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Ideating Infantry’s Makeover
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Lt Gen (Dr) Rakesh Sharma, PVSM,UYSM,AVSM,VSM (Retd.)
is an infantry officer commissioned in Gorkha Rifles in 1977, with career span of forty years. He is currently DISTINGUISHED FELLOW with the Centre for Land Warfare Studies.

Infantry – the Alma Mater, to be proud of!  Nearly seventy years in incessant combat in insurgencies, in countering infiltration (CI) and in combating terrorism (CT), has battle hardened the infantry.  Despite the adversities of 1962 (largely due to higher directions), the infantry shone itself and lived up to the saga of courage and sacrifice and to the epithet – last man last round – in Rezangla in Eastern Ladakh.   The capture of Hajipir, the crossing of Ichchogil and the battle of Dograi and the blunting of the Pakistani onslaught in Khemkaran in 1965, is history written by valour in blood.  The 1971 and the infantry offensives in East Pakistan are great examples of infantry prowess.  The grit and determination of the infantry in the Kargil war in 1999, in super High Altitude areas, in evicting the adversaries – the world took note of.  As mentioned earlier, on counter insurgency, counter infiltration and counter terrorism, in the North East, in Operation Pawan (Sri Lanka) and in Jammu and Kashmir, the infantry stands bloodied and generations have proved their mettle – by giving ultimate sacrifice or unmindful of personal harm. The cohesive nature of Infantry units and regiments where veterans and the serving enjoy bonhomie together is only to be felt and enjoyed.  The life of an infantry-man is veneration of sagas of indomitable courage that abound as folklore – many, many of them not even in open domain, and of course many have been suitably embellished and padded, to stimulate future generations.  The dynamism of an infantry unit is most noteworthy – adapting to different typologies of combat operations, adversaries, terrain and climatic conditions, which exhibit the mettle that the infantry units are made of and with no peer in sight.

The past and the present is, however behind us or getting to be so; a befuddled future is ahead.

Predicting future is an onerous task.   Hans Morgenthau had stated that “…complexities of international affairs make simple solutions and trustworthy prophecies impossible.” The dire necessity is to envision with credible success, the future operating environment for the infantry, and endeavour towards the right force planning construct, albeit in a building blocks mode.   The incessant employment in hot CI/CT milieu has taken its toll on back-benched conventionalism and in enunciating pace towards a vision for a futuristic force construct, and the execution to ensure it.  As is their wont, the immersion that CT environment demands, and the evident dividends that it provides in various forms – has guided the careers of the infantry-men. In the end it propels total outlook towards limited vision of small-team operations.  Transformational changes happenings or on the horizon, in military technology and operating environment are subsumed in the heat of current CT focus.  And rightly so, as the current operations become the prime source of national attention too.  The status quo largely happens in the infantry’s domain. The relative under-commitment in the operating environment for other segments of military power, , allows them to continually direct energies for contemplation of what is to follow, and undertake steady steps towards acquisition of requisite capabilities, that would be more relevant for the future.

The adversarial environment and its collusive nature, has witnessed significant changes in the recent past, both geo-politically (as in CPEC and in the maritime domain), and militarily in the transformative changes that have occurred. A host of technologies and systems in the form of information warfare, real time reconnaissance, remote sensing, data processing and transmission, propulsion (even stealth) and precision guidance have proliferated in the neighbourhood.  These will have transformative effect on war fighting, and at least with the Northern neighbour, greatly enhance the asymmetry.  These technological changes may themselves lead to a differentiated war – and not exactly a typical force-on-force.  The latter, even if eventually taking place cannot be envisioned by having a look-see at the rear-view mirror!  The advantage of however fighting on known turf exists, and the geography will as always be infantry’s biggest ally.

Where does this place an infantry unit?  Infantry has to gear itself for a future war that may be absolutely on a different plane than is currently envisaged – even in mountainous, high altitude or super high altitude terrain.  In many an environment, the saturation of information operations, autonomous weapons and precision projectile warfare may lend the situation in that the platforms of other arms that cohabit or support infantry may be absent or ineffective, rendering a kind of isolation or independence. In addition fixated occupations in evident defensive lines, in mountainous terrain, strong or nodal points and even bridge-heads may be totally or partially ineffective against directed onslaught of modern technology.  These tram-line defensive lines also inculcate a defensive mindset. What will eventually happen in the next war cannot be crystal-gazed in its entirety, though it will be credibly different, and limited in scope only by imagination or wherewithal.  As had been argued in a previous article on reconfiguring war fighting[1], the jointness with the air warriors in the future must be seamless, as should be with the plethora of CAPF/PMF that exist. It is all the more imperative that the fixation on linearity is shed in favour of the CAPF/PMF – which are fairly organised and equipped, and have been as bloodied in insurgencies. This would release the infantry units to focus largely on breaking any asymmetrical advantage of the adversary, and to offensives.

For the infantry, it is not the question of whether change is necessary or warranted, and if the status quo will be adequate against the adversaries, or that the excessive commitments in CI/CT preclude any dramatic makeover.  It is the need of the hour and the future – to transform – the same cannot be undertaken on the altar of hostilities.  A few recommendations are offered.

  • The conditions and operative environment demands ‘many infantries’ and NOT jack of all units always preparing for and looking forward to the next tenure – which inevitably is totally different.  Infantry units need to get specialised in warfare and terrains. Currently infantry units are on a BRICK basis, with some cosmetic changes, a kind of templation that does not suit universally.  The units have to be correctly trained, organised and provided the vision for the task envisaged, to be able to independently exercise initiative and place the adversary recurrently in dilemma.    
  • The amphibian infantry units should be permanently located as they are, and be rotated among themselves, trained, organised and equipped so. The marine environment is bound to face grave challenges, and there is no scope for turned-over untrained virginal units. 
  • There is aversion to ‘Expeditionary’ as a nomenclature. India has to get aspirational thanks to its growing clout and create air mobile rapid deployment specialist forces that are retained at suitable locations, trained for response and equipped like light infantry.  It may be prudent to consider a three-coy format with adequate ground mobility for the air mobile and the amphibians. There is a dire necessity for the heavy lift helicopters (like CHINHOOKS/ Mi 17s), to achieve third-dimension operations with a confident measure of success. This rapid deployment force, with permanent units, will eventually become the net-security provider in the region, once called upon at short notice.
  • The typology of warfare in plains and deserts is typical in the current schema with obstacle ridden and open terrain – by itself being specialist.  Contextually, Second World War type operations may be counterproductive. The operations of the infantry have great influence in the combined arms concept, and hence must be trained for with imagination and guile. The training for crossing obstacles is itself a specialist role, and requires specialist, quality equipment, in addition to the third dimension.  The infantry units on the Western Border with similar expertise can be basketed among themselves for rotation.  With (hopefully) CAPF/PMF undertaking the deployable role, the infantry units would be offensively trained, with required integral mobility and heavier weaponry. Again with the typology of operations, a three-rifle company in a unit, with an enlarged and heavier compliment of support weapons and dedicated mobility as per terrain, may find more effectiveness. 
  • The LOC in prospective too requires domination for CI/CT, being a contested border.  The LOC needs modernity and technology, in checking infiltration and short range air defense system to detect, assess and intercept incoming rockets, artillery and missiles (like Iron Dome), light weight Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (like Raven), quality protective gear, and personal weapons. The terrain configuration does demand a density of troops in a gridded deployment which may warrant a traditional four-rifle company unit.   
  • The LAC is another contested border, though not live as the LOC. The ITPB is responsible for the LAC, along with the infantry units. Again the difficulties at the management, and the vastness of areas envisages larger number of troops and like the LOC may warrant four-rifle company units. The specialist units of Scouts as sons of soil concept, in traditional role are force multipliers, and needs enlargement.  Their organisation needs re-tailoring, as per role specific and not akin to an infantry battalion. It may be prudent to also convert additional infantry units hailing from respective areas, into regional Scouts, and employed so. 
  • The turnover of the units at the LAC and the LOC, as also the Siachen Glacier, will require management. There exist substantial reserves for the LOC and the LAC, and many are part and parcel of respective theatres. The turnover management is being recommended as a theatre-based exercise, to ensure specialisation for the role.   As is happening in Rashtriya Rifles, there might be need for turnover of troops based on regimental rosters or part peace profiles.   
  • The modernisation of infantry units has to be planned on sectoral profile and not at a standardised Infantry level.  Indeed, the standard requirements of an effective battle management system for situational awareness with a quantity of heads-up displays, protective gear, night enablement, are imperatives.
  • There is also a prime necessity to manage human resource issues, of career profiling of the officer cadre so that in the career planning of an officer from the infantry, he is exposed to a wide variety of operational scenarios and partakes in the same to become a well-rounded officer.  Exposing infantry officers at Divisional, Corps or Command levels in commands that they had had no exposure to, in the growing years is counter-productive to the officers and the organisation.  Similarly, the typology of operations and equipment envisaged demand a qualitative change at the intake stage in the rank and file of the infantry.  However, human resource and cadre management will be the subjects of another analysis.

What has been attempted is a semblance of infantry’s makeover, a disaggregation of the current omnibus typology of infantry units of a jack of all mode. This specialisation and constitution of infantry units based operational environment and terrain configuration will make infantry more effective, tailored to task and responsive.  A large number of these units will reconfigure in these recommendations to a three-rifle company profiling that will make them lighter and more agile.

It is obvious that this makeover or any such plan will have numerous naysayers or with bureaucrats (even military ones) berating and citing turnover management as difficult.  Naturally, any change is fraught with immense difficulties, and will cause resultant turf issues.  The paper exhorts towards a rethink in infantry that may produce better solutions to many adhocisms.   Future wars demand an infantry makeover or the next war may be a difficult teacher.


[1] Rakesh Sharma, Ideating Future War Fighting: Multi-Domain Warfare, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, 07 Jan 2018, available at


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