Bottomline | Return to the Core

Back to basics should be the Indian Army’s mantra now

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

What does one make out of army chief, Dalbir Singh’s thumping assurance to the nation that another Kargil war will not happen when his topmost field commander in Jammu and Kashmir (likely war theatre with military lines) believes that shortage of ammunition is the critical issue that holds back army’s preparation for war. Few know that absenteeism of army’s core competencies is what impedes war preparedness against Pakistan.

The Northern army commander, Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda recently told the media that ‘day to day operations would not be affected. But if you are looking at war time, then you need to build up huge amounts of stocks.’

Gen. Hooda’s statement has been interpreted by media as the army’s desperate appeal or warning note if you will to the defence ministry to make up ammunition stocks. Assuming that the defence ministry is callous enough to not heed the CAG warning, bureaucrats could dash around the globe and get ammunition (as during the 1999 Kargil conflict), let’s say, within a month’s time – a period that would be available to the Indian army for war. The period refers to the time needed for Pakistan to move its army reserve troops committed on the Afghan border to the Line of Control (LC) in Kashmir.

Here, generals say they have an operational advantage. Unlike Pakistan army reserves which have to move across the length of their country, the Indian army is ready on the LC in large numbers waiting for orders to go offensive. If this point is not understood, the generals take pains to explain the three tier troops’ deployments on the LC – one ahead of the fence, the second along the fence and the third in the depth of the fence. Since all troops are engaged in counter-infiltration and counter-insurgency operations, they are battled hardened or as officers put it ‘bloodied’ troops.

The big picture then is that India has large numbers of battle-ready forces who at present are in counter-infiltration (defensive) mode, but could move into offensive mode, at short notice, and cross the LC to hit Pakistan in case of war. What prevents troops turning offensive from defensive is shortage of ammunition. This assurance by the army leadership led the then defence minister, Arun Jaitley to tell NDTV in November 2014: ‘Our conventional strength is far more than theirs (Pakistan Army). So if they persist with this (firings), they’ll feel the pain of this adventurism.’

Unfortunately, the Pakistan Army will not feel the pain as it knows that the Indian army is out of its depth on core competencies, a hallmark of any professional land force. These are combined arms operations and wide area security – the first offensive task and the other defensive task – which complement one another.

Combined arms operations is the ability of the army to optimally bring together all its arms including infantry, artillery, engineers, Special Forces, army aviation and so on in a deliberate plan to achieve military objectives. The plans, depending on objectives and forces tasked, are rehearsed both without troops (to exercise commanders) and with troops; at corps and army level, the plans become inter-service with air force being a part of operation. Combined arms operations with variations are relevant in all terrains. When these plans are made and rehearsed, capability requirements including equipment and ammunition are sought and it becomes the responsibility of various headquarters to ensure their availability. Genuine training for war is intrinsically linked with equipment and ammunition.

CI ops, on the other hand, are a different ball-game. Being held at small team, platoon and company levels (maximum 120 men), they are the anti-thesis of war preparedness.

Army’s other core competency of wide area security involves utilisation of all security elements like paramilitary and police forces to ensure large area dominance. This issue assumes significance since the Pakistan Army has capability to fight a conventional and unconventional (terrorism) war together. Aware of this, generals say that the centre of gravity in war with be the hinterland because a spectacular terror strike there would have major psychological impact on the course of war. For this reason, the army wants to continue with CI ops in the hinterland in peacetime as, it believes, the other security forces are inept to do the task well.

This is a self-defeating strategy. During the 1999 Kargil conflict, when troops doing CI ops (8 mountain division) were pulled out for conventional war, simultaneously the 16 and 15 corps commanders (of Jammu and Kashmir) on dual tasking (CI ops and sanctity of the LC) during peacetime diverted their total attention to war. This created a sudden command void for CI ops since heads of paramilitary forces and police refused to accept the leadership of RR administrative headquarters shifted overtime to Srinagar from Delhi. The state chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, was compelled to intervene resulting in the return of the RR headquarters to Delhi. Such command void in case of a total war would have disastrous consequences than the limited Kargil conflict where the Pakistan troops did not formally join the battles.

The way out is for the army to progressively pull out most RR troops from the hinterland and hand over CI ops to paramilitary and police forces. The latter could be trained at the two corps battle schools – Sarol and Khrew – in Jammu and Kashmir. Simultaneously, the Inspector Generals of police for Jammu and Kashmir should head the two Unified Headquarters with junior army officers being a part of it.

If this were to happen, it would be a true back to basics for the army. This call was given by army chief, Gen V.K. Singh who believed the health of the army was not in good state. Unfortunately, the back to basics was restricted to toning up the army physically and morally. Without including core competencies, which the army seems to have forgotten, back to basics would remain meaningless.




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