We all know that the airpower is faster to mobilise, is more flexible and can achieve strategic and tactical surprise better than other services. Airpower is also decisive because it can cause heavy and precise destruction. It provides mobility, aerial observation and close air support. It is ideally suited to initiate and achieve success in a limited war conflict. Control of air is the single greatest manoeuvre and firepower advantage. Along with other Air Force priorities, we need to make close air support most responsive to Army needs.
The sooner an intervening force can arrive to influence the course of a military event, the lesser is the chance of the conflict devolving into firepower intensive, wasteful slugging match. Rapid mobilisation out-paces enemy and has the same asset as surprise. For a limited conventional war environment, we may need to carry out strategic re-locations of some of our combat formations, particularly those that take a long time to be moved and deployed. Also, we need not wait for full mobilisation to start operations.
The military is expected to be able to react quickly to the changing circumstances, in order to localise, freeze and reverse the situation on the ground and to arrest the deterioration, enhance deterrence and diminish incentives for escalation
Surveillance and intelligence
Without adequate intelligence and continuous surveillance, even the best of plans cannot succeed. We require a very clear strategic, operational and tactical picture and assessment with the help of all possible technology and human intelligence. We have to obtain real time intelligence and ensure that it reaches those who need it in time. We need much better integration of surveillance and operational resources like satellite imagery, air reconnaissance, radars, armed helicopters and so on to reduce force generation time.
In a limited conventional war, due to short duration, surprise as a factor becomes more important than ever before. Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is least prepared. A pro-active strategy and contingency planning in peacetime have distinct military advantage. But that would be a difficult political option.
Rapid reaction forces
In a limited or small-scale war, tempo and speed dictate that light, Rapid Reaction Forces comprising elements from arms, services, with embedded air force capability. We need more Special Forces for such missions.
The basic engine of attrition will be the synergised and integrated applications of firepower — artillery, missiles and all other firepower. Massive and surgically applied firepower will cause disruption, destruction and dislocation and provide a decisive edge in a war. Air delivered firepower and long-range artillery will not only affect enemy’s morale, it will offer freedom of movement to the manoeuvre element. However, in difficult terrain conditions like Siachen, Kargil and north-east, we must have a clear understanding of what fire power and technology can or cannot do.
A conflict in future could well be decided on the basis of better exploitation of the electro-magnetic (EM) spectrum. Its impact is all pervasive: to assist in anti-terrorist operations, prevent attacks against civilian or military targets. The e‑bombs have the advantage of no collateral damage and lesser likelihood of loss of life. Concerted R and D and user innovations into the varied uses of the EM spectrum are an urgent requirement.
These days, media reporting catches events at their source, when the events are still history’s raw material. Robust reporting of the past has now given way to brittle reporting. The result can be unpredictable swings in public sentiment, compounding the government’s challenge of building support for the war. And it is not possible to resist the transparency pressure anymore to be transparent. People — analysts, journalists, investors, employees, or members of the public — have high standards and consider knowing situational information to be their right, an entitlement rather than a luxury. The lesson, therefore; don’t try to seal all lips. The communications effort — daily briefings, live broadcasts and so on — must start from the very top and go down the channel in a planned manner.
Mere possession of nuclear weapons does not stop conflicts. A question that often arises, ‘are we, therefore, adequately equipped and trained for the more likely form of conflicts or the less likely form?’ Are we prepared for yesterday or tomorrow’s armed conflicts? India now is confronted with the task of defending itself militarily against nuclear armed adversaries. The action has to be effective but not so effective as to cause inadvertent escalation. These parameters demand new war fighting strategies and doctrines that the Indian political and military leadership is not used to traditionally. It is a conflict situation and a strategy, that puts a premium on achieving speedy decision on the battlefield and then terminating offensive action before the conflict degenerates into attrition.
Currently, our operational planning caters more for reactive all out conventional war settings; much less for limited war scenarios. A reactive strategic culture tends to erode our deterrence capability
Currently, our operational planning caters more for reactive all out conventional war settings; much less for limited war scenarios. A reactive strategic culture tends to erode our deterrence capability. For the new strategic environment, there is a need for the armed forces to prepare different level joint plans, which can be implemented at a short notice, or during the course of mobilisation. Such contingency plans and their full implications will need prior politico-military discussions: even ‘in principle’ approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Lastly, with the conflict becoming multi-dimensional, the armed forces require geo-strategically aware and specialised political guidance and networking. We also need to re-organise networking of the armed forces within and with other government and non-government agencies which could have an important role to play in any future armed conflict. Only then it would be possible to succeed in such conflicts.
There may be several situations where both the initiator and the affected nation are tempted to use conventional weapons and forces. The initiator is tempted to give it a greater push with conventional forces to achieve the desired results, as it happened in 1947, 1965. In the 1999 Kargil war, it did so despite our nuclear weapons capability. On the other hand, the affected nation, when pushed to the wall, may use its conventional forces to bring the proxy war into the open rather than fight with all the limitations of a ‘no war no peace situation’. Pakistan did in 1971. We almost did in 2002.
About the Author
General V P Malik PVSM, AVSM, VSM (retd)
General Ved Prakash Malik assumed charge of the Indian Army, as the 19th Chief of Army Staff, on 30 September 1997. He was decorated with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) in 1996. He took over as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee with effect from 01 January 1999. He coordinated and oversaw the planning and execution of Operation Vijay to successfully defeat Pakistan’s attempted intrusion in the Kargil sector during May to July 1999.
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