Military & Aerospace

Lessons from India’s Wars - Post Independence
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Nov , 2016

Kargil War 1999  

The war in Kargil was fought to restore status quo on the Line of Control (LC) which had been surreptitiously violated by Pakistani Army and irregular forces in the Drass-Kargil-Mashkoh areas. India responded firmly in a measured manner with restraint to control escalation primarily to evict the transgressors from the areas occupied. The war was fought in a region where the average heights of the objectives were above 15,000 feet mean sea level. The enemy had direct observation of the road Srinagar-Leh thereby severely affecting the movement of all logistic requirements of forces in Ladakh that are stocked during the period May-November. The then General Officer Commanding of the Division in Kargil, Lieutenant General (then Major General) Mohinder Puri, has penned the account of the war in his book “Kargil: Turning the Tide”. There were salient lessons the emerged from this war too.

At the national level it emerged that India must be prepared for Pakistan’s recklessness which could occur in different areas and forms: terrorism throughout India, conventional operations and incursions, increased level of proxy war in J&K and a variety of non-traditional threats. Pakistan is a risk-acceptant, untrustworthy state controlled by the military which is virulently anti-India. At the end of the war India was forced to commit additional forces along the LC in a forward posture to prevent such incursions in the future. It is worth noting that China activated two areas, one in Eastern Ladakh and one in Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh during this period.

Without any iota of doubt and yet again there was a failure of intelligence. There is something systemically wrong with our intelligence setup which seems to have endemic deficiencies. The Kargil Review Committee Report brings out this failure most adequately. One of the lessons was the need to induct technologically advanced intelligence equipment to aggressively counter Pakistani threats. Despite doing so, recently again India was surprised by the terrorist action at the Pathankot Air Base on January 2, 2016 and was unable to deliver any ‘aggressive counter’.

Fighting at those altitudes in the stark formidable rugged terrain brought out the need for acclimatisation, physical fitness and endurance. Battles were fought by small teams with limited supporting fire and objectives were finally captured in hand to hand battles. Attacks were planned for contacting the objective from multiple directions. Invariably these attacks spilled over in daylight hours. During the day troops hung on to the rocky cover that was available and pressed on to complete the attack after dark the following night. Despite these lessons the Army continues to teach and train in the old conventional set-piece form of attack launched from Forming-Up-Places (FUP’s), where the need of the hour is Release Point format for attacks in skirmish order by small teams.

Formations and units were inducted into the theatre with critical deficiencies in weapons and essential equipment. Light Machine Guns, Medium Machine Guns, Anti Tank Missile Launchers, Radio Sets, First Line Transport Fleet etc, lists a crippling array of deficiencies bringing out the “hollowness” that is yet to be addressed fully. The then Chief of Army Staff was compelled to state that “we will fight with what we have”. The High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) had been ordered to scale down its scope of training but the Kargil War brought out the importance of that institution of excellence. Similarly a major exercise was under way in 1998 to disband all Animal Transport (AT) Battalions. Here again the demand for AT in Kargil became so vital that most of the AT units in the East were expeditiously moved to Kargil and the disbanding process shelved. Other lessons pertaining to reinforcements, fire support, close air support, reorganisation and consolidation of gains all need to be studied in detail separately. In shifting from CI operations to conventional war the formation required a period of comprehensive training to reorient into its changed role.

India’s future wars will be across soft borders and over disputed areas. These lie in the mountainous region against both China and Pakistan. International Boundaries are not likely to be violated or redrawn and any such attempt will elicit severe international pressures. Despite this reality the thrust of purchase and induction of equipment and weapon systems in the Army is for fighting wars in the plains – wars that will never be fought.


Wars are political tools. It was a political decision to mobilise for war post the terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001. However the decision was not thought through. No political objective was stated and as a result no military objectives could be identified to prosecute this war. It was barely two years since the Kargil War and the persistent ‘hollowness’ in weapons, ammunition and equipment again reared its head. Dual tasked formations sent long lists of critical deficiencies to Army Headquarters to apprise them of the ground reality. The most significant lesson that emerged was the cumbersome mobilisation of the lumbering ‘Strike Corps’. Ordering the mobilisation of the ‘Strike Corps’ was, in itself, a questionable decision.

It is possible that there was a initial political decision to actually launch an all out attack against Pakistan. Probably due to tremendous pressure from the US there may have been a change forced on India. The Army would never have mobilised its three ‘Strike Corps’ without an express clearance of the political powers. The last minute back down was a serious blow to the aspect of surprise with regard to the locations of concentration areas of these forces and thereby the likely objectives of their offensive thrusts. A hastily conjured up deception in the form of “17 Corps” was planned and executed. It only brought out the non-existence of any strategic deception plan in the overall war plans. Probably India’s basic posture of strategic defence could be the reason for such complacency.

While the threat to use force is the essence of forceful persuasion or coercive diplomacy, an “exemplary use of limited force to persuade an adversary to back down” is also part of a strategy to “demonstrate resoluteness to protect one’s interests, and to establish the credibility of one’s determination to use more force if necessary.” Such a concept is alien to our political culture and thus the combined effect of diplomatic and military effort was not effective. After a ten month stand-off the Army was “strategically relocated” bringing an end to another failed attempt to subdue the belligerent neighbour.

It is a moot point whether a massive conventional blitzkrieg like operation capturing large chunks of territory across the International Boundary and the destruction of the strategic reserves would put a stop the terrorist operations launched from Pakistan? The situation is likely to degenerate to what happened after the Allied forces victory and ouster of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. In fact the much touted “Cold Start” strategy goes against India’s fundamental political policy of “restrain”. Where a country’s polity does not allow pro-active or pre-emptive actions “Cold Start” becomes a non-starter. However it was cleverly exploited by Pakistan and did give Pakistan Army enough reason to bid for more military aid from the US.

Bracing for the Future

Indian Army has a wealth of experience in active combat in varied terrain and against an array of adversaries – conventional, irregular and terrorists. However, it seems complacency sets in soon after a task is done with. History is not accurately recorded and as Units move out of a formation on account of the periodic turn over process it becomes even more difficult to record it. A ‘lessons learnt cell’ was initially created in the Military Operations Directorate but later handed over to Army Training Command. Due to various reasons the after action reports generally end up exaggerating and glorifying every action being reported. Only a truthful record of the every action will yield worthwhile lessons.

Thorough study of the potential adversaries needs to be a normal feature of training. Presently it is done in a cursory manner. A knowledge bank of the adversaries’ forces is not available. Schools of Instruction do not incorporate study of the adversary at all levels (Officer/JCO/NCO). These need to be institutionalised. To quote Sun Tzu here would be most apt – “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”. In the wake of the close strategic partnership developing between China and Pakistan, collusion between the two against India is more or less certain. Ipso facto a two front scenario is more a reality than hyperbole.

Intelligence failures have been persistent recurrence. While Officers leadership has been outstanding, it is not so below Officer level. Also the Army cannot continue to lament on shortage of Officers. The Army has to device means to develop and nurture the potential of Junior Commissioned Officers and the Non Commissioned Officers. In the Infantry, in particular, they are going to be the leaders of the small teams and the commanders in skirmish order attacks. They will fight the 4GW and hybrid war of the future. The army’s future battle grounds are going to be in the mountains. Concerted effort of training and wherewithal should focus on this aspect.

Counterintuitively, the Mountain Strike Corps has galvanised China into strengthening its forces in Tibet and boosting the infrastructure there. Throughout the winter of 2015-16 PLA units had conducted combined training exercises in high altitude regions in deep snows. The mind-set with regard to ‘campaigning season’ needs to change so that the army is not surprised by a conflict in the winter months. Static defences can be studied in detail by the enemy prior to planning any attack. Manoeuvre and targeting the mind of the enemy in static defences is best achieved by holding uncommitted reserves well forward. Such reserve forces held well forward and kept mobile will keep the enemy guessing. It may be more prudent to hold a battalion as uncommitted reserve in each of the forward brigades; a brigade in each division and two independent brigades in each Corps. Similarly fire support resources and combat support elements should be also augmented. Speedily launched decisive and determined offensive reaction will destabilise the attacking enemy. Short intense limited wars in the high altitude mountainous regions will not give the Army the luxury of time and space to launch any massive riposte or quid pro quo by large sized forces.

Courtesy: The article first published in “The War College Journal”

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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

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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4 thoughts on “Lessons from India’s Wars – Post Independence

  1. Hari Sud,
    Quite agree – no new lessons from old wars.
    Aim is to encourage the younger generation to take up and studies these .
    With over 1,50,000 hits per month we have a large readership even beyond our borders we can initiate their interest too.

  2. No need to cry over spilt milk. Going forward to the present day scenario, there has to be proper formation of Defence plans and two front wars. The army, navy and air force should be modernised and battle ready and infrastructure put in place for prompt deployment, resources permitting, no ifs and buts. People and the country should be ready to tighten belts!

  3. Please write articles to encourage indian policy makers and arm forces to bring about FREE BALOCHISTAN where Baloch freedom fighters are engaged in a battle against india no.1 enemy Pakistan.
    Pak gives military training and assistance toi terrorists to destabilize India, Afghanistan and US so these countries must unit to help secular baloch freedom fighters and lets repeat 1971 and break Pakistan and bring peace to the world and region.

    We know peace comes after a war. after 1965 & 1971and break Pakistan and bring peace to the world and region. We know peace comes after a war. after 1965 & 1971 wars there was peace but now pak has been using proxy war since 1987 after soviet invasion. I hope you better understand then me that ultimate peace will come after disintegration of evil Pakistan

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