An Integrated Indian Military Strategy - 2040: A Perspective (Part-IV)
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 17 Jul , 2017

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


Jointness, Interoperability, Joint Operations, Integrated Theatre Battle’s, have been a common refrain in the military lexicon during the first decade of the 21st Century, while referring to Joint Tri-Service Operations. The major lessons that have emerged during the closing stages of the 20th Century, and the first two decades of the 21st century has been that the success in the future battle space milieu would be directly proportional to the level of integration achieved. Such ‘integrated operations’ enables orchestration of an effective synergy to achieve a force multiplier impact over the battle space , thereby facilitating early achievement of military and political aims of war.

To enable the above, the need is to move beyond the realms of plain lexicon and look at Tri-Service integration at the Force and Functional levels. Such an integration would not only enable jointness of plans but would also ensure a better utilisation of the defence budget by ensuring standardisation of weapons, equipment and warlike stores, with a seamless logistics and maintenance back up. The proposed recommendation envisages an Integrated Armed Forces HQ under a CDS/PCOSC, with 04 Integrated Force HQ, 01 Integrated Force Command, and 02 Integrated Functional Commands. Each of the Force HQ would be responsible for conduct of operations in respective theatres, while the Functional Commands for providing integrated combat and logistics support to the Armed Forces.[1]

The CDS: Operational or Administrative Role

A CDS with no operational role would just be a ‘ceremonial figurehead’. Advice on force structures, procurement policies and resource re-allocation are contingent on the Military Strategy and with the Service Chiefs controlling each Service Strategy, the CDS would be a ‘ceremonial figurehead’ with no teeth to implement his advice to the political leadership.

For the CDS to be effective he would need to have full control on the decision making aparatus. The ‘Department of Defence’ within the Ministry of Defence would need to be restructured, with bulk of the functions pertaining to operational and operational logistics, intelligence co-ordination, procurement prioritisation and resource allocation for operational tasks, etc,  transferred to the IDS HQ, under the CDS.[2]

Integrated Front HQs versus Theatre Commands  

This aspect is being discussed and written about for creating ‘Integrated Commands’. Lt Gen Prakash Katoch opines that ‘The need of the hour is that all single Service Commands gradually evolve into either ITCs (akin to ANC) or IFCs (akin to SFC). The CDS should exercise full operational control on the Commands. Reorganisation of the 17 single service Commands can be on the lines of four to five ITCs based on defined geographical theatres in addition to the ANC.’[3]

However, AVM Manmohan Bahadur opined otherwise, ‘The analogy of theatre commands of the US/China is misleading as it would only address the “under command” syndrome of the ground-based forces in India. The truism that “air power is indivisible” and works best under an airman should not be violated. Since India has a status quoist stance on boundary matters, the blocking of air assets by splitting them under theatre commanders would be sub-optimal. If one were to follow the US/China model, then there would be just two “theatres” — the Northern and Western. Both would be unwieldy considering the diverse requirements of equipment and training for troops (desert, plains and hills) — so more (smaller) commands would be required, bifurcating air assets further, reducing their potency’.[4]

By resorting to ‘Integrated Commands’, there are going to be atleast 3-4 such Commands opposite our Western front, and 2-3 opposite our Northern Borders. It defeats the very purpose of having a ‘Single Overall Military Strategy’ to prosecute a War. It also suffers from lack of understanding of, operations done by other services, the issue of reallocation of resources to various Integrated Commands, and the role of the Service Chiefs within this ambit.

The essence of creating such HQs is to have UNITY of Command for operations.  Hence, it is more prudent to create an ‘Integrated Front HQ (IF HQ)’, with extant Commands all being in place with minimal change in their role and tasks. The IF HQ does the overall planning for the Military Strategy, and the extant Commands execute their respective plans as ‘sub-campaigns’ within that overall plan. The orchestration and synchronization of these ‘sub-campaigns’ is done as per the overall plan of the IF HQ.

While these IF HQs would have all troops deployed with respective Commands under their operational control only, they themselves would be under the operational control of the CDS. The Service Chiefs would have NO operational responsibilities. Such a structure would be practical, make the best use of the resources and ensure that planning for respective ‘service sub-campaigns’ is done by respective service commands themselves.

There would be voices raised that India is not yet ready for such Integration. This is despite all studies indicating that the future battlefield milieu would need an Integrated Plan to succeed. It may be noted that any such restructuring needs at least 5-10 years to mature, and be able to function effectively. As such, unless steps are taken now India may find itself short-changed in future wars.

Further the Ajai Vikram Singh (AV Singh) Report, implemented over the last decade in two phases has given adequate additional force in the officer rank to enable the creation of these Integrated HQs. It would need a pragmatic cadre review for JCOs and Other Ranks plus some additional posts in the rank of Lt Gen and above for these HQs, something that is feasible.

Overall Force Structure

The Indian Armed Forces need to evolve into a networked, technology enabled, lean, and mean force, strengthened with force multipliers and capable of responding to a full spectrum of threats. Rather than work with combat/force ratios, the need should be to graduate towards a capability based force based on the Military Strategy to fulfill the Political Aims and Military Objectives.

Indian  Army.    

The Army needs to look beyond numbers and add force multipliers, like C4ISR, long range vectors, UCAVs, UAVs, Attack Helicopters, Mechanised Forces, Special Forces, Layered Air Defence & Ballistic Missile Defence, Motorised Infantry, Modernised Logistics and Information Warfare.

Need to look beyond the legacy formations and structures, especially in the Infantry and replace boots with firepower and mobility. Change the basics from attack –capture – hold, to clear – secure – hold, with increased priority to precision targeting based on PSA leading to effective destruction and degradation of the objective and the disruption of reserves and reinforcements. This would effectively change the way combat/force ratios are currently planned, a legacy of the ‘old school’ warfare.

Need is to restructure and convert, to save costs and improve effectiveness. Need a network enabled force that can deliver the ‘degrade, disrupt, destroy and defeat’ approach in future battlefields, effectively functioning under a nuclear umbrella.

Indian Navy

The Indian Navy needs to ensure the security of Indian Littorals and the Peninsula by progressing from ‘Sea Denial’ to ‘Sea Control’, atleast in the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea (covering Indian EEZ) and the Northern reaches of the Indian Ocean. If need be, strategic alliances with the Littoral States in the Indian Ocean region need to be considered in the medium to long term to facilitate the same.

The need is to place requisite assets, of all 3 Services, on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to dominate the access to the Bay of Bengal from the Pacific Ocean. It needs to be viewed as the ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’ available to India. This would enable the Indian Navy to monitor movement of shipping via the Malacca, Sunda and Lumbok Straits effectively, and extend its reach to the South China Sea, should the need arise to assist our future allies in the region.

Concurrently modernise the Navy to a network enabled maritime force capable of sustained operation across the deep waters of Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, the Northern reaches of the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea, Western Philippines Sea and West Pacific Ocean. It also implies self-contained force protection from sub-surface, surface and airborne threats (including nuclear) and a sustainable logistic reach, allowing a persistent presence at the desired reach.

Indian Air Force

The Indian Air Force has a much larger role to play in not only providing optimum combat support for the Land and Sea Campaigns but also to execute the Strategic Campaign thereby ensuring a favourable situation for the execution of the plans of the Army, Navy and Strategic Forces.

Networked platforms that can get real time feeds from the surveillance assets, suitably equipped with precision weapons and Information warfare assets would be the need to prosecute future wars. The Air Force would be a key enabler in the ‘degrade, disrupt, destroy and defeat’ approach to warfighting, with intimate Close Air Support (Counter Surface Force Operations) over the critical Tactical Battle Area(s).

Towards that end, the need is to move from a local favourable air situation, to a favourable air situation, to air superiority. While in the medium to long term it should be feasible to achieve air superiority over the Western front, achieving a favourable air situation in the medium to long term along the Northern Borders would be a more achievable target. 

Strategic Forces

Need the ‘triad’ to be in place and under the command of the Strategic Forces HQ, both the warheads and the delivery means. Further, it is preferable that the ‘Sword and the Shield’ n be under the same command to ensure better co-ordination of effort. As such the Ballistic Missile Defence should come under the ambit of the Strategic Forces Command, and should be geared to ensure a ‘360 degrees surveillance and protection capability’ to blunt a nuclear threat from any direction.

While it needs to be ensured that India possesses an effective second strike capability, at the same time, there is a need to relook our nuclear doctrine in line with what the Chinese appear to be propagating. While PLA does talk of No First Use (NFU), there are preconditions – “According to our country’s principle, its stand of no first use of nuclear weapons, the Second Artillery will carry out a nuclear missile attack against the enemy’s important strategic targets, according to the combat orders of the Supreme Command, only after the enemy has carried out a nuclear attack against our country.”[5]

The Chinese have listed out 4 scenarios for lowering their nuclear threshold, as under, which India should also consider while reviewing their nuclear doctrine,

  • When enemy forces threaten our nuclear infrastructure (nuclear power plants) by carrying out conventional attacks. In order to prevent a catastrophic leak of nuclear radiation, our nuclear missile forces must measure for measure use nuclear missiles to carry out effective nuclear coercion in order to achieve deterrence of the enemy’s plot to carry out conventional attacks against our nuclear infrastructure.
  • When the enemy threatens major strategic targets affecting the security of the lives of broad masses of our people, such as large hydroelectric plants, with conventional attacks, we should, obey the coercion orders of the Supreme Command, threaten to use nuclear‐armed missiles against the enemy, in order to protect the absolute security of our major strategic targets.
  • When the enemy threatens to carry on high and medium level conventional attacks against our capital, large and medium sized cities, our political and economic centres etc., our nuclear missile forces should obey the orders of the Supreme Command, resolutely send out threats to the enemy to use nuclear weapons in order to achieve the goal of diminishing the severity or bringing a halt to enemy bombing.
  • When conventional war continuously escalates and the strategic situation is extremely disadvantageous to us, and the safety and survival of the nation is seriously threatened, in order to force the enemy to stop a war of invasion, and rescue the nation from the midst of calamity, our nuclear missile forces should obey the orders of the Supreme”[6]

Prompt Regional Strike Capability. In the medium to long term, India should look at achieving this capability with its Tri Service assets of Strategic Forces in the region to ensure its security is not compromised. Such a capability, backed by positive alliances in the region would ensure the stability necessary for the economic growth of the region. The assets would be tri-service, with an effective 24/7 surveillance grid and a robust C4 network.

Special Forces

These forces play a key role in any warfare, and would continue to be an asset in future too. It has a special place in the 4th Generation and Unrestricted Warfare scenarios that are emerging. Their domain spans Strategic, Operational levels of War, and is also a key enabler in the Grand Strategy.

The Indian Special Forces need to expand their scope from the tactical and operational domains to the strategy and grand strategy levels. The savings generated by moving away from combat/force ratios with increased priority to precision targeting based on PSA providing effective destruction and degradation of the objective and the disruption of reserves and reinforcements leading to a change in basics from attack –capture – hold, to clear – secure – hold, could also be used to expand the Special Forces that would be centrally co-ordinated for Grand Strategy and Strategic objectives.

Persistent Situational Awareness (PSA)

An effective PSA needs a 24/7 ISR capability based on a satellite grid, Near Space vehicles, SIGINT, ELINT, HUMINT, and UAVs, with a robust media, communication and computer grid to handle large volumes of data and sift information.

Space based Surveillance (SBS)/Satellite Grid. The grid needs to be based on Geo Synchronous, Sun Synchronous, Low Earth Orbit Satellites and Near Space Vehicles. Considering the progress being made in ASAT systems, such an integrated gird becomes essential to defeat it.

Surveillance Grid. The surveillance grid based on Radars (of all kinds), UAVs, SIGINT, ELINT and HUMINT, integrated with the SBS would enable an efficient 24/7 PSA.

C4I Grid. A robust media with sufficient bandwidth is the sine-qua-non for ensuring real time dissemination of Information, decision making, transmission of executive instructions and its execution.

Information Dominance. Ensure superiority in the generation, manipulation, and use of information sufficient to enable a full spectrum military dominance.  Its three essentials are,

  • Command and control that provides 24/7 PSA over the battle space, and enables speedier decision making and execution of operations as necessary.
  • Intelligence that provides the full range of inputs for both the commander and the weapon platforms to ‘degrade, disrupt, destroy and defeat’ the enemy.
  • Information warfare that confounds enemy information systems at various points (sensors, communications, processing, and command), while protecting one’s own. 

Force Reallocation

Reallocation of CAPF    

CAPF units and formations (Sectors) are also allocated for the Defence of India, based on parameters arrived at between the Ministries of Defence and Home. Their deployment is based on the operational plans and are utilised for securing select Border outposts, depth defensive positions/vital areas, defence of low priority sectors and for Rear Area Security.

There are a few flaws in this kind of allocation, mentioned below,

Force Structure. The force structure is akin to the police units, and do not match the structures needed for an effective execution of their roles and tasks during War.

Training. More often, their training during peace time is for policing duties; duties for which they are usually utilised during peace time along the borders. This in stark contrast to the tasks allocated during hostilities.

Weapons and Equipment. The weapons, equipment and holding of reserves are more in tune with the policing duties, rather than the role and tasks during War.

Time of Availability. This remains a grey area, with lack of clarity on their release from other policing duties and move to the allocated areas.

There is hence a need to review such allocations, de-novo as the two tasks of policing and defence are as different as chalk and cheese. Apropos, it may be prudent to earmark battalions dedicated for Defence of India duties, which would be trained and equipped appropriately for the same. It would go a long way to mitigate the disadvantages listed above.

With 3-4 Sectors HQs and 9-12 CAPF units permanently earmarked and placed under  each Army Command along the Western and Northern Borders, it would enable pulling back of about 2-3 brigades, from less threatened sectors as additional reserves, i.e., additional division worth as reserves in the near to medium term. With additional 1-2 Sector HQs and 4-7 CAPF units for each Army Command on both the fronts in the medium term, atleast 1 more additional Infantry brigade can be pulled back as reserve.

Square Infantry Brigades

The legacy Infantry formations need a de-novo look, for executing the Military Strategy mentioned above. With greater emphasis on networked force enabling the concept of a ‘degrade, disrupt, destroy and defeat’ approach to waging war, there is a need to look beyond the rationale of combat/force ratios.

Restructuring the Infantry Divisions with 2-3 square brigades, in conjunction with the permanent allocation of CAPF allocations referred to above, would give savings of a rather large number of  Brigade HQs and  Infantry Battalions, despite giving the additional reserves. These savings can then be utilised to raise additional Special Forces, manoeuvre forces (mechanised forces, heliborne forces and attack helicopters), long range vector units of artillery, Integrated Ballistic Defence, Air Defence units, plus the UAVs, UCAVs and the C4I units needed for PSA and Information Dominance.

Further, there is a need to convert all offensive Infantry formations into Motorised Formations, to enable faster side-stepping and application of force, thereby maintaining own tempo and initiative throughout the War. In a similar manner the legacy logistics system needs to be upgraded to ensure a fast push model structure capable of forward delivery even under battle conditions.

Centralised Reserves

With additional reserves being available with the defensive formations, there is a need to review the way the ‘reserves’ are currently being applied at the strategic level. Need to restructure and place these ‘strategic reserves’ under a HQ, with the Integrated HQ for both fronts, while also ensuring that the Command reserves are not frittered away.

Centralised Reserves should be held at the Strategic level, and released for ensuring the achievement of the Strategic Military Objective(s).    Application of reserves at various levels needs to be as part of the overall Military Strategy, and coupled with the art of creation and recreation of reserves at every stage of the battle to retain initiative.

Procurement Priorities

The priorities for procurement are driven by Military Objectives, Military Strategy, and the Force Structures arrived at thereof. The priorities would be dictated by the voids in the structures desired, and the modernisation process needed for the field army in the near, medium and long term. Considering the timeline for the restructuring, procurement process and delivery, the need is to review the same every 4-5 years.

Based on the recommended Military Strategy, the Procurement Priorities proposed are as under,

Persistent Situational Awareness

  • Space based surveillance system based on a grid of satellites, Geo Synchronous, Sun Synchronous, LEO, and near space vehicles linked to a family of radars and UAVs.
  • C4 grid, with a robust media with adequate bandwidth to enable flow of real time video, audio and data feed.
  • Enable Inter-Service connectivity with suitable firewalls to ensure security.

Integrated Layered Air Defence Grid & Ballistic Missile Defence Grid

  • A layered gap free Air Defence cover that enables a ‘flexible use of Air Space’, and not the rigid control now in place.
  • The Air Defence cover should be able to cover all threats from fast moving fixed wing aircrafts to UAVs and cruise missiles.
  • A similar gap free layered Ballistic Missile Defence shield
  • A need based sharing of information from the surveillance network of both systems should be part of the C4 grid.

Force Multipliers.  

  • The need is for more Attack helicopters with the Army, coupled with sufficient medium lift Helicopters to enable lifting of atleast a battalion in the near term to a brigade in the medium to long term, thereby improving on the rapid reaction capability.
  • Modernisation and expansion of the mechanised forces, special forces, field engineering systems and provision of wheeled APCs to the Infantry units and formations with offensive role would ensure maintaining momentum and tempo during operations.
  • Long range vectors and UCAVs, along with precision guided ammunitions would be needed for effective degradation, disruption and destruction of enemy forces.
  • Assets for Information Dominance would ensure denial of battle space to the enemy.
  • Modern platforms for the Navy to enable ‘sea denial’ and sea control’ tasks, and the upgradation of assets on the Andaman & Nicobar islands,
  • Modernisation of IAF with 4th and 5th generation platforms and precision guided munitions for the role and tasks envisaged from the near to long term.

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Modernisation of Infantry. With more stress on precision fire power to offset the legacy concept of combat/force ratios, there is an urgent need to modernise the Infantry small arms and battalion support and heavy weapons. Coupled with it is the need to equip them with state of art bullet proof vests and helmets to reduce casualties. The infantry soldier is to be seen as a system and networked appropriately.

Modernisation of Logistics. The legacy structures and centralised control & distribution require to be revamped. There needs to be a ‘Revolution in Military Logistics’, to evolve and implement new models of inventory control, transportation and forward delivery’ with optimised manpower, transport, stocking and delivery nodes. The revamped logistics setup should be under a Integrated Logistics HQ catering for all 3 Services.

Prompt Regional Strike Capability. In the medium to long term, India should look towards a conventional ‘Prompt Regional Strike Capability’. This would be facilitated by the PSA Grid, and need capability for a swift reaction, within an acceptable time frame, by assets from all 3 services, to assist allies in the region (South and South East Asia) in times of any crisis that threatens the ‘Interests of the Region’. Such a capability would go a long way in enabling India t be a net surety provider in the region.

Read Part-V: Conclusion


[1] Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan, Higher Defence Organisation For India: Towards An Integrated Approach To War, IDR Issue Apr-Jun 2016,Vol 31(2), ISSN 0970-2512, pgs 33-37.

[2] Maj Gen Rajiv Narayanan, Preparing For Battles Of The Future: Chief Of Defence Staff Can’t Just Be A Ceremonial Position, Swarajya Magazine, e-edition, 26 Jan 2017

[3] Lt Gen Prakash Katoch, Integrated Theatre Commands, IDR, Net Edition, 27 Feb 2017

[4] AVM Manmohan Bahadur, Building Deterrence, Indian Express, Published: February 24, 2017

[5] The Science of Second Artillery Operations (Dierpaobing zhanyixue), Yu, Jin, ed. 2004, Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Press, pp294‐296.

[6] ibid

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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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