In view of India’s unresolved territorial disputes with China and Pakistan in the mountainous Himalayan region, there is a very high probability that the next major land conflict on the Indian sub-continent will again break out in the mountains and, in order to avoid the possibility of escalation to nuclear exchanges, the conflict will in all probability remain confined to mountainous terrain.
A strategic defensive posture runs the risk of losing some territory to the adversary if capabilities do not exist to be able to launch a deep ingress to stabilise the situation. India’s must upgrade its military strategy of dissuasion against China to that of genuine conventional and nuclear deterrence that can come only from the ability to take the fight deep into the adversary’s territory through the launching of major offensive operations. To achieve this objective, it is necessary to raise and position one mountain Strike Corps each in Jammu and Kashmir for offensive operations against China and Pakistan and in the northeast for operations against China. In addition, other defensive corps must be given limited capability to launch offensive operations with integral resources.
Manoeuvre is extremely limited in the mountains due to the restrictions imposed by the terrain. In the plains too India’s Strike Corps cannot execute deep manoeuvres due to the risk of Pakistan’s nuclear red lines being threatened early during a campaign. As firepower is the other side of the coin, it is necessary to substantially upgrade capabilities of the armed forces to inflict punishment and indeed achieve victory through the orchestration of overwhelming firepower, or else India will have to be content with a strategic stalemate.
These capabilities include conventionally-armed SRBMs to attack high value targets in depth. Air-to-ground and helicopter-to-ground attack capabilities need to be modernised, particularly those enabling deep ground penetration and accurate night strikes. In fact, the Indian Air Force should aim to dominate the air space and ground strikes must paralyse the adversary’s ability to conduct cohesive ground operations. Artillery rockets, guns and mortars must also be modernised. Lighter and more mobile equipment is required so that these can be rapidly moved and deployed in neighbouring sectors.
India’s holdings of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) continue to be low. In recent conflicts like the war in Iraq in 2003 and the ongoing Afghan conflict, PGMs have formed almost 80 per cent of the total ammunition used. Indian PGM holdings must go up progressively to at least 20 to 30 per cent in order to achieve high levels of operational efficiencies. India’s defence planners must recognise that it is firepower asymmetries that will help to achieve military decisions and ultimately break the adversary’s will to fight.
Capabilities for heliborne assault, vertical envelopment and amphibious operations are inadequate for both conventional conflict and dealing effectively with contingencies that might arise while discharging India’s emerging regional responsibilities. Two rapid reaction-cum-air assault divisions (with an amphibious brigade each) need to be raised by the end of the 13th Defence Plan, i.e. by 2017-22. The expenditure on these divisions will be highly capital intensive and will be subject to the defence budget being gradually raised to first 2.5 per cent and then 3.0 per cent of India’s GDP.
C4I2SR capabilities are still rudimentary in nature and must be substantially modernised to exploit the synergies that can be achieved by a network centric force. A seamless intelligence-cum-targeting network must be established to fully synergise the strike capabilities of air and ground forces in real time. A good early warning network will enable the army to reduce the number of troops that are permanently deployed for border management and will add to the reserves available for offensive operations. Infrastructural developments along the northern borders have failed to keep pace with the army’s ability to fight forward and must be speeded up.