As India’s regional and global aspirations grow with its increasing economic clout, it will be forced to build up its capacity to project power in its national interest to ensure that the region is not destabilised by outside elements that may be inimical to it. The establishment of an effective and responsive RDF towards this end is inescapable. To be able to do so requires that India take a long hard look at its requirements and reassess its capabilities. It needs to quickly put in place structures that will ensure that its RDF is able to provide what is required of it so that in the words of Rahul Gandhi, “We stop being scared about how the world will impact us, and we step out and worry about how we will impact the world.”1
Nation states aspiring to be regarded as regional or global powers, fully understand the necessity for an effective strategic force projection capability…
All skilled professionals, be they cardiac surgeons, car mechanics or carpenters, always have their own personalised tool kits from which they can choose the appropriate instrument with which to successfully complete their task. Similarly, “our national security system is the toolbox with which we navigate through an ever-changing international environment: It turns our overall capabilities into active assets, protects us against the threats of an anarchic international system and makes it possible to exploit its opportunities.”2
From within this toolbox, nation states aspiring to be regarded as regional or global powers, fully understand the necessity for an effective strategic force projection capability in time critical contingencies. This will provide them the requisite muscle when other diplomatic initiatives aimed at protecting national interests are not as effective as they need to be. This inescapable and essential requirement is best met by a suitably organised and capable Rapid Deployment Forces (RDF).
So what exactly does force projection imply? The US Department of Defense defines power projection as being, “the ability of a nation to apply all or some of its elements of national power – political, economic, informational, or military – to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain forces in and from multiple dispersed locations to respond to crises, to contribute to deterrence, and to enhance regional stability.”3
As Dr. Ladlow puts it, “Military power projection has been divided into nine different aspects based on the political goals being sought and the level of force employed. Four of these relate to the employment of ‘soft’ military power (securing sea lanes of communication, non-combatant evacuation operations, humanitarian relief and peacekeeping), and five are primarily concerned with “hard” military power (showing the flag, compellence/deterrence, punishment, armed intervention, and conquest).”4
The air assault element must be based on the new generation of recently acquired air assets, the C-17s and the C-130s…
RDF Capabilities and Tasking
While it would appear to be a no brainer that RDF capability required to meet the hard military power options would be established based on the logical and reasonable view that such a capability needs to be developed based on what would be considered to be the nation’s area of interest, the contingencies that it may be required to tackle and the threat perception that would need to be neutralised.
However, invariably, this is not the case and such a capability tends to be established based on legacy structures and assets already available with some minor alterations or some additional capabilities being incorporated. This results in two major flaws with consequences that are fairly easy to visualise.
Firstly, it implies that we have a force that is looking for a mission that it can accomplish and not the other way around which means there will be situations in which intervention is not a viable option because the capability available cannot meet the requirement.
Secondly, RDF tasking tends to be treated not as the primary responsibility but as just another contingency that may arise resulting in the existing command and control hierarchy being neither attuned nor flexible enough to be able to respond as required. Unfortunately, this is the case in our context as well and needs corrective action at the earliest.
Before focusing on our RDF requirements, available capabilities and actions that require to be initiated to make them an effective tool of national security it would be worthwhile to understand how the RDF is organised and tasked. These forces are not homogeneous units but a Task Force consisting of a variety of specialised units with specific operational capabilities and mission profiles that are complementary and are utilised in a variety of combinations depending on the strategic and tactical requirement. Their synchronised and synergistic operational employment is aimed at ensuring successful mission termination.
Our ability to influence events within the Indian Ocean littoral region should be considered satisfactory…
Primarily, these forces consist of units that act as ‘tripwire’ elements capable of immediate response to developing situations within a nation’s area of interest. These are followed by ‘heavier forces’ that are transported into a safe zone within the area of interest by air, sea or surface transport where they reorganise themselves for deployment as required. There may, however, be situations where they may be required to establish themselves against opposition to be able to proceed with their mission. It is for one contingency within such a scenario that there is a necessity to have amphibious capabilities as well.
The tripwire elements tend to be lightly equipped airborne units capable of speedy mobilisation and deployment at the target area within a matter of hours. As first responders, their primary mission is to provide boots that can stabilise the developing situation on the ground, real time accurate intelligence and assessment of the prevailing ground situation and provide a firm base for follow-up forces and logistic echelons.
In addition they may also be required to provide asset protection or recovery and undertake direct action missions to neutralise elements inimical to our national interest. These forces are limited by the quantum and type of equipment and personnel and logistics that they can carry or be supplied with based on available air assets, the prevailing air defence environment and the ground tactical situation.
All these factors including distance of the target area directly impact their mission profile and threat neutralisation capabilities. The heavier follow on forces are based on infantry and supporting arms and services units suitably modified, equipped and trained for either employment in the amphibious role or for air movement. These are normally based on a standard Infantry or Mechanised Division or Brigade group.
It is likely that economic strength, rather than military prowess, will be the real measure of state power…
In 1990, for example, after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, rapid deployment by the US to Saudi Arabia was carried out sequentially with the first troops to arrive being a Brigade of the 82nd Airborne which got there in less than three days after the decision to go was made. Within a week, the combat elements of a full division were on the ground, complete with air-landed light armor. In three weeks, combat-loaded M1 tanks of the Army’s 24th Mechanised Division began rolling out of fast sea-lift ships at Dhahran. And in two months the entire XVIII Airborne Corps, to include an airborne, an air assault and a mechanised infantry division, plus Corps troops and a Special Forces group, were on the ground.5
Whether the US capability continues to be maintained is a moot point as there have been some public pronouncements in recent months that go on to suggest that some of this transportation capacity, especially in terms of Fast Sea Lift ships, had been greatly degraded.
RDF in the Indian Context
What then should be our consideration with regard to the RDF capabilities we need to maintain? We do need to keep in mind that a substantial portion of our trade, especially energy requirements, are wholly dependent on Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and our core business interests along with Indian communities have been rapidly growing globally. Ideally, our areas of interest and areas of influence should coincide which would require us to effectively intervene wherever our national interests are at stake. This however, is impractical, given our military, economic and developmental constraints as also our influence on the global stage.