India: Need for an Air Assault Brigade and Rapid Reaction Force

India will need to raise and maintain small expeditionary forces in a state of readiness to further its national security and foreign policy objectives. When the Taliban came to power, a perplexing question was what India would do if it became necessary to rescue the Indian ambassador or his staff. Would India seek external help? That contingency did not arise but another arose when Indian Airlines' flight IC-814 was hijacked to Kandahar. No military options were available. The ignominious surrender to the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists appears to have prompted some thinking; hopefully, some air assault capabilities will be put in place. 
The need to join future international coalitions to carry out the UN Security Council's directions is always there. General K Sundarji often spoke of converting an infantry division into an air assault division by 2000, but the inadequate budgets of the 1990s did not allow him to implement this concept. Now, air assault capability is a significant force multiplier in conventional conflict apart from out-of-area contingencies. A substantial air assault capability is not only essential for furthering India's national interests but rather, it is now inescapable. 
Air Assault Brigade
The present requirement is for one air assault brigade group with an integral heli-lift capability for employment on India's periphery. The brigade should be capable of short-notice deployment in India's extended neighbourhood by air and sea. Comprising three specially trained air assault battalions, an integral firepower component, combat service support and logistics support units, it should be based on MI-17 equivalent transport helicopters. It should have the guaranteed firepower and support of two to three flights of attack and reconnaissance helicopters. The air assault brigade group should be armed, equipped and trained to secure threatened islands, seize an air head and capture a value objective like a bridge to undertake operations in depth. It should also be equipped and trained to operate as part of international coalition forces for quick military interventions. It will have to be provided with air and sealift capability and a high volume of close air support till its deployment area comes within reach of the artillery component of ground forces. Since the raising of such a potent brigade group will be a highly expensive proposition, its components need to be carefully structured to get value for money. It must be emphasised that a brigade group of this nature will provide immense strategic reach and flexibility to military planners and the Cabinet Committee on Security. This capability should be available by the end of the 11th Plan period 2007-12. 
Rapid Reaction Division (RRD)
Efforts should also commence to raise a division-size rapid reaction force, of which the first air assault brigade group is a part, by the end of the 12th Plan period 2012-17. The second brigade group of the RRD should have an amphibious capability with the necessary transportation assets being held by the Indian Navy, including landing and logistics ships. The brigade group in Southern Command is designated as an amphibious brigade but it has inadequate amphibious capabilities, and should be suitably upgraded. It should be capable of sustained intervention operations for 30 days. The third brigade of the RRD should be lightly equipped for offensive and defensive employment in the plains and mountains, as well as jungle and desert terrain. All the brigade groups and their support elements should be capable of transportation by land, sea and air. 
With the exception of the amphibious brigade, the division should be logistically self-contained for an initial deployment period of 15 to 20 days with limited daily replenishment. Establishing and maintaining infrastructure for this division, especially its strategic air lift, attack helicopters, heli-lift and landing ship requirements, will entail heavy capital expenditure. However, it is an inescapable requirement, and funds will need to be found for this force by innovative management of the defence budget and additional budgetary support. The second RRD should be raised over the 13th and 14th Defence Plans by about 2027, by which time India's responsibilities towards maintaining peace and stability in the Southern Asian and Indian Ocean region would have grown. Unless planning for the creation of such capabilities begins now, the formations will not be available when they are required. 
The only airborne force projection capability India possesses at present is an independent Parachute Brigade. Its organisational structure is more suited for conventional operations. This brigade should be retained as an Army HQ reserve for strategic employment behind enemy lines to support the operations of ground forces that are expected to link up with it. However, whenever necessary, the brigade could be allotted to the RRD for short periods to carry out specific tasks.