Shock and awe was the main theme of US conventional operations in Iraq in 2003, the concept of which was incidentally based on the Indian Army’s successful campaign in Bangladesh in 1971. It now appears that the wheel has turned full circle. The Indian Army is planning to put all its strategic resources together to create a force than can suggest shock and awe but with the aim of achieving deterrence. This is being done through new acquisitions and reforms in command and control structures.
India’s overall national strategy is war avoidance. For this purpose a credible conventional and nuclear deterrence is necessary. By synergising the offensive capability by establishing a strategic command in which three strike corps will be co-opted, a strong message is proposed to be given to deter a misadventure. Possibly it was felt that present configuration was perceived to be weak and hence an overall coagulation of capability under a single command is now proposed.
“The aim of the transformation is to become a more agile, lethal and networked force capable of meeting future challenges. The shift in focus is from being a threat-based force to a capability-based force with effective operational preparedness,” Army Chief General V K Singh was reported by the media. He also emphasized that, “The capability to fight in both plains and mountains is not country-specific. We are capable of facing any threats on our borders. How we do it is our problem. We will ensure - wherever the threat is, be it on one or two fronts - we will be able to meet the threats,” he said primarily to assuage any observations by India’s neighbours. The proposals are part of a 'transformation study' done by a high-level team under Army chief Gen V K Singh when he was heading the Eastern Command as per a report in the Times of India report of 13 January 2010.
Creation of a strategic command to put all assets required for an offensive and ensure that these can be effectively trained and mustered for launching was in the offing for some time now. The three Strike corps earlier with geographic commands are now being put under a single strategic command which would add punch in the long run with cohesion of training and preparations and well coordinated launch. One issue is synergy with geographic commands and also whether the necessary tie ups have been carried out with the Air Force for any operation would have to be invariably joint and unless the same has not been thought through having a single service based strategic command many not have a seminal impact in tomorrows wars which are likely to be joint rather than single service.
As also India has a favourable conventional balance against Pakistan for some time, now the focus is on China and in the next phase it is more than likely that this will be achieved through reconfiguration of forces on both the fronts. The focus on modernization will have to be on network centricity and Jointness, which is the key to winning short wars in the future by causing unacceptable destruction on the adversary without reaching out to value objectives so that the political decision to launch nuclear weapons is deferred.
The Indian army is also focusing on enhancing assets related to surveillance and target acquisition such as UAVs, mobility such as helicopters, lethality, precision and reach such as SSMs, MBRLs, Medium guns and night fighting capability. The operational construct is likely to see a dynamic shift with the changes that are proposed. However one essential facet is that of jointness unless all the three services are able to co-jointly restructure their doctrines and optimise their force employment gains achieved will remain marginal.
The Army will have to get the other two services on board which is not evident at present. The mountain strike corps is really an oxymoron, it may be better to have self contained, hard hitting brigade sized combat groups in the mountains rather than relying on a large formation as a corps for the possibility of a manoeuvre of this size may be limited. The basic area of focus should be on networking resources in all dimensions, surveillance, manoeuvre, fire power and logistics to facilitate optimising combat potential at the point of decision (s).
The Chinese would certainly be worried with the new developments and may create additional capabilities in Tibet for launching of Rapid Reaction Forces and assets of the Second Artillery. But Defence minister Mr A K Antony claimed that India’s capacity up gradation was inevitable as, "They (the Chinese) have strengthened their security apparatus in their border areas over the last 20 years. But we are also doing it now...Compared to the past, our security is now much better both in the northwest and eastern sectors...our armed forces are fairly well-prepared,' said Antony.
But induction of weapons and equipment in the army is low particularly artillery, air defence, helicopters and night fighting capability. Major deficiencies in these fields are preventing the Army from projecting deterrence effectively. While plans are now on to ensure that induction of some of the weapons systems is effected at the earliest, this will take some time to fructify the first such inductions being that of light artillery guns, therefore it would be necessary to maintain the momentum in the days ahead and towards this end the impetus by the Army Chief should be the right approach. As he emphasized, "I am very hopeful that we should be able to see some induction of one type of artillery gun this year itself. For others, there are certain trials in progress and certain RFPs (request for proposals) in the pipeline,' said Army chief Gen V K Singh.
The defence ministry has re-issued the fresh RFP (request for proposal) for 155mm towed artillery guns, to buy 400 155mm/52-calibre towed artillery guns followed by indigenous manufacture of 1,180. Total artillery acquisitions include, 1,580 towed guns, 814 mounted gun systems, 180 self-propelled wheeled guns and 100 tracked guns.
The induction of the first lot of artillery guns purchases on a government to government basis from the Americans would provide the Indian artillery some relief after the Bofors gun which is also being upgraded by the Ordnance Factories had been inducted in the 1980’s and is now requiring major overhauls and up gradations. Never the less the induction of large tranche of guns remains some years away till the acquisition hassles are overcome though the BAE appears to be strong contender which has tied up with Mahindra Systems.
Under the circumstances much needed boost is now being provided to the Army to upgrade capabilities which had been possibly lying fallow for some time, hopefully this would also lead to a rapprochement now that the Pakistanis are depending on a nuclear arsenal to offset India’s conventional superiority.