String of tactical debacles concerns army - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 30 November 2016

String of tactical debacles concerns army

“Kill ratio” down, fewer militants killed for each soldier’s life

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st Dec 16

The tactical debacle in Nagrota on Tuesday, in which four militants stormed an army unit and killed seven soldiers, is the latest example of militant fidayeen (suicide attack) teams inflicting disproportionate casualties on army units. On New Year Day, a four-militant team entered the Pathankot air base, killing seven security personnel and injuring 20. On September 18, four militants struck an army camp in Uri, killing 19 and injuring 30 army jawans. In Nagrota yesterday, four fidayeen succeeded in killing seven soldiers, including two officers, before being gunned down themselves.

This is anathema for an army that frowns on a “kill ratio” poorer than four-to-six militants killed for the loss of each soldier. This success rate was maintained even during the most violent years in J&K. In 1999, 270 soldiers were killed while 1082 militants were eliminated (1 : 4 ratio); in 2000, it was 311 killed against 1,520 militants dead (1 : 4.9) ; in 2001, a total of 408 army men laid down their lives while killing 2020 militants (1 : 4.9); in 2002, 362 soldiers died while the army gunned down 1707 militants (1 : 4.75); and in 2003, the price paid for eliminating 1,494 militants was 258 soldiers dead (1 : 5.7).

In the last three years, with militancy on the ebb and the army operating more lightly, the ratio was two-to-four militants killed for each dead soldier. In 2013, 32 soldiers died, while killing 67 militants (1 : 2 ratio); in 2014, it was 31 soldiers dead, while gunning down 110 militants (1 : 3.5); and last year, 28 soldiers laid down their lives while killing 108 militants (1 : 3.8).

With army casualties on par with militant casualties this year, there is pressure to establish what has gone wrong. Even more worrying than casualty numbers is the jihadis’ success in Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota at breaching what should have been tightly guarded perimeters, and gaining access to the lightly guarded interiors of military establishments and camps. A brigade commander notes: “We were fortunate that the jihadis could do serious damage only in Uri”.

A fidayeen squad, which must attack from the open against sandbagged and protected sentry posts on the perimeters of army camps, should suffer heavy casualties while forcing an entry. That the militants entered unharmed in Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota speaks of poor siting of sentry posts and careless sentries.

Even more worrisome is the tactical sloppiness on the Line of Control (LoC) that allowed the bodies of several soldiers to be mutilated by militants or Pakistani soldiers. When soldiers leave their posts for patrolling or laying ambushes, they are at least a section, i.e. ten men. While adversaries can sneak across the LoC and ambush such a patrol, even cause casualties with an initial burst of fire, trained soldiers start fighting back immediately, according to basic infantry drills.

“Only in one situation can a patrol justifiably allow its dead or injured soldiers to fall into enemy hands --- and that is when every single member of that patrol is dead or badly wounded. Good soldiers do not leave comrades behind”, says a retired general.

In a healthy army, alarm bells would have rung long ago, with basic tactical standards being demanded and subordinate commanders disciplined. Instead, tactical booboos keep getting repeated.

In a vibrant military, the next level of oversight comes from its veterans who, in military culture, are custodians of tradition and professional standards. Unfortunately, veterans gloss over declining professional standards, focusing instead on demands for better pensions, salaries and status --- important issues, but secondary to professional proficiency.

On television, on Tuesday, senior officers downplayed the Nagrota fiasco. One general argued: “I think it is an admission on the part of Pakistan that the surgical strikes [of November 29] were successful.” Said another, on the question of lax perimeter security: “No matter how highly secure you are, [with militants] who are determined to kill and prepared to die, there is no hundred per cent defence against it… These attacks cannot be stopped at the target end, they can only be stopped at the source end.”

In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. India can do little to stop jihadis at the “source end”, i.e. Pakistan. Where the military can stop them is at the “target end” --- through better perimeter security, tactical drills and higher standards of accountability.

The final level of oversight --- the political leadership --- is the quickest to abdicate responsibility. Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson, BVL Narasimha Rao, declared on television after the Nagrota attack: “I do believe that after a series of such attacks, we ought to do everything possible to secure ourselves; at least secure our military establishments. But this is not a political [responsibility]… It’s the army themselves… I think they are in a position to take any decision that they need to; they don’t require any government’s intervention in this.”

The government’s disinclination to get involved is remarkable, with tactical debacles like Uri having strategic effects, and creating an imperative for escalation that impacts India-Pakistan relations. At Uri, incompetent management of a camp’s perimeter defence forced the government to order “surgical strikes”. This had the potential for dangerous escalation, while ultimately doing little to deter Pakistani adventurism.

Ultimately, when the Indian Army enters full crisis mode, there is no doubting its ability and resilience. Kargil was an example when, in 1999, tactical and intelligence laxity were set aside and the situation recovered, albeit bloodily. In Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota, examples of individual competence partially retrieved situations that could have played out more damagingly. Yet, the army cannot afford to gift success to militants again. There remains the possibility that a windfall jihadi “success” --- such as the destruction of Pathankot’s fighter aircraft; mass casualties in Uri, or wives and children taken hostage in Nagrota --- could allow a four-man fidayeen team to take India and Pakistan to war. 


  1. New technology needed , just cordon off the area and use some poison gas to paralyze these guys and catch them alive. Day before yesterday 6 soldiers were lost in neutralizing these guys. Don't publicize the tactics just use poison gas to paralyze the terrorists and if the innocents are trapped who alsoget paralyzed must be revived and so the damage is not worth it. India is paying a very heavy prize for this war and it is high time that Pakistan must be made to pay for that. Better sensors and keep dog squads guarding every border and please don't publicize anything. There are some local informers who inform the terrorists of security situation. This arrangement be made only for the night and in morning everything should be changed so that the informers give wrong information. Kill the major terrorists in their rally with brahmos missile with thermobaric device to kill large number of terrorists and their supporters.if a hostage has to released than put ratti seed in their skin or give them polonium so that they die in next few days. They should not remain alive like hafiz saeed and create a problem further on. The tactics have to change . The technology has to be upgraded and strategy totally changed.

    1. Either you treat a militant like a militant ... or you follow human rights ...

  2. destruction of Pathankot’s fighter aircraft ???? true ??

  3. A terrorist willing to die will always take casualties. That said, the casualties can definitely be reduced by two measures. One, better equipment. Two, better training and response.
    Better equipment is largely in the realm of government who just doesn't care despite its hoo-haa about patriotism. They just wasted time of Lt Gen Philip Campose in asking him to prepare a report after Pathankot. When no action has been taken on reports after 26/11 of Mumbai, it would be foolish to expect any on Pathankot report. Govt won't even read it. It doesn't effect their election chances in any way. So, forget it.
    However, the army too must use its money for making walls rather than golf courses and lovely messes (as Pravin Swamy brings attention to - I didn't know it), as also thumping the table harder. Army just doesn't do it, or at least we don't hear it in the civvy street.
    Better training and preparation is entirely the job of army. See no reason why majors should head QRTs, unless it is because no one else will move without officers. How much time do majors get to practice room entry drills? It could be that the designated QRT was not available nearby. But why not? The question must be answered by someone.

  4. Admit you may or may not but two prime reasons amongst others for sloppiness are misutilisation of professional time and resources for golfing and exotic parties and ladies oriented events even in CI environment thereby signalling misplaced priorities to the junior lot. Secondly and more importantly, the senior cdrs have lost the moral right due to their own corrupt practices as also failure to look after genuine welfare interest of officers and men including standing up to govt to ensure the forces get their due. I have seen a general being given mouthful by a col ts when the former tried to tick him off for turnout. The col told him 'get me my nfu before you open your trap to tick me off'.

    1. Let's not mix up things by bringing in issues like golf and social functions. The fact is there is a time and place for everything. Training and planning cannot be sacrificed. Supervision at all levels is a must, and the culture to question must be encouraged. We can't lose lives because of poor professional competence.

  5. Incident after incident point to the incompetencies of army even to secure it's own bases.what the army chief is doing.

  6. Frightening scenario for the security of of India.

    1. There is nothing frightening. You can go to pak and carry a gun with few bullets. Where ever you see a gathering just fire blindly. Your ratio will be 1:10 Or just carry one or two grinade and throw in a gathering ... Your ratio might rise to 1:50 also. In your own are you need to be more cautious to avoid your own casualty.

  7. NSR says ---

    I wrote in many places that India must be careful as the general is retiring and is up to some mischief...

    How can they ignore the intelligence and also base security?
    Need serious evaluation of security...

    Nothing was learned after Udhampur, Pathankot, etc

    DGMO call for ceasefire is a ruse to lull India to feel great and reduce the guard...

    Pound them to smithereens and no more leniency until Pakistan renounces terrorism and terrorists...

    Same sad situation...Pakistanis keeps grabbing Indian fishermen...What are the patrol boats doing? Sitting in the doc?
    These boats should be shooing away fishermen and keep an eye on Pakistanis so Mumbai 11/26 will not be repeated...

  8. Many people seem to be against army men playing golf and having good messes. Well if they are jealous so be it. Truth of the matter is that the army is responsible of the security of the nation and their ownend too. Infra structure, equipment and training fall in their domain
    Intelligence, law and order, and strategy is beyond their reach. The CPOS, NIA and the complete Law and order machinery should be in sync with the army

  9. We still managed to arrest the carnage. God bless us if they attack centres in the south, like Bangalore. Unimaginable casualties
    We just keep dropping our guard

  10. The fact that the supposed nationaljst bJP Govt, like the previous Govts, refuses to take a definitive step forward on the Gen Campose report post the apathankot fiasco, shows how unequipped and unprepared we are, as a nation to handle a war like situation. Its gery simple to sacrifice soldiers by not taking actions to arrest yhis growing trend of successful terrorist attacks

  11. There is this element of surprise that the terrorists/infiltrators have, how does one prepare for an unknown surprise, we sure can have better response and training to address this.There is also this factor that the terrorists do not look like alien, he looks like any one of us and if he dresses up in military fatigue and arrives in a second hand market military vehicle, he sure will have an easier entry. I have myself seen so many military installations where the security is very lax and the perimeter is very porous. We are not a very security aware nation, the general populous is not very alert and aware and the army is made up of the same population, so it looks like this general trait is a malaise that ails all of us. If the army is no able to guard its installations adequately how are we to expect them to safeguard the Nation. The Generals and the ranks in the upper echelon of the Army have to be held responsible for this abject laxity and callousness that has set in. As some one has pointed out, there seems to be more focus on Golf Courses and Parties.

  12. The terrorists are mow concentrating on what is called "Soft Targets" - Base camp or Rear at Uri, Arty Regiment HQ at Nagrota, BSF convoy and even for that matter Pathankot airbase etc .... The Forces needs to remove the "softness" of these targets and lure the terrorist into those targets to kill them. The terrorist are attempting to push the Security forces into defensive but the Army must increase the offensive operations against the terrorists - such as seek and destroy missions, cordon and searches, ambushes and area domination to keep the terrorists on the run. "Sadbhawana" must be carried out but not at the cost of offensive actions.... make them run towards their holes and caves, jungles and hideouts where it is easier to kill them,... when faced one to one against our troops, those rats have no power to stay ....

  13. I think India should hire a private security company from Pakistan to give security to its Army. How is that umpire.

  14. We have continued the misplaced, unspoken policy of not subjecting state agencies including the army to close and critical scrutiny in the name of secrecy and national security. This os wrong, and actually undermines overall national interest.

    While details related directly to operational plans and capabilities must necessarily be protected, shortcomings - in drills and procedures, equipment and infrastructure, organisation and administration - must be reviewed, analysed and discussed. In general in public, and in detail and frankly within the government and the military community. Only then will weaknesses be identified and corrective measures institutionalised.

    Bombast and hyperbolic patriotic rhetoric already threatens to drown out any call for answers and accountability. Gallantry awards will be made, martyrs lauded, and everything and anything less palatable swept under the carpet. Ergo - we have heroes galore, and of faults none! And we will merrily carry on.

  15. There is a need to go back to basics. The original teachings related to tactical operations need to be honed. Sadly, we have a number of leaders at all levels, senior, middle order and junior who do not understand the nuances of dealing with situations as obtainable in recent militant attacks. It is high time true soldiers (all ranks) are given their due and paper tigers relegated to sundry duties.

  16. Col Ajai Shukla, you are absolutely right. The Services need to get down to brass tacks. The problem is the yes sir culture which has become so endemic. We seem to forget our lessons because the rewards for professionalism is often less than rewards for peripherals.

  17. Pretty good article Sir that raises pertient issues. However I find the comment below to be somewhat unfair on veterans :

    "In a vibrant military, the next level of oversight comes from its veterans who, in military culture, are custodians of tradition and professional standards. Unfortunately, veterans gloss over declining professional standards, focusing instead on demands for better pensions, salaries and status --- important issues, but secondary to professional proficiency."

  18. It is quite clear fir sometime now to the Indian People that the Army is nothing but the IAS in uniform . It is too large I'll trained has an officer corps that is frankly more into perks and pension than warfare . Less said about Generals they have always been shown short from '47,'62,'65,'71,'99 in short never .Massive surgery , sacking and no more OROP , no pensions .Save and earn your pension . We can't afford this Army , it can't fight , think or evolve , time to trim it modernise it . Not more if the same thing . The Indian people are tired of sloppy nonperformance.

  19. If you will go and fight in their territory its 100% sure that they will have more casualty. You just fire blindly and see whereever bullets go will hit a paki only. In your area you need to be more cautious. So that your own bullets should not harm your own ppl.

  20. Armies perform well for respect. You humiliate them, they'll be as good as any othet govt employees.

  21. Pushpendra Singh1 December 2016 at 08:56

    It IS a political question. Why were our troops, sons & husbands of our citizens without Bullet Proof Jackets? Why did Parrikars Ministry take 12 years to acquire them - and thenn only 25000 for a million-plus Army. Why were sentries without night-vision goggles or perimeter surveillance equipment. Why are units in the field with just 11 officers against a requirement of 26. (In peace stations it is even below that).
    Why has the Defence Secretary who has all the powers for acquiring these NOT been taken to task. Defence of India is HIS responsibility according to the Government's Rules of Business. The Chiefs and their HQ are simplyy attachhed offices in real terms with NO real financial or decision-making powers.

  22. For the last 8+ years the Indian army has had mainly to deal with J&K civilians. Its easy to blind them, apprehend them and kill them in encounters. The few hardcore, well trained fighters never really stood a chance as the army/police/BSF/RR have a camp near every village, hamlet and town in J&K. This has made the army and its soldiers less alert and they have started to enjoy being posted to J&K as a family holiday, especially for the officers. Pakistan had stopped sending any sort of well trianed guys across. Their focus was on the western front.

    BJP changed all that. The constant comments from the PM, ministers, the media, and off course the RSS gai mata brigade meant that Pakistan's attention was drawn back to india and the harm that india is doing or could do. At the same time atmosphere in J&K changed. The security establishment went overboard, showing utter hatred for the civilians in J&K. Many of the security forces in J&K behave as an occupying force in J&K. This was a god send to Pakistan.

    Today Pakistan enjoys overwhelming support in J&K. Every Indian being killed in J&K is celebrated in J&K has a hot blooded revenge by the locals. They could not be more grateful to Pakistan and its warriors.

    LoC is hot now. Lot of the border fencing has been targeted by the PA. The life at the front lines has become traumatic for many. IA has to be careful. Years of blood lettings ly ahead. Pakistan won't back down, it feeds into their warrior cult. Thanks to BJPs/PMs desire, indians will die to win few more seats.


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