Warfare is currently in transformative phase – akin to the two military technological revolutions of the 21st century – the mechanisation of war and the advent of nuclear weapons. The first defined the current conventional forces based on mechanised forces and the second determined why such forces cannot be effectively used one against the other, by the philosophies of deterrence. The manoeuvre warfare, however, came about as a mental and physical type of warfare, in desire to mentally trying to engage the enemy commander, as a method of fighting outnumbered and winning.
How has the art and science of warfare advanced since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989? A large body of defence theorists argue that the strategic narrative of the post-Cold War period, is a process of transition from Industrial Age warfare to a new chapter of warfare shaped and driven by the technologies of the Information Age including in its ambit information dominance, or dominant battle-space knowledge and the interneting of forces so as to exploit that information dominance; and of course precision strike. The enlarged influence of insurgencies and terrorism that manifested itself in the last three decades with all its advancements in typology of operations and methodologies to counter them are significant in intensely involving military forces globally and in India.
The Indian sub-continent is a mosaic of enormous diversity – in terrain from super high altitude desert to the astronomically opposite Thar, from glaciated regions to riverine and water-obstacled countryside, from very dense jungles and rain forests to peninsular India. The unresolved borders, the spread of terrorism and the intransigent attitude of militarily advanced adversaries, cumulate into a heady concoction. To match conflicting requirements of this diversity, the transformative changes in technology by leaps and bounds, and adapting to the contradictory pulls and pressures of the force management are indeed Herculean. The Force too has social underpinnings that demand constant consideration, and hence, any major upheaval was considered singularly avoidable and was avoided.
It is however axiomatic that the Force or its sub-components cannot be created and treated as ‘jack of all’; it is humanly not feasible to learn, unlearn, relearn and onwards, with movements from one pattern of warfare to another, form one typology of equipment to another. It would invariably lead to loss of efficiency and effectiveness, operational preparedness and readiness. It does also have attendant issues like data-bases or data management, incessant movement of units year-long and loss of functional time.
The moot question is that, is time ripe to consider specialisation of a higher order at unit levels, under the overall constraints of social requirements of personnel, human resource issues, and the imperatives of unit cohesiveness. Taking a step back, the spread of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir led to creation of the Rashtriya Rifles units and formations – which have proved their mettle in an extraordinary manner. It is imperative to quote on the performance of RR units. One of the high achieving units, 36 RR, is organised with a little over 50 per cent manpower from The Garhwal Rifles, 30 per cent from the Artillery and rest of the elements coming from Engineers (one Engineer platoon), Signals (a communication platoon), EME (one Field Repair Increment – FRI), ASC (one Mechanical Transport Platoon), Ordnance (storemen) and AMC (medical personnel). The total manpower comes to about 1,200 all ranks (against 840 of an Infantry unit) but the capability to have six RR companies is a definite plus. In many ways an RR represents a battalion group which can be reorganised for tailor made tasks because of the inherent flexibility. An RR unit turns over almost 50 per cent of its manpower every year, which means 600 men come and 600 go, making it an average of 50 a month.
Then there are units with larger manpower from specialist units like from the mechanised infantry, for example 21 Rashtriya Rifles from the Brigade of GUARDS that has performed brilliantly over the years in North Kashmir. Carrying forward, similar specialised units like the dozen odd SCOUTS units all deployed in high altitude areas, the Home and Hearth Territorial Army Units or the ASSAM RIFLES (a Para-military force operating in the North East). It is apparent that the efficiency of these units comes from retention of their gridded deployment (or set operational parameters) in near permanence, which provides for an intrinsic, informational and operational environment – a kind of specialisation that has given great dividends.
There is need to move this era of specialisation forward, understandably within the ambit of social requirements of the personnel, but to best operational advantage to the Force. Back to the technological transformation based on information happening globally and among our adversaries, permanence on information handling and management units – the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) establishments, sectorally, is getting imperative. It is a great loss of efficiency for Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Units to lift up as proverbially lock, stock and barrel from say Jodhpur to say Leh, and vice versa! Both terrains and operational environs have nothing by distance in common (except some semblance of desert). With the typology of unmanned aerial systems, weapon locating radars and other equipment and the proposed induction of gridded Battlefield Surveillance Systems, it would be best to place such assets on sectoral basis (and not units), in permanence, affiliated to regional formations. In time, with information warfare gaining traction, these units will provide a backbone infrastructure and expertise. Similar consideration can be considered for Air Defence units, units trained in marine warfare or air-transported ones. Management of personnel turnover can be undertaken as is being explained above in Rashtriya Rifles, or in Services units based on Corps rosters, without any loss of efficiency.
Understandably, any such idea is bound to be considered disruptive or turbulent, or shunned on the altar of officer-management. And that this may lead to effect on cohesion in the units. However, if in 24×7 combat units like Rashtriya Rifles, unit commanders have been ensuring cohesion even at sub-sub unit levels, and achieving credible outcomes, the issue cannot be taken as rationale for deniability. As regards other issues, these must outweigh and adapt to operational imperatives. The schema for future warfare is transiting at a very fast clip, the era demands and dictates agility of mind – a kind of manoeuvre warfare. Specialisation of units will ensure best performance, even if it comes with some minimal turbulence.
Syed Ata Hasnain, Rashtriya Rifles: The Story Of Independent India’s Finest Military Experiment, 23 Jul , 2017, accessed at https://swarajyamag.com/defence/rashtriya-rifles-the-story-of-independent-indias-finest-military-experiment