A Brief His­tory of In­dian Army — Post In­de­pen­dence

The Sino-In­dian War of 1962 and the na­tional hu­mil­i­a­tion was the re­sult of the pol­icy of ap­pease­ment of the Chi­nese and the bias against the mil­i­tary. The mil­i­tary also failed by ac­qui­esc­ing to a pol­icy they knew to be mil­i­tar­ily and po­lit­i­cally un­sound.


The Sino-In­dian War of 1962 and the na­tional hu­mil­i­a­tion was the re­sult of the pol­icy of ap­pease­ment of the Chi­nese and the bias against the mil­i­tary. The mil­i­tary also failed by ac­qui­esc­ing to a pol­icy they knew to be mil­i­tar­ily and po­lit­i­cally un­sound. Lt Gen­eral V.K. Kapoor (Retd)

Post In­de­pen­dent, In­dian Army (IA)

Strength of the In­dian Army in Au­gust 1947 was 4,00,000 but the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship was keen to re­duce the strength to save de­fence ex­pen­di­ture and hence it was de­cided to bring down the strength of the Army to 2,00,000 after the Jammu and Kash­mir (J&K) Op­er­a­tions which would in­volve the dis­band­ment of many units. A new Ter­ri­to­rial Army Act was passed in 1948 and in­fantry and ar­tillery units with a nu­cle­ous of reg­u­lar of­fi­cers were raised in 1949. Many other changes oc­curred dur­ing the pe­riod from 1948 to 1960. The des­ig­na­tion of Com­man­der-in-Chief ceased to be in use from 1955 and the three Chiefs (Army, Navy and the Air Force) were made equal and in­de­pen­dently re­spon­si­ble for their re­spec­tive ser­vice. Ev­ery func­tion of the De­fence Ser­vices was du­pli­cated in the Min­istry of De­fence where civil­ian bu­reau­crats not only en­sured fi­nan­cial and ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol but also grad­u­ally took over the de­ci­sion mak­ing pow­ers of the de­fence ser­vices. The stand­ing of the mil­i­tary reached an all time low dur­ing the time of Kr­ishna Menon as de­fence min­is­ter when de­ci­sions con­cern­ing mat­ters of ma­jor mil­i­tary im­por­tance were taken with­out con­sul­ta­tion of the con­cerned ser­vice.

Nehru’s Bias Against the Mil­i­tary

Nehru’s bias against the mil­i­tary was well known in the Ser­vices. The clear­est ex­am­ple of this is when Cari­appa out­lined his plan for the se­cu­rity of NEFA, after China had oc­cu­pied Ti­bet, Nehru flared up and thump­ing the ta­ble said “It is not the busi­ness of the C-in-C to tell the Prime Min­is­ter who is go­ing to at­tack us where. You mind only Kash­mir and Pak­istan.” Nehru con­tin­ued to ap­pease the Chi­nese and the un­timely death of Sar­dar Pa­tel took away all op­po­si­tion to Nehru’s views. The Sino-In­dian War of 1962 and the na­tional hu­mil­i­a­tion was the re­sult of this pol­icy and the bias against the mil­i­tary. The mil­i­tary also failed by ac­qui­esc­ing to a pol­icy they knew to be mil­i­tar­ily and po­lit­i­cally un­sound.

From Trauma to Vic­tory -– Pe­riod 1961 to 1971

The pe­riod 1961 to 1971 was one of the most trau­matic pe­ri­ods of the In­dian Army. The de­feat in 1962 shook the foun­da­tion of the na­tion and the armed forces. The army be­gan to in­tro­spect to over­come its weak­nesses. The 1965 war helped the army to re­deem it­self but re­vealed em­bar­rass­ing weak­nesses in its equip­ment and its train­ing and even lead­er­ship at var­i­ous lev­els. These two wars spurred the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship to mod­ern­ize and ex­pand the ser­vices. As 1970 came to a close, the In­dian Army was now ready to face new chal­lenges emerg­ing on the hori­zon.

1971 War re­sulted in cre­ation of a new na­tion - Bangladesh and a de­ci­sive mil­i­tary vic­tory in which 93,000 pris­on­ers of war were taken. While many books have been writ­ten to de­scribe each bat­tle in de­tail, it is the spirit of the sol­diery dur­ing this cam- paign that de­serves men­tion. In the words of Syd­ney Schan­berg of New York Times, who ac­com­pa­nied In­dian troops in two sec­tors – ‘I don’t like sit­ting around prais­ing armies. I don’t like armies be­cause armies mean wars – and I don’t like wars. But this (the In­dian) army was some­thing….. They were great all the way. There was never a black mark…. I lived with the of­fi­cers and I walked, rode with the jawans – and they were all great … And they were the most per­fect gen­tle­men- I have never seen them do a wrong thing – not even when they just saw how bes­tial the ‘en­emy had been.”

Steady Mod­erni­sa­tion – Pe­riod From 1971 to 1998

The pe­riod after 1971 War saw the steady mod­erni­sa­tion of the In­dian Army with new equip­ment for mod­ern wars. The Ex­pert Com­mit­tee un­der the Chair­man­ship of Lt Gen­eral K.V. Kr­ishna Rao sub­mit­ted its re­port in 1976. Some of its ma­jor rec­om­men­da­tions started get­ting im­ple­mented in the eight­ies. The ex­pan­sion of mech­a­nized forces was achieved as a re­sult of this re­port.

On April 13, 1984, 34 sol­diers of the In­dian Army were landed by 17 sor­ties of he­li­copters at a point three kilo­me­ters short of Bi­la­fond La, a pass on the Soltaro ridge, West of Si­achen glacier. The sol­diers oc­cu­pied the pass. This was the open­ing move in what is re­ferred to as the Si­achen con­flict be­tween In­dia & Pak­istan which con­tin­ues till date. This pe­riod also saw the Army op­er­a­tion in the Golden Tem­ple on night June 5 to 6, 1984 at Am­rit­sar to clear the com­plex of the mil­i­tants who had based them­selves in the tem­ple. The Op­er­a­tion was code named ‘Blue Star’ By the first light of June 7, 1984, the Golden Tem­ple com­plex had been cleared of mil­i­tants but it left, in its af­ter­math, a wave of an­guish and anger among the Sikh com­mu­nity and the na­tion faced the as­sas­si­na­tion of the then Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi by her Sikh guards.

Sri Lanka Op­er­a­tions

The pe­riod July 1987 to March 1990 saw the In­dian Army fight Tamil mil­i­tants in Sri Lanka with one hand tied be­hind their back. In­dian Peace Keep­ing Force (IPKF) moved to Sri Lanka to carry out Peace­keep­ing du­ties as gen­er­ally as­signed dur­ing UN op­er­a­tions and to sep­a­rate the war­ring fac­tions ie Lib­er­a­tion Tigers of Tamil Ee­lam (LTTE) and Sri Lankan armed forces but ended up en­forc­ing peace and con­duct­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against LTTE. What the In­dian Army achieved is best de­scribed in the words of Ra­jan Wi­jer­a­trie, at one time the state min­is­ter of De­fence in Sri Lankan Govern­ment. He is re­ported to have said, “The IPKF had vir­tu­ally fin­ished them off. They were gasp­ing for breath in the jun­gles. It was we who pro­vided that oxy­gen to them.” This summed up what IPKF had achieved be­fore de-in­duc­tion.


On Novem­ber 3, 1988, the In­dian Army launched the op­er­a­tion in Mal­dives to pre­vent mer­ce­nar­ies from over­throw­ing the Govern­ment of Mal­dives and while it did not in­volve much fight­ing, it demon­strated to the World the speed and ef­fi­ciency with which the In­dian Armed Forces could re­act. This pe­riod (1989 on­wards) also saw the start of the ter­ror­ism and in­sur­gency in Kash­mir and de­ploy­ment of ad­di­tional troops in J&K.

Kargil War (May-July 1999)

Kargil Sec­tor is 168 kms along the line of con­trol (LOC) stretch­ing from Kaobal gali in the west to Chor­bat La in the east. The sec­tor was vast and the line of con­trol runs along the wa­ter­shed along heights 4,000 to 5,000 me­tres high. The frontage and the na­ture of ter­rain en­sured large gaps be­tween de­fended ar­eas. The de­ploy­ment in­cluded one in­fantry bat­tal­ion at Dras; two in­fantry bat­tal­ions and a BSF bat­tal­ion cov­er­ing Kargil while Chor­bat La was held by Ladakh Scouts. As in­di­ca­tions of Pak­istani in­tru­sions came in start­ing from May 3, 1999, it be­came clear that armed in­trud­ers had oc­cu­pied heights in the gaps be­tween all de­fended ar­eas in the Sec­tor. It was es­tab­lished that In­dia was fac­ing an at­tempt by the Pak­istan to change the LoC us­ing its reg­u­lar troops. The com­pla­cency of the lo­cal army for­ma­tions in not con­duct­ing even rou­tine sur­veil­lance in the win­ter months stood out. Hav­ing been sur­prised the ini­tial re­ac­tions were un­sat­is­fac­tory lead­ing to poorly planned pa­trols and at­tacks. While these did fix the en­emy, suc­cess came their way only when the whole act was put to­gether. Air and ar­tillery (155mm How­itzers) was em­ployed with dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect to al­low the In­dian Sol­dier, the in­fantry­man to live up to his rep­u­ta­tion of for­ti­tude un­der ad­ver­sity and courage and de­ter­mi­na­tion in the at­tack.

Op­er­a­tion Parakaram

Op­er­a­tion Parakram, which means ‘val­our’ was a mo­men­tous event which could have un­leashed a ma­jor war on the sub-con­ti­nent. It in­volved a mas­sive build-up In­dian Army or­dered in the wake of the De­cem­ber 13, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tack on Par­lia­ment House. This 10-month-long mo­bil­i­sa­tion from Jan­uary to Oc­to­ber 2002, along the bor­der with Pak­istan gen­er­ated high lev­els of ten­sion in the re­la­tions be­tween the two South Asian neigh­bours, and raised the prospects of a ma­jor war. The op­er­a­tion was a ma­jor ef­fort in co­er­cive diplo­macy by New Delhi, in the wake of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks on the In­dian Par­lia­ment on De­cem­ber 13, 2001, and while the Govern­ment claims that their strate­gic ob­jec­tives were met by mere pos­tur­ing which avoided a war, mil­i­tary an­a­lysts are of the view that gains were not com­men­su­rate to the mam­moth ex­er­cise in co­er­cive diplo­macy by In­dia. How­ever, it led to some pos­i­tive changes in In­dia’s mil­i­tary doc­trine and it has­tened mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion to­gether with or­ga­ni­za­tional changes.

Army’s Equip­ment and Mod­erni­sa­tion Schemes

The decade of gover­nance of the United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance (UPA I & II from 2004 to 2014) regimes saw com­plete ap­a­thy and col­lapse of de­fence mod­erni­sa­tion. This era has se­verely de­graded the war fight­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the In­dian Army. The army’s ‘crit­i­cal short­ages’ and ob­so­les­cence of its cur­rent equip­ment in­clude night fight­ing aids, 155mm ar­tillery how­itzers, light util­ity he­li­copters, at­tack he­li­copters, air de­fence as­sets, var­i­ous cat­e­gories of am­mu­ni­tion, anti-tank and AD mis­sile sys­tems, close quar­ter bat­tle (CQB) car­bines, as­sault ri­fles,

ma­chine guns, sniper ri­fles, anti-ma­te­rial ri­fles, and other ur­gently needed weapons and equip­ment by the Spe­cial Forces.

Adding to the ex­ist­ing short­ages is the new rais­ing of the moun­tain strike corps for our East­ern the­atre, which is ex­pected to re­duce the army’s re­serve stocks called “War Wastage Re­serves” in terms of equip­ment and mu­ni­tions fur­ther. The present govern­ment is try­ing to ame­lio­rate the dif­fi­cul­ties be­ing faced by the army but nearly three decades or more of ne­glect and the poor per­for­mance of UPA Govern­ment of a force of the size of In­dian Army can­not be un­done in a short time frame be­cause when voids and ob­so­les­cence start in­creas­ing year after year the sit­u­a­tion gets out of con­trol and di­rectly im­pacts the com­bat ef­fi­ciency of the army. How­ever even the present govern­ment with good in­ten­tions, in its past three years has not been able to pro­duce any re­sults on the ground. While the short­ages and gaps in mod­erni­sa­tion con­tinue, some of the on­go­ing pro­grammes like the ten­ders for the pro­cure­ment of as­sault ri­fles, light ma­chine guns, car­bines, and anti-tank mis­siles have been can­celled. Bat­tle Man­age­ment Sys­tem be­ing de­vel­oped in­dige­nously, which was show­ing prom­ise is rec­om­mended to be an­nulled for in­ex­pli­ca­ble rea­sons. At this rate the army mod­erni­sa­tion will re­main in a poor state for the fore­see­able fu­ture, in an era when the na­tion faces a two front con­ven­tional war threat in ad­di­tion to the chal­lenges of counter in­sur­gency/ counter-ter­ror­ism in the Western and in the North­east­ern re­gions of In­dia . So far, while many new schemes have been an­nounced and sanc­tions given in re­spect of ar­tillery, air de­fence and small arms, no no­tice­able changes have oc­curred on the ground.

Ter­ror­ism Fo­mented by Pak­istan

The threat of ter­ror­ism from Pak­istan has not di­min­ished. Pak­istan spon­sored ter­ror groups struck five times dur­ing the 2015-2016. First, at­tack took place in Gur­daspur District of Pun­jab on July 27, 2015, wherein seven per­sons were killed and 19 in­jured. Three ter­ror­ists were also killed. The sec­ond at­tack was on Jan­uary 2, 2016, by a heav­ily armed group at­tack­ing Pathankot Air Force Sta­tion. Five at­tack­ers and six se­cu­rity forces per­son­nel were killed dur­ing the op­er­a­tions. This was fol­lowed by an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack in Pam­pore in which a bus car­ry­ing over 40 CRPF of­fi­cers, killing eight of­fi­cers and in­jur­ing over 20 oth­ers crit­i­cally. In the en­su­ing gun bat­tle, two of the mil­i­tants were killed. The fourth ma­jor in­ci­dent took place in the early hours of Septem­ber 18, 2016, when four ter­ror­ists from Pak­istan struck a bri­gade head­quar­ters ad­min­is­tra­tive base at Uri and killed 17 un­armed and un­sus­pect­ing sol­diers in their tents, the na­tion’s anger at this dastardly act was vis­i­ble and per­cep­ti­ble. The ri­poste from In­dian Army came 10 days later and on the night of Septem­ber 28-29, when In­dian Army’s Spe­cial Forces struck at seven launch pads of the ter­ror­ists across the line of con­trol along a frontage of about 200 km in two dif­fer­ent Corps Zones thus achiev­ing com­plete sur­prise over the Pak­istani mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment and in­flicted con­sid­er­able ca­su­al­ties on the ter­ror­ists and mil­i­tary per­son­nel in the area. This ac­tion by it­self proved to be a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the new ag­gres­sive strat­egy of the govern­ment of In­dia to deal with the ‘proxy war’ waged by Pak­istan against In­dia since 1989.

On Novem­ber 29, 2016, a fifth at­tack by three ter­ror­ists from Pak­istan breached the army base in Na­grota near Jammu in po­lice uni­forms and at­tacked the 166 Field Reg­i­ment, an ar­tillery unit. It was two young ma­jors in their early 30s that fought them – and ul­ti­mately died in the line of duty. Ma­jors Gosavi Kunal Man­nadir and Ak­shay Girish Ku­mar led Quick Re­sponse Teams, each with about 15 men, to counter the ter­ror­ists, of whom three were killed after a five-hour gun bat­tle. Five sol­diers and two of­fi­cers of the army died in this op­er­a­tion.

Fol­low­ing the ter­ror strikes, a range of themes high­light­ing is­sues of strate­gic han­dling of such sit­u­a­tions, types of forces to be em­ployed and their com­mand and con­trol, bor­der guard­ing, perime­tre de­fences, use of tech­nol­ogy, abil­ity of lo­cal po­lice to fol­low up the spe­cific in­tel­li­gence in­puts to in­ter­cept the ter­ror­ists be­fore the strike and the lack of com­mu­nity in­volve­ment were widely de­bated in the me­dia and among the se­cu­rity ex­perts. Hope­fully, lessons were learnt!

Sum­mer of 2016 also saw an un­prece­dented un­rest in Kash­mir. It refers to a se­ries of vi­o­lent protests in the Kash­mir Val­ley aided and sup­ported by Pak­istan and con­se­quent ac­tion by Po­lice and CAPFs (Cen­tral Armed Po­lice Forces) re­sult­ing in many deaths and in­juries. Sit­u­a­tion turned ugly fol­low­ing killing in an en­counter of Burhan Wani, a ter­ror­ist com­man­der of Hizbul Mu­ja­hedeen on July 8, 2016. Protests started in all ten dis­tricts of the Kash­mir Val­ley. The protests lasted more than 120 days and were halted when the de­mon­eti­sa­tion of the cur­rency was an­nounced on Novem­ber 8, in­di­cat­ing once again that the un­rest was be­ing fu­elled by money be­ing pumped in from across the bor­der in Pak­istan to pay the stone pel­ters in­volved in the un­rest.

While 2016 was be­lieved to be the most vi­o­lent year in the re­cent times, 2017 seems to have sur­passed with more in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence. In his state­ment be­fore the up­per house of Par­lia­ment. Min­is­ter of State for Home Has­nraj Gan­garam Ahir, said that about 184 in­ci­dents of ter­ror were re­ported from Jammu and Kash­mir till the end of July 2017. There were about 155 in­ci­dents last year dur­ing the same pe­riod. Ac­cord­ing to the state po­lice, for the first time in seven years, the num­ber of ter­ror­ists killed in counter-in­sur­gency op­er­a­tions in Jammu and Kash­mir has crossed 200 till Novem­ber 30, 2017.

The Way For­ward

In­dian Army is likely to face four types of threats and chal­lenges in the fu­ture in­clud­ing tra­di­tional threats from China and Pak­istan; con­tem­po­rary threats in the form of ter­ror­ism; in­ter­nal chal­lenges; and out of area con­tin­gency threats. This im­plies that In­dia faces a two front threat as far as con­ven­tional con­flicts are con­cerned and these may be large scale con­flicts or even bor­der wars un­der the nu­clear shadow. The other chal­lenges are in the form of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism, and home grown in­sur­gen­cies aided and abet­ted by some of its neigh­bours, and out of area chal­lenges whose con­tours are hazy at present. Many feel that con­ven­tional con­flicts in the present cir­cum­stances when the re­gion has be­come nu­cle­arised are un­likely, how­ever can Kargil type bor­der wars be pre­cluded, con­sid­er­ing that we have un­re­solved bor­ders in the form of Line of Con­trol with Pak­istan and the Line of Ac­tual Con­trol with China? Is

Mere prom­ises and tall claims is not go­ing to help the na­tion build a worth­while mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity in the form of a de­ter­rence, which is vi­tal in or­der to avoid wars and if com­pelled to go to war then we must be in a po­si­tion to win the war

there an as­sur­ance that the bor­der wars will not es­ca­late to larger con­flicts in­volv­ing more than one sec­tor fac­ing two dif­fer­ent ad­ver­saries on two widely sep­a­rated fronts? Hence the el­e­ment of strate­gic un­cer­tainty is in­tro­duced in to the en­tire op­er­a­tional plan­ning which has a di­rect im­pact on over­all force lev­els and ca­pa­bil­ity build up. One fact which is un­de­ni­able is that should there be an­other war it will be of ‘Hy­brid’ na­ture and it may in­volve fight­ing the en­emy si­mul­ta­ne­ously on two fronts, in vary­ing ter­rain, at the bor­ders, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism and/or in­sur­gency in the hin­ter­land. There are a large num­ber of stud­ies that have been done in the Army in this con­text and these can be up­dated and fruit­fully uti­lized to get an in­sight into the op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness and bud­getary sup­port re­quired.

The time has come for the govern­ment to se­ri­ously con­sider the trans­for­ma­tion of the In­dian mil­i­tary for the fu­ture, through tech­no­log­i­cal im­prove­ments cou­pled with new joint op­er­a­tional doc­trines and in­no­va­tive Op­er­a­tional Art along with joint op­er­a­tional train­ing which should give In­dia a dis­tinct ad­van­tage over its po­ten­tial ad­ver­saries, which is vi­tal for pre­serv­ing In­dia’s sovereignty and fur­ther­ing its na­tional in­ter­ests.

Fol­low­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of the Modi govern­ment with the strong­est man­date ever, a lot was ex­pected by the armed forces re­gard­ing the has­ten­ing of the mod­erni­sa­tion process. How­ever the ex­pected change has so far not man­i­fested it­self on the ground and the army is the worst off as far as the mod­ern­iza­tion is con­cerned be­cause it needs re­place­ments for nearly ev­ery weapon and equip­ment that it cur­rently has in its in­ven­tory start­ing from as­sault ri­fle to the ar­tillery and air de­fence weapons, night fight­ing equip­ment, sur­veil­lance de­vices, and a new he­li­copter fleet com­pris­ing var­i­ous cat­e­gories of he­li­copters, just to name a few. It seems that our govern­ment machin­ery is con­stantly in the elec­tion mode with po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are more keen to re­tain their po­lit­i­cal edge with scant re­gard for the wors­en­ing na­tional se­cu­rity sce­nario and the ur­gent need to mod­ernise the armed forces. Our pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dures de­spite DPP 2016 con­tinue to be cum­ber­some. Thus no worth­while up­grade of weapons and equip­ment has taken place in the last two decades or more.

The Govern­ment has no­ti­fied the strate­gic part­ner­ship pol­icy fo­cus­ing on se­lect­ing an In­dian strate­gic part­ner for all ma­jor de­fence pro­cure­ments by the Govern­ment in key seg­ments like he­li­copters, sub­marines, ar­moured fight­ing ve­hi­cles etc. This pol­icy is an in­te­gral step to­wards in­di­geni­sa­tion and ca­pa­bil­ity devel­op­ment. It would not be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that, if prop­erly im­ple­mented, the pol­icy may re­sult in revo­lu­tion­ary changes in do­mes­tic de­fence pro­duc­tion and the cre­ation of an ecosys­tem for de­fence man­u­fac­tur­ing. How­ever the progress on the ground is ex­cru­ci­at­ingly slow.

In the cur­rent state of army’s mod­erni­sa­tion it would be dif­fi­cult to en­vis­age ac­com­plish­ment and suc­cess in fu­ture wars. Mere prom­ises and tall claims is not go­ing to help the na­tion build a worth­while mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity in the form of a de­ter­rence, which is vi­tal in or­der to avoid wars and if com­pelled to go to war then we must be in a po­si­tion to win the war.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: In­dian Army

In­dian Army sol­diers fly the In­dian flag from a peak in Drass after it was re­cap­tured by In­dian troops dur­ing the first week of July 1999.

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