An Integrated Indian Military Strategy - 2040: A Perspective (Part-I)
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 14 Jul , 2017

India has the unique distinction of being the only country facing a visceral enemy on its Western flank and an intractable foe along its Northern borders, each with a different set of political objectives. While the enemy along the Northern border wants to stem India’s rise by any means and thereby ensure it becomes the ‘sole’ arbiter and Voice of Asia; the visceral foe along the Western front is actually the Army that controls all facets of the tract of land that the World calls Pakistan. It desires its continued hold there, which can only be feasible if it perpetuates a threat to it from India. Any peace with India is an ‘existential threat’ to its stranglehold on Pakistan, which it obviously does not want to be deprived of. Towards this end, it has taken control of the education system and the media to propagate its warped philosophy and history. It has created a set of non-state actors to further its policy to ensure there is no peace with India by creating a terror network within and across the borders. Concurrently, it has also developed close relations with the Northern adversary. It serves the purpose of the enemy across the Northern Borders to prop up this visceral foe, and thus attempt to restrict India’s growth.

Faced with such an adversarial situation across both its frontiers, India needs to be very careful in how it should prosecute its defence on both borders. Towards that end clarity on the Political Goals and Military would enable enunciation of Military Strategy. However, it should be noted that it is not just the Political goal(s) that would dictate the Military Objectives; the enemy’s obstinacy also needs to be factored for the Armed Forces to achieve desired Military Objective(s) in order to attain the Political Goal(s). The Military Objective(s) then dictates the Military Strategy – from which come the force structures to achieve the same.

The magnitude of the Political Objective(s) and the obstinacy of the enemy determine how far reaching the Military Objective(s) should be,

  • If the government’s Political Goal is limited, but it faces a determined/obstinate enemy, then it must have far reaching Military Objective(s) (India v/s Pakistan today).
  • If the Political Goal is ambitious, even if it faces a moderate or obstinate enemy, it must attain far reaching Military Objectives (India v/s E Pakistan 1971, and China v/s India 1962 plus today)
  • Only if the government’s Political Goal is limited and the enemy is not very obstinate can it set for itself a limited Military Objective (India v/s W Pakistan 1971, and India v/s China).

As India faces a threat across its Northern and Western borders, with two very different enemies, it cannot have the same yardstick to prosecute war against both[1]. Hence the Military Strategies for both fronts would have to be different.

While the asymmetric threat from both fronts is on-going and needs a multi-discipline approach covering the kinetic, non-kinetic and non-contact domains, this paper analyses and recommends a Military Strategy for the Indian Army, in case of War, as under,

(a) Section – I: – Strategy for the Western Front,

(b) Section – II: – Strategy for the Northern Borders,

(c) Section – III: – Options for a Two Front Strategy,

(d) Section – IV: – Recommended Force Structures, Force Reallocation and Procurement Priorities

(e) Section – V: – Conclusion

SECTION – I: –    Strategy for the Western Front

Western Front: Political Aims and Military Objectives

The likely Political Goal could range from limited – to cause a change in policy of the Pakistan Army to prevent it from rousing trouble within one’s border and encouraging a province to secede, to the extreme – regime change viz. to remove the stranglehold of the Pakistan Army and ISI on the Government of Pakistan.

Considering the intransigence of the Pakistan Army and its non-state actors, whether the Political Goal is limited to stopping cross-border terrorism, or recapture of POK (including Gilgit -Baltistan), or far reaching viz., establish a strong democracy and removing the stranglehold of the Army – the military objectives have to be far reaching. Punitive deterrence with better force multipliers, optimum force ratios with an integrated front plan, along with a robust BMD shield to counter Pakistan’s nuclear threat and decimation of his reserves at every level would be essential towards achieving the desired Political Objectives. A very strong Counter Terrorism Grid would also be essential both cis and trans-frontier, to negate the threat from the non-state actors.

Concurrently, the aim in the Maritime domain could be to deny all SLOCs, destroy the efficacy of Pakistan Navy and quarantine all its ports and also destroy / degrade it, thereby present a threat of amphibious landing(s) to complement the ground offensive.

While China may not activate the Northern Front in such a situation, but it could build up troops in the Tibet Autonomous Region in the garb of exercise, and resort to transgressions and face-offs, thereby trying to assist its ‘all-weather ally’. Hence there would be a need for a continued balanced and robust Border Management Posture all along the Northern Borders.[2] It could also resort to naval posturing in the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Therefore, it would be also important to have a robust tri-service presence in the littorals and these maritime regions to deny effective space to the PLAN.

It would be China’s interests that there is an Indo-Pak face off, as it would result in Indian economy being pushed back by a decade if not more. It would thus facilitate its uncontested rise in Asia. It blends well with its ancient ’36 Stratagems’ – Strategy 3 “借刀杀人” Borrow one’s hand to kill. (Kill with a borrowed knife), attack using the strength of another (because of lack of strength or do not want to use own strength). Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor, or use the enemy’s own strength against him.[3] 

Understanding Pakistan’s Military Objectives

For the Pak Army, as long as it survives and continues to have a stranglehold on Pakistan it claims victory over India, despite a very heavy defeat to it; its convoluted ‘notion of victory’. It is by this analogy that it has created a narrative of having won the 1971 war, despite losing more than half of the erstwhile Pakistan territory, since the Pakistan Army lived to fight another day!!

Apropos, the Pakistan Military Objective appears to be ensuring its continued stranglehold on Pakistan, despite heavy losses of men, material and/or territory in any war with India. Accordingly, use of non-state actors (both cis and trans-frontiers), and use / threat of use of nuclear weapons (especially TNWs) as early in battle to bring about International pressure for an early culmination of the War (refer Fig 1 below), before the complete degradation and destruction of its Forces, are part of their overall Military Strategy. The aim of the Pakistan Army is to squeeze out the conventional threshold, by either equalizing its nuclear threshold to India’s conventional threshold limit or bring it somewhere close to it.

However, the surgical strikes by India has caused a rethink in the sub-conventional domain by Pakistan Army and there is every possibility of it spreading to the hinterland in India,  with incidents that have a large degree of deniability, thereby allowing Pakistan Army to hurt India by its proxies at regular intervals.

“Pakistan, as the weaker power in the India- Pakistan dyad, believes that it must have ‘escalation dominance at all rungs of the military ladder – from the low-intensity conflict to conventional war and all the way to nuclear war to ensure its survivability.”  – ‘Fighting to the End’, Christine Fair 

Faced with such an enemy, the ‘Cold Start Strategy’ of the Indian Army that has been often spoken of over the last decade, fails to ensure that the desired Military and Political Objectives are attained. It plays into the convoluted notion of victory of the Pakistan Army, and thus needs a review.

The Military Strategy should negate this attempt by Pakistan Army to squeeze the conventional space, by neutralising its nuclear weapons threat, lowering India’s conventional threshold and move towards a strategy of an Integrated Campaign aimed at complete destruction and degradation of Pakistan Armed Forces, a massive loss of face militarily.

Pak Military Strategy

After the culmination of four years of war gaming and exercises (Azm-e-Nau series), the Pakistan military adopted a new concept of war fighting aimed at pre-empting India’s Cold Start Doctrine.

The new concept seeks to improve troop mobilisation time and to put up a joint Army, Navy and Air Force response to any conventional threat, to perform holding attacks and take the battle into Indian Territory before international pressure could come to bear. Further, it aimed to reduce the conventional window, by the threat of nuclear strikes at an early stage using Tactical Nuclear Weapons, thereby forcing the International Community to step in early and end the hostilities thus ensuring War culmination within the ambit of its ‘notion of victory’.

Gleaning from the open sources on the net, it appears that Pakistan Army wants to follow a strategy of ‘Offensive Defence’ to counter the Indian Cold Start Doctrine.  The implications are as under,

  • It needs adequate reserves at every level to stem the onslaught of the Indian Strike Corps.
  • Create a hedgehog defence in depth, and limit the Indian Strike Corps penetration within this defensive layout.
  • Use non- state actors both cis and trans-frontiers to assisting in limiting the Indian ingress.
  • Riposte of Pakistan’s Central Command Strike Corps to carry battle into Indian Territory, as early as feasible, either into J & K or Punjab.
  • Employ the reconstituted reserves of Pakistan Southern Command, post blunting of Indian Offensives South of Sutlej, for a counter –stroke into Indian Territory coupled with the launch of TNWs on the Indian ingress, likely south of Sutlej.
  • Raise the nuclear gambit and thus get International pressure to bear on India for an early ceasefire.
  • Declare victory as Pakistan would have some tracts of Indian Territories to bring to the table to bargain!

Raising more forces to execute the above doctrine, also termed by many as the ‘NEW CONCEPT of WAR FIGHTING’, is economically not a viable option for a cash-strapped Pakistan. So Pakistan Army appears to have resorted to the following,

  • Procured 282 refurbished T-55 tanks from Serbia[5], which would suffice it to raise approximately 5 Armoured Regiments.
  • News reports abound of procuring a large number of Armoured Personnel Carriers to be able to convert 9-10 Standard Infantry Battalions into Armoured Infantry Battalions.
  • Further, reports have emerged that Pakistan has decentralised the raising/embodiment of Mujahid Battalions to respective formations, as per their operational allocation by the GHQ.

With extensive deployment of the Pakistan Army on its Western Borders, the likely concept that emerges for defending the Eastern Front is as below,

  • Establish multilayered linear obstacle along its Eastern borders with India.
  • Hold critical / vulnerable areas with regulars, and other areas with Mujahids suitably beefed up with regulars and additional linear obstacles.
  • Establish a grid of anti-tank defensive layout, with certain key locations held in a hedgehog pattern with immediate reserves.
  • Create additional reserves of Infantry and armoured brigades in each divisional sector, to occupy depth hedgehog defences to blunt Indian ingress by the Pivot Corps and prevent a deep offensive by the Strike Corps (second echelon), in conjunction with existing Corps and Sectoral reserves.
  • Employ the non-state actors to target Indian Armed Forces, both cis and trans frontier, to force deployment of more troops for security, thereby restricting the reach of Indian ingress.
  • A well planned interdiction, using non-state actors, air, artillery, rockets, missiles and UAV/UCAV, of the India’s Strike Corps or “follow on” echelons, trans-frontier, would not only blunt the force of the attack but could critically interrupt its momentum. Such an interdiction would, thereby, create periods of Pak tactical superiority, with these newly created reserves. During these periods, the initiative could be seized for offensive action by Pak Strike Corps and the release authority for tactical nuclear strikes, if needed, could be secured. Thus, well planned interdiction could create “time windows” for action that would not otherwise exist, given the India’s conventional superiority in sectors of application, thus offering significantly wider opportunities for offensive action and manoeuvre.

The key elements for a successful prosecution of this New Concept of War Fighting are,

  • Effective use of mobile reserves within the defensive layout in depth, to blunt ingress.
  • Employment of non-state actors to force India to deploy more resources for security tasks.
  • Well planned targeting of Indian Strike Corps (second/follow-on echelon) trans-frontier to create ‘windows of tactical superiority’, thereby enabling an early launch of riposte and counter offensive, under a tactical nuclear strike.
  • The above would ensure an early termination of the War, with Pakistan Army having blunted the Indian ingress, and also taken the battle across into Indian Territory, with acceptable degradation of own men and material.
  • This would be within the ambit of Pakistan Army’s ‘notion of victory’.

Recommended Indian Military Strategy

The Cold Start Doctrine.  

  • The ‘Cold Start’ Doctrine, as is gleaned from the open sources, envisages a quick offensive, immediately on moving from the barracks, in Divisional sized Battle Groups by the Pivot Corps followed by the Divisional sized Battle Groups of the Strike Corps, aimed at creating multiple ingress limited to a depth of approximately 50-80kms. The Air offensive runs concurrently with this ground offensive, with any Maritime operations being a bonus.
  • The aim appears to ensure that the assessed nuclear threshold of Pakistan is not breached, while the conventional superiority would ensure multiple successes, thereby force Pakistan Army to commit its Strike Corps or parts thereof to contest these thrusts.

Limitations of Cold Start Doctrine.  

  • The primary shortcoming is that it does not meet any likely Political Aims and Military Objectives.
  • The other main limitation is that it is not a multi-service Integrated doctrine, and each service has made its own plan that are then tried to be enmeshed at the respective Command level as some sort of a ‘Joint Plan’.
  • It does not cater for the mobilisation differential that exists across the Western Front, and could result in some pre-emptive actions by Pakistan in areas South of Sutlej thereby upsetting own plans.
  • It does not take into consideration that the Pakistan Army might not fritter its strategic reserves in a defensive battle within its own territory, and would still plan to take the battle across into Indian Territory.
  • It pre-supposes some set ‘red line’ as the Pakistani nuclear threshold, and does not take into consideration that the Pakistan Army would endeavour to reduce the conventional threshold, by either equalizing its nuclear threshold to India’s conventional threshold limit or bring it somewhere close to it.

Pak Vulnerabilities. The concept as envisaged post the Azm-E-Nau series of exercises , viz, the New Concept of War Fighting, appears to rest on 3 x pillars for success (Refer Fig 2 below).

Fig 2 – Pillars of the Pakistan Army New Concept of War Fighting

The essence of this ‘new concept’ appears to be to create reserves at every level by pulling back regulars, where feasible, which would facilitate to blunt the Indian ingress within the depth defensive layout. Hold the less critical forward defences with Mujahids/Territorial Army.

  • Utilise non-state actors to force India to deploy more troops for security tasks and thus limit its ingress.
  • Early use of the Strategic Reserve(s) to take the battle into Indian Territories.
  • Use the nuclear card to reduce the conventional window, and thus gain what it terms as ‘parity of effects’ in its War with India.

The proposed of Indian Strategy aims to destroy/degrade/neutralize at least 2, if not all 3 pillars of Pakistan’s New Concept of War Fighting, thereby disrupt its plans and attain the likely Political Aims and Military Objectives. As the operations against non-state actors would involve other Government agencies also (cis frontiers), the Military Strategy should aim at targeting the other two pillars, namely the nuclear delivery systems and the reserves, and establish a grid to counter the impact of non-state actors.

Proposed Integrated Military Strategy for Western Front

The broad strategy would look at achieving a punitive deterrence along with optimum force ratios with an integrated front plan, with better force multipliers, a robust BMD shield to counter Pakistan’s nuclear threat and ensure decimation of his reserves at every level towards achieving the desired Political Objectives. A very strong Counter Terrorism Grid, in concert with the other agencies, would also be essential both cis and trans-frontier, to negate the threat from the non-state actors. Within the ‘war zone’ these agencies should be placed under the command of the Military.

Concurrently, the aim in the Maritime domain should be to deny all SLOCs, destroy the efficacy of Pakistan Navy and quarantine all its ports (could also destroy / degrade) it, thereby present amphibious threat(s) to complement the ground offensive.  The Maritime Strategy should aim to move from ‘sea denial’ to ‘sea control’ in the Arabian Sea, especially in the EEZs of both the countries by the medium to long term.

The Air War Doctrine, while complementing the ground offensive in the operational and tactical level, would also need to target the strategic objectives. Hence it should aim to progress from providing a ‘local favourable air situation’ to a favourable air situation in the medium term, and look towards achieving ‘air superiority’ over the Western Front in the medium to long term.

Towards that end, the strategy being recommended is as under,

  • Build a strong surveillance grid based on space, near space vehicles, UAVs, radars and HUMINT, Special Forces and attain Persistent Situational Awareness dominance.
  • Establish an Integrated Layered Air Defence and Ballistic Missile Defence Grid.
  • Commence intensive targeting based on network centric and effects based operations by Air Force, UCAVs, Attack/Armed Helicopters, Missiles (conventional), Rockets and other long range vectors, post own defensive posture is in place.
  • Target Pakistan’s reserves at every level, nuclear delivery system, command-control-communication grid, and the infrastructure grid to inhibit side stepping of any remnant reserves.
  • Start the Ground and Maritime Offensive after adequate degradation is achieved.
  • The Ground offensive must aim at Deep Battle and Deep Operations to ensure complete Military defeat of Pakistan Armed Forces.
  • The Maritime Operations should aim at blockading Pakistan and destruction/degradation of its ports and naval assets. It should aim at domination the Indian Ocean Region to ensure that no ally of Pakistan is able to divert attention with any adventurism in the region.
  • The Air Campaign would aim to achieve ‘favourable air situation’ by the medium term and achieve ‘air superiority’ by the long term.
  • Establish a hedgehog counter terrorism gird both cis and trans frontier to blunt the attempts of non-state actors.
  • Establish ‘full spectrum dominance’ over the operational battle areas at every stage of War.
  • Maintain a continued balanced and robust Border Management Posture all along the Northern Borders.

This strategy deals with an ‘integrated war plan’ that lays more stress on technology, fire power, manoeuvre forces and force multipliers thereby changing the need for conventional force ratios. The concept envisages a ‘degrade, disrupt, destroy and defeat’ approach, a different way of waging war. Rather than the traditional ‘attack-capture-hold’ method, it envisages ‘clear-secure-hold’, which is feasible by the degradation-disruption-destruction envisaged under this concept. It aims at striking the roots of the likely Pakistani ‘Offensive-Defence’ strategy, and ensuring a military rather than a political defeat thereby achieving the ‘End State’ as desired for peace in the sub-continent. The force structures that such a strategy leads to, the technologies envisaged, priority for procurement and the resource reallocation, would be addressed in Section –IV of this paper.

Read Part-II: Strategy for the Northern Borders.


[1] Right Sizing The Military: Political Goals, Military Objectives And Force Structures, By Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan IDR Issue Net Edition| Date: 03 Jun, 2016 

[2] ibid


[4] A framework to model India-Pakistan conflict escalation,

[5] Serbia sold 282 modernized t-55 tanks to Pakistan, InSerbia with agencies, Jun 28, 2015 

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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

Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan, AVSM, VSM

Retired after 37 years of distinguished service, as the ADGMO (B) in 2016,having been closely involved with Future Strategy, Force Structures and Force Modernisation.

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