Why We Need to Rethink Certain IBGs on the Western Front

"The aim of Integrated Battle Groups must be realistic, implementable, pragmatic and above all conclusive."

Why We Need to Rethink Certain IBGs on the Western Front

The entire concept of Integrated Battle Groups revolves around having a versatile, modern, effective, sustainable and adaptable forces. Correctly configured and at the same time with adequate leverage for additions and deletions depending upon the type of action and terrain.

The transition from a reactionary force to a capable force having the capacities to act definitively to dissuade, deter and punish, is what the need was based on. The entire mind space hinged on technology, reading the surfaces, finding the gaps and ensuring relative success in every application.

The force configuration of grouping and regrouping, requirement of reserves for every phase of operations, reinforcements from neighbouring sectors, command, control, communications and non matching mobilities ensured that the entire permutations and combinations being worked upon were almost adhoc.

Arms and services trained in silos, separately, integrating only in an Exercise with troops, once in two years and that too with training equipment which is one third of the arsenal. This adhocism led to narrowed vision and restricted the ability to understand surfaces.

We can talk about the need for IBGs, but I insist that first we change the way we are configured at the basic level. Let me give you an example, an armoured regiment in its annual exercise equipped with 45 tanks, trained with 16 tanks and one armoured recovery vehicle.

A troop of tanks in semi deserts and open terrain devoid of cover, covers a frontage of 1.5 to 2 kms. With tank to tank distance being approximately 400 - 500 Metres. Till a squadron the drills are okay. Where the squadron commander gets his entire compliment to train on.

But when it comes to a regiment, the brigade equipment is pooled in to give the commanding officer a feel of 45 tanks only for those 48 to 72 hours. Within this the drivers of all the pooled tanks are of the unit the tanks belong to, so the commanding officers drivers remain untrained in larger exercises.

The brigade and the divisional exercises have the commanding officer with 16 tanks again. Here lies the acme of command. Some realise the restriction, while the majority are happily fighting the regimental battle in squadron spaces of 3-5 km.

Even in a field firing the same gunners fire from 16 tanks. Every year only 16 tanks get zeroed. That means the tanks are zeroed once in three years. Not even in a commanding officers two years tenure. Adding to the adhocism is the, configurations of battle, the atts and dets.

The mechanised infantry the artillery, engineers, air defence and the support arms only come together once a year. I am aware that many might argue that we have a system in place in peace time locations to train integrated at the squadron sub unit training cycle together.

But most of us that have been there and experienced that would only raise our eyebrows with empathy. Unmatched drills, constant postings and change of manpower, regiments moving from field to peace and vice versa, changing KRAs and the worst disruption is mediocre leadership.

We need to reorganise a regiment, to have the capabilities of independent integrated operations, with a dedicated composition for training and application. A mix of armour, mechanised infantry, infantry, engineers, artillery, air defence, under a single commanding officer and arm experts will hold us in good stead. What trains together - wins together.

The problem lies in application, seamless and coordinated application needs integrated training. To ensure integrated training you need to group in peace and train in peace.

Why am I mentioning this. An IBG is a unit, a unit is a consolidated body, equipped, trained and tasked as a single entity, to deliver success at critical points of application. It is a battle of time and space. It is need based and configured as per operational plans, might be offensive defensive, shallow offensive or in deep offensive  modes.

It also depends upon threat perceptions, own design to mitigate this threat both by preemption and reaction. It can be a tool for deception and surprise, but most importantly for retribution. To caution the enemy of aggressive intent for his misadventures. It’s a vital psychological tool aimed at the apex decision making.

The problem is with our large borders and completely different adversaries. Terrain and geographical influences often take precedence over operational constructs. The way we fight the Western adversary is completely different than the way we fight the Northern one.

With our western neighbour prone to illogical application and weird connotations of a cause, his desire to stay relevant in the system of an nation in chaos dictates his military design. Hybrid and sub conventional forms of warfare suits his philosophy. India keeps it’s option of a response open, from limited scale to a full scale conventional war.

The dynamics of present day Afghanistan and Talibanisation is a devils muddle. The Taliban are bound to seek new greener pastures, after all the undefined and unobstructed victory that they enjoyed, seems to put the Sun Tzu logic in a frame, WIN WITHOUT FIGHTING. They are bound to ride on this exultation and be available to anyone who is going to hire them. The military collusivity with China is also a well debated subject.

Pakistan will try and stay relevant using the Kashmir card. They are prone to misadventures. The Pakistan military needs to stay on top of things, for that it needs an enemy, the enemy is India. They are bound to vent frustrations, where?how? when, why? Is something only time will tell. Now with Taliban they have further non attributable instruments available in the sub conventional domain.

Therefore we need to be prepared. In our entire restructured planning we need the aggressiveness. A clear display of intent. With focus shifting to the northern borders the dynamics of operations in the western front needs to be reset.

The aim has to be realistic, implementable, pragmatic and above all conclusive. Let’s just analyse the threat broadly. I am not going into grey zone or hybrid warfare cause the tools for that are already being casted in the strategic frame work with an all of nation approach.

It is the Subconventional domain that is the enemy’s strength. We have constantly fallen prey to fighting him in this medium in the way he wants us to fight. He has forced us to relocate, reorganise, reinvest, re-train to a facet of warfare that is not the best case scenario for any conventional military.

The surgical strikes and Balakot shifted the perception to a large level. But his influence and influx in the valley continues unabated. Our response system for once was aggressive, but when you introspect we realise we are still hitting at the periphery.

The core therefore (the ISI) hasn’t been addressed. They infact are celebrating Afghanistan and have great plans for using the same marauders against India. After all the weapon wielding Taliban needs a job that pays.

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Sub Conventional Response

So is a versatile, fully trained, equipped, modernised, prepared and specialist integrated battle group the answer in the sub conventional domain. The answer is YES. But the format has to change. We need to create a response system that hits at the core. Small time responses have small time effects. So what do we need? We need precision forces. With ability to strike in invisible domains, maybe deep and at the leadership.

We need to bedrock it on infallible foundations of specialist operations divisions, HQs of which are manned by the very experienced, mature and the best. Whose only job is intelligence and retribution. We need to strike in visible domains, make fear the tool. Ensure no repeats.

What is the kind of organisation therefore we are looking at. I would suggest an Infantry specially trained brigade (trained in Multi mode insertion, survivability, intelligence gathering, commando operations), a dedicated helicopter unit (strike and transport), long range artillery, SATA battery, engineer squadron, air defence regiment, specialist communications company (jamming and ISR), adequate support systems, Air Force (priority allotment for insertion, extraction, Suppression of enemy air defence).

This specialist Integrated Battle Group does not necessarily have to be an immediate response battle group. They shouldn’t be restricted by terrain. If Jammu and Kashmir is integral to India then the response has to be Indian. Anywhere in the adversaries space. Or maybe even in international space, of course weighing all the permutations and combinations, also with inbuilt redundancy of not being weighed down by after action controversies.

This organisation has to be controlled by the integrated command HQs with direct access to the PMO. While conventional defensive and offensive capability needs to be maintained. An IBG that is almost invisible in application is the answer.

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Western Front

The dynamics of western front are completely different. The very analogy of reaction Vs preemption defines your concept and design of war fighting. The Western front has the most sensitive areas, largest bordering the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Line of Control, the Working boundary and the International Boundary. The frontage is so vast that it sees different weather conditions during the same period in every sector.

The terrain too is defined as mountains, obstacle ridden terrain and the deserts (semi-desert and Desert). The operations based as per river corridors. There are multiple value objectives at tactical and operational depth that lend themselves for arriving at a decision. There also exist fault lines that can be exploited towards management of victory.

But what is most important is the criticality of own vulnerabilities. The areas north and south of Jammu, the Chamb sector, the important township of Samba, the Eminabad corridor towards Amritsar, Fazilka and Abohar and the Creek area. These own vulnerabilities are accessible to the enemy in a preemptive surge operation, where the intention is focused and clear.

The operational concept based on achieving a notion of victory, with a short war (to start and end before the Indian strike corps can be applied trans frontier). While they might still return the captured areas, the victory would put the Pakistani Military on a pedestal for years to come.

So what then is our operational construct. We need a strong defence system which is impregnable and enough capacities to deter. We need a robust ISR, to gain timely intelligence of build up and intention. We need both positional and mobile defence capabilities that preempt, prevent, absorb and react. But every military commander knows that when the enemy mobilises to a plan, he comes fully prepared, having weighed in all the permutations and combinations, prepared for every contingency.

He orbats and equips himself for success and exploitation. He in a short war intent addresses political sensitivities that are also within his assumed capacity. Therefore the likelihood of his success cannot be ruled out. He would make a certain headway, even at the cost of large but calculated losses, defined by his required end state. So if his relative success is inevitable (surprise and deception factored in), then what is our defensive strategy.

A preemption is the best option, no doubt. But let’s play to the worst case scenario that we couldn’t appreciate his intent in time. So now what? How do we make our defences formidable, that even if he comes in, he doesn’t retract. By the way eviction operations with national outrage can be a nightmare.

We need to think afresh. The pivot corps primary task is defence. No loss of territory the aim. Therefore troop configuration, combinations and disposition is the main stay. There are three ways of doing this. A mix of positional and mobile defence, disposed in a no gap pattern. Maintaining adequate capability to deter and counter attack.

The second is tiered defences with intelligent gaps, to channelise enemy into killing grounds, ensuring annihilation, but in a short war, the question is whether this would be acceptable. The third way is to have an adequate defensive balance by troop dispositions able to absorb initial application by the enemy and the capability to have an integrated battle group to launch a riposte.

What though needs to be carefully weighed and ensured is the vulnerable areas and the sensitivities taking priority over a no gap pattern of defence. Also a certain temporary loss of territory would have to be accepted.

The aim is to ensure that what has come in doesn’t go out and is destroyed, at the same time have the capability to launch an integrated offensive to the disbalance he has created within his defensive systems. All the while searching the surfaces for a viable option for further launch of the strike IBGs towards definitive victory.

We need to ensure linear defences in tiers, saturating the enemy, also
Making him heavily reliant on his engineer support, thereby increasing his dependency on them. We need to ensure he is stymied between obstacle systems giving our Air Force viable targets for destruction. We need to have adequate manoeuvre elements in defence to launch attacks from flanks, encircle and prevent extrication.  So do we need defensive IBGs at all?

The problem is there will always be strike corps elements in location. We before heavily relied on them being applicable, in an immediately emerging criticality depending upon the need. Predominantly the mechanised units and the artillery. Once we get into defined IBGs for defence we miss out on the force enhancement these elements provide.

The defensive formations are well cued with the terrain and have practiced and validated their drills substantially. If well organised and disposed, with the capability to absorb the first surge and within their frame work launch counter attacks that would mitigate the immediate threat. What we need is a defensively offensive IBG capable of launching immediate and substantial damage. With the ability of forcing a recoil.

The IBG should be configured for offensive action within the operational range. Have adequate capability to be effective and destructive. At the same time flexible and fluid enough to be launched cis-frontier and trans frontier.

The idea is a immediate riposte. This IBG has to be focused, it cannot be saddled with multi domain tasking. It has to concentrate on making own defensive concepts viable. In simple language BE THE DEFENSIVE BRAHMASTRA.

What then is the configuration we should be looking at. Numbers would depend completely on the area to be covered, the number of sensitivities and vulnerabilities, enemy likely priorities, own defensive layout, enemy likely aim in that  sector and our best case counter plan, we need to ensure the required most suitable composition.

A viable composition would be an integrated armoured brigade (2,2,1), a specialist infantry brigade (trained in obstacle crossings and domination), a artillery regiment (adequate long range vectors), AD battery (shoulder fired and self propelled), engineer squadron (bridging and breaching), attack helicopters, battalion lift capability for SHBO, services as required and air capability (favourable air support).

This force needs to operate and train together. Should never be broken down into segments. Should be over and above the defensive system in place, only for preemptive or retributive actions.

Although these IBGs are built and configured for consolidated, timely and decisive actions they cannot be in stand alone mode. Every theatre will have to work towards the worst case scenarios to them and the best case scenarios to the enemy.

If the enemy is launching a certain offensive action in one theatre that logically means he negates the similar action with the similar configuration and the similar aim in other theatres. Thereby providing multiple opportunities that need to be monitored and exploited within the frame work of end state management.

The entire orchestration of application of offensive in location  strike IBGs therefore needs to be controlled at the apex levels. The entire front be seen as one and not in responsibilities barricaded by inter theatre boundaries. However the defensive IBGs should be controlled by the integrated theatre commands, to ensure timely application when operating Cis- frontier.

While there is a necessity for IBGs both for offensive and defensive operations in each theatre. There is a need for a Sabre command with two strike IBGs. Central in its disposition and application. The main intention being offensive operations aimed at quick application for short wars and ensured victory.

With the current displacement and realigning of strike corps we need to retain the winning edge. In our context the strike IBGs need to be equipped with the latest and most modern war fighting equipment, trained and integrated, continuity of leadership and troops ensured.

Dedicated integrated resources as part of the organisation chart, with applicability and specialisation in multiple terrain and domains. With adequate capability for deep, shallow and special operations.

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We need to see the application of IBGs holistically. They need to give us dividends that were not being accrued in the past when we did business differently. We cannot take the same troops that were being applied or existed before and combine them, with the same aim, same equipment and capabilities and task them to do the same job and call them IBGs with superficial innovations.

The envisaged threat has to be understood, our response system therefore has to be calibrated as per our requirement. We should not fall into the trap of fighting the way our enemy wants us to. We need to have dynamic response systems with abilities that manifest seamlessly. Economic capabilities will largely dictate modernisation.

Now we have to take a call, modernise all with these restrictions. Or modernise the winning team. I would prefer modernising, training and equipping the game changer. A force that is capable to bring the trophy home. The Sabre command.

About the Author

The author is a military analyst and commentator on national security and stategic issues issues.

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