Army's new war structures for Cold Start to be field tested in May - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 10 January 2019

Army's new war structures for Cold Start to be field tested in May

Good Sino-Indian border relations, post-Wuhan, sees Indian soldiers teaching Chinese the “bhangra”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Jan 19

New Indian Army structures geared towards sudden and swift offensives into enemy territory by “integrated battle groups” (IBGs) will be war-gamed next month, and then physically validated in exercises on the ground in May, announced the army chief, General Bipin Rawat, on Thursday.

The proposed IBGs are at the core of an offensive doctrine called “Cold Start”, which involves launching an offensive rapidly, and on multiple independent thrust lines, leaving the enemy with neither the time nor the defensive resources to block those multiple thrusts.

Traditionally, different army components like infantry, armour, artillery, engineers, signals and logistics stay and train separately in peace locations, only “marrying up” for combat when they deploy in the field. Since marrying up takes time, an IBG integrates all these components in peacetime itself, keeping them ready to be thrown into combat without delay.

Cold Start doctrine was long denied by Indian policymakers until Rawat publicly endorsed it on his first Army Day press conference on January 13, 2017. Now, on the same occasion two years on, Rawat announced the first IBGs would be tested this summer.

“We will carry out war games in February/March, and in May we will exercise the IBGs. Hopefully, after that, we will go to the government and take their sanction [to restructure traditional divisions into permanent IBGs].

Rawat clarified that only part of the army, located in areas where IBGs would need to be rapidly launched into battle, would be restructured into permanent battle groups.

Army sources indicate the first IBGs would come up in the plains of Jammu, Punjab and Rajasthan, providing New Delhi instruments of retaliation in the event of grave provocation by Pakistan, such as a 26/11 style terrorist attack.

In addition, one of the army’s three mechanised strike corps will be restructured into a rapid reaction Sabre Corps, capable of immediate launch into Pakistan when required.

For retaliatory strikes in the mountains, against either Pakistan or China, the two divisions of the newly created mountain strike corps would also be converted into IBGs.

Traditionally, a division (with about 20,000 soldiers) has been the smallest formation that has all the components – infantry, armour, artillery, engineers, signals and logistics – needed to fight a war. The battle group concept involves distributing these resources between the three brigades of a division, making each brigade capable of operating independently, as an IBG.

The creation of IBGs is part of an ambitious four-point reorganisation of the army that Rawat has launched. The other dimensions include reorganising the army headquarters, a cadre review of the officers and re-evaluating manpower structures to bring down the strength of the army.

Post-Wuhan peace with China

For the first time since the Wuhan summit on April 28 last year, Rawat described the new dynamic between the two militaries that had resulted in amity on the Sino-Indian “Line of Actual Control” (LAC). 

At Wuhan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping – worried by the near conflict at Doklam the preceding summer – issued “strategic guidance to their respective militaries” to build trust and mutual understanding in order to “prevent incidents in border regions,” in the language of their joint statement.

Post Wuhan, some common directions were issued to northern, western, central and eastern commands on methods to be followed during operations on the LAC”, said Rawat, acknowledging the restraint imposed by the government.

Describing growing interaction between Indian and Chinese border commanders, Rawat stated: “We had a very good meeting on January 1st. You know the [Joint Sino-Indian] Exercise Hand-in-Hand was held recently. Our soldiers even had the Chinese dancing the bhangrathere.”

Rawat said this suits India, “because we have to carry out infrastructure development; and we have other issues. Peace and tranquillity is what we want.”


  1. The flaw in cold start is that Pakistan will be able to mobilise in less than India’s 48 hours. There will be no tactical surprise. The Pakistan counter attack may come even before our armour begins to move, not least from the air, the Pakistani Forces have complete jointness.
    Where are the Indian self propelled guns? and will the Indian armour have close air support from the IAF which needs to destroy the PAF in the early stages.
    There is an array of short range tactical nuclear weapons deployed by Pakistan to be used in the unlikely event that the Pakistani Army fails to blunt the attack. Where are the gutsy politicians to authorise an attack on Pakistan? Why after months of mobilisation in the past India failed to attack?
    As for this concept of a limited attack, there is no such thing. If a number of our strike brigades attack Pakistan, the enemy doctrine is to retaliate with all its might.
    We don’t want history repeating itself and the Indian debacle of 1965, when COAS planned a retreat behind the Beas , we could have lost a part of Punjab, not to mention the cowardice shown by one General and two of our distinguished infantry regiments, Jawans from these regiments running away in the Lahore sector were rounded up by the initiative of a Artillery Brigadier and led back to the front, it’s all in the archives.
    It’s harsh to mention the above as an example, but hubris leads to defeat, there is too much of nonsensical Bollywood myth, glorification of “bravehearts” and talk of “martyrs”. We need to do a reality check and to get down to the serious business of modernisation of our Armed Forces.

  2. In a war with Pakistan, Army's role should be defensive. We have overwhelming superiority in navy and Air Force over Pakistan which will bring paks to their knees swiftly.Launching IBGs will cause tremendous losses for little gains. Army should only go into Pakistan once we have oceans and skies under our control within 2 days. So cold start is a non starter but we should upgrade army equipments and battle readiness.


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