Indian Military’s ‘Exercise Sudarshan Shakti’ And Cold Start Doctrine – Analysis


The Indian military introduced its Cold Start Doctrine- (CSD) in 2004. The main purpose of CSD is to give a punishing reply to Pakistan in case of any alleged terrorist attack on Indian soil with totally different orientation of the Indian armed forces from defensive to offensive. Under this doctrine, the Indian Army would carry out swift, quick and offensive joint operations with the support of its Air Force and air elements of Navy while giving no time to Pakistan to respond.

To operationalise CSD against Pakistan, the Indian military has acquired latest weapon, equipment, fire control system, battlefield surveillance radars, air support aircraft, latest T-90 MBTs, artillery, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.

The Indian military has been practicing its “Cold Start Doctrine” for the last 7 years. From 2004 to 2011 it has carried out thirteen military exercises close to the border with Pakistan in Punjab and Rajasthan sector. The main purpose of these exercises was to practice latest weapons and equipment in the network centric warfare environment and to operationalise its CSD against Pakistan.

The Indian military recently practiced “Exercise Sudarshan Shakti- 2011” in the Barmer-Jaisalmer sector, Rajasthan. It was a 15-day exercise started in mid-November 2011 and ended in early December 2011 aimed to strengthen the war-fighting capabilities of the Indian army’s Southern Command 21 Corps (Strike Corps) and the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) South Western Air Command (SWAC). Exercise Sudarshan Shakti was spread over the “huge geographical area” in the deserts of Barmer, Jaisalmer, Pokhran and Pachparda. All these areas are close to the border with Pakistan.

Almost 50,000 troops, along with 500 MBTs like T-90s, T-72s and the indigenous Arjun, 120 artillery guns, various missiles, rockets, aircraft including Su-30 MKIs, Jaguars, Mig-27s, Mig-21, AWACS, Battlefield Surveillance Radars, Weapon Locating Radars and attack helicopters like the MI-35 took part in the Exercise Sudarshan Shakti. Troops of the 31-Armoured Division of the Indian army and a battalion of the Assam Regiment also participated in this exercise. The Indian army has also utilized the Army Aviation Corps and medium lift transport helicopters for logistical transport operations.


The Indian army has demonstrated its capability to strike at enemy targets in a swift and quick tank battle as MI-35 attack helicopters provided aerial and tactical support to the troops on ground. Such synergy and integration is key for any offensive operation. The Exercise Sudarshan Shakti aimed to adopt capability-based approach and the absorption of new technologies such as precision munitions, advance surveillance systems, space and network-centricity.

According to the Indian army commanders the aim of this exercise was to ensure infusion of latest technology with the weapons and troops while providing real-time information of the battle front to the field commanders. The exercise is being held to help validate the Southern Command’s war-fighting concepts while working towards a ‘capability-based approach’ relying on a series of transformational initiatives, concepts, organizational structures and absorption of new age technologies.

Synergy and integration between ground force and air force was practiced in this exercise. The military maneuvers involved mechanized forces with the support of artillery guns and IAF jet fighters provided them with tactical and strategic aerial support. The basic aim of the exercise was to practice swift and quick military operations along with synergy and amalgamation with the IAF.

The Indian military has also tested newly inducted radars, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), surveillance systems, precision guided bombs, missiles and space-based assets. Indian army’s General Officer Commanding (GOC) Lt Gen Sanjeev Langer said the exercise was based on the Integrated Theatre Concept where various defence wings and military elements have to participate in a single cohesive format during war. “The army wants to transform itself into a modern, lean and agile fighting force by mastering modern-day warfare techniques, particularly ‘Air Land Battle’ scenarios”.

Lt Gen Langer said that Network Centric Warfare (NCW), which involves real-time data-sharing with various battle units and defence wings, is being practiced in the exercise. “Data gathered from UAVs, radars and intelligence is quickly and digitally shared with fighting groups on the ground, air and sea”. Such capabilities are essential for any offensive operations like CSD.

Indian military has already practiced these capabilities in its earlier military exercises. For example Indian army introduced Long-Range Reconnaissance and Observation System (LORROS) in 2004 in Exercise Divya Astra. This is a high quality, remotely controlled ground based observation system designed for medium and long range surveillance. This kind of a system is good for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance purposes.

Indian army has also practiced Pivot Corps in the recent Exercise Sudarshan Shakti. This is the same concept which Indian army practiced in 2005 in Exercise Vajra Shakti. Indian army brought flexibility in its Holding Corps. These holding corps were designated as Pivot corps. Pivot corps can initiate offensive if required in the battlefield.

Indian army has tested swift mobilization and multiple blitzkrieg thrusts across the border in keeping with the Army’s ongoing “transformation” to consolidate its strike capabilities as well as streamline operational logistics in this exercise. The Indian army has also tested the operational effectiveness of the Pivot and Strike Corps of the Southern Army to validate and operationalise its CSD. This shows consistent effort by the Indian army to operationalise its aggressive doctrine against Pakistan.

Indian military has also practiced network centric warfare capabilities in this exercise. According Indian army’s GOC Lt Gen Sanjeev Langer, “Our computers are connected on a local area network and our field commanders are getting the opportunity to take instant decisions. It has been practicing these capabilities from last seven years. In 2005 Indian army introduced Force Multiplication Command Post (FMCP) in Exercise Vajra Shakti to integrate real-time flow of information as a principal tool for decision making and NCW capabilities in the Indian military.

The field training which has progressively been structured to build on from the smallest unit upwards, aimed at validating and integrating the use of all available assets, including Satellites, UAVs and HUMINT to assist commanders in taking dynamic and proactive operational action in a fluid battle field. In 2009 Indian military acquired an Israeli RISAT-2 spy satellite that has day and night viewing capabilities. This satellite can keep 24/7 watch over Pakistan even when the landmass is covered by a thick cloud cover. It would give India an edge in the network centric warfare capabilities. Indian Military has utilized its space assets in the Exercise Sudarshan Shakti to practice its NCW and EW capabilities.

According to Indian defense spokesman, an important facet being validated is the real-time sensor-to-shooter loop, which enables commanders to take instant decisions even as information is shared among platforms and personnel to order the weapons to be deployed. He further said that Network Centric Warfare did provide shared information of the battle space among armed forces and was an integral part of ongoing transformational studies.

Indian army has also practiced employment of attack helicopters, airborne Special Forces and air maintenance in this exercise. It has practiced these capabilities in almost every exercise from last seven years to enable its special forces to carry out offensive operations behind the enemy lines.

Indian military in Exercise Sudarshan Shakti- 2011 has tested and experimented synergy and integration among its armed forces for quick, swift and robust operations. It has also practiced day and night fighting capabilities, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, behind the enemy lines operations, air mobility and logistics, mechanized armour, artillery and infantry.

India has practiced its Network Centric and Electronic Warfare capabilities in Exercise Sudarshan Shakti. Indian Naval component has also taken part in this exercise. Airborne operations with Special Forces, para-dropped, Strikes Corps, air fire power, and Pivot Corps were also part of Exercise Sudarshan Shakti. All these elements are essential for the offensive, quick and swift operations that are a basic need of Indian Military’s Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) based operations. Without any doubt this exercise was the biggest exercise in last seven years, and also considered to be a step towards the operationalization of the Indian military’s Cold Start Doctrine.

Masood-Ur-Rehman Khattak

Mr. Masood-Ur-Rehman Khattak is working at the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) Islamabad as Research Fellow. He did his M.Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-I-Azam University, Islamabad. His major research areas are Nuclear Deterrence in South Asia, Terrorism, Non-Proliferation issues, FATA, Afghanistan and Regional Security issues. Mr. Khattak is author of a book, US War on Terrorism: Implications for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has been published by German Publishers, Lap Lambert Academic Publishing on 31st August, 2010. Mr. Khattak has also written a Research Paper on “Indian Military’s Cold Start Doctrine: Capabilities, Limitations and Possible Response from Pakistan” - 2011, published by SASSI. He has organised/presented in scores of international conferences/workshops. Email: [email protected]

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