Integrated battle groups: Updated ‘game theory’ of Indian defence

Amongst the black days in the history of India, the attack on the Indian Parliament (the nucleus of our constitution), on 13th December 2001, goes down as one of the most glaring & daring terrorist activities. It was aimed to strike a destabilizing blow on the very morale of our country.

In response to this dastardly act of war on our nation, the then Indian Government headed by the highly respected Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, decided to spark off a military coercive mobilization of our troops. The aim was to practically demonstrate that neighbours harbouring trouble makers will not be shown the benevolent gesture of non-violence, anymore.

Indian armed forces were given orders for deployment, with frantic last minute military strategies being underway at South Block, New Delhi. The timing, could not have been more opportune if not premptive. Thus, triggered Operation Parakram, a massive military mobilization, which was to result in the 2nd major military stand-off between Indian and Pakistan, since the Kargil War.

The casus belli had been provided by Pakistan based proxy terror operators in the view of India always having that frontal military edge over its Western Neighbour.

Yet, vestigial delivery systems and non-development of tactical nuclear strike capabilities meant that war drums kept beating without the green signal ever being given. 800 deaths in the military ranks and a mobilization cost of ~USD 2 billion, not to speak of equipment wear & tear, finally opened up the myopic thought process of the defence think tanks of the country. It resulted in underlining the glaring loop holes in the till then implemented Sundarji Doctrine.

The Indian strike corps (being clumsily big and far away) took 3 weeks to get to the border. The holding corps, situated close to the border, had limited offensive power, which was meant only for checking Pakistani advances and not for engaging in significant offensives. The long duration of mobilization resulted in losing the element of strategic surprise, allowing Pakistan, time for counter-mobilization. The element of tactical surprise had been lost due to the time taking slow mobilization process giving ample window for international intervention which prevented India from exercising compellance on its mischief mongering neighbour. The usual Indian political practice of toothless coercive diplomacy once again had been utilized.

The potholes exposed by the exercise of Operation Parakram resulted in the rejection of the Sundarji Doctrine and the development of a cold start military doctrine.

According to this doctrine, the strike corps can begin offensive ops within 48 hours of issuance of go ahead orders, with armoured spearheads being launched from forward positions, to achieve element of surprise. The absolute emphasis is concentrated on overwhelming firepower at breakneck speed, to strike inside enemy territory while catching them unawares. The doctrine advocated the usage of significant air support cover during such offensives.

The Indian defence forces’ matrixes finally officiated the plan of integration of integrated battle groups (IBGs) during 2019 with the design of such IBGs being self contained and agile formations which can hit hard through rapid mobilization.

Each IBG is estimated to be of approximately 5000 soldiers with a concoction of artillery, armoured, infantry, air defence, engineers, signals, logistics etc. The amalgamated IBGs will in near future be commanded by Major Generals and will be larger than brigades but smaller than divisions.

The IBGs are to be configured based on terrain, task objective and nature of threat. For example an IBG deployed in the eastern borders will revolve more around light artillery and infantry movement as compared to that deployed in western borders, in which case, the focus will be more on heavier artillery and tank movements.

The three corps are expected to initially raise 8 IBGs, with the efficacy of these being validated over a period of 4 years before more are set up.

The biggest challenge in the face of such IBGs is enemy anti-tank forces as well as mechanized tank forces. The second critical obstacle will be that of ammunition resupply and refuelling logistics during pitch battles in fluid and hostile scenarios. Also there are critical views that the teeth i.e. the sledgehammer effect of the strike corps will be diluted since formation of such IBGs mean that a big hammer is being broken down into smaller hammers which will be occupied in fighting more localized battles which will take a defensive approach. This according to certain military analyst critics blunts the coercive edge to challenge the enemy’s strategic depth.

But it is better to experiment with strategic sharp toothed responses than be sitting ducks with obsolete doctrines. The proxy war has evolved. India’s defence evolution should always be a step ahead.

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