An Integrated Indian Military Strategy - 2040: A Perspective (Part-III)
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 16 Jul , 2017

Section – III: – Options For a Two Front Strategy

This is the ‘nightmare’ scenario for India, wherein both China and Pakistan co-operate for a joint war against India. While it is unlikely in the near term, but chances increase beyond the medium term as India rises economically and is preferred by the Western business houses to China, as also by the Japanese, Koreans and Australians. Should the Indo-US alliance strengthen and China’s push in the South China Sea falter, it could possibly occur earlier.

There are three likely possibilities for such a scenario to unfold,

  • Scenario 1 – Simultaneous offensives on both fronts,
  • Scenario 2 – China opens its offensive first, while Pakistan follows after a delay of a week or so,
  • Scenario 3 – Situations are created for India to attack Pakistan, and China commences its offensive against India after 1-2 weeks.

The last scenario appears to be the worst case for India; since India would be so embroiled in ensuring a decisive defeat of the Pakistan Army, it could have side-stepped some reserves from the Northern Borders to supplement the offensive on the Western Front thereby weakening its overall strength along the Northern Borders to be able to contain the PLA offensive and take the fight to Chinese territory, should it be surprised.

The need for a comprehensive 24/7 Persistent Situational Awareness for real time intelligence is a ‘sine-qua-non’ for effectively prosecuting India’s response. This would be over and above the other intelligence gathering agencies to ensure India is not surprised, or gets very little warning time. To effectively respond to such a scenario there is a need to relook the resource allocation and force structure, not just of the Military but also the CAPF allocated for the defence of India.

An ideal strategy would be to have a very effective information dominance, to pre-empt and take out the weaker partner on the Western Front, before war is joined with the stronger partner along the Northern Borders. Lessons can be drawn on this strategy from Napoleon’s Campaigns, wherein he invariably had to counter more than one enemy on different fronts – strategy of inferiority[1]

Despite the co-operation between China and Pakistan, the strategy for prosecuting their respective campaigns would remain the same as discussed above in Part -1 and 2; accordingly own concept would also continue to follow the ‘degrade, disrupt, destroy and defeat’ approach.

The options available to India to prosecute its war are three,

  • Option 1 – Defensive War on both Fronts, with Limited Objectives. Option 2 – Defensive War against Northern Front with Limited Objectives and a Punitive War across the Western Border with far reaching objectives.
  • Option 3 – Defensive War across the Northern Front initially, with a Punitive War across the Western Borders, thereafter regroup and take the War across the Northern Borders for a decisive victory; however need to improve defence preparedness needed for executing this option  would be for a much longer duration.
  • Note – At the same time, in all the Options above India must ensure proper alliances are maintained with friendly countries so that both the enemies do not feel secure on their other front(s) and are forced to denude strength towards maintaining a balanced posture opposite it.

Recommended Strategy to Counter Dual Front Threat

To be able to effectively respond to such threats, the need for an effective 24/7 Persistent Situational Awareness is imperative, coupled with a strong intelligence gathering capability by other means, to ensure the India is not surprised. Concurrently, India needs to have geographically identifiable multiple ‘red’ lines across both borders, the crossing of which by the enemy Armed Forces in strength should result in the Government of India approving increasing levels of readiness by the Defence Forces.

At the same time, as earlier, Integrated Layered Air Defence and Ballistic Missile Defence Grid would be necessary to checkmate the threat from the PLA Rocket Force and the Pakistani Nuclear Missiles (including the Tactical Nuclear Weapons).

Near Term Strategy – Option 1.

1. As per the present force allocation, it would be easier to respond to Scenarios 1 & 2. However, the only option available is Option 1 – Limited War on both Fronts.

  • Commence intensive targeting based on network centric and effects based operations by air, UCAVs, Attack/Armed Helicopters, missiles (conventional), rockets and other long range vectors targeting the PLA reserves at every level, nuclear delivery system, communication grid, and the infrastructure grid to  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 a politically sensitive objective 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 both cis frontier to blunt the attempts of non-state actors.
  • Establish a ‘full spectrum dominance’ over the operational battle areas at every stage of War.
  • 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.

2. The Scenario 3 becomes critical for India at present, as some resources would have to be shifted from the Western Front to the Northern Borders to enable an effective campaign on both fronts. These resources could have to be pulled back from trans-frontier, depending on the delay in the PLA offensive, and a readjustment of the ingress to a defensible posture based on the residual strength. Hence the importance of the effective 24/7 Persistent Situational Awareness is imperative, coupled with a strong intelligence gathering capability by other means, to ensure the India is not surprised. Also the multiple ‘red’ lines would assist in taking a timely decision to switch the necessary forces from the West to the North.

3. The Alliances would ensure that the both countries are unable to prosecute their campaigns with optimum strengths, as the threats to vulnerable flanks on other borders force them to maintain a balanced posture.

Medium Term Strategy – Option 2.

  • The basic concept remains the same, as mentioned above, but with better resource allocation of CAPFs (their training and equipping, being placed permanently with the Army), better restructuring and right sizing of the Armed Forces, creation of Integrated Front HQs, and induction of improved technology and force multipliers would enable effective prosecution of this strategy.
  • This strategy entails ensuring a balanced deployment on both fronts, with adequate reserves held centrally under the CDS.
  • The application of force to prosecute war would be carefully calibrated to ensure that the Political Aims and Military Objectives are met.
  • The Alliances must now ensure that the other fronts of these countries are adequately addressed, thereby forcing them also to fight on dual fronts.

Long Term Strategy – Option 3.

  • The essentials remain the same as for the Near and Medium term Strategies.
  • With better resource allocation, and effective training & equipping of the CAPFs, more regulars can be available as reserves.
  • With time, the operational preparedness and the modernisation, the Integration of the Services and jointness & interoperability with Allied Forces would have reached the requisite capability to achieve a Punitive Deterrence across both Fronts.
  • The Alliances would now ensure that the capabilities across other fronts of these enemy countries would also have Credible/Punitive Deterrence capability.
  • In all scenarios, the aim would be to decisively defeat the junior partner, and then regroup to decisively defeat the stronger enemy.
  • While it is relatively easy to sequence the campaigns to achieve the above in Scenarios 1 and 2, it needs to be carefully calibrated for Scenario 3 wherein the red-lines delineated across the borders and the Persistent Situational Awareness Grid would facilitate in enabling timely reallocation of resources.

The aim should be, to be able to re-generate adequate forces for a Punitive War across the Western Front, while ensuring a Defensive War with Limited Objectives across the Northern Borders, in the near to medium term. The long term capability should aim at resources for a Punitive War on the Western front, with forces available to hold on the Northern Borders and post successful culmination of a quick war on the Western Front, recreate resources to ensure a major defeat for the enemy along the Northern Borders.

In the medium to long term, to effectively counter such threats, India should look towards a ‘Prompt Regional Strike Capability’. Such a capability, backed with positive alliances within the region (and beyond) would enable a stable security environment.

Read Part-IV: Recommended Force Structures, Force Reallocation and Procurement Priorities Recommended Force Structures.


[1] Napoleon’s Strategy and Tactics,

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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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