Homeland Security

Indian Army: Adopting ‘Deep Operations’ Doctrine
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Issue Vol. 31.2 Apr-Jun 2016 | Date : 22 Aug , 2016

In hostile interactions between nations, there are ‘no rules’ for the Victors till the status quo has been established. India is a continental country and should, therefore, have a realistic outlook and possess strong Land Forces, unlike other nations which maintain strong Navies and have sea barriers to protect them. Wars, if fought, should have decisive outcomes so as to ensure a century of peace thereafter, goes the old Clausewitzian dictum. The importance of restructuring Indian Army’s battle groupings to fight decisive “deep operations” in order to permanently achieve the strategic upper hand should, therefore, not be lost sight of. Our national war aim should not be the capture of territories or assimilation of hostile populations but to ensure the destruction of enemy forces, and a favourable outcome to neighbourly relations in the decades ahead. In the wars fought by India since Independence, this reality has been significantly lacking in decision making inputs.

India cannot wish away wars and live on the assurances of unpredictable neighbours, who do not have a democratic governing culture…

With the promulgation of ‘FM-100-5 Operations’ guidelines in 1982, the US Army finally bade farewell to the ‘Attrition Theory’, and transited to the ‘Manoeuvre Theory’ in order to win wars. Earlier in 1967, during Exercise DNIEPER, the Soviet Union had switched over to the ‘All Arms Battle Concept’ and fine-tuned its offensive doctrine based on successively coordinated and staged forward ‘Echelons’ in order to achieve “Penetration”, “Shaping of the Battlefield”, and the conduct of “Deep Operations” using Corps-sized mechanised Operational Mobile Groups (OMG), for maintaining the momentum of sustained unstoppable offensive operations under nuclear as well as non-nuclear battlefield conditions. This was the ‘trigger’ which led to the change in American military thinking, as NATO had no viable answers to counter the overwhelming threat posed by the finesse’ of Red Armour operations.

After great study and deliberations, the Chinese Central Military Commission has also in early 2016 switched over to the “Theatre Forces Joint Command” structure, for the purpose of “winning wars with manoeuvre under modern battlefield conditions.” But we find that the Indian Army’s War Theory has mostly stagnated and become repetitive, ever since the conduct of the massive Exercise BETWA in 1968! The reasons are not hard to find. It takes a gestation period of Five Years to conceptualise, debate and produce a workable War Doctrine even if we have two successive dynamic and like-minded Army Chiefs.

The transformation of the Force structure and mastering of the Battle Drills will require another Five Years. For this to be successfully achieved, it is not enough to look inwards to dwell on “what we lack”, but we should also closely study the weaknesses in the Force structure and Logistics support vulnerabilities of our adversaries, in order to create the psychological ‘Shock Effect’ on our opponents as the Japanese attained over the Russians in 1904-1905, and the Chinese did the same to us in 1962. The sequence of unfolding events in many cases, usually quickly and inevitably lead to a war situation. From a historical perspective, India cannot wish away wars and live on the assurances of unpredictable neighbours, who do not have a democratic governing culture.

In the Indian context, our Army cannot plan on aggressive operations ab initio due to the policy restraints of our democratic polity…

Rooted as we are with the familiarity of English language and Western military thinking, few in India have closely studied the techniques evolved by the Red Army and successfully employed to develop the winnable “Deep Battle” concept, from the launch of Operation POLKOVODETS RUMYANTSEV in June 1943 for the recapture of Kharkov. The successful German technique of Blitzkrieg was only a ‘tactical level method’ compared to the Deep Operations theory which was perfected by the Russians against the massed and well-equipped Wehrmacht, which was capable of fighting manoeuvre battles and were strongly deployed in depth.

Similarly, the Russian offensive launched against the more than million strong Japanese Army in Manchukuo in August 1945, is a military classic, as to what was achievable in 12 days of hard fighting against a determined foe in difficult terrain, who had not grasped the impact of manoeuvre theory in ‘modern day warfare’. The honour of Russian Arms was thereby restored in East Asia. The relevance of these studies is important in the context of optimally practising ‘Air-land Battle’ synergy, exploiting fleeting ‘political windows’ of opportunity in our subcontinent, and irrevocable rejection of the ‘flawed’ concept of concluding only “stalemate battles”, if a war is thrust upon us. Mere additions to the Glossary of Military Terms and new acronyms cannot guarantee success in a future war, if we do not shed our apparatchik mentality on questions of Higher Command.

In a ‘good’ Army, sparks should fly in military journals and analysis reports of recent wars, and in-house criticism of and reviews of the conduct of major level Army exercises. Such blogs in the Army’s ‘Divisional Commanders and Above’ secret net, should carry on for a couple of months followed by centrally held Operational discussions to further refine our operational Art, before the next big exercise is held. The emergence of different workable solutions to military problems is a sign of a healthy and potent Army. For example, even under a communist ruled set-up, the switchover that Marshal M N Tukhachevskii, along with Generals Viktor Triandafillov and G Isserson achieved in the Red Army during the early to mid-1930s period, from the concept of “Broad Front” operations to “Deep Battle” operations, with the active support of Marshal Yegorov who was then the Commandant of the ‘Frunze Academy’ of Higher Military Command Training, Moscow; which involved the raising of seven full-fledged new Mechanised ‘Corps’ groupings was epochal! Though these large Mechanised groupings were redistributed after Stalin’s purges of the military in 1937, they formed the lifesaving background of experience for the revival of the Red Army’s offensive potential from late 1942 onwards.

India’s dealings with China are hallmarked by a gross lack of understanding on the part of the former’s policymakers of its rich and continuous history…

In the Indian context, our Army cannot plan on aggressive operations ab initio due to the policy restraints of our democratic polity. India can only plan on undertaking aggressive operations if attacked first, as then the public sentiments will be strongly supportive towards our Army. This vital factor makes it obligatory to have advanced logistics preparations undertaken and put in place during peacetime. The ‘set-ups’ required for quick recycling of own battle damaged and captured enemy equipment should be made foolproof and supremely efficient, in order to maintain the tempo of offensive and defensive operations. There is very little scope for being given a second chance in the next war.

Since ancient times, China is amongst the most predictable of nations on earth. However, India’s dealings with China are hallmarked by a gross lack of understanding on the part of the former’s policymakers of its rich and continuous history. Typically, the Chinese rulers to save “face”, expect outward manifestations of “paying respect” from others, even if the Chinese State has to pay reparations and indemnity to its strong opponents, for them to stay at peace with it! ‘China proper’ consists of 17 ‘core provinces’ inhabited by predominantly Han population.

Xinjiang, Tibet, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, Yunnan and Heilongjiang are regions where the Chinese rulers had undertaken conquests for brief periods at the peak of their power, or when invaders from these regions had overwhelmed parts of China in the past. Chinese rulers for the most part of history had been paying the warlike border populations of these parts hefty annual bounties and maintaining friendly ties with their rulers, by betrothal of Chinese royal princesses, to keep their depredations under check. The basic ‘comprehension’ of China can start only if one understands the physical grouping and zones into which the Chinese provinces and regions can be categorised, as given below:-

‘Bei’, ‘Dong’, ‘Nan’ and ‘Xi’ are Chinese words for North, East, South and West. ‘Shan’ stands for mountains (was initially referred to the North – South ‘Taihang’ Range, Southwest of Beijing.) ‘He’ stands for river. ‘Hu’ stands for a large lake. ‘Guang’ means a large sized territory. Most of the Chinese provincial names have emerged as a combination of these character words. The Chinese first imperial Dynasty, ‘Qin’ (221 BC – 206 BC) gave rise to the Sanskrit name Chiina and later, the Western name of ‘China’ was given to this country. Its despotic founder King Zheng of present day Shaanxi – Ningxia region, who was later renamed Shi Huangdi (First Emperor), has special significance for Chinese hearts.

A proper understanding of Chinese history and the characteristics of its political class is essential to formulate the defence policies of India…

Similarly, the present extant of China represents the boundaries of the last ‘Qing’ Empire (1644 AD – 1912 AD) when it was at its peak; who were the ferocious and much hated by the Han people ‘Manchoo-Jurchen-Mongol’ combine of conquerors from the Northeast. It is a historical fact that all Chinese dynasties have shown inevitable decline after the first three generations, and the present day Communist dispensation is not likely to beat this trend after 2025. Except in urban areas, the Chinese people historically have respect for a strong State set-up which ensures peace and least taxation policies. They have very less respect for democracy as we know it, as it is considered a sure way for hastening disorder and paving the way for the emergence of regional warlords. A proper understanding of Chinese history and the characteristics of its political class is essential to formulate the defence policies of India, so as to ensure peace and reap long-lasting economic benefits.

The ‘Deep Operations’ Theory and Concept

There is a tendency amongst many military thinkers to confuse “deep battle” with “deep operations”. These are actually entirely different issues both in scale and technique. To be prepared to undertake “Deep Operations”, there is the need to reinforce the ‘Effort’ on the main axes by deliberately thinning out ‘Holding forces’ on the Fronts. Whereas “Deep Battle” is fought at the tactical level at the stage of Break-In operations, “Deep Operations” are fought at the strategic level, when conditions of large-scale manoeuverability have been created.

The Soviet ‘Draft PU-39 Field Service Regulations’ (War Doctrine pamphlet) prepared by Tukhachevskii during early 1937 clearly enunciated the principles of employment of offensive mechanised forces in battle including “development of Penetrations”, the clear-cut “roles of Echelons” in extending the momentum of Deep Battle at the Operational level, stage-managing the flow of the logistics chain in order to sustain the offensive firestorm into the enemy’s battle-depth areas, conducting simultaneous “Maskirovka” operations to keep the enemy ‘confused’ about own intentions and build-up, and “how to launch the manoeuvre of strategic significance” as opposed to tactical or operational manoeuvres. These actions should create ‘false impressions’ in the enemy higher commander’s mind that the offensives they are facing have “limitless resources”.


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While ‘control by detailed orders’ (Befehlstaktik) are essential at the tactical and operational levels, the style of command has to effortlessly switch over to ‘directive control’ (Auftragstaktik), in the ultimate stages of a large-scale offensive operation in order to gain strategic victories. Tukhachevskii was truly the Great Captain of War of the twentieth century “who never was”, as the shadow of his brain’s output when pulled out of the locker in spring 1942 and implemented, successfully guided the Red Army’s brilliant counter-offensives and later period front level grand offensives, which sent the Wehrmacht reeling back into Germany.

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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

Col JK Achuthan (Retd.)

8 GR was commissioned in June 1980. 

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2 thoughts on “Indian Army: Adopting ‘Deep Operations’ Doctrine

  1. It is a very informative article with a lot of detail. And the autor seems to have a good knowledge of China or has done considerable research on the country. As an Indian with the experience of living in this country and travelling to some of those western extremities, I would like to point out something I feel is a small factual error, that is the grouping of the provinces.

    Ningxia though is a Han majority region cannot be really considered as a Han Heartland as over the centuries it has come to be dominated by Hui minority muslims. And if I am not wrong it is Gansu that is considered as the birthplace of Qin dynasty. And Gansu though it was the birthplace of the first Chinese dynasty in later ages it has been more of a frontier province, as the empires started moving to fertile lands of the east. And most later capitals were also in the certral and eastern provinces. But all in all a very informative article though personally I feel a slight bias on the preeminence of the army according to the author. Would love to read more from you and exchange more ideas in future.

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