Manoeuvre and Firepower are the two essential ingredients of warfare. In the current milieu, our Western adversary is doing his best to nullify India’s conventional superiority by lowering his threshold on the usage of nuclear weapons. However, the Tactical Nuclear Weapons which Pakistan boasts of are cold tested and their usage against mechanised columns would causelimited casualties only. Indian Armed Forces must realistically view the situation and respond to Pakistan’s proxy war in a calibrated manner and undertake operations where their superiority in conventional strength must expose Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. It is indeed creditable of Prime Minister Modi to point out Pakistani fault lines in Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) to caution that country from interfering in India’s domestic problems.
Sub Conventional Challenge
Pakistan has been fighting a proxy war with India since 1990. It has realised, post the Kargil Conflict of 1999, that it is the best manner in tackling India which enjoys a conventional superiority. There have been a series of hostile actions, with the crescendo being reached in Mumbai on 26 November 2008 and the openly supported agitations in the Kashmir Valley since 08 July 2016, consequent to the killing of Burhan Wani, a terrorist who was the commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen. It is interesting to note that all such hostile actions are launched by nonstate actors from Pakistan. They undertake these operations as Fourth Generation warriors and cause chaos, consternation and casualties in India’s hinterland. Pakistan perpetually denies any hand in these activities. Diplomatically, India has left no stone unturned in giving details to Pakistan about its covert support to the militants. The Pakistanis are good listeners and understand that issues get diluted with the passage of time. They continue protracted negotiations taking one step forward followed by a step backwards. The media and the Indian establishment speaks optimistically that issues would improve and soon a militant attack takes place and we are caught unaware as to how it happened. In the debates and statements Pakistan denies and at the same time cautions India, that they are a country possessing nuclear weapons and India should not cross the rubicon to settle outstanding disputes.
In such a situation where diplomacy does not work, Indian options could be to curtail water flows into Pakistan or use Hard Power. These are often discussed at all forums but when push comes to shove, India becomes a bit circumspect. Now that the United States is putting India on the same pedestal as its allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, it is time India changed its stance and responded appropriately to fourth or possibly fifth generation warriors from across the border attacking our police stations, Army and Air Force Bases. It is assessed that these attacks are the handiwork of the ISI which functions directly under the Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Army. Since the Army and the Pakistan Civil administration are not on the same page, these attacks will continue to bleed the Indian Armed Forces. It is pertinent to note however, that for the first time in its history, the Pakistan Army is fighting militancy in all its four provinces. This would continue as it continues to irrationally differentiate between a good and bad terrorist, little realising that both are one and the same.
It is gradually becoming clear to India’s decision makers that present methods are only skirting the problem to deal with Pakistani use of covert hard power; Indian response has been defensive, with limited results. A change of approach is called for and such attacks instigated from across the border need to be effectively responded to. On the civilian side, calibrating the flow of water in a manner that Pakistan feels the pinch is one option. Militarily, the line of control needs to be activated. This should be done carefully after removing the civilians to safer places and long range artillery used to hit at Pakistani field works, command and control centres and gun areas. Pakistan’s capability in terms of guns and ammunition is inferior to India’s. The Indian artillery has the capability to undertake sustained fire which would play havoc with Pakistan’s command and control systems, lines of communications and day to day routine in his defences on the LOC. India has the capacity to silence enemy guns and decimate other targets. It would be worthwhile remembering that in November 2003, Pakistan unilaterally declared cease fire which India graciously accepted. The Pakistan offer was prompted by Indian domination of artillery fire, and Pakistan was running out of options to undertake sustained artillery duels.
The next aspect pertains to India’s superior conventional forces. If the Pakistani Army does not alter its path by Indian domination of the LOC, there would be a need to undertake conventional military operations which would entail use of Intermediate Battle Groups in the mountains and riverine terrain in conjunction with deep strikes in deserts. While the Battle Groups would be used in shallow thrusts, the strike formations would undertake deep strikes. Pakistan has lowered its nuclear threshold and threatens to use TNWs against such an offensive. The Pakistani bluff needs to be called.
The TNW is a cold tested weapon and its range being limited would have to be deployed in the field, about 40 km from the border making it vulnerable to Indian air and missile attacks. Nuclear weapons of Pakistan are for deterrence, and providing parity with India in a politico strategic realm. The actual possibility of use of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons is near zero. Senior Pakistani officers have categorically stated that the Indian response to Pakistan’s first use would be total holocaust. An exercise carried out in late 2010, indicated that even 90 TNWs cannot stop an Indian armoured division thrust, moving dispersed on a 30 km frontage. There would be a minimum inescapable requirement of 436 TNWs to stop an Armoured Division. With the reported accelerated production of plutonium from three military dedicated reactors in Khushab and a fourth under construction it would result in an inventory of 200 warheads by 2020. To further compound to the existing problem, the issue of miniaturising the warhead to fit into the Nasr missile with a 30 cm diameter is a complex engineering problem. Further, data shows that a TNW use against a combat group moving dispersed over an 8 km front would at best produce 25 casualties and damage to about four tanks. Accordingly, not much should be read into the TNW threat and the Indian Army must retain the option of Deep Strikes, particularly in the Southern theatre. The Artillery must work towards locating the Nasr and develop possibly with external assistance, a Make in India project to destroy the Nasr in flight.The entire response must be synergised to take the fight to Pakistani soil. The entire strategy calls for a changed offensive mindset which must work out the details and synergise the leaders, bureaucracy and the Armed Forces to meet the Pakistani challenge.
Executing the Manoeuvres in Desert Terrain
In our area of operations, the ideal terrain for executing manoeuvre would be the desert region. Our mountains lack space and the plains are full of water obstacles which would result in time consuming break in operations which would be deliberate and enable us to undertake shallow thrusts. The deserts would have a set of minefields which could be negotiated with greater speed and intervening strong points as also nodes based upon the operational plan of the formation could be bypassed, isolated, invested or finally captured. Normally, a mechanised formation with an armoured division, about two Reorganised Army Plains Infantry Divisions (RAPID), an independent armoured brigade, an engineer brigade, air defence elements and an artillery division with adequate air support from the Indian Air Force, would be the force required. The aim of the operation would be to capture an important communications centre as also destroy the enemy’s mechanised reserves. Prior to the operation, surveillance would be undertaken in the areas of interest using all surveillance equipment with heavy reliance on remote sensing satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The operations would involve possibly the following phases:-
- Degradation of key objectives by air, artillery including rockets and missiles. The artillery division to suitably decimate forces and ensure effective engagements with Post Strike Damage Assessment by UAVs.
- Capture of selected enemy border out posts (BOP). They must be pulverised by artillery fire to facilitate quick capture.
- Advance across three thrust lines using the mechanised spear heads.
- Speedily cross his forward defensive minefield, intermediate defensive minefield and depth defensive minefields. Undertake encounter and opportunity crossings wherever possible. Reach the projection area to undertake a tank versus tank battle against strategic reserves of the enemy.
- Based on the operational plan, mechanised forces would bypass, contain and isolate strong points on the axis of advance. To open an axis of maintenance a selected node or a strong point to be captured using the mechanised formation and thereafter suitable track be developed for move of ammunition and supplies.
- Launch a sizeable heliborne force to capture a lightly held objective in depth. One of the mechanised spearheads to link up as early as possible with this force. Medium artillery and close air support must be provided to the force.
- Entire operations should be completed as early as possible. Likely time would be about 96 hours.
It is envisaged that the enemy would try and impede the momentum of advance by employing his reserves at the divisional level, operational level and strategic level. The manoeuvres would be in consonance with other thrusts in the mountains, which would be against terrorist training centres, in the plains on enclaves and the deep strike in terrain stated above. The entire operations would be short, swift and lethal. It is essential that the Indian Army acquires two major weapon systems for the manoeuvres. These are the Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) and the Loitering Missile. Both these weapon systems would enable precision destruction of targets. During the manoeuvre, cyber operations must be undertaken to ensure degradation of enemy communications and data links; synergy of these will pay rich dividends.
India’s Western adversary needs to be dealt with in an offensive manner to ensure that it stops interfering in India’s internal affairs. Further, India must exploit its conventional superiority to exploit issues to advantage without buckling to nuclear blackmail. India’s mechanised spearheads are trained and they must be used if push comes to shove.
An alumnus of the NDA, the DSSC, and the NDC, New Delhi, Maj. Gen. PK Chakravorty, VSM was commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery on 31 March 1972. A Silver Gunner in the Long Gunnery Staff Course, the General has commanded a Medium Regiment and a Composite Artillery Brigade. He was Major General Artillery of an operational command, Commandant of Selection Centre South in Bangalore and Additional Director General Artillery at Army Headquarters prior to his retirement on 31 December 2010. He has also served as the Defence Attaché to Vietnam. An M Phil from Madras University, he is a prolific writer on strategic subjects and a NCR based Defence Analyst.