has not deterred the Pakistan Army from continuing with its proxy war, because it believes that the Indian military cannot defeat it in war.

Similarly, since the Indian Army lacks a comparable robust defensive management posture on the Line of Actual Control, China’s defence forces continue with regular intrusions on the military line. For this reason, the Army, since 2007, has raised two divisions (each with 12,000 soldiers) and is raising the 17 Mountain corps, primarily to fill defensive gaps in peacetime on the military line.

Yet another belief of General Rawat that ‘wars will be fought on land’ underscores the continental mindset. It shows that the Army remains blissfully unconcerned about the Chinese Navy’s forays in the Indian Ocean region, which since 2008 have increased steadily.

Two conclusions would not be out of place: That the Chiefs of Staff Committee (comprising the three defence services’ chiefs) remains ineffectual, and the Army does not seem to have dovetailed the war scenario where the Indian Navy will not be able to support the land battles from the sea. Given this, what good are the calls made by umpteen Army chiefs that India needs a Chief of Defence Staff post and theatre commands, when the Army leadership does not acknowledge that on the seas, the Navy would have the primacy in war.

Unlike earlier times when the Indian Navy’s war role was to support the land-battle, it is no longer the case. With the arrival of the Chinese Navy in India’s backyard and its inter-operability (capability to fight together for common mission) with the Pakistan Navy, the naval war has assumed a dimension of its own. In this, it would be assisted by the air power. The Indian naval war objectives would be to protect our sea-lanes, military, civilian and merchant shipping assets, hundreds of islands, and to interdict enemy’s shipping, blockading his ports and attempt to destroy its naval power.

Therefore, while the Indian Army will have the primacy to uphold the territorial integrity on land, the same task in the maritime domain will be done by the Coast Guard working under the Indian Navy. Regarding war, the Indian Air Force should be in the lead for land warfare, while the Indian Navy should be responsible for the sea warfare. Moreover, capabilities in the new warfighting domains should be available to support the three defence services.

Unless these realities are accepted by the military as a whole, the usefulness of comprehensive military reforms are difficult to visualise. Cosmetic reforms are a different matter. Two examples will help illustrate the point. One, the services are asking for the post of the permanent chairman, chiefs of staff committee. Why create this new post which will be responsible mainly for streamlining the annual defence allocations and acquisitions, when the same job can be done by the present chief of integrated defence staff with veto power in the chiefs of staff committee? Moreover, what good is marginally reducing the tail of the Indian Army as recommended by the recent Shekatkar Committee, when the need is to cut the teeth or combat elements?

The truth is that the Indian military, especially the Army needs to change its mindset on warfare. If done, Pakistan would feel compelled to control its proxy war into India, and China will become careful in its intrusions on the military line.

(The writer is editor, FORCE newsmagazine)

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