Interventions abroad India expeditionary capabilities are inadequate

SINCE independence, the Government of India has had to exercise a military option several times in support of its policy objectives. The army was ordered to forcibly integrate Goa, Hyderabad and Junagadh into the Indian Union as part of the nation building process. The Indian armed forces created the new nation of Bangladesh after the Pakistan army rejected the democratic process and conducted a systematic genocide in East Pakistan. India intervened in the Maldives and Sri Lanka at the behest of the governments of these countries and was ready to do so in Mauritius when the threat passed. 
Now analysts are discussing the emergence of a resurgent India that will be a dominant power in Southern Asia. Though it will be a gradual and long drawn process, it is quite likely that a cooperative international security framework will eventually emerge from the ashes of Gulf War II. Stemming from the need for contingency planning, for limited power projection in general and in support of its forces deployed for United Nations (UN) peacekeeping duties in particular, India will need to raise and maintain a small expeditionary force to participate in international coalitions sanctioned by the UN Security Council. This force must be in a permanent state of quick-reaction readiness 
The aim of such operations will be to further India's national security and foreign policy objectives, to support international non-proliferation and counter-proliferation efforts, and to join the international community to act decisively against banned insurgent outfits like the LTTE in Sri Lanka or even the so-called rogue regimes. International counter-proliferation initiatives, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the Container Security Initiative (CSI) cannot succeed in the Southern Asian and the Indian Ocean region without Indian participation as a member or as a partner providing outside support. As an aspiring regional power, India must also consider its responsibilities towards undertaking humanitarian military interventions when these are morally justified. Other requirements that are difficult to visualise accurately today but would further India's foreign policy objectives or enhance national security interests in future, will also justify the acquisition of expeditionary intervention capabilities. 
When the Taliban first came to power in Afghanistan, a perplexing question often raised was "What would India do if it ever becomes necessary to launch a military operation to rescue the Indian ambassador or members of his staff from Kabul?" Would India ask for American or Russian help? How would they respond? Or, would India have no option but to leave the embassy staff to the mercy of terrorist Jihadis? That contingency fortunately did not arise but another one did. Indian Airlines' flight IC-814 was hijacked to Kandahar airfield and parked there for several days in the cold month of December 1999 and the nation was forced to look on with helpless rage, as virtually no military options worth considering were available. Hopefully the ignominious surrender to the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists prompted some soul searching and some air assault capabilities will soon be put in place. 
The late General K. Sundarji, former COAS, had often spoken of converting one existing infantry division to an air assault division by about the year 2000. Though the idea was certainly not ahead of its time, the shoestring budgets of the 1990s did not allow the army to practically implement the concept. Now the time has come to translate his vision into reality. Besides being necessary for out-of-area contingencies, air assault capability is a significant force multiplier in conventional conflict. Despite what the peaceniks may say, substantial air assault capability is not only essential for furthering India's national interests, it is now inescapable. 
The present requirement is of a minimum of one air assault brigade group with integral heli-lift capability for offensive employment on India's periphery. This capability should be in place by the end of the 11th Plan period (2007-12). This brigade should be capable of short-notice deployment in India's extended neighbourhood by air and sea. Comprising three specially trained air assault battalions, integral firepower component and combat service support and logistics support units, the brigade group 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 in depth such as a bridge that is critical to furthering operations deep inside enemy territory. It should also be equipped and trained to operate as part of international coalition forces for speedy military interventions. To make it effective, it will have to be provided 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 will need to be very carefully structured to get value for money. A brigade group of this nature will provide immense strategic reach and flexibility to military planners and the Cabinet Committee on Security in the prevailing era of strategic uncertainty. 
Simultaneously, efforts should commence to raise a division-size rapid reaction force, of which the first air assault brigade group should be a part, by the end of the 12th Plan period 2012-17. The second brigade group of the Rapid Reaction Division (RRD) should have amphibious capability with the necessary transportation assets being acquired and held by the Indian Navy, including landing and logistics ships. The amphibious brigade should be self-contained for 30 days of sustained intervention operations. 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. 
The author is Senior Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi.