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Looking beyond the Proactive Doctrine

 The genesis of India’s proactive doctrine lies in events that occurred post the attack by Pakistan sponsored terrorists on India’s Parliament on 13 December 2001. India’s response to such a blatant attack on the very temple of democracy was to mobilise its forces along the Western border as a precursor to taking punitive action against Pakistan. The code name given to this mobilisation was“Operation Parakaram”, but the long lead-time taken to mobilise forces for conventional conflict eventually denied India the opportunity of using them. This brought home the need to reduce the lead time required to initiate hostilities, giving rise in due course to the “Proactive Doctrine” of the Indian Army, also referred to by many, though incorrectly, as the “Cold Start Doctrine”. The aim of this article is not to delve into the merits or otherwise of the “Proactive Doctrine”, but to analyse what further needs to be done to encourage Pakistan to desist from taking recourse to terror to further its foreign policy objectives.

The doctrinal use of force or threat of use of force must flow from national political goals and objectives. At the national level in the Indian context, for a country struggling to find its soul from centuries of foreign domination, the primary strategic objective would of necessity, remain the human development of its people, which in turn would require a durable peace. The doctrinal approach of the military to conflict must hence aim at deterrence to enable peace. In the event of conflict, the aim must be for early conflict resolution, with adequate conflict control mechanisms in place to reduce the risk of escalation. War capability must encompass both the capacity and the will to wage war. It would require a well-trained and equipped force to meet the above national policy objectives.

Viewed in this context, India’s “Proactive Doctrine” has been remarkably successful. Pakistan’s inability to find an appropriate response to this doctrine despite a series of exercises conducted over the last few years simply brings out the importance of a doctrinal approach to war fighting. It is perhaps credible to assume that Pakistan’s approach to the use of tactical nuclear weapons in conventional conflict reflects in large measure its inability to counter the Indian doctrine. However, this has not dissuaded Pakistan from continuing to support cross border terrorism from within its territory against India, albeit at a lower scale, to what some in the Pakistan establishment believe to be within India’s ‘threshold limits’. We hence need to enmesh an additional element in the existing “Proactive Doctrine” to make it expensive if not impossible for Pakistan to use terrorism for political and ideological ends. As stated succinctly by the late Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, “We need to ask ourselves whether we have evolved a credible doctrine to successfully counter Pakistan’s strategic doctrine of sub-conventional war (through terrorism) under the nuclear umbrella acquired by 1987?

The answer as of now is that we have partial capability only. Enough to deter attacks of the type on India’s Parliament and the Mumbai attacks in September 2008 but not enough to deter continued support by Pakistan to militant groups based in its territory. India’s strategy to defeat Pakistan’s proxy war remains mired in defensive actions against terrorists after they cross over into India. What is required is the capability to operate against specified targets across the line of control in particular, in short duration punitive strikes. The ability to carry out such strikes consistently over time and space can give to India the punitive edge to deter Pakistan from continuing with its existing policy of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts’. There is an obvious risk of escalation in this approach, but the onus for that must lie on the adversary, the doctrine advocating additional degrees of punishment for each added act of provocation. In this expression of will to defend ourselvesthrough military capability, talks for the political resolution of conflict could proceed alongside. However, each attempt by the adversary to further escalate the conflict must be met by a more severe response to maintain the credibility of the doctrine. In other words, what is being advocated here is a calibrated use of force for punitive purposes to achieve policy objectives without the need or the necessity to hold on to territory.

To achieve the above, it is essential that the military and more specifically the Army be equipped accordingly. A review of existing organisational structures now needs to be undertaken, which can fulfil both the Army’s requirement for conventional conflict as well as provide it teeth to carry out quick offensive actions against any act of terrorism emanating from foreign shores.

In a positive development, press reports indicate that deals for the purchase of 22 Apache attack helicopters, 15 Chinook heavy lift helicopters and 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers are in the final stages of approval and should be inked this year. In addition, the Defence Acquisition Council headed by Defence Minister AK Antony has cleared the acquisition of six more C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the US and 236 more T 90 tanks from Russia. The purchase of the guns will give a much needed fillip to Indian Army’s firepower capability, by making up the voids as also giving the Army a qualitative edge. However, it is the manoeuvre element in terms of attack and utility helicopters that will give the best payoff if these platforms are integrated into the Indian Army’s organisational structure. In the plains sector, these assets must be dovetailed into a revised organisation structure for the armoured divisions, wherein attack and utility helicopters form an integral part of the division as the manoeuvre arm. This could be done in conjunction with a reduction in the armoured component of the force. In the mountains, they must form part of the air cavalry, initially at the corps level and later, once resources are available at the division level. The control of assets must be firmly with the user, else we lose the opportunity of exploiting their potential due to delays in decision making caused by dual control as also lack of preparedness due to training and integration issues. Speed is an essential component of modern warfare and quick decision making and force cohesiveness is a vital component of that process. Legacy attitudes which have inhibited the integration of attack and utility helicopters into the Indian Army must be shed else we lose a decisive and potent edge in fighting across the spectrum of conflict. 

Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch (Retd), is Director, CLAWS.


Views expressed are personal

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Rahul Bhonsle
I do agree punitive capability will have to be inbuilt in the proactive doctrine given Pakistan's continued proxy war in varied forms and virtual public shelter to the likes of Hafeez Saeed. Public declaration of capability and demonstration of will for employment could also act as a deterrent.Whether we want this to be a military capability or a covert and clandestine one needs consideration. At the same time there is a need for establishing a defensive shield against terror which is sadly lacking. The Gaya bomb blasts is a singular example of the same wherein despite a clear warning of threat there were no night sentries posted at the holy shrine. Punitive and defensive or the dagger and the shield would have to go hand in hand
sam sharma
the only pro-active doctrine that has worked is what the IDF practises...hit hard ..hit for sure..hit soonest
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