Photo: iStock
The first stage of a hydrogen bomb cannot be scaled down, at least not easily. Photo: iStock

Every other year India’s Army Commanders Conference gathers to address the impact technology has on doctrine and organizational operations. This year marks significant achievement in the elimination of old distinctions of corps, division and brigades favoring an Integrated Battle Group (IBG) that seeks to harmonize a previously archaic posture into dynamic fighting redundancies that render Pakistan’s nuclear achievements in asymmetry vulnerable.

India seeks quickly to mobilize six battalions with new elements of close air support, artillery and close-combat armor. It seeks to dominate Pakistan with conventional unified arms. With IBG, Indian political strategy, doctrine and conventional means underwrite a new level of credible threat deterrence.

Termed “Cold Start,” operationalizing IBG is India’s way of parlaying Pakistan’s nuclear gamesmanship through proactive war.

Examining the doctrinal development of India’s army throughout its post-independence period reveals British-led concepts of defense-in-depth that neatly fit within India’s operational purview beginning with its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru through Congress party dominance. Both the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 and the liberation of Bangladesh proved the necessity of fast-moving mechanized arms. By envisaging deep mechanized thrusts into Pakistan, Indian Army leadership sought to punish Pakistan with strike-and-hold corps.

Islamabad answered with powerful nuclear asymmetries and jihadist proxies aimed at permanently destabilizing Jammu and Kashmir in the hope of pinning down superior Indian infantry. “Cold Start” is India’s response to operating in a contested nuclear environment.

Witnessing Pakistani insurgent terrorists hit the Indian Parliament in 2001, New Delhi ordered Operation Parakram – full-scale mobilization aimed at coercive diplomacy. It ended in failure. The mobilization effort was hampered by the inordinate operational time it took for India to mobilize and deploy from garrisons deep in the interior.

Army chief General Sundararajan Padmanabhan acknowledged an inability for strike-and-hold corps to move from positions of cold start to mobilization. Dr Walter Ladwig’s analysis post-Parakram meant thinking in ways to “establish the capacity to launch a retaliatory conventional strike against Pakistan that would inflict significant harm on the Pakistan Army before the international community could intercede, and at the same time, pursue narrow enough aims to deny Islamabad a justification to escalate the clash to the nuclear level.”

Rapid mobilization and the fielding of mass firepower meant rethinking existing force structures.

“Cold Start” doctrine is meant to address two distinct challenges from Pakistan. It seeks to deny Islamabad a superior tactical achievement of mobilization while launching long, shallow thrusts into Punjab and throughout the Line of Control. India’s strategic thought is to capture and hold territory it can gainfully use in post-conflict negotiations.

The deployed gamesmanship is really between two irreconcilable characterizations of nuclear conflict. Pakistan’s full spectrum deterrence doctrine calls for flexible response to India’s prolonged conventional war aims of IBG that seek to march through Pakistan in open defiance of Islamabad’s jihadist proxies.

Both are deadly configurations, but only one is credible.

Full spectrum nuclear deterrence is hampered by political, economic and strategic components that currently are not favorable to Pakistan. India’s forbearance and welcomed regional soft power are positive political variables that would favor New Delhi in a prolonged conflict.

From an operational perspective, India would need to field fixed-wing close air support for Cold Start to be credible. It also needs to address its historically low operational readiness rate that hampered previous entanglements with Pakistan.

India’s ability to sustain thrusts into Pakistan would mean it must address its extremely limited availability of self-propelled artillery while acquiring currently non-existent dedicated satellite bandwidth for net-centric operations. All of these operational achievements remain dependent on India’s weak logistical support system.

Getting India’s political class up to par on providing its armed-forces leadership with credible threat deterrence may prove more difficult than actually fighting Pakistan.

William Holland

William Holland is North American recruiter for Wikistrat global consultancy monitoring Pakistan's nuclear program.

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