Joint Forces Doctrine — passive, defensive inward-turned, and disappointing

Image result for pics of indian strike corps in action

This was not unexpected, but still it is surprising just how unventuresome, diffident, hesitant and, therefore, thoroughly fainthearted the ‘Joint Doctrine Indian Armed Forces’ really is. Issued by Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), Ministry of Defence, this document supposedly outlines the jointness mission for the military. As such, it is a fairly innocuous bit of paper indulging in banality-mongering to the max, taking extreme care to not touch on the practical aspects of integrating authority, military resources, and effort. It is a document that at best reflects an intent to realize jointness in the indeterminate future.  Because, on the ground, the individual services still reign supreme and who regard IDS more as encumbrance than help.

However, IDS and its work is played up by the military brass whenever they sense movement by government to restructure the higher defence organization by replacing the existing order with a Chief of Defence Staff-system. When Manohar Parrikar was around there was real fear that one fine day he’d take it into his head to get on with the long pending job of major organizational reform and restructuring. Whence, this document was conceived as a way to postponing even an interim solution of a permanent 4-star post as Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, recommended by the Committee headed by the arch bureaucrat, Naresh Chandra. Known to his 1956 IAS batchmates as “ustaad” for his ability to size up a situation, manage it, run circles around politicians and the lesser civil services, and generally maintain the status quo in which babus are top-dogs (especially in MOD), Chandra was not about to suggest anything radical. Sequentially chief secretary, Rajasthan, and at the centre, defence secretary, home secretary, and finally, cabinet secretary before beginning his unending post-retirement tenures in government, including being retained by Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Indian  Ambassador to the United States, Chandra was one of the charter members of the bureaucratic clique that has pushed and pulled Indian policy towards close India-US ties at the expense of every thing else. He sided as cabsec, it may be recalled, with those in Delhi (K. Subrahmanyam, Air Cmde Jasjit Singh, et al) and keeping up the drumbeat from Washington where he was appointed ambassador in 1996 for India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  With Finance Minister Arun Jaitley back as part time defence minister, everybody who counts in the military hierarchy seems reassured that the pressure is off, and the incumbent raksha mantri  does not have the time or inclination to do anything substantive. In that sense, this “doctrine’ is the military brass’ collective sigh of relief!

There’s much to question in this paper, but here’s my reaction to certain aspects of it (in no particular order of importance)  that stuck me as problematic.

1)  In the sub-sections (pp 1-2) on “National Aim” and “National Interests”, for instance, there’s no mention anywhere about extending India’s influence in South Asia, Asia, and the world. In other words, the Indian armed forces are happy where they are and with the country where it is, namely, sidelined even in the extended region.

In this circumscribed sphere, the armed forces, described as the “Military Instrument of National Power” (p. 6), have their utility limited to being “a means of deterrence and conflict resolution”. While acknowledging their “coercive nature” the paper stresses the armed forces being “gainfully employed” in “non-conflict situations and natural disasters”, in short a uniformed version of, what, Oxfam or similar social service agency?!

2) Have railed in all my writings for some 30 years now about the wrong threat perceptions animating the Indian military. When one gets so basic a thing wrong, what can the armed forces get right? Anyway, here’s proof, albeit indirect, about just which threat our military is preoccupied with — Pakistan. In a section entitled “Strategic environment scan”, the document speaks (p. 7)  of “the requirement to safeguard our territorial integrity” owing to the “disputed borders” and lists the Line of Control in the west first, not the Line of Actual Control where the threat is scarier.

A related section (pp. 8-9)  on “Security Threats and Challenges” rather than speaking straightforwardly about China, Pakistan, etc., talks obliquely about competition for resources, of “inherited faultlines” and “increasing blurring lines of traditional and nontraditional challenges”.

3) In pondering the “Nature War (sic) and character of conflict/war” (p. 10), the attributes of future wars are listed as “ambiguous, uncertain, short, swift, lethal, intense, precise, non-linear, unrestricted, unpredictable and hybrid”. Whew! Scrounging together all these adjectives, leaves the big Question open — so what threats is India to prepare for? Because the forces required to fight short, swift, lethal, intense, precise counter-force wars are surely quite distinct and different from those needed to engage in necessarily long duration conflicts that are ambiguous, uncertain, non-linear, unrestricted, unpredictable, and hybrid.  When minds are not applied, vapid statements like this result.

It reminds me of Reagan’s jibe against Walter Mondale when the latter advanced a fairly inane proposal in the 1984 US presidential elections – “where’s the beef?”

4) Part of the problem — other than passing off the banal as profound — is with the language. In getting inventive in using the English language, the result is sometimes at once grating and incomprehensible, to wit, (p. 12) — “There are four levels of of War; Political/Grand strategic , Military strategic, Operational and Tactical; each level being twisted to the other.” In this construction, “each level being twisted to the other” appears in italics — meaning what? That the authors themselves know that this phrase makes zero sense, or that there’s a meaning the reader is not supposed easily to divine?

Further in a slightly confused discussion on “Generations of War” (p. 13) — again the language and content problem emerges — there is a statement of war transiting quickly from 1st generation to 5th gen hybrid warfare of today which ends with this — “Simply put, it is a war in which one of the major participants is not a State but rather a violent non-state actor or non-state actor sponsored by a State”, thereby synthetically separating non-state actors from the patronage of the adversary state, which division carries little weight in the practical world.

In the section following, on “India in Conflict/War” (p. 14), the paper refers  to an “operationally adaptable force” almost as an imperative without anywhere explaining how the country is to obtain it. This harks back to my #3 above. Is such a force to be the all-purpose military capable of short intense wars as also long duration attrition conflicts? If so, it was all the more necessary IDS had at least sketched out how this is to be achieved and at what cost, or whether such a force is to be cobbled together without disturbing the current force structure, in which case, the still more germane question: how?

5) In the chapter on “Military — An Instrument of National Power” and section therein concerning “Functions of Military Power” that dilates on conventional offensive and defensive operations (p. 19), we have such gems as “offensive operations” are to address “The adversary’s centre of gravity” by “attacking enemy’s criticalities….” etc. If this is a primer on the military, what is such stuff doing in a doctrine? This is succeeded by a para on offensive ops wherein is semi-detailed “A philosophy of pro-active defence” that the document claims is “most suited for India”. This reveals the Indian military’s eagerness to, perhaps, conform to NSA Ajit Doval’s fairly elementary (some would say, even simplistic) rendition of “offensive defence”. This explains the document’s emphasis on “defensive operations” by “ensuring security of own forces, secur[ing] bases for launching forces and creat[ing] favourable conditions for offensive operations” without even hinting at how this is to be achieved.

In line with such thinking is the section on “International Defence Cooperation” (p.22) which talks of this pol-mil-diplomatic  activity without once mentioning the absolute predicate for such military outreach and presence, namely, military bases in the Indian Ocean Region and in the states on the landward periphery  (such as in Central Asia). Staying and operating from homeland bases, the country is expected to “leverage” the achievement of “National Security Objectives”. This is like proposing to lift a tub while standing inside it. Hard, in the event, to take much of this document seriously.

6) This unsophisticated, college sophomore-level paper rounds out by analyzing Jointness, observing correctly, for a change, that military integration is mandated by resource constraints and will make possible “centralized planning” and appropriate allocation of resources to obtain “the right mix [of forces] at the right time and place” and “a high level of cross-domain synergy”. (p. 39) But after saying all this about the urgent need for integrating the military but realizing that they had gone out on a limb with their masters, IDS quickly backtracks, reiterating on the very next page (p. 40) that all the preceding material notwithstanding, “It does not imply physical integration” of the three armed services.

7) This is almost a throwaway line, but on page 50, the document asserts, in the context of establishing a joint “Special Operations Division” the fact that “the possibility of a conventional war under a nuclear overhang recedes with attendant political and international compulsions”  but stops short of saying that this is just the reason for a major overhaul of the extant military force structure, especially the rationalization of the three strike corps for exclusive use on the Pakistan front into a single composite corps that I have been advocating for nearly 25 years now, and transferring the materiel and human resources to form additional two offensive mountain corps for use against the Chinese PLA in Tibet.  This would be the sort of force rejig that cries out to be implemented. Except the existing armed services are inclined to preserve and protect at all cost the present system in which each service is virtually sovereign and acts autonomously, and even if such a military hurt the national interest.

8) More disarmingly, this IDS paper is upfront about needing to strike “a balance between indigenisation and foreign purchase essential to India’s military independence and modernization” (p. 54). This translates into continued reliance on imported armaments especially because, like a drug to an addict, even a small amount of the opiate can worsen the addiction. Going cold turkey, as I have argued, is the only way out, as any level of foreign purchases is inimical to the country’s “military independence”. The prerequisite here is for an iron political will, which is missing.

9) And absent is any nod to the nuclear deterrent other than a wary affirmation of credible but minimum deterrence that reflects IDS’ lack of appreciation of the fast worsening nuclear correlation of forces and of  any insights or knowledge of the field. The doctrine refers to the need to shift conventional force structuring from a threat-based template to a capability-based one. The Indian strategic deterrent too could do with a similar change in its fundamentals, which is what the document should have said.

10) And, finally, there’s a pointed last page (61) reference to the perennial military-bureaucrat tension, saying “The functionaries in the MoD ought to be enablers” and facilitators of “free flowing communication” between the political class and the armed services, to make possible “critical and timely decision making”. To expect the babus to be honest brokers, so to say,  rather than another variety of vested interests gumming up the works in the national security field, is to expect too much. Here again the absence of a strong political vision and hand on the MOD tiller is to blame, but remains unmentioned.


Taken in toto though, this paper is a lot of thin air masquerading as Joint Doctrine. Pity about this. Because serious thought is warranted regarding all aspects of the Indian military. Alas, this paper contains little of it.

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.
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8 Responses to Joint Forces Doctrine — passive, defensive inward-turned, and disappointing

  1. Himanil Raina says:

    If this document is classed for Unrestricted Access, where may it be accessed online?

  2. sir couldnt open the link …can u please keep the correct pdf link to download sir…thanks sir

  3. andy says:

    Re:”Except the existing armed services are inclined to preserve and protect at all cost the present system in which each service is virtually sovereign and acts autonomously, and even if such a military hurt the national interest”

    If one wants to know the single most important reason for the myriad ailments that plague the Indian armed forces this one is surely at the very top.National interest is taking the backseat as all the 3 forces are busy protecting their individual turfs(as if protecting their personal fiefdoms)Unless this stops ,one cannot visualize a joint effort between the three forces being much of a success.

    • Shaurya says:

      Nothing unusual in individual forces not wanting to “dilute” their power. A joint command based structure headed by a CDS has always been forced by the executive and legislatures. In our case blame one entity squarely. The PMO aided and abetted by the bureaucracy.

      Even in the case of as dire a situation as nuclear matters in the NCA, the NSA (a bureaucratic entity) is squarely in the middle of the executive and the executioners. Allows this bureaucracy to meddle in matters, a willing and sleeping executive would welcome.

      Security issues do not matter to electorate and elections, not even mundane local security like police work gets attention and resources, the IB remains at half its sanctioned strength. We have had now some 4 committees starting with KRC to recommend this CDS and not one – not one of them has recommended a proper 5 star CDS position, it has always been a diluted one – almost no one has talked of truly joint commands – except for nuclear, intelligence, space, cyber, etc.

  4. Shaurya says:

    Bharat: On the nuclear doctrine, the document skips the word “minimum” while phrasing “credible deterrent”. I did not make much of it but just to note, some may treat this as the minimum is gone from MCD?

    • Pls see the footnote: it refers to Manpreet Sethi’s book. Sethi, a navy officer’s wife, has long professed the efficacy of minimum deterrence. hence my inclusion of “minimum”. Sethi, incidentally, is the pupil of the late Air Cmde Jasjit Singh (who, in turn, was Subrahmanyam’s chela at IDSA).

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