India’s strategic defence: Theatre command and interoperability

December 23, 2020 12:26 PM

In a planned manner the countries and armies developed strategic and tactical doctrines to derive synergy and use the smaller in number but technologically advanced weapon platforms in the air, sea and land.

Coastal and Maritime Protection : This should be the responsibility of the Indian Navy to include surface, sub-surface and aerial assets.

By Lt Col Manoj K Channan,

The buzz words in the South Block in particular the CDS Secretariat and Army HQ are Theatre Commands and Interoperability. Let’s step back and go to the era of the cold war, the US and its Western European created North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the Russians with their Eastern European countries created the Warsaw Pact organisation.

In a planned manner the countries and armies developed strategic and tactical doctrines to derive synergy and use the smaller in number but technologically advanced weapon platforms in the air, sea and land. The inventory control by using same calibre weapon systems and infrastructure development was done by NATO and WARSAW pact countries to be able to concentrate its combat power with shorter supply chains.

Looking at the strategic level, each side had satellites, AWACS, Reconnaissance by aerial and naval platforms and sum in the garb of fishing boats to eavesdrop on the communication and gather intelligence.

With technological developments; UAVs, nuclear submarines and multiple satellites’ in various configurations monitor the targets 24×7, 365 days a year. This further got augmented by Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and the internet of things, in which the human interface gets reduced.

The question we need to ask is, “Are Indian Defence Forces really prepared?”

Yes, but not in all aspects as the Military grapples with many deficiencies both in equipment and technologies over years of neglect and in times of adversity looking for quick fix solutions.

Considering the fact that we have two belligerent neighbours who share an international boundary, line of control and line of actual control; from the Rann of Kutch to Arunachal Pradesh is a long boundary to defend.

Till March this year, it was not a major challenge; the Chinese PLA, having activated the LAC, has the Indian Defence Forces for a deployment that is not likely to end in the near future.

The Chinese cannot be trusted and the “Race to the Passes” has been in India’s favour so far; is it worth the chance to withdraw and take a chance? The question must be a heavy load on the CDS’s mind.

Fortunately LAC is quiet.

The LoC is better managed as it has been active over the last 50 years since the 1971 war, each side ratcheting up the heat with small arms weapons and artillery duels.

Coming back to theatre commands, it’s not known what’s the strategic aim and objectives that the Political Leadership has defined for India with respect to China and Pakistan in particular and its maritime territories.

Based on the above, each theatre command would need to be equipped without getting into the “Guns versus Butter” debate.

The political leadership over the last 70 years has kept the military short of being ready for the next conflict, with an assumption personal rapport of the Leadership, trade and economy will be the deciding factors.

While the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force had no option but to be continuously engaged in keeping abreast with the latest technology for the naval platforms and air assets to survive the current threats. The sharp skirmish in the air on 27 February 2018, left the Indian Air Force to remain in standoff distance as its Air to Air Missiles were out gunned by the Pakistan Air Force Air to Air missiles, is just an example how tables can turn in a 5 minute engagement.

The Indian Army has been infantry-centric and all operations have been counter insurgency at company plus level operations. The force multiplier has been the small arms weapon and related to it the personal protection of the soldier.

The mind set of sending the foot soldier on a confirmatory patrol with a ‘feel and touch” overriding factor has curtailed the use of technology in our operations.

One has to remember that the last synergised war was fought in 1971 and post that have been skirmishes at best.

The OP PRAKARAM deployment in 2002 and two decades later has our thought changed at the section platoon level? While battle and field craft will not change, the use of technology needs to be ingrained. The Special Forces have been quick to adapt to technologies; use them effectively in their operations.

What’s the malaise that prevents us from taking the leap of faith to change the way we fight?

Some of the answers are that the way we conduct operations given the threats we have, has held us in good stead, minimum casualties and the drills / standard operating procedures are well set, why upset the apple cart?

Same weapons and ammunition and joint logistics supply chain.

Intelligence Gathering : Intelligence gathering is a specialised job; the cold war days and romance of the James Bond movies is exciting but in the real world intelligence gathering is a painful, boring and seemingly a boring task. While specialised hit teams are being used, recently the killing of the Iranian scientist by smart weapons, the capability has to be developed and refined. No organisation is higher in the hierarchy; intelligence has to be credible and actionable. Reportedly and its assessments are not really helpful in an environment working on data.

Strategic Forces Command : This command has to start looking at areas of interest on land and sea but also in space too. The demonstration of a satellite kill weapon system is a key development to deny the target enemy state the use of its ‘eyes in the sky’; which means that the location of all the satellites’ at any given time has to be known. The nuclear submarines will gain more importance to have the given capability to strike with stealth and surprise, whenever required.

Perception Management : At the strategic level perception management and the use of social media is a soft approach to target the mind sets. Off-late Nation states have been calling the CEOs of these social media platforms to answer senate/parliamentary committees.

Cyber Warfare : The ability to hack into the adversaries networks, electoral process (setting up proxy regimes), industrial, power,water, flights, metros, trains, shipping, commerce are non-military targets, yet are effective in bringing a Nation state to the bargaining table without firing a shot.

Communication – Voice and Data: The diversity of the various assets and electromagnetic interference issues are things to be resolved. In the present environment keeping in mind the length and breadth, height and depth this remains a challenge and the vulnerability to electronic warfare as well as cyber- attacks and anti-radiation missiles needs to be thought through. Communication has to be fool proof with built in redundancy. The services should be able to communicate across the spectrum.

Situational Awareness: The situational awareness for a section up to a subunit level for respective arm and service is of importance.

Training: Training needs to be revamped and has to be more professionally organised, yet ensuring the strength, stamina and tenacity required in the harsh battlefield environment.

Land: The basic training in each service is conducted by the respective services; is there a commonality in the basics of military training in point and area protection?

Air Defence This being the prime task of the Indian Air Force, the training and integration of assets need to be under the Indian Air Force.

Coastal and Maritime Protection : This should be the responsibility of the Indian Navy to include surface, sub-surface and aerial assets.

Does India have the capability to achieve this, to my mind, yes it does, if we have honesty of purpose and not use our weapons acquisition programs as an instrument of foreign policy; to keep our bilateral relationships on an even keel.

As one of the senior Naval Veterans very rightly advised, that given China is our major adversary, the answer doesn’t lie in trying to play catch up with it. With a defence budget four times ours and a GDP five times ours it’s a futile attempt, frittering away our scarce resources.

There is a need to do a SWOT analysis and our solutions have to be developed in house. We must learn to weave our own cloth and develop “electronic suites” that we need. We acquired the T 72s in the early 80s without ERA panels and frequency hopping sets and integrated fire control systems with TI sights. Recently the T 90s were acquired without an active protection system and air conditioning which has imposed a cost on its sighting systems due to extreme temperature conditions.

The Future Ready Combat Vehicle and the Modern Infantry Combat Vehicle have been ignored over the past decade. Likewise the capability of the Army Air Defence has been negated and the refurbishing of the out-dated equipment are some steps being taken to retain capability as the S 400 system comes in.

The Nagorno – Karabakh, the Armenia – Azerbaijan conflict brought out articles ringing the death knell for the main battle tank.

In complex modern day battlefields, lack of capability in any given area will be exploited hence the ability to orchestrate the battlefield to the plans is a capability that needs to be focused upon. The speed of operations with the ability to overthrow the enemies’ decision making process is the key objective.

How soon can we start the process of inter-weaving the joint-ness from bottom-upwards; in the name of joint training, it’s limited to National Defence Academy, Defence Services Staff College and thereafter NDC with the bureaucracy. If we can get our troops and their leaders on a common wavelength, the rest of the nitty gritty will be easy to iron out.

A thought needs to be given the Army Act, Air Force Act, Navy Act and the Defence Services Regulations need to be revised and have a common set of rules for the services. The history, ethos and élan of the fighting units must not be compromised in the eagerness for joint-ness.

The administrative requirements, perks and privileges must remain and none should be above the other, is the first step to bringing in joint-ness.

Time to think out of the box and build a strong Indian Defence Services self-reliant and self-contained. The military industrial growth has to be under the aegis of the PMO and needs to be headed by a maverick to deliver by yesterday.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views are personal.)

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