The doctrine’s ambitious purpose, in principle, is to help provide a framework for an integrated approach to warfare by all the three branches of the Indian armed forces. However, the JDIAF makes little substantive progress toward force integration among the three services.
“The concepts of Military Power application of the three Armed Forces have congruence in the fact that manifestation of effect (consequent to force application) ultimately has to fructify on land.”
The Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces report (JDIAF) was recently released by Admiral Sunil Lanba, chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). The report identifies what the Indian military considers to be national values, aims, and interests drawn from the Constitution of India and how these influence Indian military doctrine. It also outlines new priorities for India’s military, including a willingness to perform “surgical strikes” within enemy territory as deemed necessary to counter terrorism. However, the doctrine’s ambitious purpose, in principle, is to help provide a framework for an integrated approach to warfare by all the three branches of the Indian armed forces. Unfortunately, however, the JDIAF makes little substantive progress toward force integration among the three services even though this would arguably maximise warfighting capabilities and reduce budgetary inefficiencies among the three services. This lack of progress implies the determination of bureaucratic interests in the individual service branches to preserve their own interests, rather than maximise combat performance and efficiency.
Primacy of land-based and special operations
The document describes India’s primary threats as emanating from its borders along the Line of Control and Line of Actual Control. Specifying cross-border terrorism as a particularly urgent concern, the JDIAF report emphasises surgical strikes as a response to terrorism, and articulates the need for a Special Operations Division to execute precision tasks beyond the scope of conventional conflict. The emphasis on surgical strikes in the doctrine and other non-traditional forces is indicative of a broader desire for more military options to respond to threats emanating from Pakistan rather than a massive conventional response, which could provoke nuclear war. The term “surgical strikes” remains undefined in the document, all the while continuing to represent a public and political understanding of retaliatory military options available to India vis-à-vis Pakistan.
Ironically, the sections in the doctrine detailing air-land operations and maritime-air operations seem to maintain the role of the Indian Air Force as a junior service. Airpower, instead of being an instrument of choice in the joint doctrine, continues to retain its legacy as a supporting role to land and sea operations. The lack of emphasis on air operations as an independent tool in the application of military power could be construed as emblematic of the lack of appreciation of the applications of air power by the military leadership. The primacy of the army is further reinforced in the budgetary allocations.
Towards coordinated force structures and capability development?
The doctrine indicates that the Indian services are adopting a capability-based approach versus the previous threat-based approach. However, there is little evidence to suggest that any of the three services have done so. The army is still in the process of raising the Mountain Strike Corps to further add manpower to its standing strength of 1.18 million men. The Indian Air Force continues to press for 42-45 fighter squadrons to deter a two-front war while the Indian Navy wants to eventually operate 200 ships, including three aircraft carrier groups. Although there are plausible reasons for each of these demands individually, the JDIAF report does very little to align these goals with a broader strategy shared among the three services. Any integrated warfighting capability is dependent on individual services maintaining capabilities in core competencies. All three services currently continue to operate in silos with number-based calculations versus capability-based approaches. Given the constant referencing by the armed forces of the two-front war scenario against Pakistan and China, maximising the combat potential of limited assets available due to limited logistical availability or delays in modernisation will help services fill capability gaps.
The JDIAF report furthermore fails to discuss the procurement of requisite weapons systems required for joint warfare among the three services, an important precursor to coordinated force structures. The procurement of interoperable systems required by the doctrine and counsel for their employment remains lacking in the document. Interoperability is a key enabling factor to any combined arms or joint warfare capability.