Army chief says military must prepare for Cold Start - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 13 January 2017

Army chief says military must prepare for Cold Start

India's offensive doctrine jittered Pakistan into developing tactical nukes

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14 Jan 17

Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, who this month became the first senior official to publicly confirm the existence of India’s so-called Cold Start doctrine, explained on Friday why he acknowledged this controversial term publicly.

Cold Start is the Indian operational plan for rapidly mobilising infantry and armour to launch lightning strikes across the plains and deserts of Pakistan. The aim is to break into Pakistani before its defensive formations can prepare and occupy defensive positions along the border.

Indian policymakers and officials have always downplayed Cold Start, partly because it scared Pakistan’s army into relocated defensive formations close to the Indian border, and into developing highly destabilising “tactical nuclear weapons” (TNWs) --- small-yield, nuclear bombs, delivered by short-range ballistic missiles like the Nasr (Hatf-IX) --- to halt a Cold Start strike.

Previous Indian chiefs said there was no Cold Start plan. Instead, they pointed to a “proactive strategy”.

Rawat’s acknowledgment of Cold Start on January 6, in an interview to India Today, was a radical departure. It was sharply criticised by strategic analysts like Vipin Narang and Walter C Ladwig III, who claimed the “[Indian] army simply lacks the material and organisation to implement the more aggressive versions of Cold Start.” They argued that India has too few troops and tanks, it faces critical equipment shortages, and the army and air force do not coordinate air support. “This has put India in the worst possible strategic position: claiming a capability that it does not have, but which provides justification for Pakistan’s aggressive expansion of its conventional and nuclear forces”, Narang and Ladwig wrote in The Hindu.

Today, Rawat, at a press conference in New Delhi, initially downplayed his acknowledgment of Cold Start, arguing that offensive plans are a part of India’s overall defensive strategy, aimed at safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity.

“[W]e know that the future wars will be short and intense and, when short and intense wars are the future forms of combat, you have to be prepared to move fast. Now this is something which you can term in whatever way you want”, said Rawat.

But Rawat also clarified that publicly acknowledging Cold Start was a signal to the army to be prepared for that eventuality. “The other reason for coming out with this was, to communicate to the rank and file and field commanders the kind of preparations they have to carry out for future combat. That is the messaging that was meant to that statement that I made,” said Rawat.

Asked by Business Standard about operational shortcomings that might prevent the success of Cold Start, Rawat stated: “Weaknesses have to be overcome. And these weaknesses can only be overcome if you accept the strategy (Cold Start). If you don’t accept the strategy, then you will let your weaknesses [limit you]. But when you enunciate a strategy you say: these are the weaknesses which I need to overcome to adopt success.”

It is ironic that Rawat, an infantry officer who the government chose because of his expertise in counter-insurgency, has made his first bold statement in the realm of warfighting and mechanised operations.

Cold Start was born of the failure of Operation Parakram in 2001-02, when the military moved into battle stations after Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists attacked Parliament on December 13, 2001. However, by the time the army’s three mechanised strike corps (which are stationed deep inside India in places like Mathura and Bhopal) were transported to the border and were ready to launch their tanks and infantry combat vehicles (ICVs), Pakistan’s defensive formations were deployed and ready to beat them back.

Thus was Cold Start conceived, a plan to attack Pakistan within 48 hours of any dire provocation traced back to Pakistan --- like a particularly damaging terrorist attack, or the assassination of a top Indian leader. Instead of waiting for the mechanised strike corps to make their long journey to the border, the attack would be launched by 8-10 “integrated battle groups” (IBGs), cobbled together from the large number of tanks and reserve infantry in the defensive corps, already located along the border.

Benefiting from surprise, and with Pakistan’s armoured reserves divided, Cold Start estimates that many of the IBGs would pierce through Pakistan’s forward defences. That would allow the strike corps, as it reaches the border, to stream through those breaches and penetrate towards the large towns and cities in Pakistan’s heartland. This would allow New Delhi to call off the war quickly, in a victorious position.

Western policymakers have been critical of Cold Start, since it alarmed Pakistan into developing TNWs, which are seen as highly insecure and destabilising weapons. Given the Nasr missile’s range of just 60 kilometres, TNWs would per force be physically located with forward commanders, and control over them decentralised early in any conflict.

This “de-centralisation” would render TNWs vulnerable to theft by jihadi groups, or unauthorised use by renegade Pakistani commanders. It is unclear whether Pakistan has fool-proof security protocols for TNWs, like permissive access links (PALs). Nor is it known how early, with a battlefield debacle imminent, would control over nukes be handed over to local commanders --- probably at the level of corps commanders --- who would be presumably more prone to use the weapons. 


  1. With or without Cold Start, Pakistan would have developed the tactical nuclear weapons, which is the logical step after you have developed the strategic weapons.

  2. Nothing ironical that it took an Inf officer to at least make bold statements about mechanised warfare. Rommel was an Inf man, so was Sundarjee. And so was Liddel Hart.

  3. I'd like a discussion on a matter not directly part of this post, though part of Chief's address, as also comments by the RM on the three complaint videos that are on the air these days. Everyone is jumping on problems stated by one man in each case, all about minor administrative matters. No one as much as even fidgeted when so many ex-servicemen sat on dharna at jantar mantar for months. No one even batted an eyelid when successive Chiefs said ' We are not ready for war'. So what is the moral of the story? Go to social media for immediate, out or proportion, results. But Chief and RM say'Don't go to media'. Denying people an effective weapon?

  4. Do as per Narang and Ledwif if Indian general has not acknowledged it. Pakistan would not have prepared TNWs.

    Similar argument were given by leftist in 1998 that Pakistan would develop nuclear bomb now without realising Pakistan already had one.

    Pakistan is an extension/proxy of China now. Previously it was a weak nation but now the Indian strategy has to be much more detailed and exhaustive.

  5. There should be something to counter the tnw ...I m surprised our air force and army lack cordination

  6. chicken heart... cold feet... timid... tentative... risk aversion... lackadaisical... can go on...

  7. Where are your sources Ajai? Now police saying that ISI is involved in Kanpur rail accident which makes it a terrorist incident. You still think these people will change? If India loses the long war with Pakistan it will be because of sympathies from people who think that Pakistan has changed. A leopard never changes its spots.

    Former RAW chief is on record to state that hate for India permeates Pakistan civil society as well as their military. He should know...

    These people think that it is their duty to dismember and convert India and as important as eating Nihaari early in the morning.

  8. Col. सहब ईस बरे मे कुच लिखिये ?

  9. With or without Cold Start, Pakistan would have developed the tactical nuclear weapons, which is the logical step after you have developed the strategic weapons.

  10. On a recent article, I read about the blast force of these TNWs and how they can affect Armor.


    1. As per a study, It takes 3 ATMs of overpressure to incapacitate a tank (which are found in Indian IBGs).

    2. A 10-15 KT Tactical nuclear weapon can only exert 3 ATMS of overpressure in a radius of 370 -420 Meters. Simply put, only tanks within 420 Meters of point of detonation will be incapacitated.

    3. I reckon that just like an Infantry section, Armour units too must be following the basic rule of "spread out" i.e. leaving adequate distance between each advancing tank.
    Scaling this up to a Squadron or even a battalion/regimental(armour equivalent of battalion) level, Im sure the distance between two attacking squadrons must itself be more than a few kilometers.

    Hence, Using tactical nukes would only make sense if Many tanks are at a concentration point.

    4. Else, The article further mentioned that as per its calculations, Pak would need to launch 37 TNWs just to eliminate a single Armoured Division.

    5. Launching even a quarter of that number, or for that matter even one TNW, will result in a massive retaliation from India and a certain diplomatic shut down from almost all countries.

    India's retaliation need not even be nuclear, but it will be enough to permanently disable Pakistani state. Not to mention the positive Influence India will receive when it showed restraint by not using its use Nuclear weapons, when it easily could have.

    6. Those who have doubts, kindly take a look at Eastern Ukraine, Post US Invasion Iraq, Post soviet Afghanistan, Bosnia, Syria, Libya or even Somalia. No Nuclear weapons used there.

  11. I have to strongly disagree with the notion that CS caused Pak to develop TNW. Having said that they haven't even tested a PU device and we are assuming they have a device which can fit on a Nazr sized missle.

    Here is my theory. The threat of using TNW is because Pak believe Indian nukes are credible! There might be a even fear of first strike on Pak assets. They are trying to get us in a escalation using TNW. They want to limit Indian response.

    Second aspect is given that they may not have a working PU warhead and their tested & "transportable" U235 devices potentially having 1-5KT yield, it covers them quite well, that their Strategic warhead yields are.. equal to TNW!

    They cannot respond to a Indian 200KT warhead!

    If Nazr is truly nuke enabled, what are the proofs of nuke training? There will be constant maintenance on a nuke warhead on a Nasr missile. May be a personal view, I dont think it is easy to hide a operationally deployed TNW on a 60KM missile!

  12. Yes they couldn't use but we will use for sure! And for your kind information we will use TNW on Indian troops not on public! Second we will use them only in our territory if Indian force would be able to cross border so for our defense we will use TNWs on your troops :) but my dear fellow Indians you forgot that it's not easy to destroy our defense! Alhamdulillah our forces are enough capable to denfend the border! Second we have hundreds of militias who will crush your troops inside Pakistan. So the TNWs will be the last option and I am sure that this option will never come because in the past when we are very weak in defence, we bravely fought and defend our homeland and now we are in a far better position to do that! So forget your so called cold start :)


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