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​India is undertaking major military reforms to enhance its capability to fight possible wars with Pakistan and China as Prime Minister Narendra Modi settles into his second term.


The reforms are redrawing military concepts and formations and junking plans that have prevailed for more than 80 years in institutions that have been slow to reform. They are also moving forces up much closer to the front lines for quicker mobilization. Previously, this used to happen only when war was imminent.


In the seven decades since independence, India has fought five wars, launched two expeditionary operations and built the third-largest standing army in the world. But the structures and methods of fighting a war have remained the same, with some incremental changes implemented periodically.


However, all that changed when India was surprised by Pakistani military intrusions in Kashmir and a sharp, short conflict, known as the Kargil war, was fought in the summer of 1999. This resulted in a realization that modern warfare needed new ideas.


On December 13, 2001, Pakistani terrorists stormed India’s Parliament. India reacted with fury and mobilized the army under Operation Parakram and sent them to the border and war seemed imminent. But 10 months later the Indian Army returned to its barracks, after international pressure and mediation drew promises from Pakistan to rope in terror attacks from its soil.


However, Indian military planners knew their age-old plans and formations for war had been rendered useless, and it was time to draw up new plans.


Fighting new wars


The Pivot Corps were essentially defensive formations that can turn around and launch offensive operations once the strike formations established dominance. However, this became obsolete as the Pakistanis and Chinese also changed their strategies.


“Cold Start was a vague term. We knew that any military operation was unlikely to last for a long time due to international pressure,” said Lieutenant General KJ Singh, an armored corps officer who rose to head India’s Western Army Command.

“冷启动是一个模糊的术语。我们都知道,由于国际压力,任何军事行动都不可能持续太长时间,”KJ Singh中将说。他曾是一名装甲部队军官,后来晋升为印度西部陆军司令。

“Therefore, we had to fall back on the concept of SNIPE – Short Notice Intense Proactive Escalatory operations. The fighting elements of our Strike Corps were too far behind the front lines, and they were too large to mobilize without being noticed. This needed to change.”


India is now moving towards Integrated Battle Groups, that are much smaller than the Corps but carry nearly as much firepower. It is taking the key elements of offensive operations from its Strike Corps, while also dipping into the Pivot Corps. This meant freeing up a lot of “captive” offensive capabilities and combining them for optimum use.


“We realized that Pivot Corps had significant reserves of armor and infantry. So we can look at eight to 10 independent battle groups in a situation where we only had one Strike Corps,” Hooda said.


In regard to China, the traditional strategic thought in India for decades was that size would be the decisive factor. By 2012, India was all set to raise a Strike Corps for offensives against China.


“The idea was that we need a ratio of 9:1 superiority to tackle any adversary in the mountains. But the costs and the challenges of maintaining such a massive force with a chronic resource crunch made that impossible,” a senior serving military official told Asia Times.

“我们当时的想法是利用9:1的人数优势,来阻挡(中国)在山区进行的任何进攻行动。但是在长期资源短缺的情况下,维持如此庞大部队所需的成本和挑战,都让这件事成为不可能,”一名现役高级军官告诉Asia Times。

“At that time when cabinet sanctions came for 17 Corps, framed as a Strike Corps against China, we planned for three army divisions (about 12,000 personnel). But the funds never came so we started the new formations with existing war reserves. But as the Northern Army commander I couldn’t spare any, because all my troops were engaged in active operations in Kashmir and on the borders,” Hooda said.

“当时内阁批准从17个军中抽调人员,组成一个打击军团来对抗中国,所以我们计划建立三个师(大约12000人)。但是资金从未到位,所以我们开始用现有的战争储备开始新的编队。但是作为北方军司令,我无法抽出任何部队,因为我所有的部队都在克什米尔和边境地区执行任务,”Hooda 说。

These practical problems and a lack of funds forced the army to drop two of the planned three divisions. Today, 17 Corps has only one division that is being converted into independent battle groups.


Unlike in the past, all major strike formations have been moved forward to their operational areas. This has greatly reduced the time needed to mobilize existing formations from a month to days. However, the size and orientation of the formations were unchanged until the latest exercise began.


“My recommendation was to do this in a three-year phase. Create test beds to exercise battle plans, review lessons learnt in the second year and then formally implement it in the third year,” said Hooda.


Many serving and retired generals have also raised doubts about a Corps commander managing too many independent battle groups at a time. “This needs to be addressed from a command and control perspective,” another serving senior general said.


Gaps remain


In September 2016, Pakistani terrorists struck an Indian brigade headquarters in the Uri sector in Kashmir, which led to India retaliating and launching raids by Special Forces units.


“Those were synergized multiple cross-border raids. But they failed to deter Pakistan and terrorists again struck India in February 2019. Our air strikes on Balakot in Pakistan in February this year has helped create a new threshold below the nuclear threat,” General KJ Singh said.

“这些都是协同的多处跨境突袭行动。但是却未能遏制巴基斯坦和恐怖分子再次于2019年2月对印度发起袭击。我们今年2月对巴拉科特的空袭帮助创造了一个低于核威胁的新的门槛,”KJ Singh将军说。

While the Modi government has given the go-ahead to make these far-reaching changes, it also needs to work on cyber warfare and look at weapons that threaten its satellite assets in space.