Innovative change is the acme of military effectiveness. However, much depends on the circumstances dictating such change and the process adopted

by Lt-Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

From the reportage about the most recent conference of the Army Commanders, the Indian Army appears hell bent on organisational changes, ostensibly to save Rs 7,500 crore every year and have more money for its capital budget for modernisation. What these changes will be and what effect they will have on the operational capabilities and war-fighting doctrines is an issue that is very comprehensive and can spark a debate. A review of the historical process of change undergone by the Indian Army both at the tactical and operational levels while comparing this with our adversary, Pakistan, can set the tone. 

The Indian and Pakistan armies have, over the past 70 years, undertaken reviews, like any other army of the world, by continuously studying each other, available technology, concepts and doctrines of other armies, the operational terrain and environment of the times with constraints such as budgeting and resource availability, to optimise their effect in battle. In the Indian context, the two-front threat (China and Pakistan) has been a major consideration; the Pakistan army does claim a second threat on its western front, which in comparison, is marginal. An analysis of some major changes adopted by the two countries over the years is essential for an understanding of the matter.

Pakistan Army’s Innovations

An immediate recall about the Pakistan army: there are two issues that used to strike us quite starkly many years ago. Very early, Pakistan raised the Recce & Support (R&S) units for the role of tank destruction using anti-tank weapons. These light units reinforced the capability of engaging with a much stronger armoured component of the Indian Army, as a cheaper but very effective option. These units also had heavy infantry automatic weapon detachments to reinforce weaker segments of the holding force in areas under engagement. It afforded much higher flexibility in battle. To overcome its size disadvantage, the Pakistan army decided to enhance firepower at the cost of manpower; it innovatively equipped its basic infantry sub-unit (the section) with two automatics as compared to our one. The Indian Army finally raised R&S units only commencing in 1983 and similarly reinforced our basic sub-units with a second automatic around this time; a good three decades later.

It hardly needs much memory to recall that in 1965, we were surprised by Pakistan's 6 Armoured Division (a second armoured division), the existence of which was not known to the Indian General Staff. It is after 1971 that we raised a second armoured division and then a third (initially a mechanised division). Among other marked innovations of the Pakistan army was the raising of the artillery division to provide concentrated fire support and flexibility in the mechanised battlefield. We subsequently raised three such divisions. Pakistan also adopted the concept of Air Defence (AD) Command for greater centralisation and control of AD resources all over its territory and defence of its nuclear strategic assets, in the face of a superior Indian Air Force. India has not felt the necessity of such an organisation. Pakistan was the first to include Army Aviation as an essential arm of the Army. It had the advantage of facing no resistance from the Pakistan air force. Eventually, the Indian Army's aviation arm did emerge.

One of the most innovative responses in reorganisation within the existing resources was the Pakistan army's raising of the Centralised Corps Reserve (CCR) for its two desert and semi-desert corps when the threat of the third Indian strike corps emerged in 1990. One may recall the conversion of the HQ Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) of Operation Pawan to a Corps HQ and organised with offensive resources to take the battle across the Rajasthan desert. Unnerved by this, Pakistan quickly put together resources to raise the CCRs by incorporating the returning formations from Saudi Arabia with existing reserves. Gradually, as more resources were raised, these have become two full-fledged mechanised divisions.

Indian Army’s Innovations

It is good to give the adversary more than his due just as it's been done above. However, the Indian Army has not lagged in innovation, although admittedly at the tactical level it was forced to respond to many innovations of the Pakistan army. 

At the operational and strategic levels, three innovations mark the Indian Army's successful adaptation to the changing environment. The 1975 Experts Committee, comprising Lt-Gen Krishna Rao and Maj-Gen K Sundarji (later both Chiefs), recommended a series of measures in reorganisation at operational level of war fighting. 

The major lesson here is that none of these were immediately adopted. They underwent a serious doctrinal testing in simulated conditions, war games and exercises with troops before adoption. 
1. Among the most famous was the conversion of many of the divisions of the Strike and Pivot Corps of the plains to the now famous acronym — RAPID (Reorganised Army Plains Infantry Division), giving them a better mechanised capability for manoeuvre in offensive and defensive operations.

2. The second innovation is the Rashtriya Rifles, 63 units of which today battle terrorists in J&K and manage the counter-terrorist environment. Raised in 1991, this specialised force with a permanent presence in the operational environment, with troops being rotated, has freed up regular units for conventional role; today it optimises for that role. It is one of the finest experiments in Indian military innovation.

3. The third innovation was an almost 180-degree change in concept: the adoption of proactive strategy after Operation Parakaram (the mobilisation effort post the December 13, 2001 terror attack on Parliament). It led to the battle group concept (BG), gave much more teeth to the Pivot Corps to initiate early operations without awaiting the much larger Strike Corps and thereby defeat Pakistan's much quicker mobilisation effected due to the far shorter distances of its cantonments from the border. Both sides have relocated formations on the basis of this change. Pakistan today unsuccessfully attempts to stymie our thinking through the threats of employing tactical nuclear weapons.
Innovative change is the acme of military effectiveness. But much depends on the circumstances dictating such change and the process adopted. Nothing done in a hurry pays dividend and doctrinal testing, at least through simulated war-gaming, and a season or two of exercises with troops contributes to the stability of change.