Military & Aerospace

The Army Way: A Follow Up
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 May , 2021

Pic Source:


This is another effort at continuation of the Military thought process to prepare plans and responses’ to enemy action or military operations. The 9 Principles of War,  being taught   at various army establishments , lay down Selection of and Maintenance of Aim as the key to all others.

In my earlier piece carried by IDR, I had mentioned briefly on identifying the ‘Aim’  as a first step. This is most important as from this flows the thought process leading up to a final plan. It is the Aim  or Objective which keeps the forces in focused mind through execution of the battle/war as the case that be at different levels.

Principles Of War

The art of war has been practiced and studied for millennia.  Not unlike other theoretical fields of study or practical professions, the art of war is rooted in a doctrine, a set of principles. Businesses too have adopted similar principles most successfully.

The Principles of War, codified by Carl Von Clausewitz, a Prussian who fought in the Russian Army in the early 19th century against Napoleon, guides our study of warfare and military leadership in war even today. 

There are nine Principles of War.  They are objective, offensive, mass, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, security, surprise, and simplicity.  Given below is a brief discourse  and a crosswalk of each principle of war to the business of war against corona; it’s not surprising to see the similarities and overlap.  

  1. Objective– This is the ultimate purpose of war, to destroy the enemy’s ability and will to fight by targeting the enemy’s mind, by directing every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive and attainable end. Could the same have been applied successfully  to guide the government’s action against the Pandemic?  If so, did the government stay the course? The answer is a definitive NO . One may question why so, justify and so forth. To be honest, I found frequently changing directives and missives for both Government Organizations, Businesses and Citizens. These ranged from lighting lamps, to showering flowers and arranging band concerts or fly pasts! Political rallies , religious functions, et al,went on rampantly. When those expected to lead by example are seen violating their own directives can one expect different from citizens?  No organization or country has ever emerged from infancy of a notion to realization of growth without a clear and decisive statement of purpose.   A clear Aim/Objective was required to be communicated to each citizen leave alone the government agencies concerned.
  2. Offensive– Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. Clear directions to all industry related to health services, vaccines, administrative support to maintain momentum and offensive action without deviation would have achieved the  common objective . Offensive demands disruption. Lockdowns were a disruption caused by the threat of infection ( enemy action).In considering Enemy Options all countermeasures had to be considered. Like a force in defenses stocks for the number of days they are expected to hold out against enemy attacks. Did the Government or concerned agencies give sufficient advisories to citizens to stock up? No it appeared to be another ‘Demonetization’.
  3. Mass– By synchronizing the effects of overwhelming combat power, rather than concentrating forces, at the decisive place and time, a numerically inferior force can achieve decisive results, while limiting exposure to enemy fire. Reinforce success. You know what you do well; you know your core offerings/competencies.  Could we have done better in utilizing the resources? Yes, a SWOT analysis would have given us the areas to concentrate on. Incorporating Citizens, NGOs, RWAs early would have encouraged concentration of effort in the right direction to achieve the singular aim would have achieved better dividends. Clearly, you must “take your pulse” routinely but don’t over analyze what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. If something is working, drive on, gain speed and momentum.
  4. Economy of Force– This is the opposite of mass.  Economy of force is the realization that one must employ all combat power in the most effective and judicious way possible. Every part of the force must have purpose. Mass and economy of force – These two principles keep us in balance.  You must focus on what supports and advances the core delivery and get behind that effort with every resource.  Simultaneously, you must be mindful of exposure that this priority effort requires.  Where are you most weak when strong elsewhere?  Answer that question to identify and mitigate risk. Did we have sufficient time to do this?    Could we achieve a Mass movement through our citizens? No, the Politics of vote, caste, religion and Political opportunism failed us. The migrant labour too could not be cared for!
  5. Maneuver– Maneuver is the deliberate movement of forces in relation to the enemy to gain an advantage.  It is used to exploit your successes and to preserve your freedom of action.  Maneuver is a demonstration of initiative. Maneuver in this case was the major movement of resources to bring them where most required, be it through transportation or fabrication. Oxygen, Cylinders, Beds, Ventilators are a physical need. Did we have to wait a year for this? Have a plan to get to the levels required? Drifted from the single Aim/Objective, saving lives by timely preparations.
  6. Unity of Command– For every objective, you must seek unity of command and unity of effort.  Unity of command means that all the forces are under one responsible commander.  There’s always someone who’s in charge.  Set your teams up for success and clearly establish the authority and responsibility lines at the beginning.  Remove any doubt about who’s in charge. Decentralize to State those aspects which did not affect National efforts. Leaders ought to have been seen taking the lead, setting examples, guiding, instructing, helping. The leadership failed to focus on the derived Aim.
  7. Security – You should never permit the enemy to gain unexpected advantage.  We had the advantage of learning from other countries, knew that the virus mutates , should have anticipated a second wave. We let our guard down as a Government and Citizens too. India lost sight of the Aim.
  8. Surprise– You must strike the enemy at a time, place, and manner for which he or she is unprepared. Surprise can decisively shift the balance of combat power and momentum.Security and surprise – Protect your organization from competitors and yourself.  If you can accomplish that, you’ll never be completely surprised.  The best security is a greater understanding of the environment and competitors.  Mostly, competitors (your enemy) are outside your organization; however, increasingly and troubling, your worst enemy may be “inside the wire” in the form of an insider threat. Have a program to monitor the environment and yourself.  If you know yourself and the environment, you’ll win.  At the end of the day, it is about winning.
  9. Simplicity– Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and concise orders to ensure their understanding. Everything in war is very simple, but the simple thing is difficult.Other factors being equal, parsimony is to be preferred. We know the KISS rule… “Keep It Simple Stupid”.   Among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. 

In this case if we had kept to the single objective it would have read   ‘to ensure the safety and well being of all citizens in the face of the pandemic ’. It is this Selection of Aim and its Maintenance which remains the Number 1 Principle of War throughout. Leaders must know what it is that they wish to /need to achieve and then persist in achieving it against obstacles, resistance, risks, friction and opposition.

Selection an Aim  implies that there has to be a process of analysis and evaluation of options when deciding the Objective/Aim and its Maintenance implies the conscious realization that Nothing will go precisely as per plans due to various imponderables not excluding enemy action amongst other factors. Therefore the necessity of maintaining focus on the aim set out. In the instant case ‘The Safety and well being of All Citizens’.

From Steve Jobs: “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex.  You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.  But it’s worth it in the end. because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

The basics of leadership are to influence a team to get the job done by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. In our case, a clear failure to get each citizen on the same page as spelt  in the philosophy of the NDMA document where in it stresses ‘Inclusion of Citizens & Incorporates Sarpanches’.  It’s fair to say that when the Principles of War are applied to any situation, successful outcomes are more likely, the converse also holds true. 

Of Shattered Dreams

I conclude with a silent prayer in memory of those we lost in this battle and a salute to those who rose to the occasion with utter disregard to personal risks; our Doctors, Nurses and Health Workers. Many were too young and could not achieve what they dreamt of. As a nation aspiring to be a Super Power, India’s dream too has taken a beating.Yours in grief.

PS: The silver lining is our Faith & Resilience as Indians. This too shall pass away.

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

Brig Pradeep Sharma

a regularly contributes defence related columns to news dailies.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

One thought on “The Army Way: A Follow Up

  1. An excellent analysis with very creative and effective recommendations. The blame lies squarely with the ruling dispensation, simultaneously holding assembly election rallies and allowing Mahakumbh to influence Hindu voters. Consequences have turned out to be very grave.

More Comments Loader Loading Comments