The Indian Military has carried out 11 exercises in last seven years to operationalise its Cold Start Doctrine. Recently the Indian military concluded the six-day long joint military exercise Vijayee Bhava in the deserts of Bikaner and Suratgarh just 70 km away from Pakistani border.
Almost 50,000 troops participated in this exercise. The Indian armed forces have tested its satellite imagery, unmanned aerial vehicles and human intelligence capabilities to integrate real time flow of information in the electronic and network centric warfare environment. The concepts of dedicated Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) units were also validated during the exercise to enhance operational situational awareness of the Indian military. Main purpose of this exercise was to improve synergy and integration between the Indian armed forces.
The Indian army also practiced blitzkrieg type incursions with mechanized forces, Infantry Combat Vehicles (ICV), 250 tanks, including T-90 and T- 72 MBTs in exercise Vijayee Bhava. Chetak and MI-17 helicopters, along with 1,000 artillery guns were also utilised in this exercise. Also a large number of IAF aircraft, including MiG-29s, MiG-21 Bisons, Jaguars and Mi-25 attack helicopters were also part of this exercise to develop coordination with ground forces in swift and quick operations under the Cold Start Doctrine.
The main purpose of this exercise was to improve and incorporate organizational structures and amalgamation of latest technologies, mainly in the fields of precision munitions, advance surveillance systems, space and network centric warfare.
The Indian military is trying hard to operationalise its Cold Start Doctrine against Pakistan. To achieve this purpose it has carried out 11 military exercises from 2004-2011. The main focus of these exercises was to overcome the deficiencies in the Indian military and come up with effectual response to any alleged misadventure from Pakistan. All these exercises were carried out on the Punjab plains and Rajasthan Desert near the Pakistan border. A few things were common in all of these exercises.
First, almost all war games emphasised synergy and close coordination between armed forces.
Secondly, offensive, quick and robust operations were practiced in these military exercises.
Thirdly, day and night capabilities were displayed.
Fourthly, Indian military tested its NCW capabilities, latest weapons and equipments, Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), UAVs, Satellite imagery, Special Forces, blitzkrieg-type armoured incursion by Mechanized and Re-organised Plains Infantry Division, emphasising rapid penetration into enemy territory.
The Indian military has improved its operational capabilities after the inception of CSD in 2004. Indian surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities have been improved in last six years. It has been practicing these capabilities in almost all military exercises since 2004. India has also practiced its night time war fighting capabilities. Its aircraft and tanks are now capable to carry out operations in the dark. This capability will remove Indian military’s caveat to launch night time operations against Pakistan. Indian military has also improved its NCW and EW capabilities.
These capabilities are essential for an effective command and control system. Additionally, in almost all exercises the Indian Army has tested elements from its strike corps. India has improved its overall capabilities to launch offensive short duration operations against Pakistan. India has also practiced air mobility of its forces, weapons, equipments and logistics. These exercises will perk up Indian operational capabilities to launch offensive operations behind the enemy lines, with unhindered supply of logistics, weapons, equipments and reinforcement. IAF has also participated in every exercise since 2004.
IAF practiced its capabilities to carry out combined operations with the Indian Army. It could be assessed from last 7 years that IAF and Army may have developed synergy to some extent for joint operations. Such a development is essential for any offensive operations against Pakistan under the India’s CSD. But it is difficult to ascertain that whether India has fully achieved required capabilities to execute its CSD against Pakistan. Because military exercises are totally different from the real wars. Sometime it becomes difficult to assess the enemy response from small level exercises.
Moreover, coordination and integrated operations are essential for the implementation of the India’s CSD. Though, India practiced these elements in its military exercises but full coordination and integration among the armed forces is difficult proportion to achieve. Without proper coordination and understanding between the Indian armed forces, India’s CSD will be impossible to operationalise. India’s CSD is still in experimental phase. But Indian Army is rapidly heading towards its operationalisation. It requires more time to practice and operationalise its CSD.
The Vijayee Bhava exercise is also a step towards the operationalisation of the Cold Start Doctrine, but efficacy of any doctrine could only be assessed in the real war not in mere exercises. Still there are organizational and infrastructural barriers in the operationalisation of the CSD. Under India’s CSD, India will place eight IBGs close to the border with Pakistan to save mobilisation time. CSD is based on offensive operations against Pakistan which will require re-location of the strike formations headquarters, armoured divisions and armoured brigades from their existing locations in Central India and in depth in Punjab to forward locations near to the border for quick response to any alleged terrorist attack on India.
All such formations are required to move forward to the general line of Jammu, Amritsar, Moga, Barmer, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Suratgarh and Palanpur from their present locations in the interior, to execute Indian CSD. But infrastructural barriers play a critical role in materializing Indian CSD.
It will require massive allocation of funds and time to build new cantonments and facilities for the division-sized IBGs at the forward locations near to the Pakistan border. So far, there has been little progress in this regard. Therefore, it will be very difficult for Indian Army to launch offensive operations without removing infrastructure barriers.
Other impediment in the implementation of India’s CSD is the shortage of weapon and equipment in the Indian military. Although India is spending billions of dollars to overcome its military deficiencies but despite that it is facing shortage in military weaponry and equipment. To operationalise India’s CSD effectively, Indian Military would require swift, quick and mobile tanks.
India is largely depended on Russia for its MBT T-90s. On the other hand, its own MBT Vijayant and the ageing T-55s are still in the Indian Army’s inventory despite their obsolescence. The indigenously developed Arjun MBT has not quite met the Army’s expectations due to recurring technological problems and cost over-runs. India will have to rely on Russia for the supply of T-90s and their spare parts. Such dependence would continue in future. It is expected that India would take atleast a decade to replace its ageing tanks with Russian T-90s to overcome this deficiency. IAF is also facing shortage of fighter jets, but India will overcome that shortage in the near future. Other important caveat in the operationalisation of CSD against Pakistan is the element of surprise. Due to lack of strategic depth, most of the Pakistan Military’s deployment is close to the border with India. This lack of strategic depth will be an asset for it in case of any war; already stationed Pakistan Army near the border will take comparatively less time than India to deploy its forces at border. In this case element of surprise will vanish, putting the India forces in disarray.
India’s strategy aims to achieve surprise and speed in a conventional strike against Pakistan. It overlooks the fact that in a crisis, the nuclear threshold will be uncertain. It would be difficult for India to control the situation if it escalated. It would be a strategic blunder for India if it attacks Pakistan because threshold of any country cannot be just wished away by any aggressive attack. Shorter time and fast mobilisation will enhance the probability of escalation. Indian Military’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) in near future cannot be operationalised. But in case if it does, then Pakistan will definitely change its force posture accordingly.
It is imperative for the international community including US, European Union and other regional powers to step in and mediate between Pakistan and India and resolve their outstanding issues including Kashmir, Water distribution, Siachen, and Sir Creek. The best option left for both countries is to stick to the dialogue process and try to resolve their lingering issues in an amicable way because use of force or policy of coercion will never resolve differences between Pakistan and India.