Fodder for Thought

A first of its kind, the book looks at the importance of TNWs and Indian Army’s operational art

By Pravin Sawhney

A first of its kind, the book looks at the importance of TNWs and Indian Army’s operational art More than Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) and its presumed nuclear weapons first-use policy, India’s straitjacket interpretation of how these will be used is a matter of concern. Moreover, considering that China has had TNWs since decades, what makes India so sure that these will not be used in a border Himalayan war?

The reason why these two core issues have not been debated realistically by analysts is because they do not concern strategy or tactical, but the opaque operational level of war, which is little understood by civilian experts. And, retired senior army officers, who have sporadically dealt with this level of war, believe, that the notional assets that they had used during war-games and various field exercises during service, are real.

So, the central argument is that the Pakistan Army will use its newly acquired TNWs against India’s overwhelming conventional offensive capabilities to halt Indian Army’s blitzkrieg into Pakistan. Moreover, as TNWs, by western nations’ definition are unstable having been given to operational commanders in the field, the existing nuclear threshold between India and Pakistan has become substantially lowered. According to the chairman of the National Security Advisory board, Shyam Saran, this amounts to ‘nuclear blackmail’ by the Pakistan Army. Regarding China, the unsaid reason why its TNWs do not even find mention in Indian analysts’ discourse is because no one believes that the Indian Army will ever have the capability to venture beyond a border war for the Chinese to use their operational nukes.

With this theme, the army’s Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) has brought out a book titled, Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons. Irrespective of whether one agrees with the essays in the book or not, being a first book of its kind, it deserves a read. If anything, it should spur one to ponder over the importance of these low-yield weapons and then read widely other arguments on Indian Army’s operational art against Pakistan and China.

For example, it is erroneous to conclude India’s conventional superiority over Pakistan based on bean counting of assets; the Indian Army with 13 lakh strength has three strike corps against Pakistan’s six lakh strength with two strike corps. Consider instead how the Pakistan Army scores over the Indian Army: it has strategic level advantages in command and control and decision making, it has an offensive or pro-active mindset, it enjoys wider choices and options in planning and execution at the operational level of war, its operational logistics supported by China are excellent, it operates on interior lines of communication and irrespective of India’s Cold Start doctrine can mobilise its strike formation faster, and it is the only army in the world with expertise to operate at two levels of war (regular and irregular) simultaneously with equal facility. Therefore, it is realistic to conclude that at present both the armies are nearly matched at the operational level for a conventional war limited in time.

Regarding the command and control of TNW, why is it necessary for the Pakistan COAS to give these weapons to his operational commanders, especially when Pakistan’s elongated geography allows them to be employed like strategic weapons? Thus, it could be argued that without an equivalent weapon system comparable to Pakistan’s TNWs, Indian operational commanders will be constrained in their war plans. This is akin to governments without strategic nukes being constrained at the negotiations table with an adversary in possession of strategic nukes.

On China, what stops the Chinese forces from using TNWs to achieve an early breakthrough against a determined Indian army in a border war, especially when collateral damage would be minimal? To be sure, Chinese would want an early end to a border war, should it ever happen, with India. For this, they are likely to fight a series of high-tempo, intense engagements on several fronts using the principle of simultaneity. The methods used could be ‘the long-range raid’, ‘advance on several fronts’,’ breakthrough by means of missiles and airstrikes’ and ‘forced landings’ to name a few.

Using the TNWs could be the last desperate resort. Thus, it is evident that Indian analysts should think beyond the narrow intellectual confines shaped by western nuclear theology. This book should motivate another one on the important subject of TNWs and how India cannot afford to not have them.
Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Conflict Redux
Edited by Gurmeet Kanwal and Monika Chansoria
KnowledgeWorld, Rs 740, Pg 232


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