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.
The open minded thinking and emphasis on gaining ‘domain knowledge’ will liberate the stress-induced mindset of the majority of gifted and intelligent officers of our Army, so that they aspire to be greater than mere career minded automatons. They will have to prove their worth and create reputations by publishing articles and papers thereby contributing to product development in the most productive phase of their careers, when they are still driven by sincerity of purpose to make a mark. In this endeavour, we have a lot to learn from the Navy who have the best of domain specialists in the Indian Armed Forces at present.
The Indian Army’s senior commanders are frittering away resources while in a defensive posture…
In order to improve technology absorption and technical excellence in our combat arms units, there is the need to consider posting Engineers/Signals/Electronics and Mechanical Corps officers to combat units after they have put in eight years of service for a full tenure of two and a half years. This ‘criteria posting’ should be made compulsory for holding selection grade command appointment in their respective Corps.
The glaring aspect of lack of linguistics capability training should be addressed by putting selected Staff College Course qualified officers through a full time foreign language Diploma course within three years of their doing the Staff Course. These officers are the best lot that the Army system can produce, and they should be equipped with international level sets of skills especially of the languages spoken by our adversaries and collaborators. Only then can their vistas get broadened and their employability for Foreign Postings become worthwhile. They will be able to contribute inputs into the Army system which are not run of the mill type.
‘Theory’ of Optimisation of Resources available in an Army Corps Zone
In a defensive Corps zone, at least one-third of the resources available at combat unit and above should be held back as Reserves to influence the subsequent stages of a battle after the enemy has achieved a penetration or even break-in. Alternatively, these same resources should become available for limited offensive actions or carrying out large scale spoiling attack actions. Only by having one-third troops in reserve can a higher commander achieve tactical balance and flexible response. Today, we find that the Indian Army’s senior commanders are frittering away resources while in a defensive posture by pushing everything available forward – be it in the plains, mountains or even the deserts because they want to cater for every enemy contingency ab initio. So on the defender’s side there is always a shortage of troops, and inadvertently the best possible scenario is created for the attacker.
The Army needs to concentrate on modernising its internal processes to world standards…
A deep study of the reverses suffered in the 1962 India-China War and the battles of Chamb-Jaurian in 1965 and the 1971 War with Pakistan clearly reveal that the major cause of defeat was non-adherence to this fundamental maxim of offensive defence which, as per the attacker’s calculation, predictably led to escalation into panic situations and loss of morale on our side. When will the Army learn the perils of adopting the ‘defeatist’ Forward Policy, even after the shameful experience of 1962? It is agreeable when a politician utters the words that not an inch of Indian territory will be allowed to be occupied by our enemies, as this is meant for public consumption and boosting the morale of the general public; but if a senior general repeats these words, it will make Clausewitz laugh in his grave.
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. In the Korean War, China committed 320,000 troops in two Army groups but could only achieve a stalemate whereas by committing a mere 30,000 troops mainly under 46 Corps, they were able to gain victory over us in 1962, without losing a single Chinese soldier as Prisoner of War.
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. This is the finesse the US Army has achieved and demonstrated during the last 15 years at Army Corps level force groupings, and the Israeli Defence Force and British Army at lesser force levels.
The tendency to create more bureaucratic structures at different Army levels should be avoided…
In a conventional threat scenario, the US Army does not have to earmark a large size force for a defensive role and almost 80 per cent of its combat power in a Corps zone is regenerated for offensive action, thanks to the high expertise and calibre of its TSD resources to orchestrate the re-forming of combat power. This is the secret of the ‘thought process’ behind the seemingly unstoppable US war machine. Imagine the transformation that will come to the Indian Army over the next four to six years, if by having a full-fledged TSD, the difference between Holding Corps and Strike Corps gets blurred due to our exploiting fully the ‘Inflexibility-Time lag’ syndrome suffered by the enemy. The role play would be like that of a large Hermit Crab approaching a lurking Giant Squid.
Cohesive Approach at Army HQs for Offensive Capabilities Technical Support
He who depends on himself and constantly develops his strength will never have to bite the dust when the crunch comes, goes an old saying. The Army’s dependence on RAW and its predecessor IB for external military intelligence has proved to be its Achilles’ heel during war. That is the way the Indian system works. Therefore, let us learn at least from experience to insulate our dependence on inputs for military decision making from such national channels, which should only be seen as a complementary or even as sweetened pills. The military advice to the political leadership should be of prognostic nature and not of ‘reactive’ nature, as is the case at present. This requires careful orchestration of the Army’s inherent capabilities and internal strengths. In the pre-Independence times, the Commander-in-Charge of the Indian Army had extensive intelligence gathering and analysis assets both to inform the Viceroy’s Council as well as to the UK War Department separately. If we have not built up on this legacy, we have nobody else to blame, especially if we do not succeed in operations.
In today’s circumstances, there is the urgent need to create the new post of a Principal Staff Officer to the Chief called Operational Technical Support General (OTSG). He should have the following Heads of Army HQs Departments reporting to him, in order to strengthen coordination of war support capability enhancement in Technical and Specialised fields:-
- Director General Military Intelligence.
- Director General Signal Intelligence.
- Director General Electronics and Mechanical Engineers.
- Director General Army Air Defence.
- Director General Weapons and Equipment.
- Director General Army Trials and R&D Establishments and Central Workshops.
- Director General Military Training.
The military machines created by Shivaji and Aurangzeb and their underlying thinking should serve as ready historical guidelines…
The OTSG should be leading the Army’s war efforts during peacetime in order to get a clear picture of the enemy’s intentions, short-term plans and long term strategy. He should be mandated to formulate the required counter strategy for consideration of the Army’s decision making body. He should be the leading interface of the Army with the DRDO, MoD bureaucracy, Foreign Policy establishment, defence hardware production department and civilian intelligence establishments. This sort of constant interactions, if it leads to better understanding and working relationships, would help the Army to get superior dividends which would benefit the Operations Branch by giving it ‘lead time’ and better resources.
The tendency to create more bureaucratic structures at different Army levels should be avoided, in the holistic effort to multiply the Army’s flexibility and operational response at the cutting edge – which is the Army Corps level. This should meet the needs of the period of ‘apparent peace’, period ‘prior to hostilities’ and period of ‘active operations’. The Indian Army should further introspect and metamorphosize to be ready to fight future wars under modern conditions’, with the caveat of not increasing manpower strength. The Revolution in Military Affairs which has happened in the militaries of the First World in the last twenty years also has ramifications in our sub-continent in the present context; we should not be caught napping.
Instead of blindly going for more and more costly imported platforms, the Army needs to wrest the responsibility for its own modernisation from the MoD civilian manifestations, who, though not being stakeholders are nevertheless very well entrenched as they can continue to control all expenditures in our name. For this change in outlook to fructify, the Army needs to concentrate on modernising its internal processes to world standards, and gain expertise and ‘lead managers’ in not only its own spheres but also in all supporting spheres of work within the MoD. This is essential for gearing up for effective responses to contingencies and to develop assured war winning capability.
Let us do an annual ‘Planning Exercise’ in January on how to fight the wars in our regional context five years hence. This would throw up relevant and feasible challenges to work upon with achievable urgency. Converting defensive assets to dual use offensive capabilities is the essence of the principle of war of economy of effort. This requires new thinking to develop our capabilities, so as to assure a Corps Commander credible battlefield transparency, to enable ‘risk taking’ ventures to be undertaken with high guarantee of success. The Corps commanders should be involved in the annual planning exercise in January at the Army HQs level. The military machines created by Shivaji and Aurangzeb and their underlying thinking should serve as ready historical guidelines.
- History of Self Defence Counterattack Operations on the Sino Indian Borders – Jiang Siyi and Li Hui (Beijing Military Sciences Press, 1994).
- Chinese Warfighting – The PLA Experience since 1949 – Mark Ryan, David Finkelstein and Michael McDevitt (KW Publishers Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 2010).
- War in High Himalayas – The Indian Army in Crisis, 1962 – Maj Gen DK Palit (C Hurst & Co Ltd, London, 1991).
- Chamb Battles: Recollections of Pakistani Commanders – Internet.