Over to a Multi-domain Battlefield


In the immediate aftermath of terrorist attack at Uri, jingoism is on full display on electronic media.  Everybody, who could get himself/herself heard has spoken. Some of them many times. The nation was expectedly elated when Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, the DGMO at Army HQ, announced on Sept 29 that surgical strikes took place on seven terrorist launch pads and that these targets were in the 2-4 km range from the Line of Control(LoC). Well, India decided enough is enough, and these hits were carried out on the directions of the political authority.

Since then, we are into a debate over the politics of the surgical strikes. Like what was witnessed in London in the aftermath of Falkland war between the United Kingdom, and Argentina. Some may say that the two situations are vastly different. With some justification, indeed.

The fact remains, however, that the retaliation by India is unlikely to change the conduct of GHQ Shura in Rawalpindi, which has invested heavily on terrorist machine to make India bleed. The Indian efforts to isolate Pakistan may not be adequate to modify the conduct of its deep state. So much so, as Ashley Tellis, a celebrated American defence and strategic analyst says options before India are limited. In an op-ed on Oct 11, 2016, he analysed these options. His conclusion: the US unlikely to rein in Pakistan for the present.

Ever since the surgical strikes, Pakistan has unleashed Info Operation against India though the dividends do not appear to be commensurate with the effort mounted.  Nonetheless, India must prepare itself to face multi-domain challenge in the coming days.

Pakistan’s forces have violated the ceasefire a number of times since September end. Simultaneously, its proxies have mounted attacks along the LoC. The targets are camps of the Army and para-military forces (PMF) besides civilian targets like a government building in Pampore which had witnessed a suicide attack in February this year. Pampore is 15 km from Srinagar. It was near this town on June 25, 2016, a Central Reserve Police Force convoy, consisting of six vehicles, was ambushed by three or four militants.

In sporting terms, the Pakistani conduct is no more than a calibrated “full court press”. It could be not only in multiple domains but also at different levels simultaneously or near simultaneously.

India’s response, therefore, needs to be integrated at all levels – national, strategic, operational and above all tactical. Simple jointness (cross-service cooperation in all stages of the military processes, from research, through procurement and into operations), may not meet the need of the hour. Planning for surgical strikes, indeed, was marked by the absence of such structures, going by the media reports attributed to sources. One such source lamented that different agencies had jealously continued to guard their turf till the barriers came down in preparation for the surgical strikes. There is no gain saying the fact that intelligence agencies need to adopt “push model” and as far forward as imperative.

Gen Mark Milley, US Army chief, opines that soldiers would need to operate in multiple domains in much shorter OODA loops, at times of 3 to 4 hours. For the uninitiated the phrase OODA loop stands for the cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act, and it has been developed by American military strategist Colonel John Boyd. He applied the concept to the combat operations process, often at the strategic level in military operations.

Decision making for such operations too would need to keep pace. Would the Indian “Jugad” utilised for the surgical strikes survive such a scenario? There are no short answers.

The hijack of the Indian Airlines plane, IC 814, in December 1999 forced release of some wanted Pakistan terrorists like Maulana Masood Azhar languishing in Indian jails in exchange for the passengers of ill-fated aircraft Airbus A300 en route from Kathmandu to Delhi. Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group, was accused of the hijacking the plane to Kandahar under the Taliban control.Masood disappeared from the tarmac after his release and emerged as the chief of Jaish-e-Muhammad with his base at Bahawalpur in Southern Punjab.

The hijack episode highlighted the security and tactical challenges. The structures for decision making, regrettably, have not changed since then and continue to be the same. Some changes made towards redeploying assets, post -26/11, have shown up not to be effective largely due to lack of integration as also limitations of the structures themselves.

What is the moral of the story? There is need for integration of Special Forces of all three Services with intelligence agencies of all hues. This is a vital necessity in the changing security scenario, particularly after Uri attack, and consequent surgical strikes. So is the case for integrating all intelligence agencies. How and how far such integration should be achieved is a matter of detail with thinking caps in place. India can learn from the experience of other countries and devise a mechanism that suits its local needs, and conditions.

The structures at the apex need to have their mini-structure at the execution end. A sword hand can be integrated with intelligence agencies for providing them the ability to react at short notice.

There is a temptation for already overcommitted individuals to be part of such structure, obviously for status or the fear of losing authority. This would not serve the national interest nor national needs. The organisation must be small and relatively flat with no more than one layer separating it from the political executive.

Make no mistake, Pakistan protects the terror groups and their affiliates as prized assets for securing larger strategic objectives. The Rawalpindi–based GHQ Shura believes that current geopolitical environment allows them to continue with the `thousand cuts policy’ conceived and perfected by Gen Zia-ul-Haq some forty years ago.

The Indian government has since laid a new marker for Pakistan’s Deep State to look out for. Now India must put its act together through appropriate and urgent reorganization without much ado and gear itself to multi-domain battle field. To send out clear message. To whom? Well, to the Pakistani Deep State. Also to those whose help the Deep State hopes to get.

(Bhupesh Kumar Jain, Maj. Gen. (Retd)