The army should invest in better equipment for amphibious operations
As regional and global rivalries widen and strategic waterways are at the centre of disputes, countries have not only started to invest in their naval forces and equipment, they are also focusing on building joint forces with combat capabilities. Even as joint operations have been a reality in most countries, they are seen as a way of dominance, regionally as well as globally.
India’s first Maritime Theatre Command (MTC) will take concrete shape by 2022. The commander-in-chief will have full operational control over the western and eastern fleets, maritime strike jets and transport aircraft, two amphibious infantry brigades and coastal and patrol vessels. This move aims at ‘integrating’ the warfighting capabilities offered by them in order to guard the western and eastern naval commands and achieve the goals detailed in the Joint Forces Doctrine of 2017. The army’s contribution to these joint forces would be its amphibious brigades that are already centred on the coastal areas of Port Blair and Thiruvananthapuram. All the three forces have unique roles to play in carrying out amphibious operations. The army being the landing force, it is required to be on the offensive.
Amphibious operations are complex and involve greater amount of human as well as material resources. Warships, fighter aircraft, landing craft, infantry units, personnel carrier and close air support are all the things that go into launching an attack. The troops need to undergo extensive training as the nature of these operations changes from other operations that the forces carry out. ‘Disembarkation, troop landings, beachhead consolidation and conducting inland ground and air operations’ are some exercises unique to amphibious operations. Given India’s geographic position and its stature in the Indian Ocean, the opportunities to carry out such operations may present themselves anytime. Typically, amphibious operations are carried out for the Human Assistance and Disaster Relief operations (HADR), policing, anti-piracy and enforcement of national policies. A country’s amphibious capabilities are measured by how effective the synergy between the forces is.
The Indian Army raised its amphibious brigade in 2009, specialising in land and marine warfare. This was modelled as per the navy’s marine commandos and named the 91 Infantry brigade. At the time, 3000 personnel were selected from the Gorkha, Sikh and Madras regiments. Even when the navy naturally possess an edge over the land and air forces in carrying out amphibious operations, the land-operated equipment and training to function on ground make the army a critical component in joint ops.
Relying heavily on its ground defence forces, Japan’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade is a marine unit of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, which specialises in amphibious operations. It incorporates the former Western Army Infantry Regiment, an amphibious warfare unit.
One of the most recalled amphibious operation that the Indian forces jointly undertook was Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka in 1987. The Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) was the Indian intervention to take control of Jaffna from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Thousands of Indian Army’s soldiers were deployed in Sri Lanka at the time from different divisions such as the 36th, 54th, 57th Infantry divisions and 4th Mountain Division. The 340th Independent Infantry Brigade (Amphibious) of the army alongside the MARCOS provided beach reconnaissance around Jaffna and Batticaloa. The 340th Brigade was one of the first IPKF units to be deployed.
Coming back to the present times, the Indian Army along with the navy and the air force undertakes joint exercises in the amphibious domain. It also participates with foreign countries to undertake the amphibious exercises. ‘Amphex’ exercises was a tri-service exercise conducted in 2001 in Andaman and Nicobar islands. This was the first major exercise to be conducted in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The army’s Mountain Brigade, which was earmarked for amphibious operations, elements of special and mechanised forces, artillery, air defence artillery, engineer and logistics elements participated. The air force and navy participated with different aircraft and ships respectively.
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