Expeditionary Forces: Keeping the ‘Art’ Alive in the Indian Context
The recent crisis in Maldives took an interesting turn on 06 February 2018 when its currently exiled ex President Mr. Mohamed Nasheed sent out a tweet requesting India to solve the imbroglio by sending an envoy backed by its military, to release judges & political detainees to include another ex President Mr. Gayoom. He requested for a‘physical presence’.[i] He went on to tweet the next day that Maldivians view India’s role positively and that Indian forces were ‘liberators’ and not ‘occupiers’[ii].
These two tweets led to a lot of discussion in various diplomatic and military circles. It has also been reported by a section of the press that Indian forces were on standby to intervene once orders from the political leadership were received.[iii]
Without further delving into the reasons, effects et al of the Maldivian crisis, this article aims at examining what was being requested for from India – the armed forces intervening in the nation just as it had three decades ago. The 1980s was a heady decade with India militarily intervening in two neighbouring nations – Sri Lanka and Maldives. While the result of the former remains a matter of debate to this day, there is no doubt about the fact that the latter was an outright success. However, since then the Indian Armed Forces have not been deployed in any foreign country, inspite of the fact there is a continuing war on terror on in Afghanistan (part of the Indian neighbourhood). Notwithstanding the above, such operations are discussed in the Indian Armed Forces under the head of Out of Area Contingencies. Therefore, one really needs to put forth the question that Are the Indian Armed Forces prepared to embark on Out of Area Contingencies?
First things first; wha tdoes operating in Out of Area Contingencies imply? In the opinion of the author, an Out of Area Contingency is essentially an expeditionary operation. Therefore to answer this question, the article will draw from the document ‘Expeditionary Force 21’ issued by the US Navy in 2014[iv]. The simple definition of an expedition is ‘a military operation conducted by an armed force to accomplish a specific objective in a foreign country’[v].
The document further goes on to elucidate the key principles of such operations which include[vi]:-
- Solving problems with minimal support and broad guidance.
- Deploying and employing tailored, economical forces of almost any size and configuration.
- Deploying where there is no infrastructure and operating immediately.
- Living and operating in austere conditions where large support bases are unacceptable or infeasible.
- Minimising potential adverse cultural and political impact by stepping lightly in all areas of support and infrastructure.
- Working with affected populations wherever deployed.
- Maintaining equipment, including aviation, in forward areas with organic assets.
- Enhancing partnerships with Special Operations Forces, where required.
Having seen the definition of an expeditionary operation and some of the guiding principles, it can safely be said that all these apply to Out of Area Contingencies as well. The article will now examine how the Indian Armed Forces match up to its peculiar requirements. In the opinion of the author, operating in an Out of Area Contingency has three pre-requisites – Platforms, Training and Mindset.
Platforms and Forces: The Indian Armed Forces have invested heavily in platforms which can be used to execute Out of Area Contingency operations. The Indian Army has the Parachute Regiment which can carry out airborne operations. The regular infantry is also capable of air landed operations. In addition, the mechanised forces and artillery equipment are also capable of being airdropped/ landed on a beach. The Indian Navy has a robust fleet of vessels capable of landing troops and vehicles on beaches. It is the only resident navy of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which operates an aircraft carrier. The Indian Air Force too has built capabilities for airdropping/ air landing troops particularly the recent acquisitions like the C-17 and C-130 aircraft. The combat element of the Indian Air Force is superior to all in the IOR with only Pakistan being the closest. While there is much more to do in this regard, it can be concluded that the Indian Armed Forces have the requisite wherewithal to launch an Out of Area Contingency operation within the IOR. The Indian Army does have a division sized force earmarked for such operations. In addition, the Andaman Nicobar Command too has the capability to develop into a force capable of launching Out of Area Contingency operations.
Training: Out of Area Contingency operations are essentially of joint services nature. In absence of a sustained functional joint-operations orientation between the three services of the Indian Armed Forces, training for the same remains a major issue. Training for joint operations is restricted to a small number of tactical exercises per year. Very few troops are exposed to the nuances of joint operations. Leave aside troops, even officers lack joint operations exposure since the number of officers who have attended the Staff Course at DSSC Wellington are very few and those who have served with sister services is far lesser. HQ Integrated Defence Staff, unfortunately has not been able to take up the mantle of joint services operations due to various reasons (discussion on which is beyond the purview of this article). There is a telling need for the Indian Armed Forces to train on issues like mobilisation for expeditionary operations (loading and kitting), techniques, tactics and most important being interoperability between the three services in terms of common equipment, electromagnetic spectrum management, command structures, communications et al. There is also a telling requirement to train with friendly foreign countries in this aspect.
Mindset: ‘It’s all in the mind’ is perhaps the most frequently quoted phrase in the three services – the same holds true for Out of Area Contingency operations. The three services need to imbibe the expeditionary mindset; only then will they be able to comprehend and deal with the complexities of such operations. It will not be wrong to say that this is an art which needs to be kept alive. Fortunately, the Indian Army was born with this mindset. This is why the then just independent nation could on short notice, airlift forces to intervene in Jammu and Kashmir. It is pertinent to note that the Indian Army was fresh out of World War II where the Indian officers had been exposed to these ideas. The battalion/ company commanders of 1947 were the Generals/ Admirals/ Air Marshals of 1971 and therefore in 1971, operations were planned and conducted at a scale which gave rise to a new nation. The young officers of 1971 comprised the higher leadership of the three services in the 1980s and therefore it was easy to plan the operations of Sri Lanka and Maldives. This flock of officers, comfortable with expeditionary operations, is fast dwindling. The latest edition of the Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces released in 2017 is also silent on the issue[vii]. Whilesuch operations may not be the preferred option of the nation, it should still be ‘in the mind’. Therefore it is important for the nation and the armed forces to take steps and ‘keep the art alive’.
From the above it can be concluded that the Indian Armed Forces do have the capacity and capability to launch Out of Area Contingency operations; all that is needed is the intention. In line with the aspirations for a regional power status, India should shed inhibitions as far as military intervention in its sphere of concern/ influence is concerned. India needs to be seen and regarded as a serious net security provider particularly in the IOR. The silver lining in Mr Nasheed’s tweet is that India is believed to be a potent player in the IOR in the eyes of some. Power abhors vacuum and so any space ceded by India in the IOR will be usurped by non resident powers. While the decision to embark on Expeditionary/ Out of Area Contingency operations is to be taken by the political leadership in consultation with the higher defence leadership, it is incumbent upon the three services to spare no effort in training for the same. The forces need to invest in platforms, training and above all the mindset – in other words‘keep the art alive’.
[i]https://twitter.com/MohamedNasheed/status/960758666268835841 accessed on 13 Feb 2018 at 0030 hrs.
[ii]https://twitter.com/MohamedNasheed/status/961117681612197889 accessed on 13 Feb 2018 at 0035 hrs.
[iii]https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/maldives-crisis-indian-military-kept-on-standby/articleshow/62813515.cms?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=TOIDesktop accessed on 13 Feb 2018 at 0040 hrs.
[iv]http://www.mccdc.marines.mil/Portals/172/Docs/MCCDC/EF21/EF21_USMC_Capstone_Concept.pdf accessed on 13 Feb 2018 at 0110 hrs.
[v]Ibid. Page 5.
[vi]Ibid. Page 6.
[vii]No soft copy of the Doctrine is available at the HQ IDS website. The author accessed the doctrine at http://bharatshakti.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Joint_Doctrine_Indian_Armed_Forces.pdf on 16 Feb 2018 at 0120 hrs.