The Indian Army's Special Forces are deployed in counterinsurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: Wikipedia

The Indian Army is mulling its most radical restructuring for the first time in the history of independent India. In the first part of this series, it was pointed out that India’s military needs to upgrade its war-fighting doctrines if the proposed new changes are to work.

The Army’s earlier formulations of “destruction of enemy” and “capture of maximum territory” need to give way to achieving “strategic dislocation,” by applying the strategy of the indirect approach.

Restructuring of the field force needs major changes. Infantry units, which are the mainstay of the army for varied employment, need increased intrinsic direct firing weapons; greater mobility; force multipliers like commandos (Ghataks); better surveillance capability with modern sensing devices; and no diminishing of the bayonet strength at the section level.

In its infantry and mountain brigades, India is constantly running short of infantry at crucial junctures. The answer lies in adopting the concept of “square brigade groups,” which are self-contained in all supporting arms and services. Such task forces would be agile and would be able to sustain the tempo of operations.

Armored brigade groups should also be square, as the present triangular structure does not give the brigade commander any leeway to exploit fleeting opportunities. For defensive formations, they should have two armor regiments, one mechanized infantry battalion and one reconnaissance and support battalion. For offensive formations, square armor brigade groups should have two armor regiments and two mechanized infantry battalions.

They also need integral attack helicopter squadrons and mobile information warfare (IW) assets. Such an organization would enable them to maintain momentum, without grouping/regrouping in initial stages of battle.

At the formation levels, we can do away with the divisional headquarters. The number of square brigade groups in a corps will be six or seven, depending on tasks and terrain. One truncated divisional headquarters for command and control of the offensive components of the defensive formations may be retained.

In offensive corps, considering present-day communications, corps headquarters can easily command six square brigade groups. However, truncated divisional headquarters will be needed to command different thrust lines. Combat support and logistics elements of present divisions can be reallocated between corps and infantry brigade groups.

Artillery divisions are best suited to plan, coordinate and execute degradation operations, through the operational depth of the combat zone.

For contact and degradation up to tactical depth, all square brigade groups need to have long-range guns and modern surveillance and target acquisition (SATA) units. Air defense sub-units should also be grouped with square brigades.

Engineer units and sub-units are needed to maintain momentum of operations and tempo of battle, especially in short and intense wars. All specialized engineer units for rapid support of formations across obstacles and intermediate nodes in depth should be corps assets, to be released in accordance with progress of operations.

Specialized signal units should be centralized at the corps level and released to square brigade groups as per plans or as contingencies arise.

Army aviation must be expanded substantially by enhancing the number of squadrons of reconnaissance, utility and attack helicopters. It is eminently desirable to have attack helicopter units and sub-units in armored brigade groups of the strike corps, as well as corps assets. In mountains, gunships with rockets, as well as heavy machine-guns, will be effective force multipliers.

Close air support is as essential for land operations as it was earlier. Since the air force is shying off from this assigned role, it may become necessary to enhance army aviation, both in terms of numbers and additional platforms, including fixed-wing assets.

The army does need an air assault division. It must have air assault and amphibious capabilities. It has to be a joint formation for obvious reasons. The major role of such a division should be force projection within the region of interest or influence for military and quasi-military tasks. Its subsidiary roles include support of offensive formations, and other contingency tasks, with suitable modifications.

At present, regional commands act as field armies for operational matters and for administrative responsibilities they perform the role of static commands. There is a need to separate these two functions.

Creation of separate static commands (perhaps three) and converting present geographical commands to field armies would enable focused attention on both aspects and would relieve field armies of the ever-increasing administrative functions. Such a change would also result in better career progression at higher ranks, which is necessary to avoid a lopsided officer cadre with bulges at flag rank levels and inadequate tenures at every level.

In conclusion, it needs to be highlighted that major restructuring exercises cannot be resorted to every few years. When they are carried out, they must be comprehensive and must encompass all levels, from the strategic to the tactical.

The army hierarchy should also ensure that it is implemented fully. Creeping reforms, as in the past, must give way to holistic and comprehensive restructuring of the entire force; phasing is acceptable on account of fiscal constraints and not for any extraneous reasons.

(This is the concluding article of a two-part series. You can read the first part here.)

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Vijay Oberoi

The writer is a former Vice-Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army.