Infantry the world over has kept pace with the evolution of warfare. However, the Indian Army is lagging behind in its efforts to keep the Infantry comparable to the best in the world as far as its weapon and equipment profile is concerned. The Infantry of the Indian Army is in dire need of all round improvement especially in the areas of survivability, lethality and mobility.
History of warfare is replete with examples where Nations have won the war but lost the campaign. While several factors may have contributed to the defeat of the aggressors in these wars but the quality of Infantry soldiers, their will to fight and unconventional strategy has been a major factor. Over dependence on technology, firepower especially in a predominantly unconventional battlefield and terrain such as mountains, high altitude, super high altitude areas (HAA & SHAA) and jungle terrain which are highly conducive for guerilla warfare and low intensity conflicts has been the nemesis of many super powers. While human resource of all arms are essential for conduct of successful battle, bulk of our operations are dependent on the Infantry and Armour. Of these the infantry is almost entirely dependent on the “skill and will to fight” of its soldier? An Infantry man combines in him the twin function of platform and the weapon both. Further, one cannot do away with the infantry as it is the infantry which can traverse where no other arm can go. It is the ultimate arm to secure territory for any armed forces to claim victory.
Land warfare doctrine, nature of threat, operational geography and availability of technology decide the shape and structure of various arms in the Army including the Infantry. Nature of threat facing the country is unique. India is challenged by two major adversaries on either side of its land frontier. Northern and Eastern Borders are being constantly transgressed by the Chinese in the disputed areas since 1962. Their activities have gathered more pace since the 1998 nuclear tests. In addition, India continues to face threats across its Western borders since ages, making it look inwards and focus on territorial integrity rather than adopting an offensive approach. This forces the country to commit boots on ground to secure its land frontiers as it has to contend with a ‘no-war, no-peace’ scenario.
India has 14,103 kms of land borders of which 2,912 km is with Pakistan and 3,380 Km with China. This constrains the extent to which one can undertake an offensive against each other, hence low level conflicts in the form of border clashes and transgressions are a norm along the northern and the eastern borders. To deal with such threats there is a need for special forces and infantry backed by disruptive technologies.
Territorial Disputes along the Chinese as well as the Pakistani frontier with India are in plenty. Typically any territory under active dispute demands commitment of troops on ground to ensure territorial sovereignty.
Operational Geography of our land frontiers also constrains our ability to defend territories despite availability disruptive technologies. The entire border of India with China amounting to 3,380 km is mountainous, HAA or SHAA which needs predominantly Infantry to ensure territorial integrity. The impact and efficacy of firepower, communication, surveillance and other electronic equipment are restricted due to terrain and weather conditions. Also India has a long maritime domain comprising major Islands which need to be defended and entails boots on ground.
Efficacy of Technology in mountains as highlighted earlier will be limited be it air power, surveillance equipment, missiles, rockets, guns and tanks. Russia has carried out an in-depth analysis of the Nagorno - Karabakh conflict and have come to the conclusion that while the technology did play the deciding factor, it was the quality of troops (boots on ground) that also mattered. The role of Infantry will remain critical and central to success in battle.
Internal Security commitment of the country ideally should not be allocated to the military. However, where such problems exist in close proximity to international unsettled and disturbed borders, then such responsibilities are best managed by the Army. China has also started following the theaterisation of their military and have allocated the responsibility of the defence of borders to the Theatre Commander i.e. PLA and not the Border Defence Regiments. Therefore, the requirement of the Infantry will continue to remain unchanged.
In the plains and the dessert sectors, there is a scope for reducing the Infantry provided it is backed by extensive mechanisation, improved mobility, lethality, and survivability. The battle field must incorporate disruptive technologies, overwhelming ground based firepower especially by the artillery, rockets and missiles and most importantly preponderance of air power for successful conduct of air — land battle.
Infantry the world over has kept pace with the evolution of warfare. However, the Indian Army is lagging behind in its efforts to keep the Infantry comparable to the best in the world as far as its weapon and equipment profile is concerned. The Infantry of the Indian Army is in dire need of all round improvement especially in the areas of survivability, lethality and mobility. Structural changes required in the Infantry are as follows:
As evident from the preceding discussions India is also in the midst of a transformation of its Infantry, but its progress is tardy especially in equipping it. The personal weapon needs early replacement and force multipliers in terms of anti-tank, point air defence, disruptive, communication and electronic warfare capabilities need urgent improvement and attention on priority. Given the presence of multiple threats, it would be in our larger national interest to strengthen the military including the Infantry by making it future ready to respond in all spectrums of warfare as part of a Tri Service Combined Arms Integrated Response.
The author is Ex Corps Commander 11 Corps, Ex Chief of Staff Eastern Command, Ex Commandant Army War College and Ex IG (Ops) NSG.