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OP ED: Unpacking the thinking behind Indian defence strategy

Discussion in 'Military History & Tactics' started by jaibi, Jun 19, 2020.

  1. jaibi

    jaibi SENIOR MODERATOR

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    Unpacking the thinking behind Indian defence strategy
    indian army pdf.JPG
    As news keeps trickling in from Ladakh it seems vital to understand how did India end up here. That was no accident; we can see two colliding ideas about defence colliding and one, clearly, seems to be better than the other. I have covered the Chinese thinking strategically in another article here. I would like to turn this into a new direction where we try to unpack the Indian military’s mentality or better the guiding principle in my opinion on which they were operating.

    Echo of a bygone era

    Not too long ago the world was divided between the two most power nations on the planet: USSR and USA, an era called the Cold War. It was quite clear that the two nations could not co-exist and one would come on top. In the early developments of the long drawn conflict the USSR focused on conventional strength and as late as the 1960s it was thought even by Western intelligentsia that in a head to head conflict the USSR would probably be able to overcome the USA. The direct planned economy of the USSR was more favourable to a long drawn conflict like WW II; however, the nuclear weapons changed the game. The generals of the old thinking such as McArthur quickly found themselves ousted from positions where they did not appreciate the ramifications of a nuclear conflict being dramatically different from a conventional one. The USSR followed suit but the nature of the conflict changed.

    There were two things that the USA did to convert the strength of the USSR against itself: first of all was winning the cultural conflict; the USA had more reach and repeatedly advertised their cultural and moral superiority over their adversary. Even though the tactics deployed by both superpowers were at par with each other but the perceptions were quite different. The second, the USA engaged in supporting the antagonism of the USSR military such as the Afghan war but at the same time especially with the Regan administration, made the cost of being a superpower extremely expensive. They kept introducing new technology which was more and more expensive to maintain for the USSR if they ever hoped to have an edge over their counterpart. These two strategies eventually culminated with the collapse of the USSR economically without ever coming into direct conflict.

    Indian inspiration

    The Indian defence strategy seems to echo the same strategy as that of the USA to keep shifting the balance of power in terms of their strength so as to cause to make the adversary’s system become exhausted in the end. The second part was to outreach culturally with advertising their point of view to gain moral support and international outreach and support but for our analysis this is not important so we shall ignore it for now but I do appreciate the aspect which this was also the focus. One thing that they did differently was to focus on keeping conventional pressure over their adversary by repeated build ups over zones of conflict such as the buildup over in Kashmir but there was always the notion where they justified the escalation via playing the card of having to contain China as well but on ground focusing its efforts against Pakistan.

    We can assess each conflict that India has faced with Pakistan to be of the similar thinking: in 1971 it hit Pakistan’s naval assets which took considerable time to reestablish. The fabled ‘cold start’ doctrine was also to maximize damage in shortest amount of time. However, India has failed to assess Pakistan’s determination to maintain a balance of power and India’s claims of having a two sided conflict since 1962 when it first faced China has failed to materialize on ground otherwise they would have been prepared for what is happening right now.

    The lapse

    You can have the best strategies but if you are not tactically prepared then it can go out of the window and I think this is what we are seeing happening. The Indian military does not seem practically prepared for an active conflict relying on their strategic aims to ensure victory. Strategy is what you overall aim to achieve and tactics is how you do it; strategy is the architectural blueprint and tactics is the actual building materials. However, lapses in these two are extremely hard to balance because they are informed by a myriad of factors. For instance, the decision of the IAF to go for Rafael systems is, in my opinion, a tactical error because the new systems need to be incorporated into the air force before they can be useful. For the average reader I would like to inform that just getting equipment is not enough; every system of such nature with such high technical nature requires to orient the logistics system of the air force to cater to it because these machineries routinely breakdown and more importantly, the engineers need to learn how to fix and maintain it and lastly the pilots need to learn how to use the machinery to its capabilities. All of this takes time, quite a bit of time, actually; a decade is not an unreasonable estimate. To simplify, which weapon is the best? It’s not the one which is the most lethal on paper but the one you have practiced on the most.

    Peace time militaries

    The reason for this, in my opinion, is quite simple; a military’s greatest enemy is peacetime decay. Essentially military is a bureaucracy and during peacetime it is focusing on its bureaucratic functioning which hampers important lessons that it needs to learn in order to do its actual job. The economic boom that India was able to achieve seems to have affected its ability to function cohesively as a fighting force. Let’s take this example of the recent confrontation between the Chinese and Indian forces at Ladakh; in such an environment it is surprising that the commanding officer of the unit in question would not plan a possibility of the event that took place and an experienced force learns this; there is little interference on the ground level by superiors, such as the Brigade commander would not be telling the company commander how to arm each platoon that he had to take forward in his company because the on field commander needs to have flexibility to maneuver as the field changes.

    What we see happening is exactly what we see for peacetime militaries: the paper decides how to fight on ground and we see the same thing in their thinking as well. Unsubstantiated claims come out to congratulate themselves over each tactical error.

    Tactical error into strategic error

    How can the tactical error be exploited is quite simple: India seems to face staunch opposition now. Last year Pakistan answered areal incursions with an active response and India could not answer back satisfactorily much less the propaganda it projected which was never backed up by any independent observer. Now too, India seems to be going back to the same notion of claiming victory via similar means. However, any media victory does not equate to an actual one. The strategic thinking needs to change, China can economically sustain conflict with India and Nepal seems to have taken the same message to assert itself as well. The overhaul of the current top military brass is where the nation needs to head but given the recent political developments which have made a certain thinking to seep into the military would hamper that step. There seems to be no check against these decisions and that trajectory appears to go along. Unless India can translate a strategy which it is tactically capable of such escalations would see it lose continuously to a determined enemy which is playing on its strengths.

    Conclusion

    The current scenario places a new dynamic of non-interference from major powers in active conflict zones for various reasons but for the militaries of the contemporary world there needs to be a serious re-orientation needed to focus on versatility of operational capabilities. It is possible that militaries face counterinsurgency and conventional theatres at the same time. The same realization also needs to come into the political planning of the military development and deployment. In any case the current scenario is a lesson in constant military preparedness and operational readiness with realistic rather than ideological assessments of warfare.

    The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those held by PDF management.
     
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  2. Hakikat ve Hikmet

    Hakikat ve Hikmet ELITE MEMBER

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    "He doesn't learn anything new, or unlearns what he has already learnt" - Jinnah on Nehru

    "He was a great Hindu" - Jinnah in his condolences at the assassination of MK Gandhi

    "They are the friends of our enemies" - Jinnah seeing the Dacca University students revolting against the very essence of Pak, back in 1948, at the behest of their Hindu masters

    The key to success lies in studying Ikbal, Jinnah etc, with Iman, Ihlas and Uhuvvet....
     
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  3. jaibi

    jaibi SENIOR MODERATOR

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    Brother, I prescribe to the realistic school of thought. I do not think that ideological battles translate well into the battlefield. My article states the same. We need to assess things in terms of brutal pragmatism instead of relying on ideological lenses. Ideology has its place in political discourse but not in military affairs: it definitely informs the decisions to engage but the methods of engagement do not have anything to do with ideological aspects. I hope I'm clear. In the military we have many people of various backgrounds, some pray, some read comic books, some read novels, some read history in their free time and that's up to them. I would focus on them training and being ready to fight because it's the latter which would ensure victory not the former.
     
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  4. Hakikat ve Hikmet

    Hakikat ve Hikmet ELITE MEMBER

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    I, on the other hand, is keen on history, mindsets etc...

    If the character is there one can get back even after losing it all...

    Of course, the devils lie in the details, and the professionals slay them with the Zulfiker...
     
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  5. VCheng

    VCheng ELITE MEMBER

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    True, but finding a balance between this approach and the ideological bases of a nation, country and military is never easy, or indeed even possible at all times.
     
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  6. jaibi

    jaibi SENIOR MODERATOR

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    True, brother, which is why the way that governments deal with the military should be different than other bureaucracies. Sometimes those who don't have the shiniest papers are the best ones for the job and I think it's this corrosion which stirs such costly mistakes.
    Precisely, but to a fighter it's more about the actual fighting rather than introspection, brother.
     
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  7. VCheng

    VCheng ELITE MEMBER

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    Momin ho to beytegh bhi larta hey sipahi ....

    What the military lacks in resources it tries to make up by motivation by whatever means necessary. It simply is a logical consequence.
     
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  8. Hakikat ve Hikmet

    Hakikat ve Hikmet ELITE MEMBER

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    With the motivation you can build the military industrial complex from the scratch and fight against all the enemies under Iblis...

    One example, with which some folks are conducting ops in 3 different countries plus the Eastern Mediterranean, against those supported by the best from the Ehl-i Dunya...

    upload_2020-6-19_11-17-44.png

    https://www.ssb.gov.tr/urunkatalog/en/
     
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  9. VCheng

    VCheng ELITE MEMBER

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    Yes, of course. Motivation, and then the capital, economic, scientific and human, to capitalize on it to deliver results. It is a time-honored formula true through the ages.
     
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  10. Hakikat ve Hikmet

    Hakikat ve Hikmet ELITE MEMBER

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    Amin...
     
  11. jaibi

    jaibi SENIOR MODERATOR

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    That motivation has to be translated into on ground action such as tougher training, riskier ops, a tactically sound NCO etc., without that it doesn't amount to anything.
     
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  12. Joe Shearer

    Joe Shearer PROFESSIONAL

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    Really thought-provoking. Although it anticipates some conclusions that should emerge from the thread on India -Pakistan conflicts, this is an interim reply based on the difference between the strategic and tactical positions that India faces vis-a-vis Pakistan and vis-a-vis China.

    Two points: first, India used the cultural conflict very effectively against one opponent; at this moment, what the world thinks about the situation can be defined in the opinions expressed by Hussain Haqqani and Christine Fair. I know that they and their views revolt most Pakistani commentators, but they have enormous influence over expert opinion, thence, over public opinion.

    Second, India has not yet used this effectively against China, although the opportunities are clearly visible. At the moment, China is nobody's favourite country. On the other hand, actively running down China will lead to a backlash. So the bhakts, the Tweet crowd and the Internet Hindu have to be eliminated for the world to take notice of the differences between China and India, and to come to favour India's cause.

    This second has not been done.
     
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  13. Meliodas

    Meliodas FULL MEMBER

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    It has been a longtime since the world has seen a real war, as the conflicts dubbed as war by come are actually more of a simulation game where instead of coming face 2 face countries fight through proxies or fight an opponent thats far behind in terms of resources, strength and infrastructure.

    Indians have thought for long that killing Kashmiris or Maoists with an overwhelming resource backing is a war and are conveying the same tactic on the ground which is faulty. Also the last time India was in war was in Kargil, where it was against a sanction ridden foe with a severe disadvantage of resources and India capitalized in it by pulling in all its weight in a tiny area of Kargil. But in current scenario it's force multipliers don't give her an upper hand causing her arrogant war tactics to fail miserably.
     
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  14. Joe Shearer

    Joe Shearer PROFESSIONAL

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    This, too, deals with strategy, and is a preliminary to considering @jaibi 's essential point, where are the tactics, where are the battle skills, and where is the war-fighting ability?

    Again, it is convenient to consider this point in terms of the contrasts between what has been done, what has been done vis-a-vis an existing opponent, and what might be done against another existing opponent.

    What has been done in terms of scientific achievement has been nothing short of magnificent. Without descending into an alphabet soup, just using one example is sufficient - ISRO. That is what Indian STEM talent is capable of, on the professional front, leave aside for a moment their potential for harm on the social and the political front. What is more, generally Indian scientific and technical achievement has flourished in pockets in India, but has reached cult proportions in the west. In other words, there is a lot of headroom between what is visible already, and what can be targeted in the near future. What is the difference due to? Two words, bureaucracy and budgets. Where freed of bureaucratic interference (not of bureaucratic oversight), India has done extremely well, or would have done extremely well, if....

    That if is the budget if.

    The sadhu on a bed of nails budgets of ISRO are an international joke, and that organisation has flourished in spite of that. That kind of mindless parsimony crippled the effort to build an Indian jet engine, and has crippled the effort in a number of other strategic areas as well.

    Second, how has India done against others? taking one opponent, India has done extremely well. That is not to gainsay a certain knack for getting to grips with the situation displayed across our western borders, but in terms of fundamental research and development, India has done rather well.

    Taking another opponent, we are absolutely swamped. Here, the issue is not merely bureaucracy and budget, but belief as well. For far too long, we have been fed with stories of the superiority of the other; these stories are all true, and all irrelevant. We need to work collectively to overtake that challenging mental overhang, and we need not expect tangible results on the second day of starting.

    (to be cont.)

    To some extent, strategy dictates tactics. To some extent, equipment dictates tactics. Strategically, the PLA has of recent years concentrated itself on the eastern seaboard and on the Taiwanese shores; the build-up in Ladakh was very recent and part of what is emerging as a planned move to keep India off-balance, for a variety of reasons.

    This immediately gives India a tactical dividend. The countries have an asymmetric relationship on their borders; China is important for India, India is not important for China. That enables India to maintain larger troop concentrations on the boundaries compared to the Chinese. It also enables India to adopt the precise tactics adopted by a weaker opponent against her. That means India should be ready to attack at any time and at all times; being the weaker power, it is easier for it to offer challenges to the stronger power, and more appropriate as well, in full knowledge of the fact that the stronger power is busy elsewhere, and that there will be every opportunity to strengthen troop concentrations if troops movements are detected.

    Any resemblance to the India-Pakistan strategic and tactical situations is entirely imaginary.
     
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