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Many issues: Armed forces doctrine

Many issues: Armed forces doctrine
The Indian media is constantly worried about the threats emanating from two hostile neighbours: Pakistan and China. Thus, it is indeed a paradox that the media should take so little interest in defence matters. Late last month, Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, released a document that spells out India's Joint Armed Forces Doctrine. No public discussion about the policy has taken place in the media – both print and electronic.

The doctrine lays emphases on two aspects. The first is the total and complete integration of the three services – the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. The second is the preparation for cyberspace attacks and Special Operations. Cyberwar has become an essential element in modern warfare. The two recent successive failures of North Korea to make a missile launch is attributed to US cyber attacks. Meanwhile, Russia has threatened it can put out of action the US Navy with 'electronic bombs'. China is trying to make an electronic bomb as fast as it can. Where does India stand in this field?

Also, since India's indigenously built nuclear submarine Arihant was commissioned into the Indian Navy, it has been claimed that India has achieved the 'nuclear triad', meaning the ability to launch nuclear attacks from air, land and sea. An old proverb says that one swallow does not make a summer. Does a single nuclear sub complete India's much vaunted nuclear triad? Or, will the nuclear triad be complete when the six nuclear subs under construction join the Navy, hopefully by 2027?

To return to the integration of the three forces. The need for it was felt long ago, but defence experts say that to achieve integration of the three forces, the first thing to do is to create the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The army brass hats, present and retired, have hinted that the constant fear of a military coup has prevented the government, which includes the politicians and bureaucrats, to create the post of CDS. The Joint Forces Doctrine does not talk about having a CDS. The government will have to clarify its stand concerning the creation of a CDS which is said to be essential for perfect integration of the three forces.

Another vital part of the new war doctrine is that it says that surgical strikes will be a formal part of India's retaliatory measure against terrorist attacks launched from across the borders. If surgical strikes become a regular part of India's policy, then such strikes may invite retaliatory strikes by the enemy, leading to a localised war which can escalate first, into a full-fledged conventional war between India and Pakistan and in the next stage lead to a full-scale nuclear war. This is not fear-mongering because Pakistan has repeatedly said that it knows it cannot fight a conventional war against the immensely superior India and that in any conventional war it will launch a nuclear strike against India.

Are the defence authorities prepared for such a scenario and have they put in place the structure first to absorb and then neutralise such attacks? The people want to know because, after a nuclear war, there is likely to be no victor and no vanquished. Everybody will perish. In the present case, it is not India but Pakistan which will decide whether a localised war will escalate into a full-scale conventional war and then into a nuclear war. And then there is another factor: the growing China-Pakistan axis. In a full-scale Indo-Pak war, what will be China's role? Will India have to fight a war on two fronts? Is India prepared for such an eventuality?
Much is being said about the new doctrine document omitting the word 'minimum' from the 'minimum credible (nuclear) deterrence' and replacing it with 'credible deterrence'. The omission of the word 'minimum' does not imply any change in India's No First Use (NFU) policy formulated by the erstwhile A. B. Vajpayee Government. All successive governments, including the present one, have followed this policy. Today, a question has been raised whether India should stick to its NFU policy if it has credible information that the enemy is about to launch a nuclear attack. The question deserves serious attention given India's deteriorating security environment. There are several countries around India which possess nuclear weapons, and at least two of them are not friendly to India.

Nearly a decade and a half ago, in a book titled National Security: Military Aspects authored by five senior officials of the Indian Army, Navy, and Airforce, it was noted that "space technologies have brought in a military revolution in the command, control, communication, computerisation, intelligence, information, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4I2SR)" It warned that "The Gulf War employed a wide variety of new space and intelligence assets to assist mission planning, command and control of wars".

It concluded that "Undoubtedly both space and intelligence platforms are destined to become crucial force multipliers in future conflicts." The people of this country do not know how far India has made progress in these fields.

All future wars are likely to be 'hybrid' wars in which conventional warfare is conducted along with irregular warfare and cyber warfare. Cyber warfare is fast becoming an essential part of modern-day warfare. How far has India progressed in waging a cyber war or preventing one?

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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