Military & Aerospace

Lessons from India’s Wars - Post Independence
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Nov , 2016

“Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult … so in war it is difficult for normal efforts to achieve even moderate results.” – Clausewitz’s note of caution.

History has always recorded a nation’s battles and wars in minute detail. Battles and manoeuvres from the times of Alexander to Genghis Khan, Shivaji to Napoleon, Ranjit Singh to Rommel, Patton and Guderian have been exactingly poured over so as to be able, virtually, to re-enact the event of that era. Attributes for success and reasons for failure were identified and lessons drawn up. With progress of technology weapons evolved and warfighting methods changed. However, certain aspects remained, quite literally, constant. On these constants the Principles of War were propounded. With minor modifications these have remained applicable in the wars in the post-modern era.

It is often said that armies are training and preparing to fight the ‘last’ war but end up confronted with a war they had not visualised and which is wholly different. If that were to be true then why bother to draw and learn lessons of the ‘last’ war when the course and construct of a future war is unfathomable? Well the simple answer to that is at least the earlier mistakes will not be repeated. Armies find it easier to train for the ‘last’ war than prepare for a ‘future’ war. A deliberate and concerted effort requires to be put in by commanders at all levels to prevent cerebral calcification wherein status quo finds favour.

India’s national policy has always been non-confrontational with emphasis on resolving issues diplomatically through dialogue and negotiations. Despite India’s morbid aversion for employment of hard power in pursuit of national interest and protect its territorial integrity, India has been drawn into a number of major conflicts by its belligerent neighbours. J&K in 1947-48, Hyderabad in September 1948, liberating Goa in 1961, Chinese debacle in 1962, Indo-Pak War in 1965, liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, 1987-89 OP PAWAN, 1999 Kargil War and 2001-2 OP PARAKRAM. On the face of it Indian Army is a battle hardened force. Therefore, it becomes imperative to draw useful lessons from its redoubtable experience to further hone individual skills and operational techniques and to be prepared for any future contingency when the Army will be called in to defend the country’s territory and its cherished core values.

With that as background, Indian Army’s war experience could be studied to draw lessons and also see which lessons were ignored in subsequent wars and how it did impact the course of the war/battle.

Operations in Jammu and Kashmir 1947-48.

India’s independence was a tumultuous event. Mass migration of populations was underway. Violence and massacre between communities was rampant. Only the Army could intervene to control it. British Officers were still holding the higher positions in both the newly forming nations. In this chaos arose another major crisis the accession of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

The Army was inducted into J&K only after the Maharaja of the State signed the Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947. There had been no previous plans whatsoever to send troops to J&K. As a result, the operation was mounted on an impromptu basis on the spur of the moment. Intelligence with regard to the Pakistani game plan was nonexistent. Military intelligence never got a chance to get established.  1 SIKH which was inducted was stationed at Gurgaon very near the Palam airport in Delhi.

A MADRAS battalion located in Delhi was considered for induction but due to political complications of it being commanded by a British Officer the move was dropped. Initially as recorded, the Pakistanis denied that it was giving any aid to the Laschars (tribal raiders) who it claimed comprised persecuted Muslims of J&K State rising in revolt and joined by a number of independent tribesmen from areas beyond the NWFP; by persons from contiguous areas of Pakistan and Muslim refugees of East Punjab. However, later the Pakistani Foreign Minister admitted that three Brigades of regular troops had been operating since May 1948.

At that time Indian Army had 127 Infantry battalions on its Order Of Battle. Some 50 battalions were already in J&K, 29 were in East Punjab guarding the vital sector of Indo-Pak frontier. 19 battalions were stationed in Hyderabad where Razakars supporting the Nizam were a threat, thus leaving 29 battalions for Internal Security tasks and as general reserve. By December 1948 India had two Divisional HQ’s with 12 Infantry Brigades HQ’s and 50 Infantry battalions besides 14 battalions of Militia. In comparison, Pakistan had three Divisional HQ’s, 14 Infantry Brigades HQ’s, 63 Infantry battalions and 24 battalions worth of SCOUTS and irregulars. Cease Fire came into effect on the midnight of night 1-2 January 1949.

It stands out clearly that even while the Government is involved in dialogue and discussions, it must warn the armed forces to be prepared for an eventuality to deploy adequate force for any task if talks fail. Had this been done more forces could have been pre-positioned nearer Jammu to be inducted by road and for an airlift to Srinagar from, probably, Jalandhar which would have generated more sorties per day than by the induction process from Delhi. The units could have carried out battle inoculation and troops and their commanders prepared to the ensuing battle. Also the build up of logistics could have been planned in greater detail as later this became the major factor in curtailing the momentum of the offensive and limiting the scope of the operations. Thus operations were planned as a reaction to the offensive by Pak forces.

The Army’s combat ratios were inadequate to generate worthwhile potential to ensure quick tactical gains and exploit opportunities. Extended pause was to be built in to build up logistics and redeploy troops for attack. Thus while attacks were successful, enveloping movement to cut off and capture retreating enemy was not possible. Overall the plan recapture J&K was adhoc and limited due to paucity of all sorts of resources and long lines of communication which were vulnerable to disruptive actions by Pak irregular forces. While the war was on negotiations had been going on for a year and a Cease Fire had been also been proposed. However, the military was not warned of this impending decision which was to be effective from a particular hour that the Nehru government had already decided.

Had the Army been apprised of the impending Cease Fire the troops on ground could have made advances to capture tactically more sound positions which later had an effect on the alignment of the Cease Fire Line (the same later was more-or-less transformed into the Line of Control). A greater alertness on the part of junior leadership on the spot could have prevented encroachments. Also if they were given more freedom of action and had exercised greater initiative and boldness they could have evicted these encroachments even without directions from higher authority. This is a bane in the rigid command and control system generally followed due to unnecessary caution of the commanders at tactical level. It has been opined that had the Army been taken into confidence it would have resulted in the liberation of the rest of J&K.

Nehru’s single point control of national affairs and unopposed decision making was to lead to a greater tragedy in just over a decade later.

India-China War of 1962

Even after the war in J&K there was no effort make to strengthen the Army and make a robust defence plan. In fact there was a strong sentiment to do away with the Army. This is what Nehru was alleged to have said: “We don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is ahimsa [non-violence]. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the Army! The police is good enough to meet our security needs.” And so the Army was downsized and used for mundane tasks considered “nation building” by Nehru’s maverick Defence Minister Krishna Menon. Training was not a factor that seemed to matter.

The 1962 War is a sombre saga of ineptitude at all levels, lack of preparation, poor leadership, adhocism and neglect of the Army by the powers that be resulting from the political paranoia of a military coup which obsessed the then Prime Minister Nehru. The casual cavalier manner in which the Prime Minister and Defence Minister stated to the media the infamous quote – “Army has been ordered to evict the Chinese” came as a surprise to the military hierarchy. It was a quaint situation where the Army received its orders to go to a major war through the media!! Ineptitude in handling of an adverse situation was the hall mark of this war. At the cutting edge, however, courage and bravery were never found wanting. Unfortunately, battalions, companies and platoons were abandoned by the higher headquarters, without any means of communication, with a seriously depleted of stocks of ammunition, rations and equipment. They could not hold out long under such circumstances. The rout was morale sapping and a huge humiliating defeat was writ large.

In chronological order, after the Longju incident in Arunachal Pradesh in August 1959, soon after followed by the ambush of CRPF patrol at Konka La in Eastern Ladakh on 21st October 1959, the relations between India and China became more and more acrimonious. There was a continuous ongoing exchange of demarches by both governments, unfortunately, for a second time in just over a decade, the Army was kept out of the national decision making loop. The Intelligence Bureau and the Indian Ambassador in Peking (Beijing) were emphatic in their belief and stated so in their reports to Nehru that China would not react to India’s forward move in establishing posts (Forward Policy) in the territory India claimed as its own. Even as the situation on ground became more charged the Army was not ordered to prepare for war. When finally the matters got out of hand the way the Army was ordered to evict the Chinese from Indian territory. The unfolding scenario was brazen to say the least.

The Prime Ministers continued to dominate the decision making and functioned as a single point control. This resulted in panic induction of forces without any intelligence of the enemy, unprepared, ill-quipped into unfamiliar areas without even detailed maps, with unsuited communications, with token artillery support, no combat engineer support and  next to no logistic backup. The defences were hastily prepared with trenches having no overhead protection, no barbed wire protection or anti personnel mines laid around the localities. With the local porters having deserted and no Pioneers available, even the tasks of collecting para-dropped stores and lugging these to the defences also fell on the fighting soldier. The platoon and company locations were decided on inaccurate maps in the corridors of Army Headquarters so far removed from the battle front. Consequently the positions selected had no tactical relevance to the existing terrain. The abject failure of higher leadership in abdicating their onerous moral responsibility of exemplary and inspirational leadership at the Brigade and Division was most demoralising for the troops who were prepared to stand their ground with what they had.

Before the Army moved in to prepare to defend the borders, Assam Rifles, a para-military force was deployed in Arunachal Pradesh, and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Ladakh. These forces were under the Ministry of External Affairs and were not in the chain of command of the Army formations inducted. An uncoordinated response is wasteful in all types of resources. The situation persists till date with Indo Tibetan Border Police units deployed along the India-China Line of Actual Control (LAC) continues to remain directly under the Ministry of Home Affairs. This dual control is operationally unsuitable.

The Chinese had made elaborate preparations for the conflict. They had built roads well forward (opposite Tawang Sector roads came right up to Le Camp and Bum La). They stocked up 40 days reserves for the Divisions. They set up communication relays to ensure that units going deep behind the forward line of Indian Army defended localities were always in communication. All these battle preparations and obvious indicators were not interpreted correctly. The Chinese had incorporated deception at the tactical level to achieve surprise. The attacks were multi directional and invariably involved isolating the objective before the attack was launched.  Strangely, the forces outflanking Se La and heading for Bomdi La did not lose their way nor did they miss the objectives so deep inside the enemy’s territory. It is quite possible that reconnaissance and preparation for this bold manoeuvre was undertaken well before the Army moved on to the scene. Defeat drains away fighting spirit and needs to be recharged by exemplary leadership, this was woefully missing.

Indo-Pak War of 1965

After the humiliating defeat in 1962, Indian Army was being expanded substantially. Formations on ground were being readjusted and re-orbatted. Pakistan’s relations with China were on the upswing. With Nehru’s passing away in 1964 Lal Bahadur Shastri a humble man came to helm. Pakistan had been looking for another opportunity to wrest control of J&K and saw this as an opportunity thinking the diminutive PM to be a weak person. Expecting India to be weak and vulnerable after the 1962 debacle Pakistani leaders wanted to exploit the opportunity before India strengthened and modernised its forces. It tested the waters by initiating skirmishes and shallow penetrations in the Rann of Kutch in April 1965. The loss of some forward posts in the Rann led to increased pressure on the Indian Government and the Army to redress the situation elsewhere.

On the other hand, the assumed sense of victory in the limited operations in Kutch emboldened Pakistani leadership. Pakistan had learnt its lessons well from the 1947-48 war and incorporated the employment of irregulars to augment its efforts in J&K. It launched a bold adventurous plan to stage an insurrection in J&K through massive infiltration, sabotage and subversion. The gamble failed and India turned the tide by its deep penetration directed at Lahore. This forced the Pak formations between Chenab and Ravi to recoil and prevent the situation from worsening. At the end of it India successfully defended J&K and overall was a gainer of territory. Pakistan’s designs were defeated in detail and it did not achieve any of its objectives, ipso facto, they were politically and militarily vanquished. There was a limited threat posed by China to show solidarity with its new found friend.

Indian Army was found wanting on some counts. The Corps at Udhampur misjudged the main offensive by Pak as being directed at Punch and not through Chhamb despite reports of major concentration opposite Chhamb. As a result no defensive measures were undertaken nor the area reinforced. The failure to exploit the initial resounding success in the battle of Dograi and Barki opposite Lahore was a dismal failure of higher leadership. Similar inexperience, lack of initiative and caution prevented substantial gains in the Jammu-Sialkot sector. Infantry units fought well with artillery, armour and air support. Armoured units performed equally well against superior opposition because of excellent training. Mountain Divisions were neither experienced nor appropriately equipped to fight in the plains. Air Defence was inadequate to protect the cities and air bases and other vital areas and vital points.

Indian strategy to attack the enemy at multiple points along the border did not prove sound leading to stalemate on all fronts. Set-piece frontal attacks were the order of the day. At a number of places powerful attacks were not launched because commanders lacked initiative and could not get over the defensive mentality. At places leadership was not inspiring and commanders did not lead by example, lack of such aggressive spirit allowed some great opportunities to be wasted. Seeking information of the enemy even when in contact was a weakness. Aerial photography was controlled centrally by Army and Air HQ, making it difficult to get timely information. To achieve surprise many troops were pushed into battle in a hurry without proper briefing or reconnaissance.

Commanders at the lower levels were not conversant with the terrain they were to fight in. Attacking troops did not carry digging tools so were forced to withdraw in the face of strong counter attacks. Seventy five percent of Indian casualties were caused due to enemy shelling. Some troops got exhausted within two to three days of fighting. Soldiers must be trained to vigorously for at least a week. Junior Commissioned Officers, once a backbone of the Army did not fare well.

The then Army Chief advised the PM to announce a cease fire as he had mistakenly believed that the army was running out of ammunition and had suffered considerable tank casualties. Though the PM had wanted to prolong the war so that India could achieve a spectacular victory, he took the advice of the Army Chief and called for a cease fire. India had captured 1170 sq km of territory in J&K including the strategically vital Haji Pir Pass and 750 sq km in Punjab and Kutch sectors (total 1920 sq km). On the other hand Pakistan had captured 490 sq km in J&K and 50 sq km in Punjab sector (total 540 sq km). PM Shastri was opposed to return of Haji Pir but succumbed to pressure from the Soviets.  The political decision to return all captured territory has been much debated.

Indo-Pak War of 1971

Victory of the scale and dimension of the 1971 war would naturally tend to overlook any weaknesses or shortcomings and gloss over failures. However, as military men it is essential that the events are critically analysed and correct lessons drawn.

The Parliamentary elections in Pakistan in December 1970 gave East Pakistan a majority in the Parliament. Political ramifications led to a massive crack down on the East Pakistanis which led to brutal suppression by the Pak Army. The Army was taken on board and given the time required to regroup, train and prepare for a war. The Army Chief had wanted to go to war after the monsoon and after the passes along the northern borders closed on account of heavy snows.

In August 1971, the Indian Eastern Command issued operation instructions to its Corps Commanders to liberate territory between the Jamuna and Meghna rivers north of Dacca. It is said that the plan was deliberately leaked out which compelled Pakistani Army to change its strategy and redeploy its forces away from Dacca towards the borders. Pakistan also planned an offensive on India’s Western Front to capture maximum territory that could be bartered for territory captured by India in East Pakistan. To prevent this Indian Army deployed its forces so as to prevent any loss of territory on the Western Front thereby giving up a projected offensive planned in the Chhamb sector. Neither country, however, planned any major strategic deception. Interestingly, Pakistan’s 7 Infantry Division and was reported at different localities at the same time, as a result it came to be referred to as the “Ghost Division”.  Even 1 Armoured Division of Pakistan could not be correctly located till the second week of December. The threat of collusive support by China had been one of the reasons for planning the campaign in December.

There is much debate on why Dacca was not named as the military or political objective before the start of the campaign. The orders to liberate Bangladesh were issued to Eastern Command on 30 November 1971. Events unfolded fast thereafter. Dacca was encircled and its defenders surrendered. The remaining Pak Army forces capitulated and surrendered to Indian and Mukti Bahini troops all over Bangladesh.

It is a moot point as to how and why 101 Comn Zone Area, (a static formation with its primary role to coordinate logistic support of fighting formations and rear area security) entered Dacca before any of the three operational Corps. The thrust line of 101 Area could not be strengthened due to the logistic difficulty of concentrating troops and stocking up ammunition, warlike stores and supplies in Meghalaya. If in the interim period the line of communication had been improved minimum two additional divisions could have been inducted on this axis.

Military intelligence in the Eastern Theatre was more accurate, probably also due to the human intelligence sources of Mukti Bahini.  At the tactical level, the intelligence proved far from satisfactory. Terrain intelligence was not up to date. Evidently adequate resources were not catered for along each thrust line due to overall paucity of aerial photography resources and helicopters for reconnaissance missions. Intelligence agencies tended to play safe by passing all reports received to the user. At the unit level there is no staff to evaluate this information which in turn caused more confusion. In a future scenario, the Battlefield Management System being fielded for the Army will need astute handling to prevent paralysis of ground operations due to information overload. Identifying and countering deception that can be streamed into the system by the enemy will need data banks and trained staff to clearly discern such enemy actions. Information blackout due to enemy’s intense Cyber Network Operations could again paralyse all operations.

The success of 1971 War was due to joint operations planned and executed effectively. There were instances of delay and lack of proper coordination in close air support missions. The attack on Karachi Harbour by the Navy and Air Force was planned in isolation with neither knowing of the other Service’s plan. The amphibious landing of a Brigade off Cox Bazaar was done off a map and was unsuccessful. Also the “blockade” of Karachi Port was lifted without assessing the overall impact at the national level. The Air Forces reluctance to allow the growth of the Army Aviation was acutely experienced during this war. This anomaly persists to this day. The Air Force wanting to control air space from nap-of-earth to the ionosphere is not a sound strategy. With the induction of UAV’s this stricture becomes irrational. It is worth considering that all helicopter resources less those for SAR and for assisting Civil Authority should be with the Army Aviation Corps.

In this war India exploited the full potential of all the elements of national power. The diplomatic offensive mobilised global public opinion in India’s favour. “The political and military aims were carefully determined, dove-tailed and pursued single-mindedly. The extremely cohesive team of political leaders, service chiefs and bureaucrats planned everything comprehensively and well in time”. Consequently the balance of power in South Asia readjusted itself in accordance to the changed profile of India.

IPKF – OP PAWAN 1987-‘89

The Army’s ‘invitation’ to intervene in Sri Lanka at the behest of its then President turned sour soon after. The various interpretations of the compulsion to intervene are outside the preview of this article but are necessary to study basis on which the politico-military strategy was formulated to back the ongoing diplomatic thrust. No institutional process of decision making was nurtured and followed at the Government level; choices were made purely on personal predilections.

In a recurring manner intelligence again seems to be a failure in 1987 when Indian Army landed in Sri Lanka. R&AW, though dealing with LTTE did not give any worthwhile intelligence of the LTTE, its intentions, its innovative tactical methods, resourcefulness, mass support and ingenious intelligence network and method of passing on information. Military Intelligence had not begun operations till after the troops landed. The troops were inducted without any military maps. Lack of expertise in the local language was another handicap. The forces were given no freedom of action; even the weapon to be employed was dictated by the higher echelons of command. Such restrictions enabled the LTTE to catch the Army on the flat-foot by their innate flexibility in readjusting to the situation as it presented itself.

The Army remained very conventional in dealing with this rapidly changing threat. The rifle and radio communications were the fundamentals for this type of operations. The 7.62 mm Self Loading Rifle (SLR) was not suited for counter insurgency operations in the jungles. The radio sets were unreliable and heavy on power consumption. Combat support in terms of Artillery and Engineers was inducted later. Tanks and Infantry Combat Vehicles too were inducted. Troops were inducted most haphazardly; full first line scale of ammunition too was not carried; no maps of the area were issued, a particular battalion operated continuously for one month with only their Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) available to them till their kit-bags fetched up. Inter-services coordination was unsatisfactory, to put it mildly.

The Army had not anticipated the need for consolidating the areas cleared of the LTTE with concomitant Civil Affairs responsibilities. Army introduced ambiguous terminology into its operational lexicon – “create conditions for”; “marginalise”; “break the back of insurgency”; “loosening and tightening the noose around the LTTE”. Operational terms must clearly state what should be the military action taken and not leave any scope of personal or preferential interpretation.

OP PAWAN was the first serious blooding of the army after the 1971 war. It shook up the Army and gave them a jolt after a long period of lull. Counter Insurgency (CI) operations are the test of infantry tactical operations in small teams and its junior leadership. Units successful in CI operations will perform well in future 4GW/Hybrid Wars where infantry skills and junior leadership will count most.

Kargil War 1999  

The war in Kargil was fought to restore status quo on the Line of Control (LC) which had been surreptitiously violated by Pakistani Army and irregular forces in the Drass-Kargil-Mashkoh areas. India responded firmly in a measured manner with restraint to control escalation primarily to evict the transgressors from the areas occupied. The war was fought in a region where the average heights of the objectives were above 15,000 feet mean sea level. The enemy had direct observation of the road Srinagar-Leh thereby severely affecting the movement of all logistic requirements of forces in Ladakh that are stocked during the period May-November. The then General Officer Commanding of the Division in Kargil, Lieutenant General (then Major General) Mohinder Puri, has penned the account of the war in his book “Kargil: Turning the Tide”. There were salient lessons the emerged from this war too.

At the national level it emerged that India must be prepared for Pakistan’s recklessness which could occur in different areas and forms: terrorism throughout India, conventional operations and incursions, increased level of proxy war in J&K and a variety of non-traditional threats. Pakistan is a risk-acceptant, untrustworthy state controlled by the military which is virulently anti-India. At the end of the war India was forced to commit additional forces along the LC in a forward posture to prevent such incursions in the future. It is worth noting that China activated two areas, one in Eastern Ladakh and one in Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh during this period.

Without any iota of doubt and yet again there was a failure of intelligence. There is something systemically wrong with our intelligence setup which seems to have endemic deficiencies. The Kargil Review Committee Report brings out this failure most adequately. One of the lessons was the need to induct technologically advanced intelligence equipment to aggressively counter Pakistani threats. Despite doing so, recently again India was surprised by the terrorist action at the Pathankot Air Base on January 2, 2016 and was unable to deliver any ‘aggressive counter’.

Fighting at those altitudes in the stark formidable rugged terrain brought out the need for acclimatisation, physical fitness and endurance. Battles were fought by small teams with limited supporting fire and objectives were finally captured in hand to hand battles. Attacks were planned for contacting the objective from multiple directions. Invariably these attacks spilled over in daylight hours. During the day troops hung on to the rocky cover that was available and pressed on to complete the attack after dark the following night. Despite these lessons the Army continues to teach and train in the old conventional set-piece form of attack launched from Forming-Up-Places (FUP’s), where the need of the hour is Release Point format for attacks in skirmish order by small teams.

Formations and units were inducted into the theatre with critical deficiencies in weapons and essential equipment. Light Machine Guns, Medium Machine Guns, Anti Tank Missile Launchers, Radio Sets, First Line Transport Fleet etc, lists a crippling array of deficiencies bringing out the “hollowness” that is yet to be addressed fully. The then Chief of Army Staff was compelled to state that “we will fight with what we have”. The High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) had been ordered to scale down its scope of training but the Kargil War brought out the importance of that institution of excellence. Similarly a major exercise was under way in 1998 to disband all Animal Transport (AT) Battalions. Here again the demand for AT in Kargil became so vital that most of the AT units in the East were expeditiously moved to Kargil and the disbanding process shelved. Other lessons pertaining to reinforcements, fire support, close air support, reorganisation and consolidation of gains all need to be studied in detail separately. In shifting from CI operations to conventional war the formation required a period of comprehensive training to reorient into its changed role.

India’s future wars will be across soft borders and over disputed areas. These lie in the mountainous region against both China and Pakistan. International Boundaries are not likely to be violated or redrawn and any such attempt will elicit severe international pressures. Despite this reality the thrust of purchase and induction of equipment and weapon systems in the Army is for fighting wars in the plains – wars that will never be fought.

OP PARAKRAM 2001-02

Wars are political tools. It was a political decision to mobilise for war post the terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001. However the decision was not thought through. No political objective was stated and as a result no military objectives could be identified to prosecute this war. It was barely two years since the Kargil War and the persistent ‘hollowness’ in weapons, ammunition and equipment again reared its head. Dual tasked formations sent long lists of critical deficiencies to Army Headquarters to apprise them of the ground reality. The most significant lesson that emerged was the cumbersome mobilisation of the lumbering ‘Strike Corps’. Ordering the mobilisation of the ‘Strike Corps’ was, in itself, a questionable decision.

It is possible that there was a initial political decision to actually launch an all out attack against Pakistan. Probably due to tremendous pressure from the US there may have been a change forced on India. The Army would never have mobilised its three ‘Strike Corps’ without an express clearance of the political powers. The last minute back down was a serious blow to the aspect of surprise with regard to the locations of concentration areas of these forces and thereby the likely objectives of their offensive thrusts. A hastily conjured up deception in the form of “17 Corps” was planned and executed. It only brought out the non-existence of any strategic deception plan in the overall war plans. Probably India’s basic posture of strategic defence could be the reason for such complacency.

While the threat to use force is the essence of forceful persuasion or coercive diplomacy, an “exemplary use of limited force to persuade an adversary to back down” is also part of a strategy to “demonstrate resoluteness to protect one’s interests, and to establish the credibility of one’s determination to use more force if necessary.” Such a concept is alien to our political culture and thus the combined effect of diplomatic and military effort was not effective. After a ten month stand-off the Army was “strategically relocated” bringing an end to another failed attempt to subdue the belligerent neighbour.

It is a moot point whether a massive conventional blitzkrieg like operation capturing large chunks of territory across the International Boundary and the destruction of the strategic reserves would put a stop the terrorist operations launched from Pakistan? The situation is likely to degenerate to what happened after the Allied forces victory and ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. In fact the much touted “Cold Start” strategy goes against India’s fundamental political policy of “restrain”. Where a country’s polity does not allow pro-active or pre-emptive actions “Cold Start” becomes a non-starter. However it was cleverly exploited by Pakistan and did give Pakistan Army enough reason to bid for more military aid from the US.

Bracing for the Future

Indian Army has a wealth of experience in active combat in varied terrain and against an array of adversaries – conventional, irregular and terrorists. However, it seems complacency sets in soon after a task is done with. History is not accurately recorded and as Units move out of a formation on account of the periodic turn over process it becomes even more difficult to record it. A ‘lessons learnt cell’ was initially created in the Military Operations Directorate but later handed over to Army Training Command. Due to various reasons the after action reports generally end up exaggerating and glorifying every action being reported. Only a truthful record of the every action will yield worthwhile lessons.

Thorough study of the potential adversaries needs to be a normal feature of training. Presently it is done in a cursory manner. A knowledge bank of the adversaries’ forces is not available. Schools of Instruction do not incorporate study of the adversary at all levels (Officer/JCO/NCO). These need to be institutionalised. To quote Sun Tzu here would be most apt – “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”. In the wake of the close strategic partnership developing between China and Pakistan, collusion between the two against India is more or less certain. Ipso facto a two front scenario is more a reality than hyperbole.

Intelligence failures have been persistent recurrence. While Officers leadership has been outstanding, it is not so below Officer level. Also the Army cannot continue to lament on shortage of Officers. The Army has to device means to develop and nurture the potential of Junior Commissioned Officers and the Non Commissioned Officers. In the Infantry, in particular, they are going to be the leaders of the small teams and the commanders in skirmish order attacks. They will fight the 4GW and hybrid war of the future. The army’s future battle grounds are going to be in the mountains. Concerted effort of training and wherewithal should focus on this aspect.

Counterintuitively, the Mountain Strike Corps has galvanised China into strengthening its forces in Tibet and boosting the infrastructure there. Throughout the winter of 2015-16 PLA units had conducted combined training exercises in high altitude regions in deep snows. The mind-set with regard to ‘campaigning season’ needs to change so that the army is not surprised by a conflict in the winter months. Static defences can be studied in detail by the enemy prior to planning any attack. Manoeuvre and targeting the mind of the enemy in static defences is best achieved by holding uncommitted reserves well forward. Such reserve forces held well forward and kept mobile will keep the enemy guessing. It may be more prudent to hold a battalion as uncommitted reserve in each of the forward brigades; a brigade in each division and two independent brigades in each Corps. Similarly fire support resources and combat support elements should be also augmented. Speedily launched decisive and determined offensive reaction will destabilise the attacking enemy. Short intense limited wars in the high altitude mountainous regions will not give the Army the luxury of time and space to launch any massive riposte or quid pro quo by large sized forces.

Courtesy: The article first published in “The War College Journal”

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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

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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5 thoughts on “Lessons from India’s Wars – Post Independence

  1. Hari Sud,
    Quite agree – no new lessons from old wars.
    Aim is to encourage the younger generation to take up and studies these .
    With over 1,50,000 hits per month we have a large readership even beyond our borders we can initiate their interest too.
    Regards

  2. No need to cry over spilt milk. Going forward to the present day scenario, there has to be proper formation of Defence plans and two front wars. The army, navy and air force should be modernised and battle ready and infrastructure put in place for prompt deployment, resources permitting, no ifs and buts. People and the country should be ready to tighten belts!

  3. Please write articles to encourage indian policy makers and arm forces to bring about FREE BALOCHISTAN where Baloch freedom fighters are engaged in a battle against india no.1 enemy Pakistan.
    Pak gives military training and assistance toi terrorists to destabilize India, Afghanistan and US so these countries must unit to help secular baloch freedom fighters and lets repeat 1971 and break Pakistan and bring peace to the world and region.

    We know peace comes after a war. after 1965 & 1971and break Pakistan and bring peace to the world and region. We know peace comes after a war. after 1965 & 1971 wars there was peace but now pak has been using proxy war since 1987 after soviet invasion. I hope you better understand then me that ultimate peace will come after disintegration of evil Pakistan

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