India's Army and Maritime Doctrines

16 Dec, 2004    ·   1589

Report of the Panel Discussion held at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies on 10 December 2004

Panelists: Lt Gen V Oberoi (Retd), Vice Adm V Koithara (Retd)
Chair: Maj Gen D Banerjee (Retd)]

Indian Army Doctrine: Lt Gen V Oberoi

  • A doctrine should offer basic guidelines for all arms and services. It should provide directional principles, or an "approach" to warfare, that are judiciously interpreted by military personnel.
    ?? It should be both enduring and dynamic, based on current or achievable capabilities. It is not a blueprint for future structures or plans.
    ?? It is not a concept of operations - it should provide a philosophical framework of war-fighting, not the mechanics of operations.
    ?? The new doctrine updates India's first publicly-released formal doctrine of 1998.

  • Chapters 1 and 2 cover the fundamentals of the Indian Army doctrine and warfare. In its discussion of the principles of war, the new doctrine includes an addition: intelligence.

  • Chapters 3 to 5 constitute the core of the new doctrine, covering all operational aspects, offensive and defensive.
    ?? The new doctrine emphasises several operational factors, especially force readiness, surprise and deception, the revolution in military affairs, directive command, and mobility.
    ?? The doctrine treats special forces as an adjunct to regular military operations; a framework for independent, covert operations in sub-conventional war is conspicuously absent.
    ?? The doctrine also covers operations other than war and non-combat operations, such as aid to civil authority, disaster relief, and UN peacekeeping operations. However, the doctrine fails to mention the prospect of coalition operations.

  • Chapter 6 deals with logistics, calling for a joint approach that maximises economy. It discusses the "revolution in military logistics," an approach that is more capabilities-based, flexible, and makes use of advanced information technology.

  • Chapter 7 is concerned with preparations for war, including force structuring, training, and intangible factors like professional and military ethos.
    ?? The force composition discussed in the doctrine is generalised and unchanged from the earlier doctrine. It includes types of forces like strike corps, pivot corps, and special forces, but conspicuously fails to mention nuclear forces.
    ?? The doctrine's discussion of training emphasises inter-operability, nonlinear operations, and manoeuvre warfare.

  • General Oberoi concluded with some general comments. He noted that the doctrine has a marked emphasis on manoeuvre warfare.
    ?? He disagreed with the doctrine's suggestion that the revolution in military affairs will have less of an impact on low-intensity conflict operations. He pointed out that future concepts of operations are not featured in the doctrine - it only mentions in passing notions of future threats and battlefield environment.
    ?? The doctrine focuses on conventional operations - while low-intensity conflict operations and operations other than war are mentioned, they are not emphasised.

  • Finally, General Oberoi opined that no part of the doctrine should remain classified. The purpose of a doctrine should be to generate public discussion, therefore a wide dissemination is important.

Maritime Doctrine: Vice Admiral Koithara

The Admiral in his presentation did not go to the basics regarding doctrines, their definition or differences with concepts as these issues were dealt by General Oberoi.

The Naval doctrine was broader in scope, larger in spectrum and was less detailed than the army doctrine. The last official doctrine was released by the Indian Navy in April 2004. While there are no records of any preceding doctrines from the Navy, there have been strategy papers and directions from time to time.

The Maritime doctrine has a two fold function. It is addressed to the Navy as well as at the other two services. The doctrine emphasizes the Navy's role in the overall defence framework. It sets out the issues applicable to the Navy in general and also lays out the basic concepts and attributes of the maritime requirement. The point to emphasize here is that the maritime doctrine is not merely the Naval doctrine, as the role of the Navy goes beyond its functional military role into the realm of economics and diplomacy. The doctrine is meant to guide the Indian Navy and chart a path for its future developments with respect to force development and such issues. In Admiral Koithara's view, the perennial problem of the Indian Navy is that the seat of political power is New Delhi which is far removed from the seas and its general culture does not understand maritime issues.

Mapping the increasing importance of the Indian Ocean, Admiral Koithara pointed out the fact that the bulk of the world's shipping passes through the Indian Ocean region between the Gulf of Oman and the Straits of Malacca. India has a maritime advantage over all the littoral states in the Indian Ocean region in terms of its strategic location. Increasingly, with liberalization, India's maritime trade has dramatically shot up as a result of the export-import orientation in policies as well as due to its energy imports. It is through the Indian Ocean that 90% of India's gas imports flow. These points explain the importance of the seas for India and therefore, that of maritime security.

Extra-regional Powers

The presence of extra-regional powers in the Indian Ocean has always been a sore point for the Indian Navy. India's improving relationship with the United States takes care of the presence of the US Navy in the North Indian Ocean region. However, even this benign presence of the United States restricts the actions of the Indian Navy in a region that India claims as its own. Over $100 billion of China's trade passes through the Indian Ocean and this is growing rapidly. It is expected that the Chinese will sooner than later increase their presence in the Indian Ocean and that is most likely to be with nuclear submarines. Pakistan is no threat to the Indian Navy but along with China the two countries together can be formidable, especially once the Gwadar port is operational. The last decade has seen the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) grow double in size.

Sea Control and Sea Denial

The Maritime doctrine remains important for laying the principle for sea-denial and sea-control. These are the two fundamentals of Maritime security . Sea-control is an offensive posture where the seas are under one's control and this requires air-support. Sea-denial is a defensive strategy wherein extra regional powers should be denied access to the seas. This is achieved more through submarines. The Admiral was of the opinion that the India's objective should be to achieve sea-control, however, ground realities today are different.

Littoral Warfare

In terms of actual military use the Admiral mentioned the importance of littoral warfare primarily against Pakistan. Littoral warfare could be used to throttle the enemy's Navy, it could support land operations and also maintain a blockade. Against extra-regional powers, like China, littoral warfare was not possible and the maximum the Navy could do was threaten trade ships. The doctrine lays less stress on Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM's), but that capability is more than a decade away.

Admiral Koithara then went into various other issues of the doctrine which were joint warfare, technology advances, operational changes, air capability and amphibious operations. The Admiral, in his conclusion, pointed to the growing international cooperation at sea among various countries of the world outside the alliance system. The doctrine did not, in Koithara's words, reflect any clear vision about the future.


Questions & Comments

1. Given that India has been invited to join the PSI, how will Indian Navy function under it? How will the Navy be able to contribute to limited warfare below a nuclear threshold like the army?

2. Isn't acquiring of sea-based technology fundamental to deterring the "extra-regional threats" that are mentioned in the doctrine?

3. At the national level, the doctrines become a mere set of guidelines because they are prepared in a void and do not take into consideration factors like resource constraint or capability. At the same time, there is no standard layout for the doctrines; for example, the Navy covers a wider canvas, but it lacks specificity and is thus vague.

4. The world seems to be thinking in terms of counter-terrorism and low intensity conflict (LIC), however, India seems to be neglecting this as reflected in the Army doctrine.

5. This doctrine is realistic because it is talking in terms of "today" and is thus not futuristic. The concept of 'Special Forces Operations' should be strategic rather than just "commando type operations".

6. Proper understanding of the purpose of the doctrine is very important on the basis of "what we have and what we need". The days of strategic wars are over and today we need to talk in terms of LICs. Inflicting harm on the enemy without going to war is the acme of strategic leadership.

7. There is no jointmanship within the three services thus resulting in a void and lack of networking which is ultimately due to distrust of each other. This affects the doctrines which are only theoretical pieces of work where tough issues are not tackled .

8. A doctrine is supposed to provide some philosophy of national defense whether it is offensive or defensive, etc. This lack of philosophy has left India helpless on many occasions like in 2002.

9. India has given a nod to the PSI, but is yet to join it. PSI remains illegal in international law. How much benefit will it bring to India?

10. The government has to be in command and take the lead, otherwise, formulating doctrines is a waste of time, because the armed forces are building capabilities that are not likely to be used. It is due to a lack of government initiative that one has to operate in a strategic void. It is for the strategic community, to demand of the government, a clear national doctrine.

11. Till recently India had no organisation for strategic thinking at the national level. We now have a national security council staff which should be in a position to issue national security policy doctrines after approval from the government.

12. This doctrine is completely aspirational in terms of each service trying to outdo the other. Why talk of RMA's when you do not have a revolution in personnel kit? At lower levels, the soldiers are not even aware of doctrines, so what is the use? The internal mechanisms play a more important role than the media in pushing for a national security doctrine. Perhaps it may take a few years yet.

13. The new doctrine emphasises maneouvre and network-centric warfare, which seeks to blind and paralyse the enemy. But in a crisis or war between nuclear rivals, clarity of information and communication is necessary to control escalation. How can the doctrine resolve this conflict?

14. Advanced countries like the United States and others have defense papers every year, why not India?

19. The Indian army's twin role of maintaining external and internal security is a colonial legacy which must be reconsidered. It is not amenable for a democratic country to have the army functioning as the police through powers such as the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

Responses from the Presenters

1. With the PSI there are two sets of issues. Will we do what the US wants us to do, or should we focus on our own interests? This ambiguity only leads to questions of interpretation of international law.

2. To deter extra-regional threats, there is no need for a surface based nuclear force. Rather, submarines that are difficult to identify and missiles that are sub-launched are required.

3. The lack of a national security doctrine does not mean that one is not thinking. The fact that there is an army doctrine which thinks in terms of future conflict means we are planning for these contingencies.

4. In India we are not talking merely in terms of capabilities or resource constraints but in terms of "threats approach". One must remember that doctrines are not about resources, organisation, structure, etc.

5. As far as jointmanship is concerned, in the army doctrine, only those aspects come in, in which the army can play a role.

6. The army should have full conventional war capability as well as to conduct LICs. However, the question of emphasis on which is not dealt-with in the doctrine. The Army should be prepared for full spectrum capability like the Americans.

7. The issue is not that of demise of conventional wars when you're talking of limited wars. India has been fighting limited wars since independence.