Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may have told the country’s parliament last month that he doesn’t expect an attack by China, but India’s military is taking no chances.
The world’s second-largest army, which celebrated its 64th Army Day on January 15, is on the cusp of implementing a major transformation in its organizational structure and war strategies to meet a possible combined threat from China and its ally Pakistan.
The change follows more than half a decade of annual exercises involving one of India’s three strike corps and a desert corps, which have engaged in operations to fine-tune a strategy that would enable India to take Pakistan by surprise.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Under this concept, the defensive corps close to the border with Pakistan have been re-designated “pivot” corps, and have been handed enhanced offensive elements under integrated battle groups (IBG) that consist of division-sized forces comprising armor, artillery and aviation assets designed to swiftly hit Pakistan before the strike corps, located deeper inside India, would be able to mobilize.
This is supposed to offer India the so-called “cold start” option, under which the IBGs would swing into action in less than 48 hours.
Speaking to me for Indian broadcaster NDTV last week, Indian Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh explained the concept, although he refrained from actually referring to it as “cold start.”
“Our aim was to make the army more agile, more lethal, more responsive, and networked army that is able to meet with the future threats,” he said. “To that extent, certain steps were laid down. One of the things we looked at was the restructuring of our organizations into groupings that will take place in battle. So, we have validated these. Certain changes have come about because of our validation in test bedding. These are coming into effect.”
The transformation study, carried out under Singh while he was commanding the Eastern Army as part of a previous assignment, started validating the concepts from 2010. As the Times of India noted, Exercise Vijayee Bhava (Be Victorious), for instance, practiced blitzkrieg-style operations to hit the enemy hard at short-notice. According to the paper, it essentially revolved around the armor-intensive 2 Corps.
However, the two-month-long Exercise Sudarshan Shakti, conducted in November and December of last year, not only took the concept further, but added several new dimensions to India’s war-fighting theories. For the first time, the Army successfully used its satellites and UAVs to provide a real-time picture and information of the war zone to battlefield commanders.
In addition, real-time links between sensor and shooter were tested, which enabled commanders to make decisions instantly, even as information was being shared among platforms and personnel.
Led and implemented by the Indian Army’s biggest and most lethal formation, the 21 Corps, the exercise witnessed the participation of over 60,000 troops and 300 tanks and brought together all elements – including air power – on one single platform. The air power on display reportedly included combat jets like the Su-30 MKI, Jaguars, MiG-27 and MiG-21, AWACS and helicopters.