Comprehensive Military Doctrine for Future Conflict

As a growing regional power, India’s unstable strategic environment, unresolved territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan and continuing internal security challenges pose serious threats to national security. Multifarious external and internal security challenges are undermining India’s economic rise and hampering plans for development. Hence, India needs a comprehensive military doctrine to deal with emerging threats and challenges, taking into account the likely conflict scenarios.

Future Conflict Scenarios 

Future conventional conflict on the Indian Sub-continent will flow out of unresolved territorial and boundary disputes with China along the unsettled border and over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) with Pakistan. While the probability of a conflict with China is low, transgressions across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and patrol face-offs in no man’s land are common. These could result in armed clashes leading to another border conflict. Such a conflict is likely to be limited in area and the application of force levels. Though the conflict is likely to be predominantly a land battle, air power will need to be employed extensively, including attack helicopters and armed helicopters. 

Extensive use will be made of artillery firepower from 155mm howitzers and long range rocket launchers. The Chinese may resort to the employment of conventionally-armed SRBMs against Indian forces, communications centres, logistics installations and choke points. Though a conflict at sea is highly unlikely in the 2020-25 time frame, the PLA Navy may be expected to begin operating in the northern Indian Ocean region by about 2015, ostensibly to safeguard China’s sea lanes for oil, gas and trade. Consequently, Indian Navy ships are likely to be shadowed by PLA submarines and occasionally even by surface ships, particularly during naval exercises. 
It has now emerged clearly that the Pakistan army is not letting the new civilian dispensation formulate foreign policy and govern in an autonomous manner. Hence, hostility towards India will remain a key objective of Pakistan’s security policies. The present cease-fire along the LoC will hold only as long as it suits the Pakistan army’s interests. The Pakistan army and ISI will continue to encourage, aid and abet infiltration across the LoC. The most likely conflict scenario is that of another Kargil-type misadventure. This time it may be executed with help from the sleeper cells of ISI-sponsored terrorist organisations such as LeT, JeM and Hizbul Mujahideen by physically occupying terrain features in remote areas like Hill Kaka and the Shamsabari range north of Bandipur. They may declare these as liberated zones. However, large-scale conflict is unlikely as India will once again exercise restraint. Ground and air delivered firepower will be extensively employed. India may choose to strike across the LoC at carefully selected targets with its air force and long-range artillery. 

Fighting on the LoC is likely to be limited in scope due to the nature of the mountainous terrain. Rear area security will pose a major challenge and will require large numbers of para-military personnel as terrorists will disrupt the move of army convoys and supplies. In view of the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed states, the probability of the conflict spilling over to the plains sector across the international boundary is low as that will enhance the risk of nuclear exchanges. In the maritime domain, the Pakistan navy will adopt a defensive posture. However, the Pakistan navy will lose no opportunity to encourage and even abet terrorist strikes on Indian assets such as oil and gas rigs and shipping. The Pakistan navy is likely to operate with a greater degree of confidence once Chinese PLA navy ships begin to use the Gwadar port as a naval base.

A low-grade insurgency will continue to fester in J&K despite serious government efforts at reconciliation. However, the situation in the north-eastern states will gradually improve due to socio-economic growth and political maturity, unless China once again begins to provide aid and assistance to militant outfits that are inimical to India’s security interests. The worst internal security challenge over the next decade will come from the rising tide of Left Wing Extremism or Maoist/Naxalite terrorism, particularly if the state and central governments continue to waver in their approach. The Maoists will challenge the state by bringing small towns in the tribal belt under their political and security control. At this stage, the army will be called in to stem the rot even though it neither has the numbers nor the wherewithal to intervene effectively over thousands of square kilometers of jungle-covered terrain. Countries inimical to India will exploit the situation by providing arms, ammunition, equipment and financial support to the Maoists through their external security agencies such as the ISI.

Home-grown Indian Jihadis are increasingly joining the pan-Islamic ‘movement’. Groups like the Indian Mujahideen will become more sophisticated in their attacks. They will be more difficult to apprehend as they will form cellular structures in which no terrorist will know more than two other people. Terrorists with software expertise may launch cyber attacks on computer-controlled communications, transportation, power and commercial networks to cripple the Indian economy. Incidents of maritime terrorism and chemical and biological terrorism will increase considerably. While the probability of nuclear terrorism is low, radiological dispersal devices (RDDs, ‘dirty bombs’) may be used to spread panic and create hysteria. India will also need to enhance its vigil over its island territories as South-east Asian terrorist organisations may attempt to use these as secure bases. All of these emerging threats will require far greater intelligence effort than has been the case so far. Comprehensive inter-ministerial, inter-departmental, inter-agency and inter-security forces coordination will be necessary to defeat the terrorists. 

Two-front Doctrine
Though the probability of major conflict is low, if another conflict is thrust on India, China and Pakistan will collude with each other and act in concert. Hence, India must prepare for a two-front war. The collusive nuclear-missile-military hardware nexus between China and Pakistan poses a major strategic challenge to India. China is known to have provided direct assistance to Pakistan for its nuclear weapons programme, including nuclear warhead designs and enough HEU (highly enriched uranium) for at least two nuclear bombs. China transferred dual-use technology and materials for the development of nuclear weapons to Pakistan. China has also helped Pakistan to build a secret reactor to produce weapons-grade plutonium at the Chashma nuclear facility. China gave Pakistan M-9 and M-11 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and has facilitated the transfer of Taepo Dong and No Dong ballistic missiles from North Korea to Pakistan. China and Pakistan have jointly developed a fighter aircraft - JF-17 Thunder/ FC-1 Fierce - and a main battle tank - Al Khalid, besides other military hardware like anti-tank missiles. 
China and India have failed to satisfactorily resolve their territorial and boundary dispute since the two nations fought a war over it in 1962 despite 14 rounds of talks between political interlocutors and many meetings of the Joint Working Group. Even the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has not been clearly demarcated on military maps and on the ground due to China's intransigence. Patrol face-offs are common and an armed clash could take place any time. If it is not contained quickly, such a clash could lead to another border conflict. 
During the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars, China had made some threatening military manoeuvres in Tibet in support of Pakistan. It is also noteworthy that during the Kargil conflict in 1999, Chinese military advisers were reported to have been present at Skardu in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Now it has been reported that between 7,000 and 11,000 Chinese troops are present in Gilgit-Baltistan in POK. 
China has "guaranteed Pakistan's territorial integrity" and in the words of President Hu Jin Tao, their friendship is "higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans and sweeter than honey." As part of its "string of pearls" strategy in the Indian Ocean, China has built a port for Pakistan at Gwadar on the Makran Coast. This port could be upgraded to a naval base for Chinese naval vessels with minimum effort. China is clearly engaged in the strategic encirclement of India. 
Of late, while stability prevails at the strategic level, China has exhibited marked political, diplomatic and military aggressiveness at the tactical level. This has led to anxiety about Chinese intentions. Hence, Indian analysts have concluded that during a future Indian military conflict with China, Pakistan is likely to come to China's military aid and vice versa. While the ability to fight on two fronts may be aspirational rather than real at present, recognition of the need to prepare for such an eventuality will drive future doctrine, strategy and force structures. It was in this context that the then Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor had made a statement during the HQ Army Training Command doctrine seminar in December 2009 that the Indian Army must prepare for a "two-front war". 
Quest for a New Doctrine
After the 2001-02 military stand-off with Pakistan and India’s frustration at not being able to launch a swift military response, the Indian armed forces had begun to look for a new doctrine that would enable the country to achieve its political and military aims in a short war without running the risk of crossing Pakistan’s nuclear red lines. Dubbed “Cold Start” by the then Army Chief, the doctrine was said to be a combination of offensive operations at two levels. Certain readjustments were carried out to enhance the offensive operations capability of “Pivot” corps (defensive or ground holding corps) along the western border, both in terms manoeuvre and firepower, so as to make it possible to launch offensive operations quickly. The aim was clearly to deny Pakistan the advantage of early mobilisation. 
It is believed that the second element of the tentative doctrine conceptualised a number of “integrated battle groups” (IBGs; divisional-size forces) launching limited offensive operations to a shallow depth, to capture a long swathe of territory almost all along the international boundary. The success achieved by the IBGs could then be exploited by one or more Strike Corps. The captured territory would act as a bargaining chip to force Pakistan to wind down its institutional support to Jihadi terrorism. The overall aim would also be to destroy the Pakistan army’s war waging potential through the application of asymmetric firepower from the ground (through long-range medium guns, rocket launchers and surface-to-surface and cruise missiles) and by way of massive air-to-ground battlefield air strikes.
However, General V K Singh, the COAS, said in a recent interview to a TV news channel: “There is nothing called ‘Cold Start’… you have to warm up before you do something… As part of our overall strategy, we look at various contingencies. There are defensive and offensive operations. Our nation is committed to peaceful existence with others. We are not aggressors, so we look at how we will meet a threat that can develop. As part of this, we talk about ‘active defence’. We also talk about proactive operations, which support active defence.” 
Hence, it emerges that while the army has adopted various measures to overcome the difficulties of mobilisation, it follows what is essentially a pro-active deterrence strategy with the clear implication that the Indian armed forces will take the initiative and the next war in the plains will be fought in the adversary’s territory. HQ Integrated Defence Staff has formulated a joint doctrine for the Air-Land battle, for amphibious operations and for Indian Navy-Indian Air Force cooperation for joint operations in the maritime domain. These are ongoing efforts and military doctrine, which is dynamic by nature, is constantly reviewed and refined based on the emerging strategic environment and weapons acquisition and force structure changes effected by the adversaries, as well as the lessons learnt during large-scale exercises with troops.
Preparation for simultaneous war on two fronts will require the injection of large doses of capital expenditure for the acquisition of the necessary hardware. The present defence budget, pegged at less than 2.0 per cent of the country’s projected GDP, cannot sustain the capital expenditure that will be necessary to prepare to face two major military adversaries simultaneously. It is, therefore, necessary for Indian diplomacy to ensure that the armed forces will never be required to face two military adversaries simultaneously. And, if the Ministry of External Affairs cannot provide such a guarantee, India should be looking for a military alliance, despite the fact that Indian policy-makers dislike that term and not joining military alliances is a key element of India's foreign policy. A nation's foreign policy and national security policy must reflect the constraints imposed by the prevailing strategic environment. 

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi. Views are personal.)