Force 18 Multi-nation Military Drill: Will Indian Army Host Well?

‘Force 18’, initially labelled ‘FTX-2016’, is an ambitious military training exercise involving army units from eighteen countries – ten members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN,) plus eight observer states – India, Japan, Korea, China, Russia, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. It is scheduled to be held from 2-8 March, in Pune, headquarters of the Indian Army’s Southern Command.

It is interesting that India was readily accepted as the host, planner and manager of the first such war game. May be because India is crucial to maintaining the geopolitical balance in the extended region, and serve as a bridge between China and the United States. It is, moreover, the preferred strategic partner for the littoral states on the South China Sea, as it riles Beijing less to see these countries concert with India than with the US.

It is curious that so many otherwise adversarial armies agreed to be a part of this drill. Perhaps, none of the major military powers – China, US and Russia – wanted to be left out of a group, which could emerge as the lynchpin in a stable Asian order.

Preparations for Force 18 began in September last year with an Indian team, led by Brigadier Ashok Narula. It involved articulating the tasks, defining the tactical manoeuvres, and laying down the benchmarks. Twenty-five foreign army personnel were brought in for training, acquainted with the exercise plan and the separate, distinct roles assigned to various country units in detail. Trainees were taught to recognise and how to go about realizing the planned action parameters. These trainees returned to prepare and train their units for ‘Force 18’.

Achieving a modicum of interoperability between these disparate armies in bilateral/multilateral peacekeeping and mine clearance operations under the aegis of the United Nations in conflict zones is the ostensible aim of this massive exercise. But it will be more a test of the Indian army’s logistics management.

A Unique Military Drill

It is curious that so many otherwise adversarial armies agreed to be a part of a multinational drill.
None of the major military powers – China, US and Russia – wanted to be left out of a group, which could emerge as the focal point of geopolitics.

The Objective

Interoperability, after all, is a function of familiarity with each other’s best practices and standard operating procedures (SOPs). The first such exercise, in the event, will have the very basic goal of not getting in each other’s way. Many more such military exercises will be needed before the relevant capabilities of the ‘Force 18’ constituents can be meshed.

Observing, interacting and working with each other at close quarters on common military tasks will enable the more advanced, technologically savvy, organisationally flexible, integrated and network-centred militaries to emerge as models to emulate. All this is theory, but will the exercise proceed smoothly in practice?

Adversaries Come Together

There are intriguing aspects of this massive multi-nation military exercise. First, how will these militaries, vastly differing from each other in military culture, ethos and way of doing things, dovetail their attitudes, operating systems and SOPs?

And secondly, how will they perform their assigned collective tasks while remaining careful not to reveal too much of their own specialised weapons, weapons handling skills and modes of command and control and communications in the field, lest this information be used against them during possible tussles in the future?

It is hardly a secret that India and China are at odds, or that ASEAN, backed by the US, are on a collision course with China in the South China Sea. And, that America is at loggerheads with Russia in Syria, and in a revived confrontation redolent of the Cold War, in Europe. Or that Japan is in a condition of near-permanent hostility over the Senkaku/Diayou Islands with China, and more passively with Russia over the Kurile Islands that Stalin ordered to be occupied at the fag end of World War II.

Strong animosities even in peacetime military exercises can, however, translate into rumbles. Violent incidents can be sparked by young, charged-up soldiers over imagined slights, and the situation can quickly get out of hand if the host Indian Army managers fail, for whatever reasons, to maintain control, and the participating troops lose their sense of equanimity. It could well be that – rather than the 18 disparate land force units together honing their respective peacekeeping skills, the Indian side will be kept busy with maintaining peace between them!
Published in ‘The Quint’ March 2, 2016; at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, Culture, Cyber & Space, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Japan, Northeast Asia, Russia, russian military, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Vietnam, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Force 18 Multi-nation Military Drill: Will Indian Army Host Well?

  1. andy says:

    Respected Sir,

    Could it be that India envisions a role for itself as a balancing power in Asia?.Maybe its a reflection of the fact that PM.Modi sees no future in antagonizing China,reflected in the exercises in January & also the current multi national exercise. Seems like everyone will be kept in good humor, but also kept guessing which side India will tilt towards ultimately. Seems like opportunistic realpolitik, which no doubt your good self would approve of.

  2. Yea. Read my book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ for details and why and wherefor’s of such a policy!

  3. quickboy says:

    What is all this circus about?. India has nothing of it’s own to show off , Except maybe a Tejas which it does not want to show off. Now let us think of a scenery of war with Pak, Many of these south-east Nations are Muslim countries, They will not have anything to do with us in such case, What about an Indo-China conflict, How many of these countries will want o help us then?. Then about U.S, Will they support us?. Not sure anyway. They want our co-operation to squeeze China and not the other way around. So let us be serious and stop all this. Try to make ourselves strong and self-sufficient. Maybe we could arm Vietnam and Taiwan, Taiwan is a good choice, because that would turn some heads in Beijing.

  4. Raahul Kumar says:

    It is a mistake to invite so many nations when we need a strong military alliance with ASEAN. There is only one country that alliance could be fighting, so why invite them to the drill? Diplomacy can’t be allowed to override common sense, you don’t invite the thief to see you install your security system!

    What possibile benefit could Australia, NZ or the USA offer? They aren’t going to help us fight, the situation is one sided only in their favour. They demand we help them, not the other way around. Stop inviting every beggar nation that wants to go to an exercise along. Cut at least 4 countries from the list next time.

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