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Military Doctrines: Next steps

Ali Ahmed was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • August 16, 2010

    The press release on the latest doctrine issued informs that, “The joint doctrine for air-land operations would serve as the cornerstone document for use of military power in a joint warfare scenario when the Army's infantry, armoured and artillery strengths are used alongside Air Force's fire power. It establishes the framework of concepts and principles to understand the approach to planning and conduct of air-land operation in a conventional war scenario.” Not being in the open domain, it can be taken as no more than what the press statement alludes to: the application of air power in a land campaign. Is this advance enough?

    In the absence of a CDS, this recent release at best represents a minimal consensus between the two Services in integrating air power with land power. Another document integrating air power in naval operations is in the offing. What is missing is a joint approach to war-fighting between the Services. A joint doctrine dating to 2006 exists; but the silence that has surrounded it since and the fact that an additional, if supplementary, joint doctrine was felt necessary reflects on its credibility. Clearly, there is scope for doctrinal integration.

    The Services have been doctrinally fecund over the past decade. The Army has arrived at ‘Cold Start’ which envisages early launch of limited offensives. These can be built upon by strike corps depending on the political decision on the nature of the war. Envisioning a strategic role for itself, the Air Force’s bid is for gaining air dominance at the earliest. This is, in order thereafter, to pursue a strategic infrastructure busting and military attrition campaign. This relegates its support for land forces to a supplementary role. For its part, the Navy, addressing a wider canvas and willing maritime-mindedness in the nation, has expansively named its doctrine, ‘India’s Maritime Doctrine’.

    The doctrines are primarily prompted by the structural factor in terms of changes in the regional security situation and learning there from. The impact of Kargil and Operation Parakram have been to energise Limited War thinking and the Cold Start doctrine respectively. Also deepening of strategic culture through growing national power indices, expansion in the strategic community and changes in the political landscape including cultural nationalism have been influential. Lastly, bureaucratic politics surrounding expanding defence budgets and the need to keep the respective Service relevant in the nuclear age are also impelling factors.

    The consequence of these pulls and pushes is that the Services are bidding to pursue ‘parallel wars’. While campaigns, though interdependent, can be relatively distinct from each other, separate Service-specific ‘parallel’ wars are difficult to concede in principle.

    Firstly, this amounts to suboptimal use of military power. Synergy that raises the whole to a level higher than the sum of its parts would be missing. Mere co-ordination would not suffice. Secondly, against a nuclear armed opponent, even if action of each Service is individually below assessed nuclear thresholds, the cumulative impact of the three both physically and psychologically could yet trigger off a nuclear threshold. Besides, levels of diplomatic coercion and covert intelligence operations also need factoring in. Thirdly, political control would be difficult since each Service will vie for the lead role in the multiple campaigns.

    With the integrating document missing, it is only political aims and the limiting parameters set in the run up or at the outset of a war that would bring about a unity of effort. While conceding that military doctrine formulation is a specialised activity, it can no longer be done in individual bureaucracies respectively or by the military independently. The sphere of autonomy of the military having been considerably attenuated by nuclearisation, there is a case for greater political oversight and bureaucratic participation.

    The political aim may be to reduce the Pakistan Army’s potential to control the Pakistani state post-hostilities and any influence over the future peace. The other possible aim that usually finds mention is capture of territory. The latter is not discussed here since it appears to be a holdover from the previous century.

    Piecing together the commentary on ‘Cold Start’ so far, the strategy apparently comprises launching of pivot corps limited offensives supplemented with strike corps resources. This would be done along with the Air Force wresting the initiative in the air in the early stages of the war. This phase would set the stage for punishment administered by the strike corps and by the Air Force. A combination of posturing, employment of strike corps, and application of operational level degradation fire assaults would force enemy strategic reserves into the open for the Air Force, in combination with the land forces, to degrade them. A clear aim and method emerges.

    The political level consideration on the aim needs to be, one, whether the Pakistan Army will ride away into the sunset without a nuclear bang, and, two, if this attempt at compellence, virtually amounting to regime change, would not instead get a worse alternative into the saddle in Pakistan.

    On the methods, there needs to be an outlining of parameters of limitation. Though a ‘short, sharp’ high-intensity war is projected by the Services, it is also the sales pitch for the option of war. The Services do not have an explicit Limited War doctrine. The limitation will be dependent on the political aim set and the parameters given by the political leadership when in sight of conflict. The Services believe that, as in Kargil, they are flexible enough to deliver within set limits.

    Three problems however arise. One is ad hocism that may attend decision making with crisis as the backdrop. The second is the problem with compellence strategy, which involves keeping the promise of more punishment to come to get the rational, military decision maker in Pakistan to oblige on stated demands. In this is inherent the escalatory dynamic. Besides, what the war does to the internal political complexion in Pakistan is uncertain. The cases of Germany in WWI and Japan in WWII and Iraq in Iraq War II are instructive. The third is gauging how much punishment administered is ‘enough’ to remain short of nuclear thresholds. This cannot be dependent solely on bomb damage assessments internal to the military.

    That India has managed warfighting credibly earlier resulted in its martial triumphs, 1971 and Kargil. This was in both the circumstances: of availability of time and in face of shortage of it. Therefore, there is no denying that it can be done again. The question is: Need it be so?

    The next round may be taken on the run, as the term ‘Cold Start’ implies. Additionally, examples of shortfalls of integration also exist alongside, such as the 1965 War and in operations short of war like the IPKF episode. Institutionally, the national security bureaucracy has made considerable progress since the Kargil Committee Report. Doctrine formulation would generate and reflect a ‘whole of government’ approach, as was intended. The fear of militarization of governmental thinking, holding back next steps, need not necessarily happen. Instead, the military prong would be suitably ensconced in a wider grand strategy. What needs to be done?

    Firstly, greater doctrinal involvement of the MoD, in conjunction with the NSCS and the MEA, and not forgetting the R&AW is necessary. An opportunity is the five-year review of the Joint Doctrine 2006, possibly due next year and therefore considerations on which can be expected to be underway. Such an exercise deserves wider participation.

    Secondly, a separate joint Limited War doctrine needs to be brought out on the only kind of war feasible in the nuclear age. A written document on what the concept means in the Indian context will be useful in intimating the adversary of our thought content. This will help build a common understanding since limitation is a shared aim between nuclear armed adversaries.

    Institutionally, the next step is clearly the creation of a CDS. The inescapable doctrinal implication of this post is the integration of conventional and nuclear doctrine. We must be prepared for enemy nuclear first use contesting our view that nuclear weapons are only ‘political weapons’. In the event, the double-hatted COSC or NSA would be found wanting as substitutes for a CDS. Next, unity of effort cannot be brought about by the Defence Secretary. He would be handling and answering for the sinews of defence. Third, receiving institutionally-informed military advice from three sources, in the form of three Chiefs of Staff, is not good enough. A COSC, also representing his Service, cannot also pitch in as a single point source. A happy circumstance of good interpersonal relations can be no compensation. Culmination of the post-Kargil restructuring is necessary. This cannot be a bottom-up exercise, which first awaits a consensus among the Services, or as is projected, between political parties.