Friday, 1 June 2018

Is the Indian military preparing for total war?


Three recently completed military exercises tell of the thinking within the Indian military. The first was the air exercise (Ex), Ex Gagan Shakti (Power of the sky), reportedly the largest ever air exercise; the second, Ex Vijay Prahaar (A blow for  victory), of Strike 1 Corps of the South West Command in the desert sector; and third, the South Western Command’s pivot corps, Chetak Corps’ exercise, Ex Gandiv Vijay (Victory to Arjuna’s bow).


Taken together, the three exercises - each foregrounding mention of jointmanship - spell an integration of the army’s cold start doctrine with the air force’s doctrine. While in Ex Gandiv Vijay, the pivot corps scrambled from a cold start to its battle locations, its RAPID division went on a limited offensive. At this time perhaps Ex Gagan Shakti’s phase one played out involving creating conditions for  speedy depletion of the enemy’s combat potential’ through ‘coercive strategies’. Thereafter, the Strike One Corps’ Ex Vijay Prahaar unfolded in which it made a penetration over obstacles into enemy innards to knock out armoured reserves reacting to it. Alongside, ‘swift offensive action’, Strike One likely fired off its Brahmos Block III cruise missiles it had practiced last autumn at a range in Andaman and Nicobar Islands in ‘synergistic employment of long range vectors along with the Infantry and Mechanised Forces and the Air Arm to achieve a decisive victory’ .    

While analysts inform that the armed forces are cognizant of ‘high-tempo and intense limited conflict’, the exercises do not lend confidence that limited war doctrines would hold. Limited War is sine qua non in the nuclear age. It is the only war that can plausibly be fought. In effect, military doctrines have to be predicated on the limited war concept and reflected realistically in exercise scenarios.
In the cases considered, the land forces appear to be bent on making deep penetrations across obstacles and degrading the enemy’s reserves, thus flirting with both the territorial and degradation thresholds of nuclear first use. The air force while taking on the Chinese appears to be upping-the-ante in taking on Chinese shipping in international waterway. This may be in reaction to some or other simulated setback in the mountains (loss of Tawang?), but, absent escalation control mechanisms in place and practiced alongside, the horizontal escalation in quick time can only lead up to the nuclear outbreak depicted.
While exercises at the operational level are worst-case scenario based and meant to demonstrate and validate capabilities – such as nuclear warfighting – the key strategic level take-away is that offensive content in doctrine militates against what the doctrine professes, the limited war concept. India would do well to revisit the moorings of its military doctrines.