Show of Strength
The army fine-tunes its new offensive doctrine
The importance of the Indian Army’s exercise Shanghe Shakti held from May 16-19 in Ludhiana-Jalandhar area cannot be undermined. It involved the army’s most potent offensive forces, 2 strike corps that will have a major impact in a conventional war with Pakistan. What this corps does or does not do, and how the Pakistan Army handles it vis-à-vis its own potent offensive forces, the Army Reserve North (ARN) centred around its 6 armoured division located in general area Kharian-Mangla, would undoubtedly be the highpoint of the land war between the two adversaries. What made exercise Shanghe Shakti unique was that 2 corps was for the first time showcasing its new doctrine and the conduct of war in the light of a series of breathtaking events: the 1998 nuclear blasts by Indian and Pakistan, the 1999 Operation Vijay (Kargil war), and the 2001-2002 Operation Parakram (the 10-month-long military stand-off where India nearly went to war with Pakistan in January and May 2002). The media and select defence advisors from friendly countries were witness to certain phases of the exercise demonstrating the army’s confidence to both showcase its capabilities and as a confidence-building measure. The tone of the media interaction was set by the 2 corps commander, Lt Gen. KDS Shekhawat, who said that, “The only top secret is when, where and with what capability the corps will launch its offensive.” Even as FORCE attempts to make sense of exercise Sanghe Shakti by interacting with top officers of 2 corps, it would be pertinent to first mention two issues that would influence the conduct of operations of this corps. While the planners of the exercise would certainly have considered them, they may or may not have been given the due attention these deserve.

Probably, the most important fact to bear in mind is that while the Indian military operates at the tactical and operational levels alone, the Pakistan Army operates across the whole spectrum of war: tactical, operational and is in the complete know of strategic weapons and its employment. This means that while the Pakistan Army will know how to end the war, the Indian Army, should its 2 corps offensive indeed be successful, will stop at the operational level and then look up to the political leadership for further directions. On the one hand, the Indian Army will loose time and initiative in the process. On the other hand, the Pakistan Army will get the opportunity to end the war on its terms. This issue assumes seriousness after FORCE spoke with a top planner of exercise Sanghe Shakti. When asked how 2 corps would respond to Pakistan’s threat or actual use of nuclear weapons, the officer said that someone above (meaning Army Headquarters or the political leadership) would have thought and prepared for this contingency. On its part, 2 corps showed to the media how it will continue to operate in a chemical and nuclear (Nuclear, Chemical and Biological) environment. It would take a unit of 900 troops about 60 to 90 minutes to decontaminate itself from a chemical attack by Pakistan and press on with the offensive, it was said. The truth lies elsewhere: Pakistan is unlikely to use chemical weapons as both India and Pakistan are signatories to the 1992 UN convention on chemical weapons; and neither side is expected to use the deadly biological weapons as both nations have always demonstrated sensitivity towards collateral damage. Should Pakistan, however, employ nuclear weapons, which cannot be ruled out, all conventional operations would instantly cease and there would be a paralysis for quite some time. The dimension of war would have changed. Therefore, more than passive NBC measures, the need in India is to have a Chief of Defence Staff who can regularly interact with the political leadership on military matters and can keep the military leadership in the loop on how to meet the challenge of nukes with the Pakistan Army.

The other issue that deserve attention is the conduct of war by the Pakistan Army. Experience has shown that the Pakistan Army is more than capable of springing surprises. It would certainly not do what the Indian Army planners expect it to do. In any case, it would be arrogant and self-defeating to assume that 2 corps would be able to force the ARN to fritter away its punch to stabilise a deteriorating situation. The Pakistan Army has enough reserves with its 4, 5 and 31 corps to stop Indian 2 corps well short of its operational depth. Should push come to shove, 2 corps’ advance would certainly be stopped by the threat of nuclear weapons, and the ARN will be employed only for counter-offensive operations. It may be recalled that during Operation Parakram, Pakistan test-fired two ballistic missiles indicating that it will both use them with conventional warheads to supplement its air force effort, and to issue the threat of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the real matter for India is that the political and military leadership work closely to understand the dynamics of the changed conventional war with Pakistan. Just as the three defence services, the army, air force and the navy, have achieved better synergy through the recently-formulated joint doctrine by the Integrated Defence Headquarters, the CDS is required to bridge the gap between the operational and strategic levels for a better appreciation of a conventional war against the nuclear backdrop.
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