Military & Aerospace

Fighting a Two Front Collusive War
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Net Edition | Date : 21 Oct , 2020

‘Si vis pacem, para bellum’ in Latin means ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’. India learned this the hard way in 1962, but learnt it well, as demonstrated by its resounding victory in 1971, the biggest after WW II.

One may wonder why we are discussing this subject now, even though the threat has existed for decades. The reason is that on our northern borders there is ‘No War No Peace’, against both China and Pakistan. For decades, the Government has followed the policy of avoiding clashes with the PLA, to maintain peace and tranquillity. In recent years, the PLA is gradually changing the status quo, in their favour. Talks at all levels have failed to reverse the process. The Indian Army on the LAC has two choices. One,to ignore the PLA aggressive activities to buy peace and tranquility, or two, to take a firm stand to maintain the status quo with the possibility that such action can escalate to a major conflict. For the second option, the Government needs to be sure that India can fight the Chinese, even if the latter receive collusive support from Pakistan. A relevant question arises whether we have really eradicated the weaknesses noticed in 1962.

Lessons Learned from the Sino Indian Conflict

In 1962, the Indian Army pursued an ill-advised Forward Policy of establishing non-defensible posts without combat or administrative support, under the mistaken belief that China would not attack.Despite China issuing a number of warnings, the Indian nation was surprised when the PLA attacked Indian positions on 20 October 1962.With our state of Intelligence and surveillance being better now, PLA will not enjoy the advantage of surprise in any future conflict. The state of Intelligence on Pakistan is also far better than in previous years.

The present deployment is on selected tactical features where strong combat and logistic support are assured. The senior military leadership is better and has a good rapport with the Government.

Wars are fought by nations and not by the armed forces alone. However, in this article, only the military aspects of a two and a half front war are discussed. The scenario being discussed is one in which the Government has done everything possible to avoid war and has taken care of all non-military aspects.

Military Aims of War

In keeping with its long-term policy, India will not initiate war. In an Indo Pak Conflict, China’s support to Pakistan will be moral and material,but short of physical hostilities. As against this, in the case of a Sino Indian Conflict, Pakistan is likely to activate its long borders with India, to derive maximum advantage of India’s involvement with China or to actually collude with China so that both nations achieve their aims simultaneously. Hence,a two front war can be precipitated only by China initiating active hostilities. One may assess the possible aims of the warring nations in this scenario.

China. China is a mature nation which will use force only if inevitable, to further its national interests, even though skirmishes on the un-demarcated LAC have become routine. It is essential to understand China, its national interests and its psyche, to assess its military aim in case of war, which is likely to be to consolidate its hold on the line which China sees as its border with India. In pursuance of this aim, China will seek to recapture features which it perceives have been wrongly occupied by India. During war, PLA will not hesitate to cross its perceived border or LAC for tactical advantage. In addition, PLA may try to capture areas claimed by China in the past.Hence, offensives, large or small, can be expected across all sections of the LAC.

Pakistan. Pakistan’s obsession with J&K is well known. Hence, it can be expected to launch maximum force to try and annex J&K or part thereof, infiltrating additional terrorists in support of conventional forces and also to paralyse the civil government.As part of collusive support to China, Pakistan could launch offensive operations in the IB sector to keep Indian forces engaged on the western front.They will not achieve much against our strong defences, other than keeping some of our ground forces engaged.

India. Selection and Maintenance of Aim is a principle of war. The Indian aim will be to ensure sanctity of its borders in all sectors and thus defeat the war aims of the two adversaries. Thereafter, the armed forces will aim to make further gains as operations develop.

Military Geography that Favours India

Mountains favour the defender. Remember the Battle of Thermopylae of 480 BCE, in which 300 Spartans made use of the terrain to fight thousands of Persians for several days. Our northern borders have several such passes, which must be crossed for ingress into Indian territory. The rugged mountainous terrain also reduces the effect of some weapon systems of the PLA, such as SSMs.

Weather is another factor which favours India. It will impede the aggressors and restrict operations during several months in a year,e.g.winters restrict operations in the mountains, but are ideal for operations in the plains. Monsoons hinder mechanised operations in the plains and in the high mountains in the Central and NE regions, but permit operations in some other sectors. Hence, Indian armed forces can take advantage of the weather to concentrate at the decisive points, in time and space, to defeat the enemy indifferent sectors one by one.

Force Levels

India has a large professional Army. It can defend all borders and lines of control and has strong reserves in every theatre. It has some formations fighting proxy wars in disturbed States. It can be expected that additional terrorists will be inducted to foment trouble in these States to keep the Indian Army engaged in what is sometimes called a ‘half front’. These Army formations will move out to their war locations, leaving the Rashtriya Rifles, Assam Rifles and the police organisations to fight the internal conflicts, just as army formations moved out of Nagaland and Mizoram in 1971, to participate in the War. In fact, some of the RR battalions will reinforce the LC formations while others keep all lines of communication open in all sectors.

Keeping in mind the aforesaid military aim, the IAF will safeguard the Indian airspace, thus preventing launch of major offensives by the enemies. Resultantly, the war may actually be small scale battles in the sectors chosen by the aggressors. For larger offensives the IAF will play a key role because such major actions can be undertaken only when a favourable air situation is assured over the formations.

The Indian Navy will protect our territorial waters, ports and off shore assets, keep the sea lanes open for own shipping, and strike enemy shipping. Additional tasks will be undertaken making best use of our capability, to further the military aim.

The greatest advantage India will enjoy in any future war, will be jointness in planning and conduct of war, ensuring optimum utilisation of all resources.The recent appointment of a CDS is meant to facilitate this. Obviously, for meaningful synergy,all the Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals will have to understand the operations of the other services better.

An objective study of previous wars shows that synergy was conspicuous by its absence in every case. 11 Corps launched a major operation across the IB early morning on 06 September 1965, without a single IAF aircraft in support, and continued fighting throughout the day. An infantry battalion crossed the Ichhugil Canal and threatened Lahore, but received no Air or ground support to defeat Pakistani counter attacks. An excellent opportunity was wasted due to lack of synergy between the air and ground forces.

Munitions and Logistics

Availability of resources is a vital factor in war planning. Need sare calculated based on military plans. To illustrate, ammunition required for capture of a feature is far greater than for defending it. The maximum number of attacks that can be expected on both sides can be war gamed. Based on results, the ammunition requirements can be computed better than basing them on the WWRs.

Procurement of munitions is based on need. Ideally, it should be just adequate with some reserve. Overstocking is as harmful as under stocking. Peace time procurement is for training purposes, for internal conflicts and also for short unforeseen skirmishes on the borders. All ammunition needs be consumed before its shelf life expires.

In case of war, all unused training ammunition,is used for combat. Additional ammunition is procured on priority, through indigenous production or import.

Logistics is important and vastly different for combat in high altitude mountains and for the mechanised forces in the plains and deserts. The systems are so well set that there is nothing to add for fighting on two fronts.

Nuclear Deterrence

In any conflict involving nations which possess nuclear weapons, war can lead to exchange of nuclear weapons. While China and India are responsible nations, the same cannot be said for Pakistan. Regular issue of threats of use of nuclear weapons, is perhaps part of their strategy.

Nuclear Deterrence is not mere possession of nuclear weapons. It involves convincing the opponents of our will to use the min national interest, even if it appears irrational to some. The Indian policy on use of nuclear weapons is clear and is well understood by our neighbours.

One factor in our favour is that India will not initiate war. The opponents will be denied the moral justification for use of nuclear weapons against our strategic defence. Planning and execution of war keep this in mind.

Intelligence, Surveillance and Electronic Warfare

India will employ all means to gain intelligence of the enemy and use the electro-magnetic spectrum to full advantage. In some fields, PLA enjoys an advantage over the Indian forces. This will be countered by suitable measures by the Indians.

Having said this there is no gainsaying that we need to look at our inadequacies to upgrade all our force multipliers, at the soonest.

Concept of Operations

For the purpose of this article a Two Front War is taken as one where India finds itself fighting the Chinese and Pakistanis simultaneously. The actual fighting may take place in three or four fronts namely Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh against the PLA, and in the mountains and plains against the Pakistanis.

There are adequate resources in each theatre of operations to fight any aggressive activities by the adversaries. This includes reserves to reinforce the threatened sectors. Accurate real-time Intelligence and surveillance deep inside enemy territory will be a force multiplier, as it will help recreate reserves from low threat sectors.

The IAF will provide maximum support. If the PLAAF or the PAF try and establish a favourable air situation anywhere, this will be strongly contested by concentrating air resources in threatened sectors. The enemies are not likely to launch major offensives without gaining superiority in the Air.

The CDS /CAS may redeploy resources to deal with sectors to ensure full concentration of force, as was done by Israel during the Yom Kippur War. In October 1973, the Israeli Defence Forces first defeated the Syrians to recapture the Golan Plateau and then launched an offensive into Syria, before fighting the Egyptian forces in Sinai.

In each Corps zone, reserves will be used with close air support, to annihilate the aggressors. Thereafter, if the IAF can provide a favourable air situation the ground forces will be reorganised and used for offensive operations. Conduct of tactical battles will be left to field commanders.

The fundamental principle of war, Selection and Maintenance of Aim, will be borne in mind throughout the war, to ensure forces are not frittered away for non-essential tasks.


This article brings out how a two front war can be fought today with the resources available. At the same time there is an urgent need to upgrade our weapon systems and force multipliers. The IAF needs more punch to be able to dominate our airspace throughout. Only after they establish a favourable air situation, can the ground forces available, be used to full advantage.

India does not seek war. Yet if a two front war is thrust upon her, the armed forces will fight to win, making the best use of terrain, climatic conditions, and resources available.

Joint planning and execution of war will ensure synergy. With war aims being formulated based on all relevant factors, the primary aims of war will be achieved first, defeating enemy designs. Later, the air and ground forces will fight concentrated in different sectors sequentially, for additional gains.

The troops in contact display the ‘will’ of the Nation in safeguarding the Indian borders. If their actions lead to an all-out war, then so be it.The Nation has to be prepared and will fight to win.On their own, the troops do nothing to provoke the adversaries.

The best way to prevent war is by being fully prepared to fight one and win.

Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen KK Khanna, PVSM, AVSM** (Retd)

has been the BGS of a strike corps and commanded an infantry division (RAPID) in another strike corps. He was MGGS and COS of HQ Northern Command, Commandant of the Indian Military Academy and Colonel of the Jat Regt.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

3 thoughts on “Fighting a Two Front Collusive War

  1. A very well conceived,planned and drafted Article. The Aim of the author basically is to imbibe a will to fight and win.
    Very rightly brought out that if this type of war is thrust on us , it is going to involve all forces and reserves in addition to communication,intelligence,economy and synergy.
    A good positive and proactive thought process.

  2. ‘In an Indo Pak Conflict, China’s support to Pakistan will be moral and material,but short of physical hostilities.’

    Given this, it is in India’s interest to start an Indo-Pak war, and finish off Pakistan once and for all, (i.e. defeat and dismantle it), so that it can concentrate on one front in the future.

    If we don’t take proactive measures in this regard, we run the risk of a future three-front war, should an anti-India regime come to power in Dhaka after Sheikh Hasina.

More Comments Loader Loading Comments