1965 war anniversary: 50 years on, little has changed - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 24 September 2015

1965 war anniversary: 50 years on, little has changed

Union ministers at the 1965 war exhibition in Delhi, commemorating the 1965 "victory"

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Sept 2015

The 50th anniversary of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war has been widely commemorated in India. There has been more than a touch of jingoism in invoking that “victory”, though a fairer verdict might be that it was a draw, with India’s operational and tactical shortcomings denying it outright victory. That would have begged the question: is our military better prepared today? The answer, sadly, would be no!

Half a century after 1965, India’s military is (with the possible exception of the navy, which did not participate then) arming, equipping, training and planning to fight the same grinding battle of attrition that it did then, instead of transforming itself for modern, high-technology warfare. That involves creating battlefield transparency by digitally networking forces, concentrating swiftly to bring down multiple fire effects on enemy targets, and then dispersing as rapidly to evade retaliation.

Fighting such a war involves, first, creating integrated, tri-service, surveillance networks that include low-orbit satellites, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), radar networks, air force reconnaissance means and extensive ground-based sensors, fully integrated through secure digital networks. The side that establishes “information dominance” wins modern battle.

Acting on this information needs a tri-service headquarters that evolves joint plans incorporating the air force, army and naval firepower to pulverise the enemy at stand-off ranges. Firepower and its shock impact reduces the infantry-heavy, high-casualty, hand-to-hand fighting that killed millions in the wars of the twentieth century. Ideally, you send high explosive to contact the enemy’s fighting forces. Your soldiers only finish off the job.

Thirdly, to precisely bring together the elements and actions mentioned above, digital networks are needed to link elements of the modern battlefield --- aircraft, warships, tanks, infantrymen, artillery units, missile regiments, surveillance centres, headquarters, and combat support units. Secure voice and data links provide each element of the force an emerging battlefield picture in real time, even as it contributes to that picture.

This so-called “network-centric warfare” was first seen in Operation Desert Storm (the First Gulf War of 1991), broadcast to living rooms worldwide by the Cable News Network (CNN). It was the outcome of a so-called “revolution in military affairs” (RMA), the child of the digital revolution. No longer was God on the side of the bigger battalions. For the first time in modern warfare, firepower and numbers were a function of digital bandwidth and innovative use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

So shocked and awed were the generals of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by Operation Desert Storm that, starting from the mid-1990s, they transformed the operational doctrine of the PLA, which had historically focused on “people’s war”, a euphemism for large numbers of primitively-equipped soldiers. In its place, Beijing is creating a force that could “win a local war under informatized conditions”.

According to the Pentagon, “informatized conditions” is PLA jargon for “enhancing systems and weapons with information capabilities and linking geographically dispersed forces and capabilities into an integrated system capable of unified action”.

In contrast, India’s operational style remains mired in 1965. During the initial stages of that war, the army and air force planned in isolation; so too did the army and air force during the 1999 Kargil conflict. Without a tri-service headquarters that does operational planning (the Integrated Defence Staff, or IDS, is carefully excluded from that) coordinating multi-service operations remains an ad hoc process that depends on personalities and the chemistry between them. The army has no ground strike aircraft and, only now, will get control over attack helicopters. Army generals still complain that the air force allocates too few strike aircraft for supporting ground operations.

Meanwhile, army numbers increase steadily, without the firepower needed to support them in battle. Over the last seven years, the army has added more than 70,000 men, in two new mountain divisions on the Sino-Indian border. Like in 1965, these men are deployed piecemeal on widely-separated mountaintops, with only light integral firepower (machine guns and mortars), and little hope of serious artillery and missile support, attack helicopters, or air force close air support in battle.

To add to the salary bill and leave even less for firepower, another 90,000 soldiers are being added, which will take the bloated force up to 1.3 million personnel. Meanwhile the PLA has slashed more than a million men from its force.

The military, meanwhile, talks up network-centricity but pursues it haphazardly. The army is developing a range of digital networks, including a “tactical communication system” (TCS), which is a mobile, secure, military network over which field forces can digitally communicate; a “command information and decision support system” (CIDSS), which is a “system of systems” that integrates every other system; an “artillery command, control and coordination system” (ACCCS), which controls all artillery in the battle-space; a “battlefield surveillance system” (BSS) that integrates surveillance inputs; a “battlefield management system” (BMS) that links soldiers and systems at battalion level and below.

Yet each of these digital networks is being developed independently, without thought to compatibility or inter-workability. They feature disparate communications systems, where one system’s radios cannot communicate with another’s; and also incompatible geographic interface systems (GIS). Since the army has not thought it fit to lay down common frameworks, it will soon have a large number of mutually incompatible networks that cannot achieve net-centricity.

Instead, the army should have specified open standard software; open GIS consortium (OGC) compliant, and software defined radio (SDR) for communications, since its flexibility would allow an SDR to operate across networks. The defence ministry has a department of standardisation, which has failed to do this.

To complicate the arrangement further, the navy has its own backbone network, called “navy enterprise wide network” (NEWN). The air force has AF-NET and its own CDMA network. The army will have the TCS, BMS, army static communication network (ASCON) and mobile cellular communications system (MCCS). Ironically, none of these digital backbones can communicate seamlessly with each other.

Nor is there any recognition of these potentially fatal weaknesses. The army continues to regard each new weapon system it seeks --- the proposed future infantry combat vehicle (FICV); artillery guns, missile batteries, et al --- in isolation, not as an interlinked part of a battle network. It is crucial for the proposed FICV to be compatible with the BMS network; but the specifications provided to industry do not specify that as an “essential” parameter, only a “desirable” one.

In early September 1965, an infantry battalion, 3 JAT, captured a vital bridge over the Ichhogil Canal at Dograi, setting the stage for an advance on to Lahore, a war-winning victory. That gigantic opportunity was squandered because commanders did not have the full battle picture. If India’s military continues “arming without aiming” as a US commentator put it, there could be worse than missed opportunities in the future. 


  1. A correct perspective to that war. Even though we were better in 1965 vis-a-vis 1962, now it ais a different ballgame, and we must under rules for it and prepare accordingly.

  2. Brilliant piece Ajai Shukla. I only wonder that with reservoir of such intellectual abundance why Govt fails to take notice of such recommendations, and act upon these like you quote China. Why the Govt is so averse to accept bare truth and over run vested interests, if any?

  3. The 65 War was a Political Victory, as Pakistan'S grandiose Political aims were not achieved . However it was a militarily a stalemate - we can pick hairs over who lost more and who captured more. It needs a deep introspection to evolve the concept of war-fighting for the future wars, the military objectives and strategy and then arrive at the force structures & the weaponology and equipment needed for the same. This needs to be further refined by realistic exercises and discussions. Are we anywhere near it? I wonder.

  4. Sad. On the other hand, China proved it is "informatizing" by this month's early announcement that 300,000 troops will be cut. It has already seen that in tomorrow's war, there wouldn't be any need to feed more of its troops into the war machine.

  5. Broadsword, your views are as outdated as the weapon you use as your symbolic nom du guerre. You claim the Chinese were impressed with the US shock and awe tactics, but to my mind the people who were in for shock and awe in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere were the Americans themselves. Looks like you are judging the modern Indian army, navy and air force by what they did wrong in 1965 - ignoring the fact that they snatched what you call a military 'draw' from a very bad situation. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war the Israelis were taken totally by surprise and suffered huge losses, but over the 10-12 days they turned the tide in their favour - yet no one ever said they had lost - maybe they did not have a Broadsword to give expert advice from the comfort of an armchair in an air conditioned office. How I love you specialists who have so little practical knowledge and so much hindsight....GRRRR.

    1. Agree with you Anonymous.
      The US campaigns in Desert Storm and elsewhere were gamechangers and due cognisance was taken by militaries round the world. Where the military and the government are in sync, the lessons learnt from the shock and awe have been translated and put into practical use.
      Where the government does not consider the military as a part of itself, but only as an attached office of a ministry, populated with bureaucrats the results are that we remain mired in the ethos of an era half a century old.
      I do not think that Ajay lacks practical knowledge. Yes he has the benefit of hindsight as all of us do. The ones who lack practical knowledge and operate from their air conditioned offices are the mandarins of the MoD. You need to direct your growls towards them Sir...

  6. Forget BMS and other such hitech stuff, even our Raksha Mantri has no clue what the PM wants as he is not part of the inner circle of Modi sarkar. This leads to such bizarre situations like legalizing illegal middlemen in arms purchase within 3 days of his taking charge.

  7. Excellent post sir! Was in fact thinking of shooting a mail to yourself on similar lines when chanced upon this post... What could possibly be done to rectify the above shortcomings, I mean how do we get the forces to cooperate, given the inter services rivalries..??!

    A major exercise is ongoing on our western borders we speak to "validate & refine cold-start manoeuvres".. yet it seems to exclude major elements of air & naval power..
    How we are going to defend our advancing armour against air attacks.. How we are going to 'sanitize' the surrounding areas off tactical nukes without extensive UAV-support.. How our attack choppers are going to conduct offensive ops without air superiority.. Do they intend to launch simultaneous attacks on their air bases & radar installations.. Missile strikes on their vital infra.. Quickly decimating their nuke installations.. Whether a naval blockade & amphibious landing has even been factored in by our land forces.. Whether there is a plan to simultaneously activate Baluchis & Pashtuns in an offensive... These things seemed to be missing IMMHO...

  8. Anon,

    Actually 1973 was a disaster for Israel and is recognized as such in military circles. They regained the status quo ante on the Canal, but their advance to Damascus was beaten to a crawl and they had to give up. It ended with the loss of the Sinai at the negotiating table - very big setback. The way the USSR/Egypt fooled the Israelis as to their intentions before the outbreak of war was a brilliant exercise in strategic deception

    Of course, supporters of Israel (I count myself as one) can spin the whole thing as a victory.

    I think what Colonel Shukla is getting annoyed about is our rewriting of 1965. Until now it has been accepted as a good performance by the Army with defensive successes and offensive failure, but please to remember that 15 of the Army's 25 divisions were brand new and still mainly under raising. I think we did as good a job as could be expected, but a military victory it was not. It was a return to the status quo ante.

    Just my two-paisa.

  9. A wonderful post, indeed. Three different service-based networks, three separate demands for military satellites, three different doctrine, you name it they have it. As one author mentioned, given a choice, these three services will not even integrate their musicians !!!!

    Then again, in every military the transformation is top-down. The RM will have to take initiative otherwise they will always be going for 'arming without aiming'.

  10. Agree , but look at the bright side , India has 3 Independent system , if anyone system is compromised , then other two will working . What about US , if their system is hacked , then entire US force will be brought to its knees.

    It do not take a young hacker from UK to get hand on US military satellite.

  11. I disagree with your Desert Storm analysis
    In many ways it was a huge failure of RMA not a success.

    Sure, sat in a living room in Texas watching the live feed from an F16 as it bombed a T72 in Iraq was awesome, but not actually that useful.
    The General Headquarters staff had access to huge amounts of data, but little capability to do anything but watch.

    Coalition Armour remained reliant on the MK.I eyeball to locate Iraqi forces, in some cases not seeing them until they were separated by yards.

    An all encompassing network that links every infantryman to every other infantryman, tank, aircraft, drone and satellite is just going to be a completely unworkable mess.

    Far more important is making sure that the communications links within a Brigade (Or Division) make sense and that those brigades arent reliant on outside enablers.

    My understanding od "Cold Start" was that half a dozen or so completely self sufficient Mechanised Divisions could break through in to Pakistan and occupy the country without needing support and micro management from above?

    "Army generals still complain that the air force allocates too few strike aircraft for supporting ground operations."
    That complaint has been made by every ground commander in every battle ever, but many CAS tasks would be better served by local artillery.

  12. Ashley tellis in arming without aiming pinpoints deficiencies in national defence apparatus that does not permit india to generate the requisite power. You talk of network centric warfare, borrowing the concept of innovative use of full spectrum dominance, may I take the liberty of promulgating the theory of "socialization: degradation of information gateway actors in color revolution within parental control oriented societies context and its implications".
    definitions : socialization - adjustment/ revision of goals to assimilate/ accommodate other actors goals.
    parental control oriented societies - societies where info flows from all nodes to a particular node which then processes it with resources of other other proximal nodes and disseminates policies through out the network in daddy knows best (parental) mode. eg top down hierarchies, command and control structures. suited best for stable (change is small relative to info processing and action implementation loop speed)
    environment. unsuited in chaotic environment, where disruptive change is norm. (oil goes from $120 to $45, china from boom to bust, Russia from stable partner to evaluating pak pivot).
    gateway actors : leadership of such a top down structure, pm, nsa, ccsa, ccea, ea to pm, in absence of support from ia with legislative underpinning (as opposed to executive orders) putting out regular reports/ briefings akin to that of info superpowers accountable to standing committees of legislative arm of the govt. we don't have cbro we have a mof. mof which dismantles pc, akin to pmo degrading cs. so we have essentially four node structure pm at apex with nsa (weak ea grounding), finmin, ea to pm in conflict with g of rbi (beholden to finmin rather than pm).
    now read the following within a context of revisionist ideology and lone ranger pm -

    "Be it through asymmetrical warfare or psy-ops, targets are not typically attacked directly." and again Unpredictability is the Achille’s Heel of John Boyd’s OODA Loop. Although initially conceptualized to assist fighter pilots, writer and strategist Robert Greene believes that the Loop is applicable to all fields of life as well. The idea is that decisions are made after the individual Observes the situation, Orients himself, Decides, and then Acts. The unpredictability associated with the indirect approach upsets the target’s OODA loop by disorienting them, thereby hampering their ability to make the right decisions and act properly. penultimately "chaos as synonymous with “nonlinear dynamics” and applying to “systems with very large numbers of shifting parts” (e.g. society mired in info war). Although it may seem disorderly, he argues, it is possible to sporadically see some semblance of patterned order among the chaos, especially in “weakly chaotic systems”. finally The main goal of the information campaign is for the target to internalize the ideas being presented and make them seem as though they arrived at the outside-directed conclusions on their own. The anti-government ideas must seem natural and not forced, thereby placing increased emphasis on the indirect approach in communicating them. If an individual thinks that they are being manipulated by unseen forces, they will largely reject the message. If, however, this message can be internalized by an individual and they start spreading it among their trusted friends and associates who would never even think that this person is unwittingly under the influence of a foreign psy-op".

    bottomline what gives - the office with long institutionalised memories is the anti weapon. million dollar question what happens to change ? answer tokenism, grabbing headlines is the way of "lelei sandha". having the courage to run with "reforms" is the key only then can you claim what belongs to you - a seat at unsc in zen like fashion. engage reform engage.

  13. While you are focussing on high tech communication etc, what ourvArmy needs is a great artillery & infantry weapon system first.
    The army wage bill is civilian problem, no where else in the world will anyone waste such reservoir of trained, disciplined manpower.
    We simply need to say 50% of all government vacancies will be filled by ex-armed forces men. Period.


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