An Integrated Indian Military Strategy - 2040: A Perspective (Part-II)
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 15 Jul , 2017

Section  – II: –   Strategy for The Northern Borders

Northern Front: Military Objectives

To counter a rising India and ensure a ‘Unipolar Asia’ under its stewardship, China would aim to politically and militarily humiliate India, when it resorts to war. Its Military Objective(s) would thus be far reaching in selected sectors / politically sensitive areas. However, any stalemate would be a loss of face for China, and any loss of territory would be politically and militarily unacceptable. Loss of or threat to, a politically sensitive area and capture of sizeable Prisoners of War (PoWs) would be disastrous to the PLA and CPC. It could trigger a nuclear blackmail.

The Indian Political Goals would more likely be limited to preventing China from annexing any portion of Indian Territory, and to deter it from any misdemeanour. As such India’s Military Objectives would accordingly be also limited. India would need a balanced and robust Border Management Posture, along with own concept of Anti- Access and Area Denial / Counter Intervention Strategy, a credible deterrence to achieve limited gains trans frontiers, blunt the PLA offensive and capture sizeable PoWs.

The PLA has elaborated in detail the employment of its Second Artillery conventional missiles as part of its overall campaign planning in its ‘Science of Military Campaigns’. Hence there is a need for India to have a robust BMD system to counter this clear and present danger.

In such a scenario, it would be more than certain that Pakistan would attempt some mischief – its probability of occurrence increasing as we move North of Sutlej. Should it open a second front for India, it may be prudent not to go for far reaching Military Objectives, but limit it to blunting the Pak misdemeanour and achieving limited gains in some sensitive sectors, for the present. The need for a robust BMD along the Western front also would be essential.

The Maritime threat could be to own SLOCs and the Littoral states. The Maritime Objectives could be limited to denial of crossings to PLA Navy across the Malacca/ Sunda/Lumbok Straits, deny victuals from known the ports along its ‘String of Pearls’ and the effective defence of Indian Littoral States. Blocking China’s SLOCs across the Indian Ocean (Asia-Pacific?) could also be considered, in the long term. Effective degradation and destruction of any PLA Navy venturing into the India Ocean would be a part of the Maritime Strategy.[1]

The air threat from PLAAF would be aimed at executing its strategy of ‘Anti Access and Area Denial / Counter Intervention Strategy’, apart from selected strategic targeting. Thus own Air Campaign should not only aim to negate this threat but execute an Indian variant of the US ‘Air Land Battle’, ‘Air Sea Battle’ and the Chinese ‘Anti Access and Area Denial / Counter Intervention’ Strategies.

Understanding China’s Political Objectives

The Chinese Communist Party aims to lead China to be the sole Super Power in the long term. Towards that end it aims to become the sole power in Asia in the near to medium term. The only country it sees in Asia as its competitor, and which could also stymie its rise as the sole Super Power, is India.

Towards this end, China has adopted the Strategy of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ to counter a rising India and other world or middle powers it feels threatened by; the book Unrestricted Warfare was published in the People’s Republic of China, or PRC, in 1999 by the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, Literature Arts Publishing House in Beijing, written by two Senior Colonels of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF[2].  On the face of it, the book appears to do little more than explain how to combine the instruments of national power and employ them against a competitor similar to the way the United States coordinates the use of hard and soft power to achieve national goals[3]. However, a more in-depth study of the nuanced concepts in the book illuminates a nefarious combination of strategy and tactics that are not restricted by local or international laws, or of national ethics and morals.

The implication is that China has moved on to a Peoples War in all domains, with no consideration for ethics and moral values,  against all nations that it feels can compete with it in its rise, as also the existing World Powers, to ensure that it has an unhindered rise as the sole Super Power of the future. Currently the only threat, if any that it faces from the Land, is from India.

The first step on its aim to achieve Super Power status is to become the sole power of Asia. Hence its Political Aim for any war with, its sole competitor, India would be to politically and militarily humiliate it.

PLA’s Military Objectives & Strategy

In 2015 China released a White Paper on its Military Strategy, wherein its stated National Strategic Goal was – “to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2021 when the CPC celebrates its centenary; and the building of a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious by 2049 when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) marks its centenary.”[4]

The strategic overarching thought that the PLA follows is the concept of ‘Active Defence’, a concept enunciated as – “The strategic concept of active defence is the essence of the CPC’s military strategic thought. From the long-term practice of revolutionary wars, the people’s armed forces have developed a complete set of strategic concepts of active defence, which boils down to: adherence to the unity of strategic defence and operational and tactical offense; adherence to the principles of defence, self-defence and post-emptive strike; and adherence to the stance that “We will not attack unless we are attacked, but we will surely counterattack if attacked.”[5]

However, under this overarching concept of ‘active defence’ it also considers any threat to China’s core interests as a threat to its security and an act of war. The PLA considers the future wars, in the near to medium term, that it needs to fight would be against regional power(s), and NOT against any Super Power.  It opines that local, limited wars over maritime and land territories assume importance, and these local wars would presumably be of shorter duration, fought on the high seas or in remote border regions that are sparsely populated and have less depth for manoeuvrability. Such wars also usually require technology-based forces and arms, capable of forward deployment.

The aggressive posturing in the South China Sea and the stringent voices that emerge in its state controlled media on US-India alignment in the Asia-Pacific are symptomatic of its fear of threats to its stated goals. Implications of its National Strategic Goals seem that it needs to secure all its immediate threats to the Han Heartland by 2021 and ensure a Single China by 2049. I t sees the first half of this century as ‘strategic opportunity’ and the latter half as the period for ‘strategic expansion’.

The above does indicate towards certain time lines that China is aiming for, namely, securing the South China Sea in its favour by 2021 and the continued use of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ to inhibit the ‘Comprehensive National Power’ of  countries it views as its competitors in the Asia-Pacific region. The military threat to India could come thereafter, post 2025 -30, as it would need to secure its Southern Flank before it attempts to secure Taiwan, by force if necessary.

To cater for such regional wars, the War Zone Campaign (WZC, zhanqu zhanyi) was first enunciated in 1985, as “local wars under modern conditions”. Since then it has moved from ‘high tech conditions’ in 1996 to ‘informatised conditions’ in 2002, to the latest being ‘’winning local wars under informatised conditions’.

The recent restructuring from Military Regions to Theatre Commands is a step towards effective implementation of this campaign under one overall commander. Through all these modifications, the essence of the doctrine has remained the same, a three-phase operation, with political pauses in between, as under,

Phase -1: Elite Forces and Sharp Arms (EFSA, jingbing liqi) – achieve local and temporary superiority through the concentrated use of EFSA. It entails use of elite forces (Special forces, 5th columnists, asymmetric warfare), to deny access to enemy ground forces to build up, coupled with a show of force on the borders  thereby force the enemy to come to the negotiating table. There is a school of thought that this phase is part of its

Doctrine of Unrestricted Warfare. If the enemy accedes to the demands, then a political victory would have been achieved, if not then the Phase -2 unfolds, the build up for which would have continued even during the pause.

Phase -2: Gaining Initiative by Striking First (GISF, xianji zhidi) – Seize the initiative by striking first and securing the key / critical areas, across the borders, utilizing the Second Artillery conventional strikes, air power, heavy firepower, and ground forces. The access   and area denial of Phase -1 continues even during this Phase. The resources used would be those available to the Theatre Commander within his Orbat. Even as the movement of reserves from other regions/ commands continues, another pause would be taken for the enemy to agree to come to the negotiating table. Should the enemy accede, then a       political victory would have been achieved, if not then Phase – 3 unfolds to achieve a crushing military victory.

Phase -3: Quick Battle to force a Quick Resolution (QBQR, suzhan sujue) – achieve a crushing military victory with overwhelming force in all spectrums of warfare.

The essence of the WZC (refer Fig 1 below) is one strategic direction with several campaign fronts and multi -dimensional space.

Fig 1 – Essence of WZC

Each Service plays a leading role in its sub-campaign, while others play a supporting role within it. Several autonomous, sequential and simultaneous such sub campaigns are conducted in separate but inter-connected time & space domains. The unfolding of such a campaign could possibly entail the following,

  • An increased cyber attacks targeting financial institutions, railways and air traffic, media, diplomatic& economic stand-offs, socio-political unrest, terrorist attacks in North East, Red Corridor and J&K, thereby forcing increased deployment of the Army and CAPFs, to counter the same. Heavy build up by the Theatre Command, under the garb of Uyghur and Tibetan unrest and / or training, closer to the LOC. Call for border negotiations.
  • Blaming India for the unrest in Tibet and Sinkiang, strike High Value Targets, namely airfields, bridges, choke points, military stations, to disrupt build up to the LOC, and launch offensive(s) in various sectors to secure critical areas that threaten politically sensitive areas in depth. The targeting would be with all conventional long range vectors, Special Forces and terrorists. Build up of Trans Regional Reserves continues. Call for border negotiations.
  • Launch the Trans Regional Reserves in selected sectors to attain a quick military victory by capturing sensitive objective(s), leading to military and political defeat.

The key elements for a successful prosecution of this WZC Doctrine are,

  • Effective use of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ especially the asymmetric warfare with Special Forces, terrorists and non-state actors, to force increased deployment of Army and CAPFs on such Internal Security duties, and inhibit effective deployment for border management. Coupled with it would be the disruption of the command & control communication setup.
  • Planned targeting of airfields, choke points, military installations by Rocket Force (conventional warheads), UCAVs, Special Forces, terrorists and non-state actors, to disrupt and delay build up thereby ensuring optimum tactical and operational superiority in the critical areas to enable swift capture of the same.
  • With continued disruption of the build up, ensure swift build up of own Trans Regional Reserves and swift capture of sensitive depth areas for an early termination of war, with military and political defeat of the enemy.
  • Concurrently disrupt India’s SLOCs, degrade India’s naval assets and capture key littoral objectives in the Indian Ocean.

The five pillars on which the success of this WZC Doctrine rests is as given in Fig 2 below. While the response to the Unrestricted Warfare is beyond the purview of this paper, as it needs a multi agency governmental approach, an effective counter to the other four pillars can be provided by a suitable military strategy that ensures effective neutralisation of the same. Lessons can be drawn from the US AirLand Battle Doctrine to counter the Soviet superiority in Europe, and the Chinese maritime ‘Anti Access & Area Denial / Counter Intervention Strategy’ concept to counter the US Fleets. 

Fig 2- The 5 Pillars of WZC

Proposed Integrated Military Strategy for Northern Borders

The broad strategy would look at achieving a credible deterrence with better force multipliers, optimum force ratios with an integrated front plan, along with a robust BMD shield to counter the threat of PLA Rocket Force and disrupt the build up of PLA reserves during every stage of battle – akin to the US plan of targeting the Soviet ‘follow on forces’ under the ‘AirLand Battle Doctrine[6] and a strong counter-terrorism grid cis-frontier. A robust maritime doctrine by denying access to the PLA Navy (PLAN) into the Indian Ocean Region, disrupt Chinese SLOCs, take the maritime operations in to the South China Sea region and degrade PLAN assets.

A robust network centric Persistent Situational Awareness capability and command & communication grid would be needed to effectively counter the four pillars of WZC Doctrine. 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 targeting the PLA reserves at every level, nuclear delivery system, command-control-communication grid, and the infrastructure grid to  inhibit the build-up of reserves. The mountainous terrain and lack of space forces a sequential application of forces by the PLA, which can be targeted to disrupt and dislocate the operational plan.
  • Start the Ground Offensive after adequate degradation and stalemate is achieved. The Ground defensive& offensive must aim at capture of sizeable PsoW and capture/threaten  politically sensitive objective(s) to ensure a Military defeat of PLA and a political defeat for the Chinese Communist Party.
  • The Maritime Operations should aim at denying the Indian Ocean region to the PLAN, interdicting Chinese SLOCs and taking the battle to the South China Sea, if feasible, for the  destruction/degradation of its ports and naval assets
  • Establish a hedgehog counter terrorism gird cis frontier to blunt the attempts of non-state actors.
  • Establish‘full spectrum dominance’ over the operational battle areas at every stage of War.
  • Should Pakistan open a second front for India on the Western Borders, it may be prudent, at present, not to go for far reaching Military Objectives, but,
  • Maintain the strong surveillance grid based on space, near space, UAVs, radars and HUMINT, Special Forces and attain Persistent Situational Awareness dominance.
  • Maintain the  Integrated Layered Air Defence and Ballistic Missile Defence Grid
  • Blunt the Pak misdemeanour and achieve limited gains in selected sensitive sectors.
  • Ensure a strong counter-terrorism grid both cis and trans frontier.
  • Such a strategy would ensure disruption of the PLA WZC Doctrine effectively and take the battle into Chinese territories, thereby causing extreme loss of face to both the PLA and the Chinese Communist Party, and furthering the larger Political Aims of India.
  • Should Pakistan try to create mischief, it caters for blunting its ingress and taking the fight into Pakistan’s territory by capturing/ threatening selected politically sensitive areas within the operational depth, in the near term, and going in for a Punitive War with far reaching Objectives in the medium to long term thereby ensuring that the Western Flank ceases to be a threat for some decades.

There is a need for a comprehensive maritime domination of the Indian Ocean Region, to counter the Chinese concept of First and Second Island Chain as enunciated by Admiral Liu Huaqing (the father of PLA Navy) in his ‘Offshore Defence’ Maritime Strategy in 1986.[7] This entails optimum militarisation of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to extend India’s maritime reach as desired for prosecuting the Maritime Operations. A maritime doctrine similar to the ‘Anti Access and Area Denial / Counter Intervention Strategy’ doctrine of the PLAN[8] , especially based from the Andaman & Nicobar Island chain would enable an effective domination of the Indian Ocean region and enable reach into the South China Sea, Philippines Sea and West Pacific regions.

The strategy  with an ‘integrated war plan’ lays more stress on technology, fire power, maritime forces, manoeuvre forces and force multipliers thereby changing the need for conventional force ratios. This concept also envisages a ‘degrade, disrupt, destroy and defeat’ approach, a different way of waging war.

Read Part-III: Options for a Two Front Strategy


[1] Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan, ibid

[2] Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare (PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House:

Beijing, 1999)

[3] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., The Future of Power (Perseus Books Group: New York, 2011), 1-24.

[4] China’s Military Strategy – 2015,

[5] ibid

[6] Airland Battle Doctrine, by Douglas W. Skinner,

[7]The Father of the Modern Chinese Navy – Liu Huaqing’, by Daniel Hartnet; CIMSEC Studies, 08 Oct 2014 (

[8] NAVAL WAR COLLEGE Newport, R.I. Chinese Anti-Access/Area Denial: The Evolution of Warfare in the Western Pacific by Christopher J. McCarthy Major, USAF, 3 May 2010,

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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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