Military & Aerospace

Divergent Paths: India’s National Security Strategy & Military Doctrine
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Issue Vol. 30.1 Jan-Mar 2015 | Date : 18 Oct , 2015

The focus on RMA led to modifications in force structures and a changed emphasis on tactical concepts and training methodology. The Gulf War of 1991 and the initial phases of the subsequent offensives in Afghanistan and Iraq initially validated the doctrine till its limitations were clearly brought out in the continuing and protracted campaign of attrition that followed. The challenge of asymmetric or irregular warfare accentuated the inadequate availability of “boots on the ground”, lack of social and cultural awareness of the enemy and poor understanding of and training in counter insurgency operations. While the US political establishment must have been aware of what post-Cold War global engagement entailed, the fascination of the US military leadership with technology and its version of RMA along with its utter contempt for capabilities of its potential third world adversaries led it to ignore the implications of what “Operations Other than War” (OOW) involved. Subsequent events have now forced them to initiate corrective measures and adopt a more realistic view of the global threat environment.12

India has always tended to exercise extreme restraint as a politico-military option…

Within the Indian military, the Air Force first published its Air Power Doctrine in 1997, which was last updated in 2012. The Army followed when Headquarters Army Training Command (ARTRAC) published it doctrine in October 2004. This was followed up with the Indian Navy publishing its Maritime Doctrine within two months and subsequently updating it in 2009. The Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), not to be left behind, published the Joint Forces Doctrine in May 2006 and the Joint Doctrine for Amphibious Operations along with the Joint Doctrine for Special Forces Operations in September 2008.The necessity for the three services and the IDS to bring out their separate doctrines can be attributed to the competition for “operational and bureaucratic space in the inter-Service competition, and joint doctrines are a major instrument of such assertion… Thus, it is clear that articulation of the doctrines has been an essential component of inter-Service interaction in the face of the failure (or unwillingness) of the government to carry through the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee pertaining to the office of the Chief of Defence Staff.”13 Given the prevailing circumstances, despite academic articulation of intent, the ability of the Services to undertake integrated joint operations that modern war-fighting demands appears to be questionable.

The original publication was in two parts, of which Part I was for open dissemination and document broadly covered the geo-strategic environment, operational perspectives and preparations and conduct of operations.14

The first review of the doctrine was undertaken in a closed door seminar at the end of 2009. The main issue of consequence that emerged in public domain was the necessity for preparing to fight a two- front war simultaneously against China and Pakistan and the concept of cold start.

The acquisition of a capability to fight a two–front war implies that existing force levels are insufficient because plans for switching forces from East to West and vice-versa are no longer relevant.

While undoubtedly, the army must prepare for the worst case scenario, its reasoning for change from the earlier threat assessment appears questionable and not in consonance with our likely strategic objectives.

Common sense dictates that we have always adopted and will continue to do so in the future all necessary measures, both political and diplomatic, to avoid confronting both China and Pakistan at the same time. Moreover, were such a scenario to come about and the Indian leadership faced unacceptable territorial losses or its very survival at stake, the likelihood of a nuclear first strike, despite its stated doctrine, would not have escaped the Chinese.

Thus, while the need to strengthen our capabilities against China is understandable, force accretion could have been avoided and redeployment and reorganisation of forces carried out after a more realistic threat assessment.

The government must issue a national strategic security policy directive at the earliest…

The adoption of the concept of “cold start” has generated much speculation worldwide. Analysts trashed it and referred to it as, “stillborn…a non-starter for a number of political, diplomatic, logistical and tactical reasons”.15 This concept was conceived after the failure of OP Parakram, an operation aimed at “coercing Pakistan into curbing its sponsorship of and presumed connivance with India-centric terrorists.”16 This failure could be attributed to two major reasons, firstly, “inordinate delay in mobilisation”17 and more importantly, once these forces had completed their deployment and were poised “(they) seemed unequipped to offer a response sufficiently finessed to avert nuclear retaliation.”18

This doctrine aims to ensure that viable forces were effective and in position to launch limited offensives along a wide front. These shallow offensives by divisional size “Integrated Battle Groups” (IBG) would commence within 72 to 96 hours “before the international community could intercede, and at the same time, pursue narrow enough aims to deny Islamabad a justification to escalate the clash to the nuclear level”.19 Where analysts have erred is in their assumption that the Strike Corps would be reorganised to form the IBGs.

In fact, reports suggest that IBGs have been created from within the holding Corps resources. Depending on the prevailing political and operational situation, the Strike Corps would utilise the successes achieved by the IBGs for further operations. This has been borne out by whatever open source information has become available on military exercises conducted in 2012 by South Western and the Western Army Commands (Ex Shoorveer and Ex Rudra Akrosh).

However, this doctrine has wholly ignored the political reality that India has always tended to exercise extreme restraint as a politico-military option. Resultantly, pre-emption or pro-action as visualised in “cold-start’ is of purely academic value and the Strike Corps are primarily countervailing forces meant to respond to Pakistan’s GHQ reserves. Contrary to the conclusions drawn this concept has been extremely effective in neutralising Pakistan’s stated plans of “offensive-defence” forcing it to take the dangerous step of deciding to introduce tactical nuclear munitions into the battlefield.

War is inextricably linked to politics and the political leadership must ensure that the military leadership is given clear cut directives…

In fact, one can go so far as to say that the very effectiveness of the concept has been at cross purposes with our strategic security objectives leading to increasing instability. There is an urgent need to initiate discussions and take substantive measures that will reassure Pakistan and force a rethink on deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. Since, likelihood of large scale conflict is limited, India needs to review its force profile and look towards reducing its mechanised forces. Savings here will go a long way in enhancing capabilities in our mountain sector.

Finally, in the context of asymmetric warfare and counter insurgency operations, in the absence of any government directives specifying end state and specific objectives to be attained the army has reportedly taken it upon itself to lay these down.20 Since all internal conflicts and insurgencies are political in nature and require political solutions to be successfully ended, the army is in no position to suggest such a objective, or for that matter implement it. In fact, by laying down specific objectives that it cannot achieve on its own, the army has played into the hands of an extremely cynical and short-sighted politico-bureaucratic establishment that prefers the status quo.

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War is inextricably linked to politics and it is, therefore, incumbent on the political leadership to ensure that the military leadership is given clear cut directives. Based on this it can organise, equip and prepare itself to secure its military objectives that will meet our political aims. In our context therefore, the absence of a written national security policy clearly laying down our objectives is not just a debilitating flaw, but criminal negligence that must be strongly and unequivocally condemned.

This is further compounded because the military has been forced to make assumptions on the basis of which it has organised, trained and equipped itself to meet the challenges it is likely to confront. As we see, this has resulted in a divergence of views and the resulting impact on our geo-political environment can never be to our advantage. It is, therefore, obligatory for the government to issue a national strategic security policy directive at the earliest to ensure that the military is able to meet its expectations to the fullest.


  1. Strachan, Hew; The Direction of War: Contemporary Strategy in Historical Perspective; Cambridge University Press, UK, 2013; p. 28.
  2. Ibid p. 33.
  3. Ibid., p. 34.
  4. Ahmed, Ali; Clarifying India’s strategic Doctrine; IDSA 25 Oct 2010.
  5. Burgess, Stephen S; India’s Emerging Security Strategy, Missile Defense and Arms Control; INSS Occasional Paper No 54; USAF Institute for National Security Studies, USAF Academy, Colorado; Jun 2004; p. 3.
  6. Tanham, George K; Indian Strategic Thought: An Interpretive Essay; RAND National Defense Research Institute; 1992.
  7. Sarila, Narendra Singh; The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition; Harper Collins Publishers, India; 2005.
  8. Lind, William S;Nightengale, Col Keith (USA);Schmitt, Capt. John F(USMC); Sutton, Col Joseph W (USA); Wilson, Lt Col Gary I (USMCR); The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation; Marine Corps Gazette, Oct 1989; pp. 22-26.
  9. Tellis, Ashley J; Fair, Christine C; Medby, Jamison Jo; Limited Conflict Under the Nuclear Umbrella: Indian and Pakistani Lessons from the Kargil Crisis; Rand 2001; pp. 5-8.
  10. AAP-6(V) NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions.
  11. Canada Department of National Defence. The Conduct of Land Operations B-GL-300-001/FP-000, 1998: iv–v.
  12. Freedman, Lawrence; The Counterrevolution in Strategic Affairs; The Modern American Military; Ed David M Kennedy; Oxford University Press, New Delhi 2013; pp. 13-39.
  13. Anand, Vinod; Review of the Indian Army Doctrine: Dealing With Two Fronts; CLAWS Journal Summer 2010 pg264.
  14. Indianarmydoctrine_1.doc from
  15. Joshi Shashank; India’s Military Instrument: A Doctrine Stillborn; The Journal of Strategic Studies, 2013, Vol. 36, No. 4, pp 512–540,
  16. Ibid., p. 514.
  17. Ibid., p. 515.
  18. Ibid., p. 515.
  19. Ladwig, Walter C; ‘A Cold Start for Hot Wars?’, pg 164;
  20. As stated by a former Corps Commander responsible for counter insurgency operations in J&K in a discussion with the author.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Deepak Sinha

is a second generation para trooper and author of “Beyond the Bayonet: Indian Special Operations Forces in the 21st Century.” He is currently a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation.

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