Homeland Security

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

Elaboration of the “Deepening Idea”

For the ‘Break In’ operation in the plains in the Indian context, at each Army level, two RAPID divisions are required. This will continue from ‘D Day’ to ‘D Plus 1’, and will also serve as Holding Attacks on the enemy’s defences and draw in their Tactical Reserves. Further progression of the offensive operations can be based on the following historical example.

There is a tendency amongst many military thinkers to confuse “deep battle” with “deep operations”…

In August 1943, the Red Army perfected the art of inserting a “Development Echelon-1” into a penetration during ‘D Plus 2’ consisting of an Armoured Division, during the successful ‘Belgorod – Kharkov’ offensive by Marshal Rokossovski’s Voronezh Front. This was followed up with the insertion of a “Development Echelon-2” consisting of a Mechanised Division during ‘D Plus 3’. These actions led to the sucking in of the German Theatre Reserves and a confused state of uncoordinated fighting taking place in the enemy’s operational depth of up to 30 km. Thereafter, both sides got exhausted by ‘D Plus 4’ and awaited logistics replenishment.

At this crucial stage, the Soviets launched their “Shock Echelon-1” consisting of an Armoured Division on the night of ‘D Plus 4’, followed by the launching of “Shock Echelon-2” consisting of a Mechanised Division on ‘D Plus 5’ night. These were fresh troops and they easily managed to have a run of the battlefield in the enemy’s strategic depth. With periodic replenishments being ensured/‘Shock Echelons’ being replaced by the already inserted and replenished ‘Development Echelons’, a pattern of successful engagements was created at several ‘Break In’ Points, leading to the entire collapse of the enemy’s front, irrespective of the piecemeal nature of resources pumped in by the Germans and however tactically outstanding their commanders were.

From ‘D Plus 8’ onwards, the enemy was forced to order a deep withdrawal of his forces to prevent their rout and capitulation. From ‘D Day’ to ‘D Plus 3’ the pattern of operations was based on the ‘Detailed Orders’ (Befehlstaktik) principle, and from ‘D Plus 4’ onwards, on the ‘Directive Control’ (Auftragstaktik) principle. From this period onwards, the Russians were the masters of the offensive as they further perfected their battle drills. In the subsequent offensive, Marshal Vatutin’s 1st Ukrainian Front and Marshal Koniev’s 2nd Ukrainian Front liberated Kiev and smashed up Manstein’s Southern Army Group against the Carpathians Mountains by March 1944. Most Western commentators wrongly give credit to the Soviet material superiority, and overlook the application and perfection achieved in practicing the Deep Operations Theory.

Restructuring of Indian Army to execute the “Deepening Idea” Concept of Operations

The requirement of creating the capability for undertaking “Deep Operations” in the plains, calls for urgent steps to adopt the proven ‘Echelons System’ of manoeuvre warfare and bury the existing ‘Attrition Theory’ of deliberate and predictable offensive operations. A suggested Force structure for the Indian Army is given below:

By regrouping all the existing (I) Armoured Brigades, (I) Mechanised Brigades and the Armoured Brigades presently allotted to defensive formations, this is an achievable Force configuration in a matter of three years. The whole gamut of ‘deterrence’ will then change!

Creating Offensive Capabilities in the Mountains with Available Force Levels

History has shown that when India had been complacent, other nations have ruthlessly invaded and scattered our unprepared armies…

In the mountains, a Division in major offensive role requires at-least one ‘Class 9 all weather two way road Axis’ to logistically sustain its offensive actions. Therefore, careful attention and planning has to be paid to connect the Class 9 Axis on own side with that on the enemy side in the least possible time. The requirements of moving artillery ammunition and supplies override all other considerations. A high degree of advance dumping for all requirements of three weeks duration will have to be carried out prior to own offensives.

History has shown that when India had been complacent, peaceful, preaching to neighbours about, “trust, good values, and brotherly relations”, other nations have ruthlessly invaded and scattered our unprepared armies with disdain and contempt. That is what we deserve if we are weak! The following historical narrative is worth recapitulating in this context. The great Chinese Buddhist scholar Yuanzang had left China in 629 AD for India via the Samarkand route and returned to China in 645 AD, hailed as a hero. He converted the imperial ‘Tang’ Dynasty to Buddhism.

The Chinese Emperor Tang Taizong sent a Chinese General named Wang Xuanze to the Emperor Harshavardhana’s court in 643 AD in return for the Indian Emperor having sent an ambassadorial delegation to Chang’an, the then Chinese capital. The Chinese repeated this gesture in 648 AD under the same general. But Emperor Harsha had died in 647 AD and there was no clear succession. In those troubled times of internal strife, Wang Xuanze’s mission was waylaid, and he fled and took refuge in Lhasa with the founder of the Tibetan nation Srong-Brtsan-Sgam-Po.

India needs to have a ‘Mountain Strike Corps East’ and a ‘Mountain Strike Corps North’ consisting of four Divisions each…

To oblige the Chinese who were keen to seek allied relations with the martial Tibetans and had even given an imperial Chinese princess in marriage, the Tibetan ruler lent his Army to General Wang Xuanze in 649 AD, to carry out a punitive expedition through the Chumbi Valley into the present day areas of North Bengal and Bihar. In 649 AD, both the Chinese Emperor Tang Taizong and Tibetan ruler Srong-Brtsan-Sgam-Po died, but this expedition is recorded in Chinese history, as they had captured and taken to Chang’an, an Indian Prince as hostage. This was the first recorded antagonistic India-China dealings in history. This goes to show that India’s Northeast as well as Northwest had always been vulnerable to invasions.

India needs to have a ‘Mountain Strike Corps East’ and a ‘Mountain Strike Corps North’ consisting of four Divisions each. These Corps have to be trained and equipped for high altitude operations, and should have an Aviation Brigade each to support their emergency logistics. The areas of Outer Tibet and Eastern Turkistan had never been under direct Chinese rule except for certain brief periods of military expeditions. The Manchoo Qing Banners (expedition forces) had briefly occupied Lhasa in 1720 AD, at the height of their power to install a pro-Chinese Seventh Dalai Lama, as the ruling Dynasty had given high credence to the continued blessings of the Buddhist spiritual Head.

Similarly, during the 1750s, the Qing (Manchoo-Jurchen) Banners had carried out an extermination campaign on the Zhunghar-Uighur population of present day North Xinjiang. In 1758-1759, a Qing Banner conquering force had defeated the Khoja Sufi Naqshbandi rulers of present day South Xingjiang and expelled the bulk of the local population across the Pamirs. The Chinese Empire receded into perpetual decline from 1842 AD, after the British used the might of their Royal Navy and the British East India Company’s Army to end the Opium War.

The prior existence of proper Groupings for command and control will also ensure the setting up of functional signal communications needed for ‘dispersed’ offensive operations, if required. Air superiority has to be ensured for successful dominance over the opponent, and to protect our vital lines of logistics replenishment. It is very essential to move up selected rail-heads to within 50 km of our mountainous border areas, for strategic reasons.

A country should talk ‘peace’ only if it has the military capability to cause serious harm…


Human beings have always been imperfect and greedy. Nothing exemplifies this statement than the proper study of history. China’s dream of world domination is over 2,000 years old, as her rulers believe that they alone carry the ‘Mandate from Heaven’! 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.

A country should talk ‘peace’ only if it has the military capability to cause serious harm. There can be no bar to fruitful military thinking even though such capability may not exist in the present. Brigadier Richard Simpkin states in his book, ‘Deep Battle’ that the greatness of the development of Deep Operations Theory in the Soviet Red Army was that, “they did not develop their thinking in the wake of changing historical conditions, but they correctly forecast the ‘possibilities’ of new technological instruments of war at a time when (their) Army had not been, and was not being reconstructed in the light of these.”


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Colonel JFC Fuller wrote the book ‘The Reformation of War’ in 1923, in which he emphatically stressed the importance of winning the ‘First Battle’ in order to create a moral offensive and to prevent his country from being dragged into a protracted War. To achieve this, he prophesised that, “mobility … and not numbers, should be the line along which future preparations have to be made to re-model our Army.” After WW II, many a British army man wished that his words had been heeded! It has become imperative for the Indian Army to graduate to the doctrine of Deep Operations in order to stay relevant, and to ‘grab’ a respectable share of the ‘Capital Expenditure’ portion of India’s Defence Budget.


  1. Deep Battle : The Brainchild of Marshal Tukhachevskii – Brig Richard Simpkin, Brassey’s, London, 1987.
  2. China : A History – John Key, Harper Collins, London, 2008.
  3. Politics in China : An Introduction – William A Joseph, Oxford University Press, 2010.
  4. Soviet Deep Operations : The Campaign in Manchuria, August 1945 – Major Elvis E Blumenthal, USMC, CDC, Quantico, 1994.
  5. Barbarossa : The Russo-German Conflict of 1941-45 : Alan Clark, Hutchinson Publishers, London, 1965.
  6. Internet and other Open Sources.
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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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