Strike Corps: Rethinking Structure and Role

Defence & Technology | Jan 30, 2012

Pakistan’s so-called ‘low nuclear threshold’, as perceived by most Indian analysts, and the need to mass firepower rather than forces when planning to fight in a nuclear environment, prompt the need for a fresh look at the Indian concept of maintaining massive strike corps for deep thrusts into Pakistani territory. As is well known, India has three strike corps (1, 2 and 21 Corps)- one each for the Western, Southwestern and Southern Commands responsible for operations on the border with Pakistan in the plains sector.

Pakistan’s Low Nuclear Threshold

It was widely reported during Operation Parakram that Gen Padmanabhan had planned to simultaneously launch all three Strike Corps so as to achieve surprise and a quick decision. With modern intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, the adversary can easily discern the concentration areas of the Strike Corps and is unlikely to have any illusions about the approximate areas where the Indians are likely to strike. When a Strike Corps does succeed in malting a deep penetration – and one or the other is bound to succeed – the stage at which Pakistan’s nuclear threshold will be crossed is a matter of analysis. If the Indian Strike Corps are going to be employed only to achieve small, operational or even tactical-level gains, why have three of them at all? In the coming decades, Indian military genius will lie in finding a suitable via media for launching sharp offensive punches without allowing a conflict to roll over the nuclear threshold while maintaining adequate countervailing forces.

Slow Mobilisation for OP. Parakram

The massive site of the present Strike Corps makes it difficult for them to concentrate, side-step, deploy and manoeuvre, and virtually, rules out surprise and deception. As reported by several analysts, during Operation Parakaram the Strike Corps took too long to move to their concentration areas. If a fleeting opportunity is to be exploited, the strike formations must be capable of launching an offensive operation from a “cold start”. Another lesson was the hesitation of the political leadership to allow the army to launch deep offensives with the strike elements. According to the strategic community grapevine in New Delhi, the civilian leaders had serious reservations about the offensive plans presented to them by the COAS, because of the impact the army’s success may have had on Pakistan’s nuclear decision-making. Perhaps the answer lies in commencing a major offensive across the International Boundary (IB) with a large number of complementary “shallow hrusts” over a wide front and retaining the option to upgrade these “limited offensives” to deep strikes coordinated by a full fledged Strike Corps HQ based on the reactions and overall situation at the national level.
Within 72 to 96 hours of the issue of the order for full-scale mobilisation, five to six or more strike division battle groups must cross the IB directly from the line of march. These should be launching their break-in operations and crossing the “Start line” even as the forward divisions of the holding or pivot corps are completing their deployment on the forward obstacles. The initial thrusts should be followed up by additional ones after evaluating the success achieved and analysing the enemy’s reactions. Only such simultaneity of operations will unhinge the enemy, break his cohesion and paralyse him into making mistakes from which he will not be able to recover.

Options for Restructuring

Despite the lessons of Operation Parakaram and the public discussion of battle groups and cold start, most serving it army officers find the option of maintaining the status quo of retaining the three Strike Corps in their present form very is attractive. The reasons are understandable but should not is be acceptable. One possible option is to split the three strike corps into several division or division-plus size battle groups of the size and capaliyies of Russia’s famed OMGs (Operational ) (Manoeuvre Groups). While one each could be allotted to the holding (pivot) corps for providing an offensive punch to them, the others will need to be so structured that they are capable of Indipendant action , as directed by the command HQ These should be designated as Theatre and Army HQ reserves. Each one will need to be specifically structured to achieve on given objectives in the terrain in which it is expected to be launched and yet be flexible enough for two or more of them to fight dispersed under a Strike Corps HQ to bring to bear the combined weight of their combat power on a single objective the deep inside Pakistan. Hence, at least two of the three HQ of the present Strike Corps must be retained and should be capable of taking under command strike battle groups at short notice to achieve given objectives. The third Strike Corps HQ could be utilised to raise a Mountain Strike Corps by regrouping reserve formations.

Mountain Strike Corps

A strong case can be made out for a Mountain Strike Corps HQ for J&K, with a strike division each pre-positioned north and south of the Pir Panjal range and capable of moving to either launch pad quickly. Such a corps, organised, equipped and trained for an operational role across the LoC with Pakistan and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, would enhance the quality of India’s conventional deterrence in the northwestern Himalayas. A dissuasive strategy need not be purely defensive. In any future border war with China, the Indian Army must resort to offensive defence. If the fight has to be taken across the LAC on to the Tibetan plateau, the army must develop an offensive capability equivalent to the combat potential of a mountain strike corps. Even across the LoC with Pakistan, the capture of a major objective like the Haji Pir Pass will not be possible without a simultaneous offensive from the direction of Uri from the north and Poonch from the south.
In case push comes to shove and the conflict spills over from the mountains to the plains, the full combat power of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force (IAF) must be employed in a synergistic manner to bring to battle and completely destroy – the offensive combat potential of the Pakistan Army so that it I is cut to size once and for all. The art of generalship will lie in achieving this aim quickly without crossing Pakistan’s nuclear threshold, before the international community and the UN Security Council blow the whistle for a cease-fire. If this is not done, the next war will be as futile as the last few that India has fought.