Art of War
Regional army command should remain the operational level of war
By Pravin Sawhney
Given the complexity of wars, it is universally accepted, that success depends on the excellence in the art and science of war. The science of war deals with strides made in technology, while the art of war is about doctrine which refers to the understanding of the three levels at which wars should be fought; the strategic, operational and tactical. The strategic level of war is responsible for planning military means to achieve national goals; this level develops war plans and theatre goals. The operational level of war constructs campaigns to accomplish theatre goals underscored by the strategic level, and the tactical level deals with battles and engagements. While the strategic and tactical levels of wars are easily identified and fought, overall success eventually depends on appreciating the operational level of war. Given the complex dynamics of war, it is at the operational level that the commander must keep a cool head regarding the developing battles. It is his function to figure out how to use even a lost battle to further his plans, and this is what general-ship is all about.

This of course is easier said. The first commandant of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), General William E. DePuy admitted that the first doctrine manual called FM-100-5 (operations) written in 1976 dealt entirely with tactics. The US generals were so impressed and obsessed about their own superiority in the ‘science of war’ that the ‘art of war’ was completely ignored. It was the Soviets who excelled in the ‘art of war’. They created the novel offensive instrument, the operational manoeuvre group (OMG), a divisional strength formation, which was designed to achieve a significant (even decisive) advantage on the battlefield by penetrating deep into the opponent’s operational defences. Success in penetrating the opponent’s vitals has the potential of unravelling his entire defence. This is the essence of manoeuvre warfare which is the domain of the operational level commander, who dictates tactical objectives. It needs to be understood that the opponent’s centre of gravity is not his source of strength, but his critical vulnerability. Thus, while the operational level commander fights to manoeuvre in order to hit the opponent’s vulnerability in his depth, the tactical commander manoeuvres to fight. Once the Soviet war-fighting was debated and analysed, the US TRADOC came up with the 1986 Army (operations) manual that gave respectability to the operational art. The new US Army doctrine, ‘AirLand Battle’ emphasised deep-strike operations into the opponent’s rear areas.

In the Indian context, the operational level of war was first given informal recognition in late Eighties. It was pegged at the corps level, which is the minimal level at which joint services operations are undertaken. A reinforced air force wing is placed in support of each corps. Three reasons were responsible for deciding this operational level of war. One, until the Eighties, the war-fighting between India and Pakistan was on a linear battlefield, which itself was not sophisticated. Since then, there is availability of better RSTA systems; the depth of a traditional battlefield has increased manifold. Now, there is need for longer- range artillery as mechanised forces within the two armies have increased, the linear defences and supporting field works have been heavily reinforced with concrete fortifications, and there are better tracks (hopefully roads will come soon) in India’s mountains that have made many mountain guns dispensable. Both sides have developed capabilities (though modest) for vertical envelopment and Special Forces operations. Two, lessons were learnt from the 1965 and 1971 wars. The biggest weakness with both armies was that in the absence of the operational level of war, the strategic level conducted tactical operations. This meant that the army headquarters bypassed the concerned corps headquarters and ran divisional battles. Pakistan lost two opportunities in Chhamb, in the 1965 and 1971 wars, as its general headquarters, in excitement and panic, took over the divisional battles. Similarly, results shown by India’s 10 and 12 divisions during the 1971 war were unsatisfactory because the army headquarters attempted to conduct its battles.
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