Military & Aerospace

Why not have ‘Technical Support Division’ at the Army Corps Level?
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Issue Vol. 29.2 Apr-Jun 2014 | Date : 18 Jul , 2014

The essence of successful conventional defensive battle is in maintaining elasticity and cohesion; thereafter debilitating the enemy’s combat power to the danger zone of exhaustion and over-reach, then in launching own counter-offensive after minimum pause or by use of the ‘indirect approach’ offensive stratagem to topple/unhinge the enemy’s balance and make him reel back, and end up with the destruction of his main force and irrecoverable loss of his territory. This is where the infusion of TSD at the Corps level will make a great difference in our calculations. The TSD does not have active Combat Formations under it yet it plays the role of a force multiplier by effectively employing Tactical Reserves and deciding the right timing and objective for such Counter Strike. Its main aim and battle effort is to look deep into enemy territory and discern correctly his pattern of operations almost to a predictable certainty.

“Neng su sheng ze su sheng, bu Neng su sheng ze huan sheng” (Win quickly if possible; if not Win with delay!)

—Mao’s Directive to Marshall Peng Dehuai before giving the ‘Go Ahead’  to launch the PLA Forces against General Douglas MacArthur’s Command in Korea during October 1950)

Intelligence is one commodity that has to be generated at the Army Corps level both before war and during operations…

It is an age old truth that successful military operations are always ‘Intelligence Driven.’ When we analyse the success, effectiveness and minimum number of casualties suffered by the present day US Army, or the Israel Defence Forces, or the British Army when committed in war – they all have given prime importance to thorough intelligence domination of the battlefield. Coming closer home, the PLA does the same in both the offensive and defensive, with the difference that it always insists on gaining its laid down objective irrespective of the number of casualties. Unfortunately, the Indian Army appears to have lost sight of this axiom of war. Only a part of the blame can be attributed to the Ministry of Defence bureaucracy, which is by nature, ‘reactive’ and tacitly surrenders the ‘initiative’ to our enemies. A bigger share of the blame should come on to the Army’s own think-tanks and policy formulation groups, as they have not dwelt adequately on increasing force effectiveness without having necessarily to go in for force expansion, a costly affair in our context.

The importance of accurate intelligence and timely analysis is both tactical and strategic at the Corps formation level, which is the cutting edge of actual battle anticipation and direction. At this crucial level, one cannot afford to make the mistake of relying purely on inputs received from the national level as these have to be actually corroborated at the ground level in the context of actual threats faced or tasks assigned.

In January 1951, after the successful taking of Seoul and reaching the 37th Parallel, when pressurised to resume the offensive by Kim Il Sung and his Soviet Adviser, Marshall Peng Dehuai had the courage to send this telegram to Chairman Mao, “I am the Commander in Chief here. Please tell Comrade Stalin”. The Marshall, a successful veteran of the Chinese Civil War and the Sino Japanese War, was apprehensive of another Inchon type amphibious landing at the rear of his successful armies. The lesson learnt is that there is no point stating at the end of the war that “Intelligence was lacking”, as an excuse for poor performance or lack of success. Intelligence is one commodity that has to be generated at the Army Corps level both before war and during operations, to avoid being surprised and to optimise the effectiveness of one’s battle plans.

The Technical Support Division (TSD) should basically be a lean formation designed to ensure Intelligence Driven Operations…

Structure of Intelligence Gathering and Analysis at Army Corps Level

At a Corps headquarters, the capacity to look deep into enemy territory round the clock up to a depth of 200 km should be considered sacrosanct. This will permit any ‘holding’ type role be performed with deploying only 33 per cent of combat resources thus freeing the balance of combat potential for flexible and offensive responses. Having such a capability in today’s times will essentially entail:

  • Shadow enemy operations planning group.
  • Enemy targets – acquisition and prioritisation group.
  • Live feed all weather day and night satellite imagery and air photo analysis group.
  • Joint air strikes planning group and close air support provisioning unit.
  • Humint analysis, open source data analysis, interpretation and interrogation group.
  • All weather Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV) aerial surveillance sub-unit.
  • Airborne Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) surveillance sub-unit.
  • Aerial reconnaissance and insertion stealth aviation sub-unit.
  • NBCW protection and reaction sub-unit.
  • Intelligence Special Operations executive, reconnaissance and guidance sub-unit.
  • Deception warfare and captured enemy equipment holding and re-use unit.
  • Cross border intelligence, sabotage and counter-infiltration SCOUTS units/recce regiments.
  • Communications intelligence monitoring unit (Static & Mobile).
  • Electronic warfare unit (Mobile).
  • Corps counter bombardment unit.
  • Corps rear area security air defence units (Mobile).

The role and focus of the Army’s Military Secretary branch should shift from primarily doing selections for higher ranks to genuine HRD promotion…

The Technical Support Division (TSD) should basically be a lean formation designed to ensure Intelligence Driven Operations – in order to minimise own casualties, enable quick metamorphosis of fixed deployments for effective redeployed offensive/defensive roles, protection of the jugular logistics axes of the combat divisions so that there is no need to look back thereby placing the Corps Commander in an advantageous position as far as ‘reading’ of the battlefield is concerned.

Therefore, the temptation to convert it into an administrative support/Combat Reserve Division should be resisted. Specifically, the TSD should not have the following Units/formations placed under it for command and control. These should be assigned to a Sub-Area HQ which will become a Logistics Support Division in wartime:

  • Corps Second Line Transport Units.
  • Corps Animal Transport Units.
  • Corps Electronics and Mechanical Engineer Units.
  • Corps Ordnance Units.
  • Corps Medical Units.
  • Corps Supply Units.
  • Corps Engineer Units.
  • Corps Signal Units.

The TSD should have a trimmed staff and HQ organisation. It should be essentially function oriented so that the Corps Commander does not commit scarce operational resources based solely on ‘hunch’ considerations or find himself always in a reactive frame of mind, as had unfortunately happened to the Indian Army in the 1962 War and in the 1965 and 1971 Chamb debacles. Even our executed ‘strike’ operations in the West were poor examples of achievable goals with the available resources. The concept of JSTARS-supported offensive operations of the US Army is worth emulation, with local modifications. Having TSD for our Army Corps will enable smooth implementation of the Air Land Battle rolling offensive doctrine in the plains.

The Army has come to lack farsightedness, daring spirit at higher levels, R&D and applications oriented entrepreneurship…

In 1999, India allowed itself to be caught by ‘surprise’ in Kargil, even after this textbook plan had been openly discussed in the first chapter of Ravi Rikhye’s classic book ‘The Fourth Round’ a decade earlier! The next such major regional shock to happen could be the unilateral diversion of the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo to Qinghai Province, before this River begins its descent from the Tibetan Plateau. The Chinese have already made the area of Eastern Xizang a ‘no go’ area for foreigners by declaring it as a National Park. Our look deep capability is going to get tested here if we have to save ourselves from a fait accompli.

Lack of Domain Specialisation in our Army

The Indian Army has allowed itself to go into such a mental decline that it has become an antediluvian monster wallowing in intellectual poverty and lacking domain specialists. This is organic complacency at its best. If we allow other governmental manifestations to do the thinking for us, the consequences would be paid by us with blood and honour, for the years wasted. We are a mighty force when seen from the outside but are needlessly allowing ourselves to be outwitted by cunning, determined and intelligent foes.

The Army has come to lack farsightedness, daring spirit at higher levels, R&D and applications oriented entrepreneurship; it is now characterised by a standard textbook approach and SOP mania for all situations. Thus, it is often caught on the back foot by technological developments; changes in the international, regional and the country’s domestic power plays; management and cost driven compulsions; and meeting the demands of modern public opinion and national aspirations. Today, it does not have a say in the Army related project management aspects of each of the DRDO laboratories which are truly national assets as they enjoy unlimited funding and delegated sanctioning powers even more than the IAS bureaucracy, all in the name of ‘defence’. The trial wings of each arm of the service are so rich in experience but this gets wasted as there are no co-located R&D workshops and pilot Project Manufacturing Establishments under the Army’s control.

The Army’s dependence on RAW and its predecessor IB for external military intelligence has proved to be its Achilles heel during war…

In striking contrast, even officers at the rank of Major and Lt Col with 10 to 15 years service work as Project Management Heads in the Pentagon in the US system and squeeze the best out of America’s private sector in terms of meeting time deadlines, integration of system with systems, innovative product advancements and cost competitiveness, so as to capture the global arms market. The time has come for us to trim our DRDO and OFB/Defence PSUs, and adopt the US style competitive bid system for project funding and hardware manufacturing involving our private sector on equal terms, so that our defence exports exceed our imports.

The role and focus of the Army’s Military Secretary branch should shift from primarily doing selections for higher ranks to genuine HRD promotion. After an officer completes six years of service, he should be streamlined for any of the following domain specialisations for which he has shown aptitude, and thereafter, he should be earmarked for two tenures in that field before completion of 20 years of service:

  • Affiliation to a particular army Corps zone.
  • Learning a particular foreign language which will be of use in that Corps zone.
  • Affiliation with a particular R&D establishment/Defence Production Unit.
  • Affiliation with a particular mass communication/propaganda set up.
  • Affiliation with a particular national intelligence agency/investigative agency.
  • Affiliation with a particular CSIR Laboratory /National Institute of Excellence.
  • Affiliation with a particular defence think-tank in India or abroad.
  • Repeated foreign assignments to a particular country.
  • Specialisation in particular management fields as applicable to the Army.
  • Country studies specialisation.
  • Defence budget and finance management, exports and imports of warlike equipment.
  • Sourcing for particular types of weapons, equipment and ordnance in the world market and working in similar products development establishments in India.
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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

Col JK Achuthan (Retd.)

8 GR was commissioned in June 1980. 

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8 thoughts on “Why not have ‘Technical Support Division’ at the Army Corps Level?

  1. Col Achuthan, you seem to be suffering from a common malady that prevails in our Army – its the ‘Staff College Fixation’. The same malady fixates the functioning of the MS branch. Only a PSC will go on the foreign junket etc etc. What staff college does is that it closes the mind of a person and fixates him to ambition. Ambition curtails flexibilty and narrows the horizons of the mind. Foreign language has nothing to do with a PSC. We can train many officers and men in foreign languages if they are willing to learn and not have a one year break. We waste talent in our Army as we close our doors to logic and flexible thinking. We loose out on good officers who leave the service and do well in the corporate sector. Our Officer management is in poor form and is afflicted with a disease called the MS Branch where people begin to consider themselves to be demi-gods once they sit in the comfort of the South Block. We dont have specialsation we think officers are flexible pegs to be fitted into anykind of hole. Ambition – the desire to acquire the next rank is destroying the fabric of this army. The Army today is mentally stagnated; it basically runs on day to day basis. We are the third largest Army in the world but we dont influence a yard across our borders, we are not factored into our foreign policy. Our Generalship contentedly somnambulates in service – a very apathetic attitude. Two heads get chopped off on the LOC and we do nothing. Thats the most glaring example of of dissonance in our service. Nobody knew what to do?? Why ?? They perhaps just sacked the Co and moved on. Btw .. i am not a disgruntled element. I enjoyed my time in service but I didnt block my mind to the realities around me and do like to express my opinion about it and did so while in service too. Regards.

  2. Even take example of Pakistan in its current operations in North Waziristan where only about 20 casualties have been reported,they dont do hand to hand combat instead are using too much air power and long range weaponry,thats logical in such hilly terrain…most of army casualties previously have come from IED blasts not in direct conflict…learn something positive even if its from enemy

  3. Why not have ‘Technical Support Division’ at the Army Corps Level? It is an excellent idea, however, intelligence is also very sophisticated equipment dependent, which would require a paradigm shift in the way the army procures equipment, thinks and handles ideas and innovation. Under the current system of procurement well laced with bribes, the army will be many-many years behind in applying any appropriate technology.

    On the subject of – India can make major defence equipment? conceptually, I am sure it can happen, however from a practical standpoint it must await a systematic evolution of a superlative degree. The corruption that has evolved in India is testimony to the fact that basic intelligence, ambition and survival instincts are present in abundance; only the energy has to be re-channelized.

    It is a collective responsibility of the citizenry that India has been plagued by very poor leadership at all levels: political, administrative and defence, which is the bane the country has been carrying. Thus the awakening must come at a collective level before the seeds of a ‘Golden Hind’ can germinate.

  4. More than structural reorganization, India needs a change of attitude and re orientation. Starting at the top. Simplicity and directness in objective definition and attainment. We need, above all, to do away with the dissimulation (and corruption) of the Netas and the obfuscation (and congenital incompetence) of the Babus and their profound influence on the thinking and working of the Armed Forces.

  5. I entirely endorse the comments of Tony Sarao. I am, of course, not privy to the latest organizations of a corps and division. If, indeed, they have a divisional surveillance centre and a corps surveillance centre, tasked with the responsibility of furnishing real-time intelligence inputs to their own headquarters, all that needs to be done is to provide them with the equipment and wherewithal essential for such tasks. It should be clearly understood that more independent entities make it that much more difficult to perform a given task. It has often been seen that the most difficult task in both war and peace is the aspect of coordination between disparate entities. It is always preferable to place units under the corps headquarters / divisional headquarters for optimum and real time utilization of resources.

  6. Why reinvent the wheel . You have the Divisional Surveillance Center and the the Corps Surveillance Center. Ideally, with proper manning, communications and equipment as authorised to the Division and Corps SATA Batteries/Regiments to include the inputs from AA / R and O, UAV’s , Satl terminals, LORROS / WLRs, BFSRs(at all levels) and with the Corps Tac and the Int Branches being another input / surveillance provides , this organisation is tailor made to cater for all needs , atleast till the requirement of the Corps area of interest ! The problem is harnessing , amalgamating,collating and coordinating our available resources for real time requirements . The same problem will be faced by the TSD , it is better to streamline the functioning of the Surveillance Center , rather than make another organisation.

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