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October 1, 2016

India’s cold start doctrine


October 1, 2016

From day one the Indian media and retired Indian generals and bureaucrats had been clamouring for revenge. It was presupposed that the raiders at Uri were Pakistani.

The options discussed for ‘punishing’ Pakistan in the Indian media were: 1) long-range artillery bombardment of Pakistani positions on the LoC and at so-called ‘terrorists’ camps in Azad Kashmir; 2) surgical strikes on these camps; 3) surgical strikes on Jaish-e-Mohammad and Jaamatud Dawa bases; and 4) a general offensive.

Having dithered for ten days the Indian army adopted for option 1 but announced that they had carried out a surgical strike against so-called ‘terrorists’ camps in Azad Kashmir (option 2). This is no doubt a lie.

First they said that the Indian raiders were para-dropped, then they said that the raiders landed via two helicopters, and finally it was said that the raiders infiltrated by foot. Apart from this, there are many more absurdities in their account. They may have succeeded in fooling the 1.2 billion people of their country, but not the world. Already, discerning Indian minds are asking for evidence of the surgical strike.

As for the general offensive (option 4), this could aim at seizing critical space in Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan (Skardu), and in southern Pakistan to split the country in two. It is in southern Pakistan that the Cold Start doctrine can be ideally employed. Following the attack on the Indian parliament building on Dec 13, 2001, the Indian government ordered the commencement of Operation Parakaram (Operation Victory), the largest mobilisation of Indian forces since 1971. It appeared that war was inevitable. Yet, after a 10-month-standoff, Operation Parakaram was terminated. India had lost face.

The main reason this happened was the time taken by the three strike corps to reach their wartime locations from central India. It took them three weeks during which time Pakistan was not only able to deploy its forces but also to internationalise the crisis.

After Operation Parakaram the Indian army concluded that the traditional doctrine was inflexible because of the huge size of the strike corps – they have long deployment times, are difficult to manoeuvre and their concentration in the forward areas gives away the general strategic direction they would adopt. And, above all, the doctrine inhibited a quick response to challenges posed by acts like the attack on the Indian parliament, Mumbai, Pathankot and Uri.

As a consequence, the Indian army developed a new limited war doctrine called Cold Start to respond to what it calls proxy wars by Pakistan. This doctrine would seek to inflict significant damage on the Pakistan Army before the international community could intervene. The essence of this doctrine is reorganising the army’s offensive power into eight smaller division-sized integrated battle groups (IBGs).

The IBGs are to be positioned close to the border so that three to five are launched into Pakistan along different axes within 72 to 96 hours from the time mobilisation is ordered. Patterned on the Israeli army’s concept of task forces, Cold Start envisages high-speed operations day and night to achieve objectives in the desired time and space framework.

In a war limited by time, the single-most important factor is mobility. But this requires a perfect matching of the physical means of mobility with the mobility of the mind, as the value of a highly mobile force can be reduced to zero by commanders whose minds are characterised by lack of imagination, initiative and flexibility.

In the 1965 war the Indian 1 Corps, spearheaded by the 1st Armoured Division, and in 1971 the same corps with eight tank regiments, had moved at infantry pace even though they were opposed by light covering troops. Changes in dispositions such as forming a new defensive line, reassigning of objectives, switching forces not in accordance with their original plan, took time. Above all, their commanders at all levels lacked enterprise, imagination and initiative.

Given this, while Cold Start is a sound concept – though not original – the Indian war directors need to question the ability of their commanders at all levels to execute it efficiently and sustain the advantage gained from striking first. The ‘law of the initial advantage of the aggressor’ assumes critical importance, as it is the aggressor who generally sets the pattern which operations will take.

The Germans in the Second World War and the Israelis in the 1956 and 1967 wars had translated the concept of blitzkrieg, characterised by surprise, speed and concentration, with devastating results against numerically superior forces because they had a flair for conducting high-speed operations with flexibility, rapidity and less military routine.

However, despite the weaknesses demonstrated by the Indian army in 1965 and 1971, the Pakistan Army does not underestimate their war potential. Suffice it to say, that the restructured Pak Army, has multiplied its capability to counter the Indian army’s IBGs or strike corps. 

The writer is a former armour and SSG officer. Email: [email protected]



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