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New Dimensions of Swarm Warfare

Rear Admiral S Kulshrestha
Indian Navy(Retd.)

 
 
 

They were coming at us like bees”. “We would kill one lot and then more would appear. It was the most amazing thing.” – Lt Col Twitty, Commander 3rd Battalion 15th Infantry, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq, 2003. 
Swarms in nature have always intrigued humans because individually the animals or the insects do not appear to have intelligence but in a swarm, they are able to move as a cohesive intelligent formation capable of taking actions befitting an intelligent life form. Some of the world’s largest swarms in animal kingdom include mosquitoes, Argentine Ants, Christmas Island Crabs, krill, springbok, and locusts. Peter Miller, in Swarm Theory[1] brings out that swarm intelligence works because of ‘simple creatures following simple rules, each one acting on local information’ and also that, a smart swarm is a group of individuals who respond to one another and to their environment in uncertainty, complexity, and change.
The use of swarms in warfare has been observed for over 2000 years, some examples include:

  • Battle of Alexandria Eschate, 329 BC Scythians – mounted Archers,
  • Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC Parthians – mounted Archers
  • Battle of Khambula, 1879 Zulus – Dismounted light infantry armed with spears
  • Battle of Britain, 1940 – Air Battle of Sept 15, 1940 British single-seat Spitfire and Hurricane fighter Aircraft
  • Battles for Objectives Moe, Larry, and Curley, Baghdad, Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003 Iraqi and Syrian light infantry.

Swarming has also been looked in to by US Military institutes in academic studies and war games. RAND has studies by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, ‘Swarming and the Future of Conflict’, 2000; Sean J.A. Edwards, ‘Swarming on the Battlefield: Past, Present, and Future’, 2000; and Sean J.A. Edwards, ‘Swarming and the Future of Warfare’, 2005. In the last document, the author has opined that:

  • Swarming occurs when several units conduct a convergent attack on a target from multiple axes. It involves pulsing where units rapidly converge on a target, attack it, and then disappear.
  • Swarming is of two types, one where units arrive on a battlefield as a single mass, disassemble, and attack the enemy from many directions, and the second, where the dispersed units converge and attack without forming a single mass.
  • Five variables are essential for a swarm attack to be successful these are, superior situational awareness, elusiveness, standoff capability, encirclement, and simultaneity.

A new approach to achieve coordination amongst a system of large number of simple robots has emerged during biological studies of swarms in nature as well as during applications of Artificial Intelligence in to mechanical swarms it is called ‘Swarm Robotics’.  Ant robots are swarm robots that communicate via trail of markings, for example, heat, odor, light, chemical substances, and transceivers.
Microbots is a generic term applicable to very small robots spanning robots of sizes from, small robots (<100 cm), minirobots (<10 cm), milirobots (< 1 cm), microbots (<1 mm) to nanobots (

  • Symbiotic Evolutionary Robot Organisms, ‘Symbrion’[2]. This project is funded by the European Commission. It is inspired by the biological world. Its aim is to develop a framework in which a homogeneous swarm of miniature interdependent robots can co-assemble into a larger robotic organism for problem solving. It has its roots in previous two projects called I-SWARM and SWARMROBOT.
  • 3D printing of microbots[3]. Engineers at Harvard have developed an ingenious layered folding 3D printing process by which it is feasible to mass-produce robotic insects. The size is <2.5 cm in diameter and <0.25 cm in height. Many such pop up microbots can be printed from a single sheet.
  • Kilobot[4] (Self-organizing thousand-robot swarm). Another project undertaken by engineers at Harvard aims at providing a simple platform for enactment of complex behaviors using 1024 small robots or Kilobots. It has been heralded as a stepping-stone in development of collective artificial intelligence.

All of the above projects and many more on similar lines have been funded by military R&D agencies including DARPA. All have military applications as is evident from the fact that the U.S. Military is looking at incorporating roles for swarms in its transformation programs[5]. These swarms of intelligent UGVs, UAVs, and UUVs are intended to sense, recognize, and adapt to the changing situation. The sensor networks will be self-aware, self-healing, and self-defending.
In October 2015, US Army tested swarms of commercial off the shelf drones for applications in the military.  Barry Hatchett of the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation stated, “It has been proved that consumer [drones] can be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, distraction tactics and, in the future, the ability to drop small munitions.”[6]
In a landmark trial, this year the US Navy’s Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program aims to have thirty drones flying together without having to be individually controlled, maintaining separation safely like a bird swarm. The operator would be piloting the whole swarm as a single unit instead of controlling individual UAVs. The trial would have far-reaching impact upon future of swarm warfare in the US armed forces.
The day is not far when the battlefield would graduate from ISR microbot swarms to weaponised microbot swarms carrying new age explosives delivered ingeniously into the enemies heart. The technology would leap frog to provide counter swarms as also counter-counter swarms. The era of the small and many appears to be dawning on the battlefield.
I need a stealth bomber that’s going to get close, and then it’s going to drop a whole bunch of smalls – some are decoys, some are jammers, some are ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] looking for where the SAMs are. Some of them are kamikaze airplanes that are going to kamikaze into those SAMs, and they’re cheap. You have maybe 100 or 1,000 surface-to-air missiles, but we’re going to hit you with 10,000 smalls, not 10,000 MQ-9s. That’s why we want smalls.[7] – Colonel Travis Burdine, USAF

Weapons and Sensors that Wait to Strike


Rear Admiral S Kulshrestha
Indian Navy(Retd.)

Passive sensor triggered weapons have been in use for a considerable time by the military. They have been in form of Bangalore Torpedo, anti tank mines or anti personnel mines on land and as ground or moored mines at sea. Passive sensors have been extensively used on land for electronic support measures and at sea for detection of ships by submarines. One of the largest chains of passive sensors in the WWII era was Sound Surveillance System or SOSUS. It was a chain of hydrophone sensors located at various places in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. The main aim was locating Soviet submarines transiting the Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom gap (GIUK gap). With developments in stealth technologies, other elements have been added to it such as the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS), and it has become part of the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS)[1].
One of the important weapons of the cold war era, that lay dormant until activated, was the anti submarine encapsulated torpedo MK 60 CAPTOR. It was a deep-water mine which could be laid by aircrafts, ships or submarines. The mine could distinguish between surface ships and submarines as well as between friendly and enemy submarines based on their acoustic signatures. It would thereafter launch the MK 46 torpedo, which would then acquire and attack the enemy submarine. Both Russia and China had also developed similar mines.
With the rapid advances in sensor technologies, it is now feasible to expect robustness, high quality, and reliability in commercially produced sensors. The sensors today are produced using novel signal processing methods, provide very high speeds, and utilize low cost electronic components. Similarly, two main developments in manufacture of chips, which have acted as a catalyst in exponential improvements in computing technologies, include, firstly, coupling of traditional electronics with optical components using Ge Laser to obviate usage of wiring in chips. The ongoing work at MIT’s Microphotonics center utilizes a series of subterranean tunnels instead of buried fiber cables for transmission of the laser[2]. This would achieve at least 100 times faster speeds than current systems. Secondly, the use of Mermisters or resistive random access memory (ReRAM) chips. These are 1000 times faster and can store twice as much data as flash memory chips. The main advantage is that ReRAM does not lose contents once power is switched off. [3] Further, they can be used in logic computations, implying thereby that both memory and computation functions can be carried out on the same chip[4].
Interestingly, Russia, China, and Iran have taken active interest in passive radar technologies. As per reports of a Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s online affiliate, in February 2015, Moskva-1 (developed by KRET) is a passive radar system, which would enable Russian troops to detect and identify airborne targets as far as 240 miles away without disclosing their location. It is understood that this could also be supplied to Iran[5].
The USAF had also released a request for information RFI RFI-PKS-0001-2012 for development of a Phased Array Antenna in respect of its Passive RF Sensing program. This involves development of analog and digital beam forming techniques for wideband phased array radar antennas that can operate over a 10:1 bandwidth[6]. The US Army too has evinced interest in such systems that lie in wait submerged at sea and could be launched at an opportune time[7].
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has undertaken a project titled Upward Falling Payload (UFP) in which it is envisaged that drones would be made to lie in wait at concealed locations on the sea floor, for prolonged periods before being launched to the surface and into the air[8].
As per DARPA, “Nearly 50 percent of the world’s oceans are deeper than 4 km, which provides vast areas for concealment and storage. Concealment provided by the sea also provides the opportunity to engage remote assets that may have been dormant and undetected for long periods, while its vastness allows simultaneous operation across great distances. Getting close to objects without warning, and instantiating distributed systems without delay, are key attributes of UFP capability.”[9] The DARPA UFP program in its study phase, looked at long-range communications, deep-ocean high-pressure containment, and payload launch. It is understood that one of the firms that participated in the first phase was Sparton Electronics of De Leon Springs, Florida; this firm had worked to develop conceptual designs of a system with the potential to launch a plethora of non-lethal weapons like electronic warfare jammers, blinding lasers, and distracting light strobes upon surfacing.
The second phase would be development of proto types. The sub systems of the UFP program include; the pressure tolerant container or riser which would hold the payload for prolonged periods; the communication package, which would trigger the encapsulated payload to be launched to the surface, and the payload, which should be able to execute its function after it, is made to surface. To achieve the above aims the technologies that DARPA is looking at include, long endurance reliable electro-mechanical systems, very small sensors, small-unmanned systems, long-range underwater communications, navigation technologies etc. Phase 3 would be demonstrations of the systems at sea.
Once developed the UFP would provide pre-deployed sensors or non-lethal weapons in open seas. These could be  used by the US Forces for surprise deployment in times of international conflicts across the globe.
The author is not aware of any such futuristic research initiatives in respect of Indian Armed Forces by the Defence Research and Development Organisation in India.

[1] http://fas.org/irp/program/collect/iuss.htm
[2]http://www.computerworld.com/article/2512857/computer-processors/shining-a-light-on-the-chip-interconnect-bottleneck.html
[3] Six minute Memrister guide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvA5r4LtVnc
[4]  http://www.computerworld.com/article/2516972/computer-hardware/hp-chip-discovery-could-be-a-tech–game-changer-.html
[5]http://www.armyrecognition.com/november_2015_global_defense_security_news_uk/russia_could_deliver_electronic_warfare_systems_moskva-1_and_rtut-bm_to_iran_11511151.html
[6] https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=ce67bff643299c827cb5b3f1d106f37f&tab=core&_cview=0
[7] my.nps.edu/web/cruser/blog/-/blogs/105727309
[8]http://gpsworld.com/darpa-ocean-drone-would-lift-upward-falling-payloads/
[9] http://www.darpa.mil/program/upward-falling-payloads

New Nukes on the Block?


Rear Admiral S Kulshrestha
Indian Navy(Retd.)

As long as the United States continues to have nuclear weapons, we must ensure that they remain safe, secure, and effective without the use of underground testing

– Don Cook, NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs[1]

In October 2015, USA completed testing of upgraded Nuclear Earth Penetrating bomb B61-12. The aim was to extend the life of B61 Mod 7 and Mod 11 strategic bombs by 20 years[2]. The upgrades include scalable nuclear yield (The B61 family of weapons can be configured with a wide variety of yields, including 0.3, 1.5, 5, 10, 45, 60, 60, 80, 170, and 340 kilotons), precision guidance and advanced safety mechanisms.
It is understood that strategic assets like ballistic missile facilities, command, control & communication centers, shelters for political leadership etc are located in tunnels at depths varying between 200 meters to 700 meters. These have been termed as strategic “hard and deeply buried target (HDBT)” by NATO countries and it is against such targets that Nuclear Earth Penetrating bombs are intended to be used.
Conventional weapons have the capability to penetrate to depths as much as the nuclear earth penetrator weapons (NEPW) but they are not as effective against the HDBTs. The energy transfer of NEPWs into ground is far more effective than surface or aerial bursts of even nuclear weapons. It is said that a 300-kiloton NEPW is as effective as a 6-megaton surface burst against HDBTs. Further, the accuracy requirements (Circular Error Probable, CEP) for surface bursts are more stringent than NEPWs for HDBTs to achieve the same kill probabilities. This brings in to focus two facts viz. that NEPWs require much less radioactive material and that with increasing accuracy of hit the damage potential keeps on increasing.
Sandia National Laboratories have been carrying out research work on the Earth Penetrators since the 1960s. One of their newer programs is the feasibility study program “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator program (RNEP)”. The aim of this program is to study feasibility of designing RNEPs which, can tackle a larger number of targets than the B61-11. The general terms of reference indicate that RNEP should be capable of reaching a specified depth, should be able to survive and penetrate the target, and should perform better than B61-11in terms of functionability, safety, security, & reliability. Sandia National Laboratories have the credit of building the most complicated nuclear safety mechanism called the ‘Micro Guardian’ in 1990s. This ensures that the nuclear weapon does not detonate until a predefined sequence of events is completed. It is said that the size of this system is 10 mm x 6 mm x 5 mm, and it forms a part of the optical micro-firing system[3]. These developments highlight the march of Micro electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) as well as the Nano electro-mechanical systems (NEMS) into the nuclear arsenal arena.
It need not be stressed that arming and detonation of a nuclear weapon should not take place accidentally, however it is also to be ensured that the bomb once armed must not only hit the designated target but also explode. These conditions present a formidable technological challenge in designing of the arming, fusing, and firing mechanisms of  nuclear bombs. This requires requisite robustness and multiple redundancies as also assured reliability of functioning. The MEMS/ NEMS have gained credibility mainly due to their compactness and minimal moving components as compared to the early analogue as well as digital counterparts. Programs such as the RNEP of Sandia National Laboratories would not only benefit NEPs but also conventional weapons as well. The availability of such devices and the fact that they have improved the resistance to failure of key components in fusing, arming, detonators, and neutron generators by many magnitudes has spurred research into next generation of nuclear weapons.
Though the consensus over the term Fourth Generation of nuclear weapons is still debatable, it can be safely stated that it would invariably be those classes of nuclear weapons which are triggered using advance triggering mechanisms such as  super lasers, magnetic compression or antimatter (this also under active research!!). This would than result in a thermonuclear explosion of a few liters of deuterium-tritium mixture (equivalent of hundreds of tons of TNT). The main source of yield would not be fission reaction of the first three generations but a distinct fusion reaction, which would classify the next generation.
The stage is set for, NEMS to usher in unprecedented robustness, reliability, and precision in CEP, nEMs to replace conventional explosives and provide much greater explosive power[4], and advanced triggering devices & fusion yields to herald fourth generation nuclear weapons. The possessor would not only be able to unleash a swarm of conventional weapons but also carryout devastating assault without breaching the kiloton/ megaton taboo of first strike!
[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3154136/Air-force-drops-controversial-bomb-test-designed-update-nuclear-arsenal.html#ixzz4A7F8wVfM
[2]http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Security-Industry/2015/07/10/US-tests-B61-12-nuclear-gravity-bomb/7211436542217/
[3] http://www.sandia.gov/LabNews/LN01-15-99/mems_story.htm
[4]

Nanoenergetic Materials (nEMs) in Conventional Ammunition

Rear Admiral S Kulshrestha
Indian Navy(Retd.)

 
 
 

Nanotechnology “could completely change the face of weaponry,”
– Andy Oppenheimer, Jane’s Information Group[1]
On 11 September 2007, Russians tested Father of All Bombs (FOAB), an Aviation Thermo baric Bomb of Increased Power (ATBIP). It was said to be the most powerful conventional bomb in the world, with a 7-Ton explosive mixture resulting in a devastating effect equivalent to 44 tons of TNT[2]. It was hinted that the FOAB contained a liquid fuel, such as ethylene oxide, mixed with energetic nano-aluminium powder, which was dispersed by a high explosive booster. Some reports speculated that the liquid fuel was purified using nano-filters. What caught the imagination of defence experts was the fact that the Russian FOAB had less fuel than the similar US device Mother of All Bombs (MOAB), the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, but was four times more powerful. It was also probably the first time that the nonprofessional learned of the lethal uses of nanotechnology. Not much information is available through open sources about the developments involving nanotechnology in explosives, much of it has to be gleaned from research papers and patents (for e.g. Patents like US6955732 – Advanced thermo baric explosive compositions and WO2013119191A1 – Composition for a fuel and air explosion).
Since 2004, ‘Combat Safe Insensitive Munitions’ concept has shifted the focus of safety from a pure materials approach to making marine explosives insensitive to a platform based approach based upon mechanics to increase insensitivity[3]. US Navy has been at the forefront of R&D into new energetic materials since a long time and it is opined that nanotechnology enabled energetic materials would form the backbone of the future defense systems. Timely induction of nano enabled energetic systems with controlled energy release is the focus of current research at institutes like the U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and the University of Maryland.
In simple terms, Nanoenergetic materials (nEMs) perform better than conventional materials because of much larger surface area, which increases speed of reaction and larger energy release in much shorter time. Addition of Superthermites[4] (nano-aluminium based) have shown instantaneous increase in explosive power of existing compositions[5]. Further, use of nano-sized materials in explosives has significantly increased safety and insensitivity by as much as over 30% without affecting reactivity. It is predicted that nEMs would provide the same explosive power at mass up to two orders of magnitude less than the current explosive systems[6].
In rocket, propellants nEMs have shown similar capabilities at Los Almos National Laboratories with nitrogen-energized nEMs[7]. In addition, incorporation of more than one burning rate in rocket propellants has given rise to novel design options by creating grains with continuously varying properties along the length as well as across the radius of the grain in Functionally Graded Materials (FGM).
While nanosizing of high explosives leads to increasing their explosive power[8] and decreasing their sensitivity to external forces[9], it also decreases their thermal stability. The shelf life of such explosives could therefore stand reduced, however, some patents reveal that this issue has also been resolved technically (e.g. patent US20120227613 Thermal enhanced blast warhead). In India the work on explosives and propellants is being undertaken at HEMRL, a DRDO laboratory, and it is understood that the research in nEMs is progressing satisfactorily.
Projections
Nanotechnology is permeating in all fields of design & manufacturing of weapons and ammunitions. It is bringing unprecedented precision in weapon systems, robustness in triggering mechanisms and opening new frontiers in propellant and pyrotechnic functioning. In addition to explosive and propellants, nanomaterials have ushered in innovative improvements in many characteristics of ammunition such as guidance, penetration capacity, embedded sensors for monitoring condition, embedded antennae for guidance and so on.
It can be envisaged that nEMs would replace the conventional explosives in the next decade. This would provide existing conventional weapons with explosive powers higher in magnitude by a factor of two and enhance the safety to external stimulation by at least 30%. In simple terms, a missile warhead having an explosive content of 200 kg of TNT equivalent would have an explosive power of 20,000 kg of TNT equivalent when substituted with nEMs material of same weight of 200 kg!
This advancement could displace Tactical nukes from the battlefield.
What can also be foreseen is the mushrooming of new classes of extremely precise and lethal small/micro weapon systems, which could be scaled down by at least second order of magnitude from the current systems- thus creating space for the likely paradigm shift from bigger & larger to the smaller & numerous holdings of weapons. This in turn would herald the era of Swarm Warfare.

References 
[1] Gartner, John. “Military Reloads with Nanotech.” Technology Review, an MIT Enterprise, January 21, 2005. http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/14105/page1/
[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6990815.stm
[3] Insensitive munitions:
Improve the safety and survivability for Armed Forces and civilians in urban areas or near combat zones because they can safely be stored at closer distances. Reduce the vulnerability of platforms and resources against unintended or hostile aggression, violent reactions with blast overpressure and fragmentation damages are under control. Maximize the storage capabilities and improve flexibility logistics: IM can safely be carried by land/sea/air; storage platforms can be closer together and are key to Inter-Operability between the Armed Forces.
[4] Nano-Thermite or Super-Thermite is a metastable intermolecular composite (MICs) containing an oxidizer and a reducing agent, which are intimately mixed on the nanometer scale. This dramatically increases the reactivity relative to micrometer -sized powder thermite. MICs, including nano-thermitic materials, are a type of reactive materials investigated for military use, as well as for general applications involving propellants, explosives, and pyrotechnics.
[5] Gartner, John. “Military Reloads with Nanotech.” Technology Review, an MIT Enterprise, January 21, 2005. http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/14105/page1/
[6] Yang, Guangcheng, Fude Nie, Jinshan Li, Qiuxia Guo, and Zhiqiang Qiao. “Preparation and Characterization of Nano-NTO Explosive.” Journal of Energetic Materials, 25, 2007.
[7] Tappan, B.C., S.F. Son, and D.S. Moore. “Nano-Aluminum Reaction with Nitrogen in the Burn Front of Oxygen-Free Energetic Materials.” Shock Compression of Condensed Matter, American Institute of Physics, 2005
[8] Kaili Zhang, Carole Rossi, and G.A. Ardila Rodriguez. “Development of a Nano-Al/CuO Based Energetic Material on Silicon Substrate.” Applied Physics Letters No. 91, 14 September 2007.
[9] Guangcheng Yang, Fude Nie, Jinshan Li, Qiuxia Guo, and Zhiqiang Qiao. “Preparation and Characterization of Nano-NTO Explosive.” Journal of Energetic Materials, 25, 2007.

Neuromorphic Chips – Defence Applications

Rear Admiral S Kulshrestha
Indian Navy(Retd.)

 
 
 

..And I had an opportunity to grow from the time where we couldn’t make a single silicon transistor to the time where we put 1.7 billion of them on one chip!
– Gordon Moore, Cofounder Intel
Last year Kris Gopalakrishnan pledged $ 50 mn at IISc and IIT Madras on research that seeks to model next level computing based on the functioning of the Brain.[1]
Neuromorphic engineering is an emerging interdisciplinary field that involves designing sophisticated devices based on the complex neural circuits of the brain. It uses principles of the nervous system for engineering applications to achieve a better understanding of computations occurring in actual biological circuits and utilize the unique properties of biological circuits to design and implement efficient engineering products. Neuromorphic chips aim to mimic the massive parallel computing power of the brain, circumvent the size limitations of traditional chips, and consume less power. It is also predicted that such chips could adapt in response to stimuli. As a technology demonstrator, P. Merolla et al [2] at IBM have developed a 5.4-billion-transistor chip (TrueNorth) with 4096 neurosynaptic cores interconnected via an intra-chip network that integrates 1 million programmable spiking neurons and 256 million configurable synapses. With 5.4 billion transistors occupying 4.3-sq cm area, TrueNorth has 428 million bits of on-chip memory. In terms of power consumption where a typical central processing unit (CPU) consumes 50 to 100 W per sq cm the TrueNorth’s power density is 20 mW per sq cm only. This qualifies it to be a good candidate for ushering in green technology to computing.[3]
However, for purposes of clarity TrueNorth is not a brain; it is inspired by the brain[4] and mimics some functions of the brain to carry out computations.
Market for Neuromorphic Chips
The main factors, which have driven research and development of neuromorphic chips, are tremendous demand for data and data analytics, miniaturization of sensors, ingress of Artificial Intelligence into software of almost all intelligent machines and high cost of further miniaturization of integrated circuits. These factors have spurred the demand and growth of the market for neuromorphic chips, which is expected to grow at a CAGR of 26.31% between 2016 -2022.[5]
One of the key areas where such systems would need break-through research would be in design of algorithms since biological systems autonomously process information through deep learning whereas any human designed chip or system would be limited by human designed algorithms. The applications areas currently comprise sensors in military as well as medical fields.
Military Applications
Militaries today are coping up with an exponential increase in the amount of data from a wide variety of sensors.  Unprecedented data collection has severely strained the limited available bandwidth for military use. The data needs to be processed, as close to the sensor as possible before further transmission therefore sequential computational techniques with their large size and power requirements are not very efficient in this regard. NeuroSynaptic chips can carry out this parallel task much more efficiently.
DARPA had initiated a project called Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE), in 2008 and had contracted it to IBM and HRL. It has funding of over $ 100 mn. The aim of SyNAPSE is stated ‘to build an electronic microprocessor system that matches a mammalian brain in function, size, and power consumption. Further, it should recreate 10 billion neurons, 100 trillion synapses, consume one kilowatt, and occupy less than two litres of space’.[6]
The US Army has projected a requirement for a high-performance, low-power bio-inspired parallel processor. This would be integrated in to cognitive communication systems and image processing platforms on unmanned vehicles. The project is being undertaken by Physical Optics Corporation (POC) under their BRAINWARE processor program.
The U.S. Air Force has projected a requirement to develop a new class of advanced, wide field of view (WFOV) imaging sensors that sample the radiation field in multiple modes: spectral, temporal, polarization, and detailed object shape. These multimodal sensors are for deployment on high altitude ISR functions of drones. Scaled down versions are required for use with autonomous micro-air vehicles (MAV) for guidance, navigation, and control. Two types of bio-inspired multimodal sensors, one operating in the visible wavelength regime, and the other operating in the infrared wavelength regime are being developed by The Spectral Imaging Laboratory (SPILAB) in collaboration with the University of Arizona. Both sensors will have a neuromorphic processing capability based upon visual brain areas of insects and crotalid snakes.
Conclusion
It is apparent that neuromorphic chip based computational systems scalable to the capabilities of the human brain are a clear possibility provided an all-round research and development effort is synergized in hardware, software, architecture, and simulation & understanding of functioning of the brain. The neuromorphic chips as well as quantum computing have ushered in a paradigm shift from the focus on microchips to that of the system as a whole.
In the ultimate goal of mimicking the human brain, it is likely that development of artificial brains of smaller species or specific parts of the human brain may turn out to be more enchanting purely from a commercial point of view. The impetus to the rapid development in neuromorphic systems would be provided by the availability and applications of such systems for large-scale commercial utilization.

References 
[1] http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2015-01-30/news/58625701_1_brain-research-kris-gopalakrishnan-indian-institute
[2] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/345/6197/668.full
[3] Computational power efficiency for biological systems is 8–9 orders of magnitude higher than the power efficiency wall for digital computation;
[4] http://www.research.ibm.com/articles/brain-chip.shtml
[5] http://www.reportlinker.com/p03302865-summary/Neuromorphic-Chip-Market-by-Application-End-User-Industry-and-Geography-Global-Forecast-Analysis-to.html
[6] http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2014-08-07

Independent Domain of China’s Cyberspace Operations

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

 
 
 

The transformation of the Chinese Military from September 2015 greatly emphasised on new Strategic Support Force (SSF), bringing about significant changes in warfighting and organizational structure of Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA prophesized that cyber operations are independent means to subdue any adversary, by achieving information dominance. A key facet of this transformation is that space, cyberspace, and electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) are warfighting domains in their own right, rather than being supporting elements in traditional land, sea, and air domains.
On 23 May 2017, a Sukhoi 30 aircraft crashed on India-China Border in North East, which IAF inquiry later opined was cyber attacked, presumably by China.[1] Four major cyberattacks have been noted in India. In July 2016, Union Bank of India heist, through a phishing email sent to an employee, hackers accessed credentials to execute a fund transfer, swindling the Bank of US $171 million, which was recovered later. In May 2017 May, Wannacry Ransomware attack took its toll in India with several thousands of computers getting locked down by ransom-seeking hackers, including Andhra Pradesh police and state utilities of West Bengal. May 2017 data theft at Zomato, discovered that an ‘ethical’ hacker who stole data, including names, email IDs and hashed passwords of 17 million users, demanded the company must acknowledge its security vulnerabilities and put up for sale on the Dark Web. In June 2017 Petya Ransomware attack impacted the world, including India, where container handling terminal of Danish firm AP Moller-Maersk’s at Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust Mumbai got affected.[2]
In 2019, for three months India faced the most cyber-attacks in the world, according to a report released by Subex, a Bengaluru-based firm providing analytics to telecom and communication service providers. The most commonly targeted sectors in India were critical infrastructure followed by banking, defence, and manufacturing. Chinese cyber-attacks (50,000 in 2019) targeting India are traditionally routed through Vietnam or the Philippines. The purpose of cyber-attacks in many instances was not to cause immediate damage but to stay in the victim’s computer system for the long term, study security deployed within the computer network, and then gather information of strategic importance.[3]
Over the last three decades, China’s military policy pronouncements had been causing qualms on capabilities and intentions on cyber warfare. In the 1990s it was called “information warfare,” than “winning local wars in conditions of modern technology” and “winning local wars under conditions of informationization”. By 2004 “informationization became the key factor in enhancing warfighting capability of the armed forces.” “The Science of Military Strategy” in 2013 emphasized that cyberspace has become a new and essential domain of the military. China also uses the term “Integrated Network Electronic Warfare” (INEW) to describe an integrated approach to information warfare operations, that includes electronic warfare (EW), computer network warfare, and psychological operations.
The PLA now characterizes and understands modern warfare as a confrontation between opposing operational systems rather than merely opposing armies. It is will be won by disrupting, paralysing, or destroying the operational capability of the adversary’s operational systems. By sheer breadth and depth of scientific prowess, PLA will aim at achieving success to dictate political terms, by a modern, technological war to project the international repute of an emerging superpower.
Cyberwarfare is a very cost-effective means of disrupting or disabling an opponent.  Understandably in the information age, cyber power has become an indispensable factor in military operations, part and parcel of military doctrines in defence and attack strategies.  China has also emphasised on the information domain, where information is created, manipulated, and shared.  Five salient manifestations of cyber warfare planned by China merit attention:

  • The span of Cyber Warfare has transcended to the civilian domain of critical infrastructure, like financial institutions, banking, electrical/ power, water, sewage, railways, and telecommunication networks. Indeed, there has been a proliferation of Chinese made computers/ laptops, routers, modems, and telecommunication hardware in Indian networks, which could well have been embedded with viruses, trojans, malware, supplying information to the masters regularly that could be exploitable during the war.[4]  Cyber attacks could include espionage, military, and strategic data stealing and corruption, with cyber weapons, like viruses, worms, Trojan horses, script attacks, rogue Internet codes, and denial-of-service (DDoS) operations and even control on command and control systems. It is also necessary to draw attention on the report “China Has ‘First-Strike’ Capability to Melt U.S. Power Grid with Electromagnetic Pulse Weapon (EMP)”.[5] As per this report China’s military doctrine is closely associated with cyber-attacks with a non-nuclear high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (for example High Powered Microwave produced by magnetrons and vircators), in what is called Total Information Warfare. “If the communications equipment for the transmission of battlefield information were attacked, would face the danger of disruption in battlefield information transmission. EMP severely restricts the tactical performance and battle survivability of informatised equipment.”[6]
  • These configured critical new domains in China’s “informationalized” 21st-century warfare are space operations, cyber, electronic and psychological warfare capabilities, and signals intelligence, among others. In the same vein, offensive operations across the electronic medium employ electronic jamming, electronic deception, directed energy weapons and EMP. China has also elevated cyber warfare to strategic level by adding cyber attacks on satellites or space warfare, to its offensive operations.
  • The cyber warfare also attempts to target cognitive domain of the warfighter. The psychological warfare concept is drawn from the Chinese “Three Warfares” (the two other being Legal and Public Opinion Warfare). It is the domain that facilitates the communication of information among warfighters. In the SSF, Network Systems Department has integrated cyber, electronic and psychological warfare. Psychological Warfare would undermine an adversary’s ability to conduct combat operations by cumulating cyber and EW to deter, shock and demoralize enemy military personnel and supporting civilian populations.
  • The Technical Reconnaissance Bureaus (TRB) with technical intelligence collection resources, would enhance battlefield awareness through intelligence gathered utilizing its extensive space-based resources, and developing target indicators (image, electronic and heat signatures, as well as cyber vulnerabilities) for specific weapon platforms, to be used for targeting by theatre forces in, EW and cyber (and even kinetic) domains. The Ist TRB under WTC is at Chengdu, Sichuan will provide valuable support to Western Theatre Command by space, cyber, electronic and psychological weapons as strategic weapons to paralyze and sabotage operational and command system of systems in initial stages of the conflict. The integration of EW and CW is vital, both a part of EMS for transmission.
  • While warfighting capabilities and security implications of PLA are studied, there is lack of clear understanding of political and psychological warfare. Exploiting vulnerabilities of openness of democratic systems, PLA and Communist Party of China (CPC) play an important role in attempting to influence adversary’s public opinion and shaping way of thinking. The Confucius Institutes, set up in many countries, including three in India, are an important part of China’s influence and propaganda operations.

The aggression by China in Eastern Ladakh in 2020 is in the physical domain, with PLA furtively executing a range of territorial incursions.  There was a robust response by Indian Armed Forces, as the physical domain is one that they have been largely involved in since Independence, and can measure up to even an asymmetrically larger combat power, as also undertake offensives.
Cyberwarfare by China becomes significant for India, also in light of recent belligerence and aggression.  That brings to fore the all-important question, has cyber warfare for PLA becomes a first strike option that can independently achieve political aims and objectives, without undertaking conventional military operations? Without accepting or disallowing adequacy of capacities to undertake it, will China’s cyber warfare campaign materially affect outcomes in the physical domain? The issues are examined as follows:

  • The ambit of cyber warfare and attacks in the civilian realm in India can be substantial, though, is a subject of Governmental consideration, is not deliberated.
  • The primary concern for operational commanders will be the effect of the synergy of space, cyber, EW and psychological warfare capabilities across EMS, for effectively carrying out operations. It is appreciated that this integration will involve Computer Network Operations (CNO), which is offensive action as cyber-attacks against digitisation and computer systems that are networked, and EW like jamming (with spoofing) and hacking.  It can be appreciated that:
    • The effect of integrated cyber-EW-space operations on tactical and operational levels in physical domain will greatly vary from limited to moderate to severe.
    • If the cybersecurity aspects of air assets, UAVs and helicopters, and their infrastructures have not been catered for, their onboard computer, communication, and data links may become vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Similarly electronic fire control systems in ‘A’ vehicles or missile systems, which have embedded computers and insecure communication systems, can be affected. Many of the systems may be protected or resort to manual over-rides to obviate the problems. Similarly, Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellite communications could be hacked or jammed, and wreak havoc on strategic weapons systems, though that may have international ramifications.
    • Tactical command, control and communication (including military radio) networks are prone to cyberattacks and will be vulnerable.
    • There will be a glut of propaganda and psychological warfare, with deep fakes, fakes, and half-truths, addressing political hierarchy, masses of the nation, and the Services. This aspect generally gets underplayed in Government/ Services and overplayed by national audiovisual/ social media. A very important aspect in this information age, this issue mandates immediate strategising.

It is argued that while China has greatly focussed on cyber warfare, its efficacy can only be discerned in actual combat, though currently along the Line of Control it may not be catastrophic and would not lead to any capitulation of force.  There is resilience in warfighting capabilities of Indian Armed Forces and redundancies to continue to undertake military operations, in spite of cyber warfare. With the vastness of borders and effort required, PLA may resort to selective and focussed cyber attacks in the military domain, that lend to the furtherance of operations.
There are however gaping vulnerabilities in cyberspace that need to be significantly reduced by good training and tactical drills and decentralised operations.  Services must strategise against cyberattacks, enhancing robustness and protection of critical infrastructures and warfighting platforms, the ability to detect an attack, and capability to respond and recover afterward. Cyber Deterrence will not be established overnight, but demonstrating credibility through consequences will bolster it.
There is hence a crying need for Indian Armed Forces to create a robust, capable, and adaptable information warfare operational system, subsuming the multi-fragmented agencies exploiting the space and EMS.  We will also require hardening our systems against premature destruction!  We require doctrinal clarity and synchronisation of cyber warfare and electronic warfare operations. There are serious requirements of human resource reforms, of creating a specialist Information Warfare technologists and analysts (both are complementary but not identical).
There are momentous changes afoot in the realms of warfare. The strategic conclusion is that information warfare technologies have fundamentally transformed the character of war, and maybe its nature too!  Time may not be on our side and India might already be the testing ground for newer technologies. The measure of victory in future wars may be successful paralysis over destruction!
End Notes
[1] Naveen Goud,  Cybersecurity Insiders,  accessed at https://www.cybersecurity-insiders.com/china-cyber-attacks-indian-sukhoi-30-jet-fighters/
[2] Saraswat VK, Cyber Security Presentation, Nitin Aayog, New Delhi accessed at https://niti.gov.in/sites/default/files/2019-07/CyberSecurityConclaveAtVigyanBhavanDelhi_1.pdf
[3] Regina Mihindukulasuriya, India was the most cyber-attacked country in the world for three months in 2019, The Print, 03 March 2020, accessed at https://theprint.in/tech/india-was-the-most-cyber-attacked-country-in-the-world-for-three-months-in-2019/374622/
[4] Saurabh Tewari China’s Cyber Warfare Capabilities, USI Journal, April 2019 – June 2019, accessed at https://usiofindia.org/publication/usi-journal/chinas-cyber-warfare-capabilities/
[5] Peter Vincent Pry, EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security, 10 Jun 2020, accessed at https://www.scribd.com/document/466092865/ACFrOgDmmAfPOwLZUAA54O2LFTVwwQRYpt3-b3EO9AmFJTdzyjD7CD-VeTMMHs55q4XU3vFOcbdfzPhVuJuNyDI9dIn78iX20yREnsdYllv9aKaB0k5vW0D1H4dqKfEMGvvOmIUJ9ZOXoKBx7Ly7#download
[6] Zhao Meng, Da Xinyu and Zhang Yapu, Overview of EMP weapons and Protection techniques against them, Winger Missile (PRC Air Force Engineering Unit: 01 May 2014), quoted in Ibid.
 

Super High Altitude Areas in Eastern Ladakh: Designing Ground Operations

Co-authored By Lt. Gen. DS Hooda PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM** and Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma PVSM,UYSM,AVSM,VSM (Retd.)

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

 
 
 

The Chinese have exhibited a coercive and intimidating approach in 2020, in South and East China Seas, the Taiwan Straits, Nepal (Mt Everest), Bhutan (Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Eastern Bhutan’s Trashigang district) and Eastern Ladakh.  Without a legal basis, the Chinese actions clearly demonstrate muscle flexing and hegemonic intentions.  These are a part of China’s larger geopolitical aspirations and also reveal a greater willingness to use military force, as was apparent in the induction of 6 Mechanised and 4 Motorised Divisions across Eastern Ladakh.  The Chinese aim was to show their national will and deter India from any quid pro quo military actions. These geopolitical ambitions, and the will or intent to employ military force to achieve those ambitions, is a major futuristic challenge for India.
The Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh at multiple areas, followed by an intransigent attitude in disengaging, de-escalating and return to pre-May positions, was a first of its kind.  It has forcefully brought home the threat of a conventional war in the high altitude areas of the Northern borders and also heightened the likelihood of collusive support by Pakistan. In appreciation of the threat that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) poses, the Indian Armed Forces have undertaken robust and forceful measures in Eastern Ladakh. There has also been a positive movement in the Government for facilitating essential and emergency defence acquisitions to strengthen the armed forces, fill-in voids where they exist, and allocate additional resources for infrastructure development. However, there is a need to undertake a comprehensive assessment of our warfighting techniques in super high altitude areas.

India is a sub-continent, with a wide variety of terrain configurations and extremes of climatic conditions on the borders. The two different adversaries though could collude at the strategic level, have uneven levels of capabilities and contrasting pattern of operations. Hence, planning for conventional operations in India has to perforce follow sectoral and theatre level specificities, in equipping, training and, most importantly, in designing the methodology of conduct of wars. This peculiarity mandates on the operational commanders at Command and Corps levels to plan the design of battles, task, train and equip the forces almost independently for each theatre, particularly in areas like Eastern Ladakh that remain cut off from the rest of the country for five to six months in a year. It also envisages a heightened level of operational logistics and management to overcome the difficulties in rapidly mobilising resources into remote, high altitude areas.
A very broad mention of terrain configuration in Eastern Ladakh will be in order. The 1000km Eastern Ladakh frontage is walled by the two tiers of masssifs of Karakoram, Cheng Chenmo, Pangong, Kailash Ranges and Saser Brangza (an offshoot of Karakoram) and Ladakh Ranges. The Shyok River in the North, the Pangong Tso in the middle and Indus River in the Southern Sub-Sectors, are near-parallel to the LAC, between these two massifs.  There are limited passes, gaps, axes and laterals, and river valleys (like Chip Chap/ Galwan/Cheng Chenmo/ Indus) that could facilitate PLA movement from the Western Highway – the G219, to the Line of Actual Control. With the terrain’s distinct peculiarities, the movement for both the defender and the aggressor in the battlefield is limited to ‘Go’ areas for the tanks and mechanised vehicles that is, along these narrow valleys and gorges, defiles and passes. The exploitation of natural and man-made features, and its analysis and interpretation, predict the effect of the terrain on military operations.  In the super high altitude areas as obtaining, terrain analysis employing geospatial information, of heights and plains, passes and valleys, rivers and water sources, presents a basic visualization of operations to support decision making.
Knowing the enemy, his appreciated intent, the pattern of operations and perceived end state, forms the basis of all planning.  The Chinese have invested greatly in the Strategic Support Force (SSF) and configured critical new domains in “informationalized” 21st-century warfare – space operations, cyber, electronic warfare and signals intelligence, among others. Offensive operations across the electronic medium will employ electronic jamming, electronic deception, directed energy weapons and electromagnetic pulse radiation. The PLA also views cyber operations as an independent means to subdue the adversary by achieving information dominance. The PLA Second Artillery Forces was renamed as the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF) in 2015 and made a full service like the army, navy and air force. With a vast array of short and medium-range ballistic missiles, the PLARF could conduct well-planned strikes against key Indian targets. Such a campaign can be undertaken by long-range precision attacks by rockets, missiles and air forces, to destroy important targets, paralyze operational systems, and destroy war potential, creating favourable conditions for further operations.  The vast range of options available to the Chinese includes the covert cyber targeting of civilian/ national infrastructure with plausible deniability and overt attacks on military infrastructure and defences at the border areas.
While the PLA would hope that standoff attacks cause major military damage, victory cannot come without a defeat of the Indian Army on the ground in Ladakh. With offensive operations at Kargil War 1999 as a general indication, PLA has to bring to bear a major force asymmetry to contemplate operations against the battle-hardened and experienced Indian troops, occupying well-constructed linear defences. To obviate the severe terrain restrictions, PLA may resort to using of the third dimension, but inevitably, the aggressor has to finally capture and control dominating heights.
In order to combat the PLA offensive in Eastern Ladakh, a suggested warfighting methodology could be designed around the following:

  • The operational level commanders in Northern Theatre are concerned with employing military forces to gain an advantage over the enemy and thereby attain strategic goals through the design of battle and conduct of campaigns. Gen HR McMaster had said, “There are two ways to fight … asymmetrically, or stupid.” In the conventional war that will be fought asymmetrically, the design would have to be tailored for the appreciated campaign, utilising the linear defences as pivots and employing composite Task Forces (TFs) or Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs), sized and composed exclusively for each ingress avenue. These specifically composed IBGs/ TFs, working in tandem, asymmetrically, would jockey in an advantageous manner, undertake a series of operations and accomplish the common objectives in the given time and space.
  • Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) are critical for placing the right chess pieces in place, and to execute the operational plan. In the environment as available in Xinjiang and Tibet, and in correlation to the location of the combined arms formations of PLA, there would be little difficulty in implementing an intelligence plan – based on all strategic, operational and tactical inputs. The challenge will be to overcome the battle of the turf of disparate collection and analysis agencies.  The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) should be proactive in seeking intelligence, even by prepositioning liaison staff in NTRO and R&AW, and energising the Directorate of Signals Intelligence (SI) and the Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC). The requirement of ISR equipment for the field formations in Eastern Ladakh, which should include a variety of Unarmed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), requires a separate and detailed analysis, but the need to hasten acquisition of such equipment is indisputable.
  • The Indian Air Force has distinct advantages in Eastern Ladakh and will be a game-changer. With the air force’s reach, flexibility and firepower, the PLA can be strategically and operationally interdicted, greatly facilitating the defensive plan. Ground based firepower – artillery guns, rockets and missiles, can combine to a devastating effect with the Air Force.  It would be prudent to plan for additional Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) and adequacy of rockets for the artillery.
  • The Go and No-Go areas have been extensively mapped, along with terrain exploitation plan, which will impose severe restrictions. Whether it is the 36Ton Type 15 medium tank of the PLA (with a 1000HP engine) or a 47Ton Indian T90 (again with a 1000HP engine), the agility of mechanised forces can be exploited and limited to only the ‘Go’ areas. In matters of tactical mobility, the tanks have limited manoeuvre space. Therefore a much more potent T90, has an effective and definitive edge over Type 15. In operational and strategic mobility, a light tank can be advantageous, but we are not envisaging battles over hundreds of kilometres.  It is opined that T90 tank, the mainstay of Indian Army, is the optimal equipment for super high altitude areas and the requirement of a light tank is exaggerated. In any case getting one more variety of equipment will strain the operational logistics system, in a sector that remains air maintained for substantial time. There is also the all-important question of cost-benefit analysis.
  • An Infantry Combat Vehicle (BMP2) even with limited armour protection but with its firepower (anti tank guided missiles and cannons) and the infantry stick (manpower) is of immense value, in rushing and occupying key terrain features, as per operational plan. The current class of general-purpose vehicles are not suitable for super high altitude and there is a requirement of high-mobility vehicles (like Humvees) for the infantry. These could be wheeled or half-tracked. The equipment to be acquired must be based on an operational plan as envisaged by the Northern Army and 14 Corps Commanders.
  • As the sub-sectors could be isolated and forced to undertake independent battles, operational logistics will be of prime importance. Hopefully, the Upshi-Manali Axis will remain open in the oncoming winter with the opening of the Rohtang Tunnel, although this will require a massive engineering effort in snow clearance along the whole route. With the absence of trust with the Chinese and no de-escalation insight, larger force levels will have to be retained in Ladakh.

Though conventional war may not be on the horizon, the Chinese aggression prudently demands preparations for the same in right earnest. Northern Army and Western Air Command, formations/ bases and units have to jointly design, orchestrate, and coordinate ground and air operations, and plan tactical operations within the overall campaign objectives.
Decentralisation of ground, tactical operations will have to be the norm in super high altitude areas.  Most importantly to succeed in this terrain, we must train our tactical leaders to think and operate to be – innovative, bold, risk-takers, independent in thought and action.  Undertaken asymmetrically and by segregated TFs and small teams, operations in various sub-sectors would entail manoeuvres, engagements and battles that would make up the overall campaign. From this perspective, the success in tactical level operations has the potential to translate into achieving an operational and even a strategic victory. The operational planning and acquisition plans, hence, should also commence from strengthening the IBGs and TFs.
 

Eastern Ladakh: The Torrent of Strategic History, the Wrath of Strategic Geography and the Torment of Geo-Strategy – Part 2

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

 
 
 

O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy’s fate in our hands.
— Sun Tzu
 FlashBack!
Post-Independence of India, the dizzy altitudes of Himalayas have witnessed substantial warfare, commencing with 1948 between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. The surreptitious invasion of the Pakistani Army couched as tribal/ irregular invasion in 1948, was pushed back substantially due to resolute offensives. It included the capture of the lofty heights of Pir Kanthi and Ledi Gali on the Pir Panjal Range. Historic is the story of Lt Col Sher Jung Thapa, MVC,  whose tenacity, courage, commitment and ability to motivate his two officers, two JCOs and 72 Other Ranks under most adverse conditions of a siege at Skardu from 02 Dec 1947 to 14 Aug 1948 has few parallels in the annals of military history. The Indian Army pulled off the unthinkable — deploying a squadron of Stuart Mark 6 tanks of 7 LIGHT CAVALRY located at Akhnoor across the Pir Panjal Range, at the 11,553 feet high Zojila Pass (he Pass of Blizzards), thereby shocking the enemy and routing him.
The reverses of 1962 left indelible memories, but provided all-important experience, and goaded the preparations to ensure territorial integrity. Even in the reversals of 1962 War, there was the great saga of immense valour and raw courage in the defensive battles of Rezangla, Gurung Hill in Chushul Sector and Sirijap on the Pangong Tso in Ladakh. Contesting the Chinese offensive into Chushul were six AMX-13 tanks of the 20 Lancers Regiment, airlifted on the night of 24/ 25 Oct 1962. These tanks were critical in stopping the Chinese advance and deny the Spanggur gap. Both in 1965 and 1971 Wars, the Army captured the towering Point 13620 astride the Shingo River in Kargil Sector. The capture of Haji Pir Pass and the massif of Bedori in 1965 exhibited planning, valour and fortitude.  The Indian forces faced conflictual scenarios against PLA in the Nathu La-Cho La (Sikkim) skirmish in 1967[1] and Sumdorong Chu (Arunachal Pradesh) in 1987[2], and came upon the top!
The Kargil War of 1999 is another story when Pakistan had furtively occupied heights of Drass, Kargil, and Batalik above 5000 meters. This was the crowning glory, when the army and airforce, with one hand tied on the back, exhibited an epitome of courage and resilience unseen. The Indian artillery fired over 2,50,000 shells, bombs, and rockets during the Kargil conflict.  The Bofors guns inflicted huge casualties on the Pakistan forces in Kargil war used in a direct-fire role weapon. A preponderance of firepower had been concentrated at Kargil totaling 300 guns, mortars, and Grad BM 21 MBRLs. Approximately 5,000 artillery shells, mortar bombs, and rockets were fired daily from 300 guns, mortars, and MBRLs while 9,000 shells were fired the day Tiger Hill was regained. Tiger Hill is forever a household name.[3] The dizzy heights of Siachen Glacier and the Saltoro Range, as the highest battlefield in the world, are continually witnessing conflictual scenario since 1984.
Hence, be it Haji Pir, Bana Top (on Northern Siachen Glacier) or Tiger Hill (Kargil) in offensive operations; Poonch (1971), Rezangla and Walong (Arunachal Pradesh) in stoic defence, and in combating terrorism, Indian Army has proven it by blood, fortitude, courage and planning.
Fast Forward!

History and experience of high altitude warfare and constant combat with terrorists behind us, it is necessary to fast forward and examine. It is a given that any rapprochement on demarcating the LAC on the ground with China or resolving it in finality does not seem even in the distant horizon.[4] Since April 2013, the ‘faceoffs’ have transcended to another level, that does not lead to disengagement for a very long time, fisticuffs, brawls, use of batons and finally firming in an adversarial atmosphere, till resolved through BPMs.[5] Doklam, Raki Nalla, Chumar, Pangong Tso, Demchok, Hot Springs and Naku La are names that immediately come to fore. These are at the tactical level, and own troops exhibit immense control and resilience, and yet forcefulness and firmness.
Lately, grave concerns have been raised of the ‘transgressions’ that have happened at Galwan River, Pangong Tso and Hot Springs in Eastern Ladakh. While the extent and details of transgressions have not been placed by the Army/ Government in the public domain, the vacuum of information has led to conjecturing of Chinese firming in the substantial territory, with implausible numbers of PLA personnel, their locations and deployment. Writers, experts, veterans and ‘analysts’ have utilised maps/ satellite imageries/ goggle pictures or ‘informed sources’ to indicate fictional deployments in the proximate heights of the areas of transgressions. Without the benefit of confirmed information, such submission is vain.
Line of Actual Control (LAC) is largely un-held. The PLA would well recollect the strong methodology followed by the Army in 2013/ 2014 at Chumar and later 2017 in Doklam, to deny their designs. There are vast unheld areas or infiltration routes in Eastern Ladakh that lend to viable quid pro quo options, easily within the capabilities of the holding formations with resoluteness.  PLA should be loath and impetuous to extend the transgressions to defensive deployments in the heights, for the trepidation of quid pro quo response. That would certainly be escalatory in nature.  Hence, without official authentication and confirmation, such thought-process is presumptive. It is argued that if perchance, PLA has, as a first time, resorted to physical deployments and holding of ground in higher reaches, unabashedly own army units would have applied quid pro quo options, in the vast open spaces of LAC.
While sustenance of force of Chinese and Indian troops is generally not problematic, Galwan River is another story.  From the Depsang Plateau road head to sustain PLA force through to the lower reaches of the Galwan River, will stretch it, will require half-links for lugging, and naturally limit the quantum of force. The incoming news reports of some disengagement and move away at Galwan River LAC should then be as expected.  The talks at Corps Cdr level, scheduled as a first of its kind Border Personnel Meeting (BPM), should endeavour the return to status quo, thrash out measures to avoid physical brawls of the kind that happened in May 2020 (and earlier) and decide on proximate infrastructure construction, as Indian Army is endeavouring.
Foreshadow!
The saying goes, that the best teacher of war is war!  And wars have been a historic constant; however, warfare has always remained evolutionary. Currently, winning wars implies the ability to wage war comprehensively in all domains and achieve the political aim. Also, future conflicts are expected to be short, fast-paced and intense, non-kinetic or kinetic, non-contact or contact. There are theorists that have deep reservations on the likelihood of all-out inter-state conventional wars. With the focus on socio-economic development, neither India nor China desires a conventional war. And if conventional wars do happen, they could be limited in varied parameters.
The wars of Post-Independence India and the continued war-like deployment along the Himalayan Massif had hardened the Indian Armed Forces to the vagaries of the mountain and high altitude warfare. To that can be cumulated, the incessant employment of units in mountains and higher altitudes in counter-insurgency and counter-infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East.  Without unnecessary bravado, in territorial wars across the LAC, be it offensive or defensive, the capabilities, experience, and design of the Indian Army will be solid and most credible, even in the present-day scenario.  India will plan to offset and defeat the force asymmetry in China’s favour, by degradation, by the admixture of asymmetric warfare, kinetic strike, defensive layout in tiers and offensives. Asymmetric warfare contextually will encompass using linear defended lines as tripwires, and saturate the battlespace with strong deniability by focused and imaginative ruse and subterfuge. As salience and preparations for modern conventional kinetic war cannot put on back-burner, substantive offensive capabilities, duly acclimatised, trained and kitted, must be available for achieving ‘across the hump’ success and consolidation. In prosecuting the war in the mountains, and despite the given that mountains favour defence, the Erwin Rommel quote, ‘I would rather be the hammer than the anvil’, is apt.
Au Contraire, it has been analysed that PLA now characterizes and understands modern warfare as a confrontation between opposing operational systems rather than merely opposing armies. The wars with China, if ever, maybe wholly non-kinetic in nature, in modern warfare domains of information warfare, space & cyberspace, and electronic spectrum that may cripple critical infrastructure. Or in the fields of precision weaponry – ground or air-delivered and autonomous systems that may be aimed to incapacitate critical and defensive infrastructure and forces. Hence, Indian Armed Forces need to:

  • Create a robust, capable, and adaptable operational system of its own, to fight a modern war. We will have to accept that a multi-domain campaign will be the future warfighting campaign.
  • Develop a framework of strategic capabilities against non-kinetic technological threats, like weaponized information, cyber, and other subversive forms of aggression.
  • Build modern kinetic capabilities like the drone swarms, precision-guided munitions, stealth technology, hypersonic weaponry (eventually) and disruptive technologies, to disrupt, paralyse, or destroy the operational capabilities of the adversary.

Though Indian Armed Forces do not play Wei-chi, the game of go, they know the art of warfare, learned through grit and determination over seventy years, with many a bullet having swished past the current rank and file.  We have also imbibed in Sun Tzu and are prepared!
End-Notes
[1] Probal Das Gupta, Watershed 1967: India’s forgotten victory over China, JUGGERNAUT BOOKS, New Delhi, 2020.
[2] Mandip Singh Lessons from Somdurong Chu Incident, IDSA New Delhi, April 26, 2013, accessed at https://idsa.in/idsacomments/CurrentChineseincursionLessonsfromSomdurongChuIncident_msingh_260413
[3] Jagjit Singh Maj Gen, Battle-Winning Role of the Gunners in Kargil War, Indian Defence Review, 22 Jan 2019, accessed at http://www.indiandefencereview.com/spotlights/battle-winning-role-of-the-gunners-in-kargil-war/
[4] Rakesh Sharma, Eastern Ladakh: The Torrent of Strategic History, the Wrath of Strategic Geography, the Torment of Geo-Strategy, Centre of Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, 04 June 2020, accessed at https://www.claws.in/eastern-ladakh-the-torrent-of-strategic-history-the-wrath-strategic-geography-the-torment-of-geo-strategy/
[5] Ibid

Eastern Ladakh: The Torrent of Strategic History, the Wrath of Strategic Geography and the Torment of Geo-Strategy

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

 
 
 

Trade caravans and explorers historically knew no political boundaries, except the mountain ranges. The ancient routes, with knowledge having been passed from generations to generations, moved through the western Himalayas, traversed the Pamirs, Hind Kush, Karakoram, the Greater Himalaya, and the Plateau of Tibet. There were exchanges in culture, ideas, thoughts and religious ideologies, and certainly, trade. Eastern Ladakh (Ladakh is the land of passes) along the Shyok River Valley formed the corridor for trade with Punjab and Kashmir.
The names in Eastern Ladakh have an informative character and are of Yarkhandi (a Turkic dialect) Balti or Ladakhi (in Nubra Valley) origins. The ice peaks for Yarkhandis was Muztagh, Baltis prefixed Sar and Ladakhis called them Kangri (Kangri is a Balti Name too).  Hence, Karakoram Pass is a pass of black gravel, Polu is a temporary shelter (do not linger here!), Chip Chap River is a very quiet River and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) implies a place where a very rich and great person died! Aksai Chin denoted eastern China. The Depsang Plateau was a long open space after a slope, Qazi Langar was the kitchen run by a Qazi, Burtse refers to shrubs (which had medicinal qualities), Murgo was the gateway to darkness or hell, and Chhongtash a big stone.  The Shyok River was the river of death, Gapshan (where Rimo and Chip Chap rivers meet) had a type of shrub or wood and Saser La was a pass of the golden earth, Saser Kangri ice peak of golden earth and Saser Brangza a temporary camp at the foot of Saser La.  Rimo was a huge and mountain with beautiful colourful stripes.  Sultan Chyushku is the resting place of the Sultan, Chang Chenmo were the big northern plains.  Darbuk denoted a flourishing village in a valley and Tangtse a higher ground to cross the northern pass – Chang La.[1]
Axiomatically the Chinese profess to have atavistic, though highly selective, memories. The history is singularly convoluted, with the role of the British and Russians, and of course the Chinese. Lord Curzon had stated that “the idea of a demarcated frontier is itself an essentially modern conception and finds little or no place in the ancient world,” He also tellingly remarked that, “it would be true to say that demarcation has never taken place in Asiatic countries except under the European pressure, by the intervention of ‘European Agents’… he would be a short-sighted commander who merely manned his ramparts in India and did not look beyond.”  History of Eastern Ladakh is not the purpose of this paper.  Suffice it that it commences with the First SIKH War and the Amritsar Treaty in 1846, when the British recognised Maharaja Gulab Singh of J&K, under their suzerainty. What followed was a history of ‘Lines’ that attempted to delineate the boundary between Ladakh and Tibet – by William Johnson, a civil servant with the Survey of India – the “Johnson Line” in 1865, the Ardagh–Johnson Line of 1897 and the Macartney–MacDonald Line of 1899.  In the geopolitics of that era, the Karakoram Pass, a 5,540 m or 18,176 ft mountain pass on the Karakoram Range, got formalised as the boundary between India and China in 1892, and has, till yet, remained outside any controversy.  The pass is 45 metres wide, devoid of vegetation and it is generally free of snow.
After Independence, the Ministry of States, headed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, published two White Papers; in July 1948 and February 1950. Both showed the entire northern boundary from the Indian-China-Afghan trijunction, the subject of the Sino-Pakistan agreement to the India-China-Nepal trijunction as “undefined”, in contrast to a clear depiction of the McMahon Line in the east. This was the position when India and China signed the Panchsheel Agreement on Tibet on April 29, 1954. The then PM wrote to the Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs, Note of 01 July 1954: “All our old maps dealing with the frontier should be carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn. New maps should be printed showing our northern and north-eastern frontier without any reference to any `line’. These new maps should also not state there is any undemarcated territory… this frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anybody.”[2] In 1954, India published revised maps with… the Johnson-Ardagh Line, which the British had proposed to the Chinese in 1899 – extending the Indian frontier in the western sector to the Kunlun Mountains.[3]
There is a protracted correspondence between PM Nehru and Premier Chou en Lai on the vexed issues of the border. A letter was written by Premier Chou en Lai dated 07 Nov 1959 postulated ‘…each side withdraw 20 kilometres … from the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west (Ladakh).  Shivshankar Menon has explained in his book Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy that the LAC was “described only in general terms on maps not to scale” by the Chinese. Zhou (Chou en Lai) clarified the LAC again after the war in another letter to Nehru: “To put it concretely … in the western and middle sectors it coincides in the main with the traditional customary line which has consistently been pointed out by China”. During the Doklam crisis in 2017, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson urged India to abide by the “1959 LAC”.[4] Shyam Saran has disclosed in his book How India Sees the World that the LAC …India formally accepted the concept of the LAC when (PM) Rao paid a return visit to Beijing in 1993 and the two sides signed the Agreement to Maintain Peace and Tranquillity at the LAC. The reference to the LAC was unqualified to make it clear that it was not referring to the LAC of 1959 or 1962 but to the LAC at the time when the agreement was signed. To reconcile the differences in some areas, the two countries agreed that the Joint Working Group on the border issue would take up the task of clarifying the alignment of the LAC. During his visit to China in May 2015, PM Narendra Modi’s proposal to clarify the LAC was rejected by the Chinese.[5]  The two countries are also engaged in Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) on the border with bilateral agreements signed in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013.[6]
Nearly six decades have passed since then, but the border issue remains unresolved. Over time the Chinese have developed infrastructure, especially metalled roads right upto their perception of LAC. The travesty of this undemarcated border is wrought at the tactical level, where the units and formations deployed in Eastern Ladakh face the belligerent Chinese, while dominating their area of responsibility. In the course of the last twenty years, India has undertaken immense strides in developing axials and laterals in Eastern Ladakh, to sustain the graduated build-up of forces with clear-cut tasking. What is called “transgressions”, happen with regularity and most are mutually and amicably resolved without reaching the media, under the provisions of the various agreements by ‘banner drills’ or ‘Border Personnel Meetings’ (BPM).  Certain pertinent issues need stating:

  • The belligerence and newer claims of the Chinese on the 826km frontier in Eastern Ladakh are creeping into areas, hitherto fore considered uncontroversial. This increases the challenge greatly.
  • Since April 2013, the ‘faceoffs’ have transcended to another level, that does not lead to disengagement for a very long time, fisticuffs, brawls, use of batons and finally firming in an adversarial atmosphere for a long time, till resolved through BPMs. Raki Nalla, Chumar, Pangong Tso, Demchok, Hot Springs and recently Galwan River, are names that come to fore. Though to the credit, none of these incidents has led to the firing or spiralled out of control, there is obvious disregard to the normal measures like disengagement post banner drills.
  • Indian axials development reached a major significance with the construction of the bridge over Shyok River in 2019 on the Darbog-Shyok- DBO Road (DS-DBO). The DS-DBO Road greatly facilitates management of the Sub Sector North of Eastern Ladakh. Other developments include habitat creation for the accretions. Understandably, the Chinese have ‘watched’ and followed these infrastructural and force level upgradations, without protestations.
  • The PLA having created its own road network to the farthest end of its claim, takes advantage of the same by using transport to arrive in the best time, to deny own foot patrols undertaking their task. Case in point is Pangong Tso, where while tasked to move to Finger 8, as movement from the track on the rock face from Finger 3 to 4 takes time, PLA is able to move by vehicles from Sirijap and deny progress at Finger 4/5 itself. This invariably leads to a brawl at that area.  Having witnessed many, and followed most, the gross media exaggerations (without official pronouncement/ confirmation) of the ‘area’ transgressed and the quantum of force pitted by either side at the site of the altercation causes immense consternation among the public.
  • A level has now reached, which mandates infrastructural development in proximate areas of the LAC, like feeder roads to Galwan River and the Pangong Tso Finger 3 and 4 connection. While the PLA on its own has the same to the very end, this last mile connectivity by Indian Army is what causes the later day violent reactions, despite the fact that these are in own territory. This proximate work should be pending in many, many areas along the LAC, and the objections are inexplicable.
  • It is also obvious that the PLA is relying on the state of the art ISR systems to monitor movements of own patrols or attempts to upgrade infrastructure, to react at the opportune time.
  • As a first, the level of the BPM has been raised to the level of the Corps Commander of the Fire and Fury Corps (14 Corps), also implying that normal level meetings at Commanding Officer, Brigade Commander or even the previously rare Divisional Commander meetings, have been unable to break the impasse. One is hopeful of a resolution of the current imbroglio under the express contact planned at this very high level.

It must be unequivocally stated that the rationale for provocations and the timing of it has been debated in the audio-visual, print medium and social media ad infintum and requires no repetition. It is a given that any rapprochement on demarcating the LAC on ground, or resolving it in finality does not seem even in the distant horizon.  Hence as the proximate infrastructural development by the Indian Army is of utmost necessity, and domination of the LAC may be further focused upon wholesomely, to enable execution of the task at tactical level the face-offs and transgressions may become a NEW NORMAL.  There may hence be certain pathways for the management of the LAC that are imperative:

  • There is an optimal necessity of the state of the art upgrade at the LAC of the ISR and communication network (including the adequacy of secure satellite communication and digital links) for the last mile connectivity, at the earliest. The procurement must not be hardwired into budgetary constraints and procedural wrangling’s.
  • Multifarious agencies, including civil sector, be utilised for infrastructural development as had been previously done by the ITBP/MHA.
  • Though immense efforts have been made to rationalise and make permanence of the units in Eastern Ladakh, and delinking from the glacier loop, this requires further addressed. In the same context, sons-of-soil (home and hearth) concept of TA-isation will be a step in that direction.
  • As stated above, the recent events may become the new normal, a deliberate media dissemination policy is imperative. Vacuum of information, allows many to have their imagination run riot, which gets quoted in international media too. While it may be rightly said that there are prickly issues of demands of diplomacy and politics, the information in 21st century is a major force multiplier – or can cause immense consternation and negatives.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, the current protocols and architecture of ameliorating any problematic situation is under grave stress. There may need to find fresher solutions at the military or even the political level, pronto, for future eventualities.

Contextually, no attempt is made towards tactical responses; the serving establishment is well versed and most competent.
End-Notes
[1] The names nomenclature is largely drawn from famous mountaineer Harish Kapadia’s The Siachen Glacier and Mountains of East Karakoram, A Historical Review.  Please refer http://nawang.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Siachen_Booklet.pdf  and https://www.himalayanclub.org/hj/42/20/19-eastern-karakoram-a-historical-review/
[2] AG Noorani, Facts of history, Frontline, Volume 20 – Issue 18, August 30 – September 12, 2003 accessed at https://web.archive.org/web/20111002095213/http://frontlineonnet.com/fl2018/stories/20030912002104800.htm.  This article in detail traces out a survey of the treaties and engagements that have dealt with the status of the western sector of the Sino-Indian boundary in Jammu and Kashmir, in the 19th Century.
[3] Shyam Saran, How India Sees the World: Kautilya to the 21st Century, New Delhi: Juggernaut, 2017, P125-126, quoted in Travis Wheeler, Clarify and Respect the Line of Actual Control, 10 May 2019, accessed at https://www.stimson.org/2019/clarify-and-respect-line-actual-control/
[4] Sushant Singh, Line of Actual Control: Where it is located, and where India and China differ The Indian Express 02 Jun 2020
[5] Sushant Singh, Line of Actual Control: Where it is located, and where India and China differ The Indian Express 02 Jun 2020
[6] Mihir Bhonsale, Understanding Sino-Indian Border Issues: An Analysis of Incidents Reported in the Indian Media, ORF Occasional Paper No 143, Feb 2018.

Army Officers Career Management: Take the Bull by the Horns!

Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM
Adjutant General(Retd.) & GCTC Executive Board Member

 
 
 

Officers Management in the Army is demanding recognition as a controversial issue that has reached cul de sac.  This clarion call comes with five rationales. One, say within the next two/three years, the armed forces will be prepared for Integrated Theatre Commands.  This will have deep repercussions on the Officer Cadre promotional structure, as the three services follow a dissimilar path in entirety, and inter-se seniority is a bugbear currently. Two, the Hon’ble Supreme Court decision on Women Officers has significantly opened the field for their taking over Command of units, which will also have a material effect. Three, the promotion opportunities for commissioned officers from all arms and services, should largely be similar, to be motivating enough to new inductee Young Officers to retain a modicum of ambition. That does not exist presently for the Services officers. Four, warfare is dramatically changing, the foci is shifting to modern, information age conflicts.  There would be a transition to newer units and to the new cutting edge in warfare.   And, five, cases are yet subjudice in the Hon’ble Supreme Court for allocation of additional vacancies at higher ranks to combat arms, the decision to which will have a more far-reaching effect.
The Army has to resolve the internal officer’s career management policies, which have been under considerable strain for the last nearly twenty years.   It is necessary to first address the Army’s imbroglio, with a short backgrounder, though majorly, it will be known to all readers.  Consequent to the lessons learnt of the 1999 Kargil War, it was considered necessary to manage the reduction of ages of officers commanding infantry battalions and brigades. With that term of reference, AV Singh Committee (AVSC) was formed, which came up with a mathematical model (colloquially later called Command Exit Model – CEM). The chronology that followed needs recounting with certain specifics:

  • The CEM was based upon two variables – the Command assignments allocated to an arm or service, and the tenure in command. The first variable, the numbers of Command assignments, was left open-ended by the AVSC and has consequently witnessed large increments.  The second variable, the command tenures was fixed, with a wide span from Infantry Commanding Officers (COs) having 30 months to Services COs of 60 months. AVSC having been approved by the Union Cabinet, made the Report as if etched in stone for times immemorial, except in 2016, when in a judgment, the Hon’ble Supreme down-scaled the command tenures for the Corps of Engineers, Signals and Air Defence.
  • AVSC rested on many basic premises, the most important of which was to make Short Service Commission (SSC) attractive, to ensure the ratio of Permanent Commission (PC) to SSC to be as near to 1:1 as possible. This would have enabled batch construction at intake in a manner that would have retained equivalence in promotability at the level of Lt Col to Colonel (for taking over Command). The second important premise was lateral absorption of Army Officers in other Governmental Ministries. Despite the two pay commissions – 6th and 7th, and countless representations, these two have not fructified. The SSC has remained singularly unattractive as an intake option, and PC: SSC ratio has largely remained in favour of PC, up to the extent of 1:4.7, with an immensely adverse effect on promotional structures.  With the finite number of promotion avenues to Colonel, say 500 a year, and with say 1600 under consideration, the promotability ratio reduces to a little over 30%.  However, cumulated with command tenures variation, the promotability can vary between 20 to 60%, between various arms and services causing great consternation. Number of Command assignments at Colonel rank also have a commensurate effect on balance colonel vacancies – for example, if the total command assignments were 1500, and total Colonels authorised on establishment were 5500, then balance 4000 vacancies were allocated on the pro-rata of the ratios of the command assignments held by that arm or service. Hence, the race commenced on designating more and more command assignments by each arm and service.
  • Since 2011 to 2019, there have been a number of Army-internal and MoD study groups that have delved into the issue. The first broad based study group in 2011-2013 was headed by an esteemed Army Commander, had made important recommendations. Subsequently, seven or eight (one looses count) studies were undertaken, even by the College of Defence Management, though none met success on the altar of unanimity, or reached fruition by dedicated decision making.
  • In the interregnum, the CEM reached the stage of litigation at the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) initially and Hon’ble Supreme Court later. Being subjudice, the issue was denied the requisite opportunity to be addressed internally as an Army-Government policy. While in 2015, the AFT had stuck down the CEM, the Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld it in 2016.  The Hon’ble Supreme Court also allocated additional vacancies at Colonel Rank to the Corps of Signals, Engineers and Air Defence, which still did not benefit the Services.  The case is yet subjudice, for the same arms seeking commensurate vacancies at even higher ranks.

Having broadly chronologised the last sixteen years of CEM, it is apparent that the issue has far-reaching ramifications. The Army has yet to define command, whether it is designated on the basis of the strength of personnel in a unit, equipment held or based upon the functionality of operational or administrative tasking and financial outlay. Indeed in retrospective, many command assignments may not measure up to the original rationale.  In trying to adjust to meeting some satisfaction, allocation of vacancies has witnessed many a tweak and a number of loan vacancies, all of which have further muddled the issue.  With the passage of time the positions of arms and services have hardened, with all silo-ed in individualistic concerns and believing in their indispensability and meritocracy!
The Army has large officer corps with over 42500 officers, all of the high calibre and near incessantly employed in operations.  Career management of the officer corps is a sacred responsibility. The issue has procrastinated for a very long time and cannot be allowed to fester on the doorsteps of the Courts and be decided through a litigative process.  Inability to create a policy bespeaks of avoidance of an all-important measure of cohesiveness of the organisation. Also, individual Court decisions on petitions provide solace to a number of litigants within finite numbers of promotional assignments, but it would have a corresponding negative effect on the satisfaction of many others.
The issues that need addressal at this juncture are holistic in nature. Two of these must be considered before making recommendations. First, the CEM was approved by the Union Cabinet and second, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has upheld the CEM. Any significant change hence cannot be initiated internally; it will be challengeable with the Government or litigable in the Courts.  Some views are proffered below:

  • Short service commission is not much sought after, as it causes a mid-life crisis for the officers who do not achieve permanence in the Army. Making of Short Service Commission attractive, is absolutely mandatory, for which detailed proposals exist, like for a ten year SSC, allow an officer last year of study in a professional change-of-career institute, like IIMs and IITs ( for E-MBA or M Tech), and then placement. A gratuity had been recommended that provides for each year of service rendered in the Army. This must be pushed in with vigour. This will assist in constructing a balanced PC-SSC batch for each arm and service, and assure better than 50% promotability for all from Lt Col to Colonel.
  • The Hon’ble Supreme Court has given a decision on Women Officers being granted permanent commission and command of units. This will also mandate a share of vacancies at Colonel rank.  A proposal on the methodology of implementation was recommended earlier.[1]
  • Tri-service organisations are a reality, and the difference in service profile of equivalent ranks is irksome in managing command and control. With Theatre Commands this will be even more problematic.  The joint-service experienced officer will be obligatory, prior to reaching higher rungs in the three or joint Services organisation.
  • New realms of warfare– like cyber, information, precision and hypersonic projectiles, space and drones, are in themselves wholesome in nature, and maybe deciders of future wars. There will be requirement of reconfiguring specialist multi-domain warfare units in future, with differing command expertise, equipment profiles and manpower. For career management, these will have to put inside the CEM.
  • Command has to be redefined. The logic of deciding command was that a unit ought to be operational in nature (which includes arms and services units so committed), manpower or platform (equipment) oriented. The quantum of equipment that a unit ought to be authorised with, has to be credible enough for the operational task.

Status quo is not the answer.  To ameliorate it, there are many ways and time is ripe to take the bull by the horns!  It is clear, that this cannot be done internally – for there are too many vested, parochial interests. Even at the very higher rungs, individual corps/ regimental parochialism will mar effective visionary decision making, and subsume broader organisational interests.  Any significant change will require obtaining Union Cabinet approval, superceding the previous cabinet approval and issue of a formal policy.
There can be three options. One, a well conceptualised Intra-Arm/Service Track 2, (that can involve retired seniors officers too) that will bring about a rapprochement, a balance and a via-media within the parameters of laid down CEM. At this juncture such an option seems a non-starter, due to sharp cleavages. Two, under the powers of the Union Government, a Blue Ribbon Committee be nominated, to study the gamut of the issue and make recommendations, for a Cabinet approval. Three, an HR Management Consultancy to be engaged through the Government, to study, obtain approvals, facilitate implementation and undertake a couple of years of hand-holding!  There are also Research Organisations that specialise in Human Resource issues, like XLRI, Jamshedpur and TISS, Mumbai which can be requested to study the same. Though there may be resistance to an outsider agency, for lack of in depth knowledge, for HR Professionals, adjusting policies may be a minor impediment. It is opined that obtaining professional expertise from outside the realm of Army-Government should be the best.  This will also require Government sanction/ approvals. The Courts can be informed that the issue has been taken up at the Governmental policy levels for decision-making, and details can be submitted on finalisation.
In sum, there has been undue procrastination, that has caused ill-will and it needs to put behind.  Sooner the better!
End Notes
[1] Rakesh Sharma, Supreme Court Decision on Women Officers: Need for Holistic Policy Planning, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), 20 Feb 2020, accessed at https://www.claws.in/supreme-court-decision-on-women-officers-need-for-holistic-policy-planning/
 

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