Current Affairs

Indian Armed Forces: A Doctrinal Approach of Rebooting and Restructuring

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  • Published
    12th Feb, 2021
Indian Armed Forces: A Doctrinal Approach of Rebooting and Restructuring


The ongoing conflict on the Sino-Indian border has highlighted the need for structural reforms in the Indian Army.  At present, the Indian Armed Forces are ill-equipped to counter such an eventuality with any certainty of success. This is primarily because of India’s stressed economic circumstances over the past few years.

    • Defence allocation is currently at 5 percent of GDP, the lowest since 1962. Moreover, much of this amount goes towards meeting revenue expenses, leaving little for procurements or modernisation.
  • The threat of two-front war and two very recent incidents-
    1. the 2017 Doklam faceoff at India, China and Bhutan trijunction
    2. the armed conflict along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in early May 2020 between Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA)
  • Along with the alleged force accretion by Pakistan in the Gilgit-Baltistan sector surely give us the opportunity to introspect our military doctrinal strategyand capability in order to counter the threat to national security before it gets too late.
  • The threat of a collaborative attack against India was first discussed in 2009, at the scheduled review of the Indian Army Doctrine (2004).
  • The situation is exacerbated by the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) inability to meet targets on time and the poor state of indigenous defence manufacturing, especially the Ordnance Factories and Defence PSUs.

India’s Armed Force Infrastructure: A brief Overview

  • The Indian Armed Forces consist of three professional uniformed services:
    • the Indian Army
    • Indian Navy
    • Indian Air Force
  • Additionally, the Indian Armed Forces are supported by the Indian Coast Guard and paramilitary organisations (Assam Rifles, and Special Frontier Force) and various inter-service commands and institutions such as the Strategic Forces Command, the Andaman and Nicobar Command and the Integrated Defence Staff.
  • The President of India is the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces. The Indian Armed Forces are under the management of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of the Government of India.
  • Indian Army with a strength of over 1.4 million active personnel, it is the world's second-largest military force.
  • The headquarters of the Indian Armed Forces is in New Delhi and the entire armed forces are split into different groups based on their region of operation.
  • The Indian Army is divided administratively into seven tactical commands, each under the control of different Lieutenant Generals.
  • The Indian Air Force is divided into five operational and two functional commands. Each command is headed by an air officer commanding-in-chief with the rank of air marshal.
  • The Indian Navy operates three commands. Each command is headed by a flag officer commanding-in-chief with the rank of vice admiral.
  • There are two joint commands whose head can belong to any of the three services. These are the Strategic Forces Command and the Andaman and Nicobar Command.

National Security Strategy Absence: Reasons and Needs

Doctrine is the statement of government policy. E.g., India’s Nuclear doctrine include the following things-

  • No first Use Policy
  • Credible Minimum deterrence
  • retaliation will be massive and terrible hat the enemy would not be able to recover easily.
  • not be used against non-nuclear states
  • support the global initiative to create a nuclear-free world

National Security is a subject in the Union List under multiple entries (7th schedule) of the Indian Constitution

  • The National Security Strategy (NSS) is a key framework for a country to meet the basic needs and security concerns of citizens, and address external and internal threats to the country.
  • A national security doctrine helps the statesmen identify and prioritize that country’s geopolitical interests. India does not have any such ‘doctrine’ (Except the Army which has one drafted in 2004).


  • Political and Civil Neglect: The neglect towards India’s Armed Forces and NSS majorly stems from two things
    • that a powerful military poses an existential threat to the political dispensation in power and must be kept in check and out of the decision-making loop; and
    • that the military has become less significant, if not obsolete, since the probability of conventional conflicts has greatly diminished with the advent of nuclear weapons.


  • Multiple Crisis:India has seen crisis after crisis resulting from two front war, unsettled border disputes, militancy, insurgency, terrorist attacks, etc.
  • The Absence NSS leads to ambiguity and gap in strategies:
    • The Gaps in India’s security policy planning that eventually creates divergence in the aims of the country’s political leadership and national security establishment. E.g., India’s “Cold Start” Doctrine, was conceived to counter nuclear escalation but instead fuelled instability by triggering the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons in the region.
  • Inspiration: In the US, each President, on assuming charge, is required under the Nichols Goldwater Act to make public the National Security Doctrine that his administration intends to follow.

Land-Based Security Establishment: Maintaining the status quo

  • Despite its potential as a hybrid continental-maritime power, India’s security policy is dominated by ground forces.
  • Air power has traditionally been used only as a supporting adjunct to land power, rather than an independent strategic tool; and
  • India has not projected significant maritime force despite a notable history of seafaring and influence across the Indian Ocean region. And to handle all this, the army attracts an ever-growing share of the military budget and resources.

Governing reason for the Land-based Security Mindset

  • India is held by two-front war with threats concentrated mainly against land-borders between India and China.
  • Terrain topography and mountain along the Northern and Eastern Sectors makes it manpower intensive
  • Strategic location at the ‘head and heart’ of the Indian Ocean gives India a leverage to pursue a strategy of sea denial India achieve its aims without depending on a large blue water navy.
  • The land-based security for India is essential as China manoeuvre its strategic interest through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to lessen its dependence on the strait of Malacca.
  • In the wake of Global warming the significance of Himalayan region, the Third pole, has increased significantly for India, Pakistan and China. The protection of the Third Pole requires manpower-intensive land-based security strategies.

Organisational Change in the Indian Army: Mountain centric strike corps


  • In light of the increasing significance and shift of the centre of gravity to the mountains, the bulk of India’s land forces must be not only poised and located for conflict in the mountains but also organised, equipped and trained to operate in such extreme terrain.

Change Required:

  • Of the three Strike Corps located in the plains, two must ideally shed their armour resources and convert to Mountain Strike Corps
  • The one existing Mountain Strike Corps must be developed to its full strength.
  • Considering the existing infrastructure difficulties in the mountains, these Corps must perforce be organised and equipped for movement by air.
  • In conjunction with these Strike Corps, the bulk of India’s Special Operations Forces (both Airborne and Special forces) should be oriented for operating in mountains.
  • The focus of the Indian Army, too, will have to shift towards terrain specific specialisation, from the “general-purpose” organisational philosophy.
  • g., the Standard Infantry Battalion is primarily organised and equipped for fighting in the plains; when it is sent to mountain or desert theatres, it adopts the appropriate modifications. So, this model is neither cost-effective nor efficient.

Modern Warfare: Structural manoeuvring

  • The 21st century is an era of “technology-dominated Fourth Generation Warfare era”.
  • Operation Desert Storm during the First Gulf War of 1991 was the first glimpse at the true potential of the convergence of ICT, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, and autonomous Platforms on the conduct of combat operations.
    • A very recent example of non-conventional, non-linear, technology-based warfare system world has seen in 2020 is the alleged assassination of Iranian scientist by a "remote-controlled machine gun" or weapons "controlled by satellite".
  • Fourth Generation Warfare is undefined, with the line between war and peace, and civilian and military is fast blurring.
  • Technology, especially ICT, AI and Robotics have enhanced the capabilities of surveillance systems, communications equipment, lightweight weapons and survival gear, as well as precision munitions, to some extent.

Manoeuvring Needed


  • Technologies led, and technologies-based changes in doctrine, organisation and tactics. It will allow for troops to remain in combat for longer durations; enhance standoff capabilities; speed up movement; and improve survivability, accuracy and destructive capabilities.
  • Special Operations Forces (SOFs) must become an essential and integral component of the IAF profile, especially in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), which is primarily a desert plateau ringed by mountain ranges.

Research and Development:

  • Rapid experimentation: It is important to better leverage existing funding platforms such as the recently launched “Innovations for Defence Excellence” (IDEX) of the Ministry of Defence.
  • Create a Future Technologies Unit: This could be a multi-agency federal body representing the future technology needs of the main intelligence agencies at the national level.
  • Establish a Digital Academy: This could train serving intelligence officers in the chosen technology domains.
  • INT R&D lab / Science Park. Create an R&D lab focused on signal intelligence within a leading engineering university.
  • Create a dedicated unit on Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT): to collect and analyse the vast volumes of data that are now publicly available in the open domain.
  • Shift the status quo by creating a healthy competition between the private sector and the DPSUs / DRDO.
  • Greater participation of the private sector in technology assessment. The US, for example, routinely seeks the assistance of the private sector in assessing technology.

Suggestive measures

  • In the backdrop of a developing two-front conflict with China and Pakistan, the Indian Armed Force finds needs to be upgraded. Based on a realistic assessment of current and future threats, rightsizing of the military, as well as other establishments paid out of Defence Estimates, is the only way forward.
  • The government must work towards enhancing the defence budget substantially, to counter collusive threats effectively.
  • A realistic and formal National Security Strategy document with land warfare doctrine is needed to framed as soon as possible.
  • In this era of Hybrid/Fourth-Generation Warfare, the Indian military must be prepared to tackle a limited war below the nuclear threshold, especially given the possibility of a collusive attack by Pakistan and China.
  • The Indian Armymust rethink its “general-purpose” structure and reorganise itself into a terrain-based posture.
  • In the plains, the military can have a personnel-light mechanised profile, capable of utilising modern technology, while its mountain forces must be capable of operating without the full benefit of modern technology.
  • The country’s offensive capabilities, including Special OperationsForces, must be enhanced with appropriate capabilities for punitive deterrence.


In a Post-COVID world, how a government handles the evolving health, economic and socio-political crises will determine its standing in the geopolitical environment. China has emerged much stronger in the aftermath of the pandemic, and as the ongoing confrontation in Eastern Ladakh suggests, there is little scope for going back to business as usual. India must be prepared to confront Chinese aggression on its borders, and review its preference for “strategic autonomy” and the issue of proactive response.