The military, which is a major component of the nation’s CNP, needs to be contribute meaningfully to this future, for which it needs to be given direction and enabled in terms of capabilities. Evolving a Military Doctrine to channelize its growth and provide direction is, therefore, the need of the hour. This is a national requirement that merits intervention at the highest political levels to prevent turf battles which have proved to be the biggest impediment thus far. At the same time, it is reiterated that providing a Military Doctrine is not the requirement of the military but of the civil leadership and it is they who need to recognise the necessity to change and having done so, provide the necessary direction and impetus. Left to themselves, neither the bureaucracy nor the services or for that matter the Para Military Forces would solicit for change – they would be content with the status quo ensconced in the comfort of their respective empires.
“War throughout the ages has been a battle of doctrines. The really decisive successes have come from those who adopted a new doctrinal concept to which their enemies were unable to respond.” — John A Warden III, US Air Force
Lying at the heart of Military Activity and braiding the three levels of warfare, ‘doctrine’ defines the path, objectives and pace of development of the defence forces. While a ‘doctrine’ is defined as a body or system of teaching relating to a particular subject, the US definition of ‘Military Doctrine’ which is universally acceptable defines this as, “laying fundamental principles by which Military Forces guide their actions in support of National Objectives.” Since Military Doctrine is crucial to provide direction, it is axiomatic that its absence can result in defence planning to be out of sync with foreign policy aspirations and/or result in the disjointed growth of security forces; both evident in the case of India.
It is also pertinent to highlight that in the absence of a doctrine emphasising synergy in force application, Independent India has created more impediments ‘within’ the system than it has made enemies outside its borders – weak decision making, indifferent structures, impermeable civil-military relations and lack of ‘jointmanship’ amongst the Services, heading the list. Having stated what is well known, there is a need for course correction to put our house in order to ensure that our security planning supports the ends of the India’s current and futuristic foreign policy.
Military power is not merely a component of the nation’s Comprehensive National Power (CNP), it is an indispensable tool for diplomacy…
The demi-official study ‘Non Alignment 2.0’ has (rightly) observed that ‘India stands at a pivotal moment in its history….the main thing that can hold back India is India itself.”1 The study also provides guidelines and policy options, based on which the proposed Military Doctrine can be derived. Having said that, the doctrine needs to be articulated in the form of a blueprint defining the objectives, desired capabilities and inter se priorities. This is a major challenge, at the same time, it is a requirement whose time has (finally) come; an imperative that merits the attention of India’s leadership.
In one of his most profound articulations on the state of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in 1975, Deng Xiaoping set the tone for undertaking large-scale military reforms in China – a transformation which in two decades has changed the security landscape of the world. He pinpointed five traits of the then PLA which he said were ‘bloated, lax, arrogant, extravagant and slothful.’ If ‘arrogance’ was to be substituted with ‘deferential,’ and ‘slothful’ for being ‘busy without business,’ he could well be passing judgement over the state of the Indian defence forces. This is the uncomfortable reality of the Indian defence forces, a reality that would be denied in public reflexively by the brass, but would resonate with the majority, especially with the middle and lower rungs of military leaders. This makes it yet another reason to act before its hollowness is put to test – the earlier the process starts, the better.
Military power is not merely a component of the nation’s Comprehensive National Power (CNP), it is an indispensable tool for diplomacy. Ipso facto, more than the uniformed leadership, it is India’s civilian security planners who are required to take the initiative to take a de novo look at India’s strategic requirements and set the tone by extrapolating the contours around which a holistic Military Doctrine could be developed in tune with the challenges. Substantiating the point that Military Doctrines need to be sensitive to the threat dynamics, examples that merit attention are given in succeeding paragraphs.
Military Doctrines – The Revolution in Military Thought
Within a span of sixty years after the Great War, the war that was fought to end all wars, an undeclared war in the form of the Cold War erupted between the former allies even before the fires of the World War had been put out. While this period of internecine fighting saw no physical combat, it saw the emergence of Military Doctrines like ‘Air-Land Warfare’ from the allied side, while the Soviet Union refined its combined arms application of forces, centred on the ‘Deep Attack’ Doctrine – both favouring ‘Manoeuvre’ over ‘Attrition’ style of warfare.
India has not evolved a meaningful doctrine nor has it a military concept and relies on static defence…
China expounded her doctrine of the ‘People’s War’ under Mao Zedong. Though this was a reactive response, it suited the Low-Tech PLA, who responded with her biggest asset-manpower and the threat of unacceptable attrition, defeating America’s war strategy in Korea. Over the years, the People’s War Doctrine was adapted for fighting under ‘Modern Conditions’ in congruity with China’s concept of ‘Active Defence.’ Riding a crest of unprecedented economic growth, China subsequently transformed the People’s War Doctrine to fight a technologically driven, ‘Informationalised’ War – a structured response against the world’s lone standing superpower; her Anti Access-Area Denial (A2/AD) initiative being an ingenious solution against America’s domination of the seas.
On the other side, the US military re-invented itself after the stalemate of Korea and the process gained fillip after the humiliation in Vietnam. The change was seen in the first Gulf War, a war that showcased ‘Precision Engagement’ and ‘Dominant Manoeuvre’- a result of America’s domination of the ‘Electro-Magnetic’ Spectrum and the domain of space. In response to the emergence of China threat and to modulate the direction for America’s re-balancing, the USA reworked its Military Doctrine to ‘Sea-Land Battle,’ a major shift from the land centric, mobile warfare developed for the European front during the height of the Cold War.
Unlike the fast-paced changes that came in war fighting doctrines worldwide, India has been a slow starter. The only change, came after the 1965 War, when it adopted the Strike Holding Corps concept, pivoted on defence around linear defences – the Holding Corps responsible for defence and the Strike Corps providing the offensive component. Not only did this surrender the initiative to the enemy but left a major part of the army out of battle due to extended deployment. The time taken for mobilisation of the Strike Corps, resulted in delayed build up as was witnessed during OP Parakaram. Lessons learnt from this deployment led to the evolution of the ‘Cold Start’ strategy. While this overcame many of the maladies by integrating the roles of the Corps and paved the way for speedier launch of Battle Groups, the reality remains that it is also a reactive (counter) strategy albeit faster off the block.
Having said that, it is pertinent to highlight that despite paying lip service to the contrary, India stays wedded to attrition warfare which is inherent in the strike-pivot (erstwhile ‘holding’) Corps operations; a doctrine that requires frontal application of forces to effect the initial break-through. In terms of meeting the challenge in the mountains, both from Pakistan and China, India has not evolved a meaningful doctrine nor has it a military concept and relies on static defence. At the same time, India has no real answer for waging a sub-conventional war. Having said that, the urgency to do so is re-emphasized since the time window to do so is limited.
There is more to national security than the application of security forces…
Conceptual and Structural Impediments
Anticipatory and Reactive Self Defence
The right to self-defence is recognised as a fundamental right and the UN position is clear, “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of collective or individual self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations.” It goes on to clarify that, “International law recognises the right of self-defence, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) affirmed in the Nicaragua Case on the (pre-emptive) use of force” Thus, the right for self-defence even when an armed attack has not actually occurred is accepted, and this that brings in the element of ‘pre-emption’ or the concept of ‘anticipatory self-defence.’
Pre-emption has been an important part of international relations and warfare and relates to an action or a series of actions aimed to pre-empt, prevent or dislocate the adversary and negate his actions ‘beforehand.’ On the other hand, reactive retribution as the name suggests, is taken against a hostile act afterwards. Having said that, the Principle of ‘Justum Bellum’ or ‘Just War’ should be sustainable in international law – the US raid violating the territorial integrity of Pakistan to capture/kill Osama-bin-Laden, an internationally proclaimed fugitive, being an example.
The USA practices the doctrine of pre-emption to prevent any strike on itself. China also follows the same in her operational concept of active defence. In military terms, following a doctrine of pre-emption or active defence not only bestows the advantage of gaining the initiative, it sets the tone for further action(s). On the other hand, India has thus far demonstrated a reactive mind set, even in the face of grave provocations. The attack on the Indian Parliament and the Mumbai attack are examples. Acting after an attack or when national security has already been compromised reflects weak state policies and has not worked for India in the past. More than anything else, this reaffirms the global perception that India is a ‘Soft State’. This needs to change and articulating this in the Military Doctrine, especially after the trans-border raid in Myanmar, is a requirement of the times.
Pakistan’s strength lies in its propensity to sustain low intensity conflict against India…
The Security – Defence Conundrum
There is more to national security than the application of security forces and at the same time, the role of the military is to provide security. Thus, at the conceptual level lies the issue of defining the primary responsibility of forces – is it ensuring security for the nation or providing defence. By definition, ‘defence’ implies offering resistance or providing ‘protection’ whereas ‘security’ is an assurance of being free from risk or danger. Thus, branding them defence forces would imply the latter whereas what the label security forces convey is all inclusive and beyond a defensive mindset.
There is a sea of difference between the two as the former is premised on deterrence and/or compellence, which is beyond the purview of the military operation of defence, as understood by the defence forces. At the same time, the Strategic Forces, Air Force and Navy essentially provide security, as intrinsically, their operations are dynamic and focussed on offensive strikes. On the other hand, while the Army conducts defensive operations, as any military man would tell you – defence may deny victory to the opponent but would not win victory by itself. Hence, even for land operations, defence is a ‘situation-based’ requirement, a stepping stone so to say.
Since it is a component of the gamut of warfare, the Indian Army, like the Indian Air Force, the Indian Navy and the Strategic Forces, cannot be labelled as ‘defence’ but ‘security’ forces. There is more in labels as they encapsulate the primary role and mission of the force – providing defence is ‘not’ their role, ‘security’ is. Though this may be dismissed as semantics, this is brought out to highlight India’s deep-rooted defensive mentality and it is this that mandates a rethink of how India approaches matters military – this is not a superficial change but psychological.
To reiterate the position, the military is there to provide ‘security’ and not ‘defence’ which is essentially the task of Border Guards, as is the practice the world over. In India, this translates to the BSF, ITBP, SSB and the like. Being tied down to defence is counter-productive for the Army’s larger aim, as this can only be at the cost of undertaking offensive operations – the prerequisite for victory. It goes without saying that for this to come about, a paradigm change in thinking is required at the highest level as it is more a matter of mindset of the leadership, involving issues of turf and empires, than a matter of training and equipment.
Since Military Doctrine is crucial to provide direction, it is axiomatic that its absence can result in defence planning to be out of sync with foreign policy aspirations…
On the other hand, the task of Border Guards is Border Management, both in peace and war and includes ensuring the territorial integrity of the real estate they are entrusted with. The army may support but it essentially contributes by mitigating the threat by undertaking offensive actions. The practice of passing on the responsibility of defence of the borders during ‘Hot War,’ not only ties down the Army to static operations but keeps well-trained forces out of battle, when their presence can make a significant difference, entailing a heavy and unnecessary cost on the exchequer.
Higher Security Planning and Structures
Ensuring security from external threats is as a much a function of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), as it is of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), though the task of ensuring security is constitutionally mandated to the office of the Defence Secretary. While the National Security Advisor acts as the Principal Security Advisor, by default, his office has become the focal point for issues of external security. Though there is nothing against the existing system, it is recommended that a Nodal Military Officer to provide a single point source for military advice and synergise the functioning of the three services be added as the Defence Secretary has neither the experience nor the time. This arrangement has created an ‘functional’ void at the highest level.
The ideal solution being the appointment of a Chief of Defence (sic) Staff (CDS) to bring in the much required ‘jointness’ between the services. With his elevated stature, he would be able to interact with all Ministries on matters military, and in addition, he would be able to provide direction for defence research, development and production by co-opting them with the requirements of the military. More importantly, he would be able to articulate the Military Doctrine and ensure change.
It is important to highlight the point that even while impetus is being given to the modernisation of the Indian Military, mere infusion of technology and introduction of weapon systems would not automatically translate to ‘capability improvement.’ These need to be backed up by a well thought out doctrine to develop, organise and use these capabilities to achieve national aims and objectives.
The US military re-invented itself after the stalemate of Korea and the process gained fillip after the humiliation in Vietnam…
Warfare is an interplay of strengths and weaknesses and the requirements of high tempo – modern war necessitate synergistic application of different types of forces. In view of this requirement, ‘Integrated Commands’ is the norm the world over. Despite the acceptance of this operational requirement, the pace of integration has been tardy – more a result of turfs than a matter of principle, and is played up with the (convenient) ‘divide and rule’ policy of the bureaucracy and political class. This needs to change – the faster, the better as a mutually acceptable doctrine would provide an answer.
Strategic Guidance for Evolving an Indian Military Doctrine
At the strategic level, there are multiple factors that would provide guidance for evolving a Military Doctrine for India; the obvious ones being the threat from Pakistan, China or a collusive threat. At the same time, the role India feels it should be playing in the future – both within the South Asian and Indian Ocean Region, as also outside its immediate neighbourhood is another consideration. The last factor would be the issue of inter-operability with friendly foreign militaries – the question being with who? This obviously falls within the domain of Foreign Policy. The translation of these guidelines into Military Doctrine would provide direction to all components involved with external security and make them move in concert with one another.
Pakistan’s strength lies in its propensity to sustain low intensity conflict against India; the level may fluctuate but the threat remains ever present. By repeatedly playing the nuclear card, Pakistani military leadership, who call the shots behind the facade of democracy, are confident that they have created space for sub-conventional warfare. While there can be a number of counters from the Indian side, both conventional and unconventional, it makes sense in raising the cost for Pakistan. While it would be beyond the scope to discuss strategy, tactics and options, it is axiomatic that Pakistan is paid back in the same coin – only in greater measure and this means evolving a doctrine for sub-conventional warfare as an active sub-sect of the All-encompassing National Military Doctrine to deter Pakistan.
Warfare is an interplay of strengths and weaknesses and the requirements of high tempo – modern war necessitate synergistic application of different types of forces…
India needs to develop a different strategy to deter China and it makes practical sense to confront her on own terms by having the capabilities to target her vulnerabilities and sensitivities. A wide appreciation needs to be undertaken to identify her vulnerabilities – in Tibet, at sea, in space and in the Electro-Magnetic Spectrum. The point being made is simple – strike where it hurts, ideally away from the area of conflict, and as discretely as possible to avoid escalation and spill-over. The idea is to convey a clear but unambiguous signal: If confronted, India would react–‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ is immaterial. This roughly translates to ‘deny’ in the mountains and ‘strike’ through Air, Space and Maritime Forces – something that is recommended in the paper Non Alignment 2.0, the aim being to expand the operational envelope of counter-measures and to ensure retaliation against a weakness. Again, the aim is not to discuss specifics but to highlight the possibilities and avoid knee-jerk reactions.
The South Asian Region
Apart from the physical advantage India enjoys in terms of location, size and military capabilities, emerging India’s greatest strengths are the India success story and the global perception that it is not a ‘threatening’ power. While the current regime under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making the right moves, it is recommended the ‘follow up’ especially in the immediate neighbourhood, stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar must be taken up on a war footing. The SAARC forum may appear to be a weather beaten horse but reenergising it with economic prospects even at the cost of India, would be a rewarding investment in larger strategic terms.
The Indian Ocean Region (IOR)
India is uniquely placed in terms her coastline and island territories. This puts her in an enviable position to play a key role in the power games being played in the IOR and the Asia-Pacific Maritime domain. The debate that India may or may not do so is immaterial – what is relevant is the necessity to do so for which building of demonstrable capability is required. By extension, it is axiomatic that India not only nurtures its relations with the maritime nations of the IOR, but also develops its capabilities of operating with friendly foreign forces since their aim in the region would be generally be in conformity with that of India.
Essentials for Evolving the Military Doctrine
Based on the discussion on the preceding paragraphs, ten essentials for outlining a robust Military Doctrine for India to inject dynamism and highlight outcome driven objectives, necessitate consideration of the following:
India needs to develop a different strategy to deter China and it makes practical sense to confront her on own terms…
- The Sea, Air, Space and electro-magnetic domains need to be given priority to be able to strike deep and cause disproportionate damage – technology being the key to gain advantage – the Chinese A2/AD Model being a good example.
- The Army must be tasked beyond territorial defence and structured to cause disproportionate destruction in the battle zone and at the same time, it should be made capable for undertaking ‘out of area’ contingencies – attrition through unconventional means should be in-built in her tactical responses, especially in the mountains.
- Task of Border (Defence) Forces must be redefined and they should be enabled to undertake effective border management, both in peacetime and war. Such forces should be made capable to provide a sound firm base around which the regular army should be able to mount offensive operations. Apart from a change in tasking, this requires greater inter-operability between the forces.
- Undertaking unconventional operations should be inbuilt at the tactical, operational as well as strategic levels – development of these capabilities should be thrust areas against both Pakistan and China.
- Strategic partnerships with likeminded nations must be nurtured – both within South Asia and for operating jointly in the IOR.
- India’s diplomatic overtures in the immediate neighbourhood must offer a ‘Win-Win’ situation for all.
- India’s internal structures must be re-organised in keeping with national security aspirations.
- ‘Jointness’ at the functional levels must be the key – right from the portals of South Block to the formation level – re-organisation of the NSA, MOD and Theatre Commands being the bare requisites.
- Intelligence agencies and role of think-tanks to promote national interests need redefinition.
- While exploiting the electro-magnetic spectrum should be the aim and ensuring adequate redundancy against enemy cyber-attacks should be built in.
India is passing through historic times and the pace and direction she adopts in the current and coming decade would be defining. India stands at the threshold of a new future amidst a rapidly changing strategic landscape; a future that involves playing a larger role in the strategic affairs of the world. India needs to factor in the changes that are likely to manifest globally, and there are well-researched net assessments who predict the future – ‘Long View from Delhi’2 and ‘Next 100 years’3 being some of them.
The military, which is a major component of the nation’s CNP, needs to be contribute meaningfully to this future, for which it needs to be given direction and enabled in terms of capabilities. Evolving a Military Doctrine to channelise its growth and provide direction is, therefore, the need of the hour. This is a national requirement that merits intervention at the highest political levels to prevent turf battles which have proved to be the biggest impediment thus far. At the same time, it is reiterated that providing a Military Doctrine is not the requirement of the military but of the civil leadership and it is they who need to recognise the necessity to change and having done so, provide the necessary direction and impetus. Left to themselves, neither the bureaucracy nor the services or for that matter the Para Military Forces would solicit for change – they would be content with the status quo ensconced in the comfort of their respective empires.
- Paper Non Alignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the Twenty First century, as available on the net. Its authors Sunil Nilekani, Rajiv Kumar, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Prakash Menon, Nandan Nilekani, Srinath Raghvan, Shyam Saran and Siddarth Varadarajan are eminent thinkers with distinguished track records in public life and recognized as ‘progressive’Indians.
- Menon Raja, Admiral and Kumar Rajiv, The Long View from Delhi: To Define the Indian Grand Strategy for Foreign Policy. Academic Foundation, 2010, New Delhi.
- Friedman George, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, Doubleday, United States, 2009, as available on the net.