|Dealing with Two Fronts Needs Matching Capabilities||India Strategic|
|New Delhi. The emerging consensus, voiced by the Army Chief, is that a conventional war under the nuclear overhang can only be a Limited War. This only increases the onus on orchestration of the different components of the military instrument.|
|Given the known lacuna in higher military management in India of lack of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), coping with this imperative is difficult. The assumption is that a CDS could help resolve any inter-service matters. However, if Clausewitz’s principle precept that if the nature of the conflict being embarked upon is done correctly, then this problem is reduced considerably.|
At the outset, it must be pointed out also that India wants and needs peace for its own economic development. Shiv Shankar Menon, as Foreign Secretary, told a select gathering at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) that “peace within and around India is imperative for India’s own development and that of the countries around it for everyone’s benefit.”
But that unfortunately is not a view shared particularly in Islamabad which attacks India through proxy and terrorism.
There could be three conflict scenarios.
In the first, the outbreak of conflict in the immediate aftermath of another 26/11-type attack may be with the aim of inflicting decisive punishment on the adversary. In such a case the weight of the effort will be with the Air Force launching ‘surgical strikes’. The Army in such a case would posture for deterrence purposes, so as to preclude escalation. To this end, a repeat of the mobilisation like Op Parakram would not be required. However, the Army may make precautionary troop inductions into vulnerable areas so as not to lose them to enemy pre-emption. Air action will be to reinforce a diplomatic offensive to coerce Pakistan to finally acceding to India’s long standing demand of an about-turn on its policy of supporting terrorists as ‘strategic assets’. In fact, even foreign strategists say that it is time that India made it clear that ‘Enough is Enough.’
The Second scenario could involve resorting to pre-emption as part of policy of active defence emanating from a deliberate decision taken at the highest level. This may be a considered response to prior provocative ‘Kargils’ and ‘26/11s’. The scenario’s probability increases in case of any implosion in Pakistani polity resulting in the seizure of power by religious extremists. In such a case, the military objectives of the three Services in the war effort acquire significance.
The respective positions of the Air Force and the Army, on occasion at variance, have been reflected in many papers written on the subject since early last decade. The general consensus is that the lead service in the various phases of the conflict may shift depending on the conflict circumstances. In the early stage, the Air Force taking advantage of its flexibility would be the lead Service, as it is only an air force which can take the battle to an enemy territory or an area of hostilties.
The Army and Navy would chip in with offensive forces immediately available while the remainder is mobilised. The Army’s early offensives being launched under the air cover should be adequate. With additional resources becoming available to support the Indian Air Force (IAF), it would also be possible for it to address its own and Army’s concerns simultaneously.
The Navy would mount pressure in the Arabian Sea to address Pakistan’s economy, war potential in terms access to fuel and bring about the incidental political effect of disruption of life in its largest city. The Army promises to be off-theblocks in double quick time in its Cold Start doctrine as reported in a recent newspaper report: ‘The (Cold Start) plan now is to launch selfcontained and highly-mobile ‘battle groups’, with Russian-origin T-90S tanks and upgraded T-72 M1 tanks at their core, adequately backed by air cover and artillery fire assaults, for rapid thrusts into enemy territory within 96 hours.’
The Air Force’s doctrine is known to have been formed by study of the emerging pattern of war over the past two decades. Therefore, gaining air dominance along with destruction of enemy infrastructure, particularly of military significance such as transport, communication and power, would be its primary objective in the opening phases. Demands of net-centric and information war, where India has made considerable progress, would be fulfilled in a tri-service offensive in respective domains. IAF has quietly worked for the past few years to achieve air dominance capability.
The third scenario is one that was averred to by the Army Chief as a ‘two- front’ one. The mediainduced controversy around this misses the point that this has been a preoccupation with the Army dating to the Thorat report on organising defences on the China front of the 1950s. It was central to the defining engagement in India’s civil-military relations in which the political head deferred to General Sam Manekshaw’s persuasive case in avoiding a two-front situation by attempting to liberate East Pakistan while the passes towards China were open. In the mid-1990s also, the threat was acknowledged by one of India’s leading defence analysts, Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, Director IDSA, who had advised in the context of the times of straitened financial circumstance that China be managed till the capability to cope is built up. Anticipating the demands of a ‘twofront’ situation, capabilities are, if slowly but steadily, being put in place.
But a lot needs to be done in double quick time if this two-front doctrine is to become credible to our competitors and even likely allies. And that means building up strength dissipated after 1989 following allegations of corruption in Bofors gun acquisition.
The major difference in this conflict scenario is that the national effort would have to be of a higher order. This would require recourse to the Blue Book, which was avoided even during Op Parakram.
So as to prevent simultaneous strain on two fronts, a call by the political head informed by the military-strategic perspective would need to be taken early. Sticking with the choice thereafter would fulfil the requirement of selection and maintenance of aim, the foremost principles of war. The resulting sequencing of effort would help increase the military weight being brought to bear. The lessons from the two World Wars may be worth a recall on this score. The Germans, the British and the US had to make a grand strategic decision early on in the war.
The failure of the Germans to stick with their decision, due to leadership and organisational deficiencies of Hitler and his Reich, led in substantial measure to their loss.
The nuclear overhang is now a permanent presence in South Asia. While in Scenario One, it does not come to the fore, it serves as a backdrop to Scenario Two. Every effort of Pakistan would be stay India’s conventional hand through foregrounding its nuclear card. As earlier in Op Parakram with posturing in relation to strike corps, the conflict will throw up new lessons in nuclear signaling for their exists no precedence yet of a wider, yet limited, conflict between two nuclear states. The earlier such episodes along the Ussuri and at Kargil are instructive, but not very much so. The third scenario would require a deliberate effort at decreasing the visibility of the nuclear card even as it is not hobbled.
The Chief’s reference to ‘two-front’ possibilities has only and actually served a purpose in initiating this discussion.
BUILDING CAPABILITIESBut then it is the delays in building up of capabilities all across the Services which would have a telling effect on realisation of both the single front or two-front scenarios.
The Army continues to suffer from delays especially in artillery modernisation and to an extent in armour modernisation. Acquisition of network centric capabilities in the Army has also not kept pace. Since January 2008, the Ministry of Defence has issued three global tenders for 155MM howitzers for the mountains, the plains and self-propelled guns for the deserts. Summer and winter trials were expected to be completed last year but they are still to commence. It was hoped that with commercial negotiations proceeding smoothly, contract/s could have been completed by the first half of 2010.
The artillery modernization includes off-the-shelf purchase of 200 155mm/52-calibre mounted gun systems to be followed by indigenous manufacture of another 614 such howitzers under transfer of technology (ToT). The 17-tonne motorized howitzers will arm 40 regiments. Another major project includes the purchase of 100 155mm/52-calibre self-propelled tracked guns for five artillery regiments.
India is also looking to finalize the Rs 8,000 crores project to buy 400 155mm/52-calibre towed artillery guns, which is to be followed by indigenous manufacture of another 1,180 howitzers. The major contenders are the BAE Systems, ST Kinetics of Singapore and Israeli Soltam.
However, the bottlenecks in procurement may not be cleared even by the new procedure promulgated in 2009.
Another negative feature of procurement process has been the inordinate delay in acquisition through Fast Track Procedure (FTP). This was introduced for the first time in DPP-2002 to meet the urgent requirements emanating from operational imperatives. Under FTP, the stages of procurement like issue of Request for Proposal (RFP), technical evaluation and trial evaluation were to be skipped to provide a tested and established product.
A system under this procedure was to be provided within the maximum time limit of 12 months. But a performance audit of Army has revealed that at least in eight cases, it has taken much more time than mandated. For instance, weapons and equipment for Para Security Forces, the demand for which was initiated in September 2003 under FTP, took almost 29 months to sign the contract for the same in February 2006. Similarly, Electronic Warfare System for the Army approved in the wake of Kargil conflict took 75 months for the signing of contract under FTP. In case of acquisition of Extended Range Rockets it took over 40 months for the FTP to be completed.
In the case of Remotely Operated Vehicle, Thermal Imaging Stand Alone Sights for T-72 tanks and UAVs purchased through FTP, the CAG’s audit report has pointed out that there was no need to adopt the FTP, and that normal procedure would have sufficed. The need for acquisition of these items existed since long and these could have been procured without resorting to FTP.
UAVs have been under indigenous development since the 1990’s but have had to be imported by the three Services from Israel since 1996. FTP not only compromised on competitiveness but in the instant case, failed the intended purpose of acquiring the capability within the shortest possible time.
The new DPP-2006 and 2008, which has been modified again in November 2009, mandates that the application of FTP will be approved by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) and that contract should be signed within five months of intimation and delivery should be completed within three to 12 months. Hopefully, with these timelines, FTP would live up to its terminology and fulfill the purpose of its formulation.
Some of the ills pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General in our procurement system, especially in case of the Naval equipment, are illustrative of the lack of capacities and capabilities for forging a modern force required to deal with a two front situation. CAG has noted that “the objective of inducting an aircraft carrier – Gorshkov – in time to fill the gap in Indian Navy has not been achieved. The cost of acquisition has more than doubled to USD 2.3 billion in four years. At best, the Indian Navy would be acquiring, belatedly, a second-hand ship with a limited life span by paying significantly more than what it would have paid for new ship.”
Further, despite Indian Navy’s depleting force level, the Ministry of Defence took nine years to conclude a contract for the construction of six submarines. The inordinate delay led to enormous increase in the project cost to the extent of Rs. 2,838 crore. And perhaps more.
The procurement procedure has had problems and the technical evaluation conducted for a particular type of submarine including the missile to be fitted on-board was not comprehensive and reportedly “biased” in favour of the vendor. Contractual provisions have resulted in undue financial advantage to the vendor to the minimum extent of Euro 58.20 million (Rs. 349 crore) besides other unquantifiable benefits.
In addition, “five radars imported at a cost of Rs. 24.88 crore could not be installed for more than three to five years after their acquisition. In the process the radars have not only lost 50 percent of their life but also remained unavailable for operational purpose. The Navy failed to persuade a foreign firm to replace unsuitable items supplies. As a result, the expenditure of Rs. 385 crore on their import was yet to yield any operational benefit to the Navy.”
Similarly, for the IAF the long pending acquisition of MMRCA and then bringing up the required strengths of number of Air Force squadrons to the sanctioned level will not be achieved in a hurry.
Therefore the conclusion is inescapable that talking about two-front situations requires strong capabilities, inducted timely, clarity of purpose and a strong political leadership.
So far diplomacy and wisdom have prevented the eventuality of a twofront scenario. But the geo-political and geo-strategic environment is under flux and the glacial pace of developing such force capabilities would leave gaping holes in our security shield.
An extensive political-military interaction that this necessitates in peace needs now to be pursued.
|© India Strategic|
writings of ali ahmed, with thanks to publications where these have appeared. Download books/papers from dropbox links provided. https://aliahd66.substack.com; www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in. Author India's Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge 2014). Asokan strategic perspective proponent. All views are personal.