Union ministers at the 1965 war exhibition in Delhi, commemorating the 1965 "victory"
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Sept 2015
The 50th anniversary of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war has been widely commemorated in India. There has been more than a touch of jingoism in invoking that “victory”, though a fairer verdict might be that it was a draw, with India’s operational and tactical shortcomings denying it outright victory. That would have begged the question: is our military better prepared today? The answer, sadly, would be no!
Half a century after 1965, India’s military is (with the possible exception of the navy, which did not participate then) arming, equipping, training and planning to fight the same grinding battle of attrition that it did then, instead of transforming itself for modern, high-technology warfare. That involves creating battlefield transparency by digitally networking forces, concentrating swiftly to bring down multiple fire effects on enemy targets, and then dispersing as rapidly to evade retaliation.
Fighting such a war involves, first, creating integrated, tri-service, surveillance networks that include low-orbit satellites, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), radar networks, air force reconnaissance means and extensive ground-based sensors, fully integrated through secure digital networks. The side that establishes “information dominance” wins modern battle.
Acting on this information needs a tri-service headquarters that evolves joint plans incorporating the air force, army and naval firepower to pulverise the enemy at stand-off ranges. Firepower and its shock impact reduces the infantry-heavy, high-casualty, hand-to-hand fighting that killed millions in the wars of the twentieth century. Ideally, you send high explosive to contact the enemy’s fighting forces. Your soldiers only finish off the job.
Thirdly, to precisely bring together the elements and actions mentioned above, digital networks are needed to link elements of the modern battlefield --- aircraft, warships, tanks, infantrymen, artillery units, missile regiments, surveillance centres, headquarters, and combat support units. Secure voice and data links provide each element of the force an emerging battlefield picture in real time, even as it contributes to that picture.
This so-called “network-centric warfare” was first seen in Operation Desert Storm (the First Gulf War of 1991), broadcast to living rooms worldwide by the Cable News Network (CNN). It was the outcome of a so-called “revolution in military affairs” (RMA), the child of the digital revolution. No longer was God on the side of the bigger battalions. For the first time in modern warfare, firepower and numbers were a function of digital bandwidth and innovative use of the electromagnetic spectrum.
So shocked and awed were the generals of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by Operation Desert Storm that, starting from the mid-1990s, they transformed the operational doctrine of the PLA, which had historically focused on “people’s war”, a euphemism for large numbers of primitively-equipped soldiers. In its place, Beijing is creating a force that could “win a local war under informatized conditions”.
According to the Pentagon, “informatized conditions” is PLA jargon for “enhancing systems and weapons with information capabilities and linking geographically dispersed forces and capabilities into an integrated system capable of unified action”.
In contrast, India’s operational style remains mired in 1965. During the initial stages of that war, the army and air force planned in isolation; so too did the army and air force during the 1999 Kargil conflict. Without a tri-service headquarters that does operational planning (the Integrated Defence Staff, or IDS, is carefully excluded from that) coordinating multi-service operations remains an ad hoc process that depends on personalities and the chemistry between them. The army has no ground strike aircraft and, only now, will get control over attack helicopters. Army generals still complain that the air force allocates too few strike aircraft for supporting ground operations.
Meanwhile, army numbers increase steadily, without the firepower needed to support them in battle. Over the last seven years, the army has added more than 70,000 men, in two new mountain divisions on the Sino-Indian border. Like in 1965, these men are deployed piecemeal on widely-separated mountaintops, with only light integral firepower (machine guns and mortars), and little hope of serious artillery and missile support, attack helicopters, or air force close air support in battle.
To add to the salary bill and leave even less for firepower, another 90,000 soldiers are being added, which will take the bloated force up to 1.3 million personnel. Meanwhile the PLA has slashed more than a million men from its force.
The military, meanwhile, talks up network-centricity but pursues it haphazardly. The army is developing a range of digital networks, including a “tactical communication system” (TCS), which is a mobile, secure, military network over which field forces can digitally communicate; a “command information and decision support system” (CIDSS), which is a “system of systems” that integrates every other system; an “artillery command, control and coordination system” (ACCCS), which controls all artillery in the battle-space; a “battlefield surveillance system” (BSS) that integrates surveillance inputs; a “battlefield management system” (BMS) that links soldiers and systems at battalion level and below.
Yet each of these digital networks is being developed independently, without thought to compatibility or inter-workability. They feature disparate communications systems, where one system’s radios cannot communicate with another’s; and also incompatible geographic interface systems (GIS). Since the army has not thought it fit to lay down common frameworks, it will soon have a large number of mutually incompatible networks that cannot achieve net-centricity.
Instead, the army should have specified open standard software; open GIS consortium (OGC) compliant, and software defined radio (SDR) for communications, since its flexibility would allow an SDR to operate across networks. The defence ministry has a department of standardisation, which has failed to do this.
To complicate the arrangement further, the navy has its own backbone network, called “navy enterprise wide network” (NEWN). The air force has AF-NET and its own CDMA network. The army will have the TCS, BMS, army static communication network (ASCON) and mobile cellular communications system (MCCS). Ironically, none of these digital backbones can communicate seamlessly with each other.
Nor is there any recognition of these potentially fatal weaknesses. The army continues to regard each new weapon system it seeks --- the proposed future infantry combat vehicle (FICV); artillery guns, missile batteries, et al --- in isolation, not as an interlinked part of a battle network. It is crucial for the proposed FICV to be compatible with the BMS network; but the specifications provided to industry do not specify that as an “essential” parameter, only a “desirable” one.
In early September 1965, an infantry battalion, 3 JAT, captured a vital bridge over the Ichhogil Canal at Dograi, setting the stage for an advance on to Lahore, a war-winning victory. That gigantic opportunity was squandered because commanders did not have the full battle picture. If India’s military continues “arming without aiming” as a US commentator put it, there could be worse than missed opportunities in the future.