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India needs a tri-service war-fighting doctrine

Unlike the Second World War, where surprise was critical, modern warfare require speed of operations, which depends on jointness among services.

analysis Updated: Jan 31, 2019 07:27 IST
Pravin Sawhney
Pravin Sawhney
indian army,ARTRAC,indian air force
Instead of three separate warfare doctrines, there could be a single military doctrine for land and maritime warfare, with services agreeing on common threats and how to beat them best.(Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

As part of the Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat’s manpower reduction and warfighting rejuvenation exercise, the directorate of Military Training (MT) will merge with Army Training Command (ARTRAC), with the latter shifting from Shimla to a more accessible location close to Delhi. The ARTRAC, responsible for the Indian Army’s policy, future threat projections, operational strategy and land warfare strategy, has 105 officers, while the MT, which provides updates to defence ministry on army training has lesser strength. Is the merger and relocation worth the time, effort and money to be spent?

Better questions to ask are: Will the ARTRAC help prepare the Indian Army for modern warfare? How good is the ARTRAC-formulated Land Warfare Doctrine 2018? What if the training commands of the army, air force (in Bangalore) and navy (in Kochi) were merged together? Instead of three separate warfare doctrines, there could be a single military doctrine for land and maritime warfare, with services agreeing on common threats and how best to beat them.

Why is a single military doctrine essential? Because unlike the Second World War, where surprise was critical, war domains were limited and technology followed doctrines, modern warfare is just the opposite. With China’s eight warfare domains (land, sea, air, outer space, deep sea, cyber, electronic, and psychological) to contend with, and technology changing rapidly, speed of operations, rather than surprise, would determine modern war outcomes. Since speed requires jointness rather than mere coordination between the three services, a single Indian military doctrine could be a good beginning. The merger of the commands would save money too.

Unfortunately, the idea of the commands’ merger would be rubbished by the services on three counts.

One, since services have dissimilar cultures, ethos and traditions exemplified by their blue, white and olive-green uniforms, disagreements would be far and wide. Sure enough, the focus should be on jointness of operations, not jointmanship or camaraderie which would take years to develop, if at all.

Two, resistance would come from services’ headquarters since each service has its core competencies, which they guard zealously, while being dismissive about the others. The services, of course, would not concede this publicly.

And three, the army would argue that the ARTRAC, inspired and patterned after the United States Training and Doctrinal Command (TRADOC), is as relevant to modern war as is the American institution. Interestingly, there are growing murmurs among the US experts on the relevance of TRADOC in its present form. Clearly, India, with its meagre resources and uninspiring defence-industrial complex, cannot afford duplication of capabilities within services, let alone in a single service.

Consider this: Army’s Military Intelligence (MI) projects the threats, Military Operation (MO) assesses how threats are to be mated with capabilities, and Perspective Planning (PP) articulates future threats, modernisation and capabilities. Meanwhile, ARTRAC does detailed threats assessment and how they can be met by training; it is in charge of publications on training and doctrine. Once a week, ARTRAC holds a video conference with PP and MO to iron on differences on threats, capabilities and training. Why not merge all these together? And combine ARTRAC with other services’ training command to generate jointness through a common doctrine?

To understand the criticality of jointness, look at how the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) warfare would concentrate on employing non-contact assets in order to obviate loss of life of their soldiers. Thus, the lead in war would be taken by PLA’s Strategic Support Force (SSF), formed in 2015, which has under it cyber, outer space and electronic warfare capabilities. Offensive action by SSF would likely be followed by massive salvos of conventionally armed missiles and unmanned armed aerial vehicles. Such engagements are expected to deliver the following outcome: the SSF would pulverise and disrupt command, communications, communication centres and domain awareness by hitting at an adversary’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets. The missiles will produce shock and awe to demoralise the adversary. Thus, the SSF and missiles combined would destabilise, disrupt and delay the adversary’s sensor-shooter cycle, called in military parlance as the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) loop, compelling the adversary to adopt a defensive posture.

The good way to meet the PLA challenge would be to first formulate a common warfighting doctrine. This alone would determine which service (between the army and air force) would take the lead in war. At present, based upon different war-fighting doctrines, General Rawat and Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa have sought their services’ primacy in war — that is, when they support coordination in war. Such a situation would lead to duplications, confusion and impede speed of operations. Surely, no one wants that to happen.

Pravin Sawhney is editor, FORCE newsmagazine

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jan 31, 2019 07:27 IST