Indian Army Exercise Sudershan: Revalidation Of Cold Start War Doctrine – Analysis

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By Dr Subhash Kapila

Indian Army’s Cold Start War Doctrine was publicly unveiled on April 28, 2004 and its detailed analysis stood covered in the first two Papers of mine quoted above.

Following the publication of these two Papers an avid debate followed in Pakistan Army strategic circles and think tanks in Pakistan, UK AND USA.

The Cold Start War Doctrine was a radical departure from Indian Army’s erstwhile operational doctrines which were markedly defensive operations-centric. As brought out in my Papers referred above the Cold Start War Doctrine was patterned on the NATO’s ‘Air-Land Warfare Doctrine’ which envisaged deep-thrust mechanized operations deep into enemy territory with overwhelming Air Force support.

The other major change in emphasis was that the operational aims of this new Doctrine were no longer focussed on capture of enemy territory but on destruction of the enemy’s war waging capabilities.

Surprisingly, the Indian Government has been taking pains to de-emphasizing that India does not have any Cold Start War Doctrine and even made the present Army Chief, General V K Singh to state as such or words to that effect.

The Indian Government seems to have done so under pressure from the United States to which Pakistan Army Chief was complaining that he could not move Pak Army formations to the Afghan border because of Indian Army’s Cold Start War Doctrine.

The reality is whether the Indian Army is made to abjure the term Cold Start War Doctrine for political reasons, the series of Strike Corps level exercises held every year by different Strike Corps were in essence what Cold Start War Doctrine incorporated, namely, Air-Land War Strategy of deep thrusts into enemy territory by armored and mechanized formations battle-prepared to operate even under Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare threats environment.

Exercise SUDERSHAN CHAKRA which is in its concluding stages having commenced in end-October 2011 need to be viewed in the above context. In terms of the South Asian context such operations as have been gone through are undoubtedly Pakistan Army-centric should it indulge in its periodic military adventurism against India.

This Paper would therefore focus only on the main features of EX-SUDERSHAN CHAKRA as my above referred Papers already provide in great detail the Cold Start War Doctrines and the sizeable number of validation and revalidation exercises that have unceasingly followed I the last seven years.

EX-SUDERSHAN CHAKRA: The Political Prominence Given

Comparing to the preceding series of validation and revalidation Exercises of Cold Start War Doctrine, this recent Exercise received political prominence by the visit of President Pratibha Patil as Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces.

The Indian Army also requested that a delegation of Members of Parliament, preferably below the age of forty years also should witness this significant Exercise to gain first hand experience of Indian Army’s operational doctrines as they would emerge as political decision makers in the next twenty years.

In her address on conclusion of witnessing the concluding stages of EX-SUDERSHAN CHAKRA, THE President made the following remarks “The country today is faced with multi-dimensional challenges to our national security. We need to accordingly equip our forces with state-of art weaponry and hone our skills through relentless training to deliver the required response to our adversaries, when the need arises.”

Significantly, this was the first ever visit by a President of India to personally visit and witness large scale Army-Air Force Exercise of such a massive scale and dimensions.


The Exercise was conducted by Headquarters Southern Command to validate its Integrated Theatre concept in an Air-Land Battle Scenario. Also incorporated in this Exercise was Headquarters South Western Air Command with its front line Air Force squadrons to complement the sizeable Air Force component required for any deep-thrust warfare.

The Bhopal based 21 Corps as one of the major Strike Corps and formations under its command including 31 Armored Division participated in this Exercise

More than 50,0000 troops supported by nearly 300 tanks etc provided the strike punch along with other formations. toexercise battle maneuvers as part of the operational war doctrine

The Indian Air Force provided combat aircraft like the SU-30 Mk II. MIG 27 and Jaguars. AWACS Aircraft provided Aerial Early Warning and and surveillance support. Media reports indicate that space-based assets were also used. The Indian Air Force provided the entire spectrum of combat, close support and attack helicopters support besides air assaults and logistics maintenance required for deep thrusts by Army formations.

Practicing its Integrated Theatre Concept, the Pivot Corps also were exercised in this Exercise and hence the full dimension of Integrated Theatre Concept rather than just a Strike Corps Exercise

The magnitude of the Exercise can be gauged not only by the numbers involved but also the geographical spread extending to 175 km by 150 km This Exercise was conducted in general area of Barmer.Pokharan and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.

Concluding Observations

In an embattled security environment that surrounds India, it is strategically and militarily important that the Indian Armed Forces maintain a high standard of war-readiness to successfully overcome the national security challenges faced by the country. This can only be achieved by relentless exercising of its war doctrines and operational strategies as has bee done in EX-SUDERSHAN CHAKRA.

Concomitant on the above is that India cannot afford to have glaring voids in its operational inventories. In specific relation to Cold Start War Doctrine the void of 130 plus fighter aircraft is serious and alarming and so also the rejuvenation of the Artillery which has not seen any modernization for over 20 years.

India’s war-preparedness cannot be made a hostage of the civilian bureaucratic processes of North Block and South Block.

The Indian Armed Forces have validated and revalidated its war doctrines against the Pakistan Army threats, but what is not visible is are comparable Exercises to counter the China Threat challenge. Neither India’s political leadership nor Indian Armed Forces dignitaries should shy away from articulating’ The China Threat’.

It is imperative that the country sees visible signs in the direction of preparing for countering The China Threat with the same vigor and sustained focus


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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