Grit and experience affect the growth of an institution. Fighting four major wars, insurgency and other low intensity wars has indeed made the Indian Army an eminently and efficient battle trained, war machine.
Changing times bring changing needs. Battle training must tell also on the structuring of the army, for it is this function that extracts the most from the assets available, both men and material. A look at the command and structuring of the Indian Army shows how finely these have been tuned to meet India’s threat perceptions, based on the experience of the major wars that it has fought and the present-day geo-political context.
The largest standing volunteer Army in the world has never had to scour the populace for draft or conscription. There are always more men eager to don olive green than the demand at any one time. But this does not reflect a situation where a large unemployed workforce would get into uniform to keep body and soul together. More to the point is the basic attitude of our people to the call of arms, discovered also by the British, some three centuries before. There are very many who join up for long service tenures under the colors, by inclination and choice – also familial habit and honour. If a young man or woman, sound of body and mind, and of Indian origin, is inclined to spend most of his useful working years in the kind of desolation that the country’s Field areas’ adjoining the borders provide, can he or she cannot be refused.
For the purpose of recruitment, the country is divided into recruiting zones. Every zone is allotted a quota for recruitment based on a percentage of its population and ethnic grouping. A legacy, slowly being diluted, is that of combat arm units or regiments recruiting from a particular zone or mixture of ethnic groups.
Once a man has joined up, it is for keeps. Many fall out at the basic training stage when they find that there is much more to it than getting into a smart uniform. The one who hear the sound of the trumpet clearly without missing a note, take their oath and for the greatness of the nation go into service – not servitude.
Indian Army Headquarters began its life in the Red Fort – Delhi. Imposing edifice that it is, it was hardly suitable to house a complex entity such as this. Supreme Headquarters at that time retained its seat in South Block and refused to share space. Mercifully, it was wound up in short order. Today Army Headquarters occupies portions of South Block along with a gigantic, architecturally modern Sena Bhavan adjacent.
In the Indian context, Command Headquarter can be likened to a Field Army or even an Army Group Headquarter with a General Officer Commanding-in-Chief presiding over matters in the rank of a (three-star) Lieutenant General. Next the line are the Corps Headquarters, which are Field Army Headquarters elsewhere. The Indian Army’s combat formations are now grouped and tailored under many such Corps Headquarters (with some forces being retained under static Area Commands).
The static Areas, Sub Areas, or Independent Sub Areas span the length and breadth of the country. These look after infrastructural (and lines of communications) assets, relieving field formations from the tedium of administering a multiplicity of support installations located in an area. Area boundaries conform to state (or a group of states) administrative boundaries. All Headquarters are tasked also to maintain full civil-military liaison. Static Areas (or even field formations in some cases) set up Station Headquarters whose area of responsibility usually coincides with a district or a group of districts. Field formations located in Areas are always contingently tasked to assist the civil administration through these static Headquarters. Strangely enough, this system works.
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) wears multiple hats. To the entire army, now some 1.1 million men and women strong, he is the Chief. A number of Staff Officers assist him, such as Principal Staff Officers (PSOs), Heads of Arms and Services, etc. It would take a book of considerable length to even set down their designations and functions.
Until the 1960s, staff coordination was a one-man affair in the form of a three-star General Officer designated the Chief of the General Staff, with direct access to the Chief available to ‘some’ – the PSOs. Today a Vice Chief and two Deputy Chiefs of Army Staff handle coordination. The command channel is absolutely one to one between the Chief and his Army Commanders -with no one – but no one authorized even to say hold the line’.
PSOs at Army Headquarters (and others down the line) have retained their nineteenth-century designations, not having succumbed to new managerial nomenclatures or alpha-numeric designations. The Quartermaster General, Master General of Ordnance, Adjutant General, Military Secretary, Engineer-in-Chief, Signal Officer-in-Chief, therefore, find traditional mention. At the sharp end a brigade-level General Staff Officer and his logistic equivalents are still called GSO, Deputy Assistant Adjutant General and Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General respectively.
The field force is grouped into Corps. Some of these are defensively oriented and have, over the years, acquired an unofficial – ‘Holding’. The others are called reserve or, unofficially again, ‘Strike’ Corps. The former is really a misnomer since these contain ample offensive potential.
Corps Headquarters are designed to handle an all-arms field army- of three to five divisions or their equivalents. Army Headquarters reserves could be mammoth-size or small, but powerful in either case. Heavy-tracked-Corps are an instance of the former, and the three parachute commandos (battalion-size units), which perform special-forces duties, of the latter. Airborne, Air Assault or Parachute troops are usually held centralized. The mounts’, in all cases, are provided by the Indian Air Force.
The Army has in its Order of Battle, mountain divisions, infantry divisions, armoured divisions (in which tank units predominate) and mechanized divisions (in which mechanized infantry units predominate). Independent brigade groups may be armoured, mechanized, air defence (missile or gun), parachute, engineer, field artillery, electronic warfare or even standard infantry and mountain. These form ‘Corps/Army troops’, that is, they are held at Corps and Army levels for balancing out missions and task forces. At these levels, one would find heavy logistic support units in terms of supply, transport, field ordnance depots, and medical facilities.
Organizationally, the field forces have never been static. Reorganization and creation of new field forces is the norm, prompted by constant rethinking on threats and the emergence of new technology. To put it simply, if our organizations are basically triangular, there is no bar on making them square or pentagonal for a given mission.
Piecemeal ‘modernisation’ is of no use to anyone. All arms have gone through two and a half modernisation cycles since independence. For people with less than the usual quota of a sense of humour it amounts to a three-legged arms race in which the Joneses are driving the Javeds, Joshis and Jiangs to follow suit.
At least with the Indian Army it is not really so. It is conscious of working out an edge or even proximate ability to see that a catastrophic disadvantage does not undermine operational viability. Even the most articulate and vehement critic would agree that the army is appreciative of what the country has provided to it in material, though it is somewhat hard pressed to do so.
The Underpinning The timeless creed of the warriors and their feeling of comradeship in war and pestilence. The individual styles of the arms actually complement each other in combat.
The pivot The ability of our field commanders to accept organizational, doctrinal, and equipment changes (not in that order) plus a finer perception of the strategic issues involved. With that, is their ability to mix individual assets into a combined arms and logistics team of very high combat worth.
Technology and Equipment It is in this narrow area that modernization is usually talked about. By themselves, ‘equipment’ may just remain well-produced ironmongery or an intricate series of integrated circuits. But when these are synthesized in a complementary mix, they come to life – and present a threat out of all proportion to their arithmetical aggregate on inventory.
Overall, the Indian Army is adequately equipped. There certainly remain areas where improvements or ‘modernization’ is pending, but that does not, in any way, detract from the fact that overall the Army has achieved a dissuasive quality, in which a potential aggressor will go into lip-biting conclave before deciding upon a violent course of action.
The mechanized armies in the Western Sector are mobile, balanced groupings of high striking power. The fine synthesization of cutting-edge weaponry into high-value, capital-intensive combat groups is seen at its best here. The T-72, BMP series Infantry Combat Vehicle, Anti-tank Guided Missiles of many varieties, Aviation, fast reconnaissance vehicles, the FH-77/B-02 Medium Gun together with a number of other field pieces indigenously designed and developed, varieties of self-propelled air defence missile and gun systems, Black’ Electronic Warfare arrays, first-class assault bridging for dry and wet crossings are found together in supportive mixes. Here, all ballyhoo of ‘We are the queens/kings of the battlefield’ is easily given a quiet burial.
In the mountains, it is light infantry and artillery, supported by engineers, signals, helicopters and animals, which make for the combined-arms approach. The most visible manifestation of modernization in equipment is in Siachen, which without these assets, cannot be garrisoned much less defended. This includes a combative logistical infrastructure to prevail ‘AGAINST ALL ODDS’. Two things remain to be stated without equivocation.
The Indian Army gives due respect to its adversaries and finds no need to cozen itself with whistling in the dark about ‘One of US is equal to ten of them.’
It does not accept being considered second to anyone – anywhere.