The Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) today are capable of revolutionizing military operations. Since early 90’s Indian Armed Forces have gained immensely from using the modern ICT. A lot still needs to be done in terms of structural and cultural changes. Critical issues that need to be addressed include importance and limitations of information in military operations, understanding ‘command and control’, distributed decision making processes as against top down approach, network centricity as a strategy and mechanics of decision science. In order to ensure contextual comprehension of these issues two relevant cases from past military events will be helpful. Operational and tactical details of these operations fought in 1965 and 1971 are described very briefly to flag the aspects germane to our discussion.
By Brig (Dr) Ashok Pathak
The Battle of Dograi Indo Pak War 1965
On 05 September 1965, 54 Infantry Brigade of 15 Infantry Division (11 Corps), embarked on one of the most audacious operations of Indo- Pak War ’65 to capture bridges on the Ichhogil canal East of Lahore as also the small town of Dograi just a kilometer away. This would prevent Pakistani armour from threatening Indian territory to the West of the canal and bring immense pressure on the Pakistani political leadership.
On 6 September 1965 Lt Col (later Brigadier) D E Hayde’s 3 JAT crossed the canal and captured Dograi. But fortunately for Pakistan the follow up echelons did not exploit this extraordinary success. When the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) strafed the JATs the Indian Air Force (IAF) could not support them as it was busy fighting in the Chhamb sector. Instead of reinforcing 3 JAT with much needed anti-tank weapons and pushing the armoured squadron (14 battle tanks) into the bridgehead the brigade commander 54 Infantry Brigade asked the unit to pull back to own side of the canal. An exceptionally rare opportunity was frittered away. However, 17 days after this event 3 JAT was asked to capture Dograi again. The gallant battalion once again launched an attack against heavily fortified Pakistani defences and captured Dograi on 22 September 1965 .But this time 3 JAT paid a heavier price- 58 men killed including 4 officers and 157 men injured including 6 officers. The fact that Pakistanis suffered more than four times this number does not reduce the gravity of this loss.
From 5th to 22ndSeptember’ 65, it appeared that only one infantry battalion was fighting in this sector. Though as per the 11 Corps plan a full infantry division, with integral armoured regiment (45 battle tanks) divisional artillery (18 Medium and 36 Field Guns), anti-air units and the supporting arms were tasked for this offensive. Here are some more facts relevant to the case:
3 JAT was the leading battalion of the advancing brigade. Its original task was to establish a firm base West of Ichhogil at Gosal. Another battalion from this brigade (15 DOGRA) following 3 JAT was to establish the bridgehead. Commanding Officer 15 DOGRA on reaching the firm base established by 3 JAT told the brigade commander that the battalion cannot attack across the canal since they had suffered casualties during the advance. The brigade commander then asked 3 JAT to attack across the canal.
The divisional commander did not have situational awareness and hence was not effective in executing the Corps Plan. There appeared to be a communication gap between the brigade and divisional commander on the issue of withdrawal of the unit from the bridgehead. The brigade commander informed that he had taken orders from the divisional commander for the withdrawal. The latter denied any such orders given by him to the brigade commander.
The Corps Commander who had ordered the operations was not able to get the most critical close air support to help 3JAT hold onto the bridgehead.
Operations in the Shakargarh Bulge Indo Pak War 1971
On 5 December 1971, Lt Col (later Lt General) Hanut Singh – commanding officer of the famous Poona Horse was deployed at the International Border in the Shakargarh Bulge on the Western Front. Hanut was told that he was facing Pakistani defensive minefield and a deliberate bridgehead operation will be launched by two infantry divisions of the Corps ( India’s 1 Corps) so that own armour could induct for the offensive. A day earlier Pakistan had declared war. The PAF strike air craft were conducting search and destroy mission in the area- though they could not see Poona Horse tanks due to some excellent camouflage.
Hanut saw a 30 feet high Pakistani observation post close to his position and felt that enemy will be able to direct accurate fire on his troops from the observation post. He asked one of his tanks to get the tower down. Three Pakistani tanks hidden in the elephant grass close by panicked and moved back towards their rear location. Hanut was quick to realize that the minefield that he was waiting to be breached for his advance did not exist. He informed his brigade commander (Brigadier- later General A S Vaidya commander 16 Independent Armoured Brigade). This vital piece of information was ignored. The ‘deliberate’ operations proceeded as ‘planned’. Consequently two Infantry divisions of 1 Corps breached the ‘minefield’- which either did not exist or was insignificant. They also attacked in thin air capturing enemy positions where no enemy was present. The divisions then spent time for regrouping. Thus, when Poona Horse and leading elements of Indian Strike Corps actually contacted Pakistani troops after more than a week of this deliberate and cautious advance of Indian Strike Corps the latter were well prepared and ready to meet the offensive.5It took some exceptionally brave fighting by the men of Poona Horse under Hanut and 3 GRENADIERS to beat back very brave counter attacks by the Pakistani local formation. By the time the war ended Indian Strike Corps had captured area which did not have any strategic importance.
The entire operation was launched to ensure that the Pakistani Strike Corps in the Area (Pakistani 1 Corps) does not conduct offensive into Indian territory and cut off Jammu and Kashmir from rest of India.As it emerged the Pakistani Corps Commander had no such plans to go on offensive. In the words of Agha H Amin of Pakistan Army the Pakistani corps commander was acting more as a ‘sentry’.Some additional facts relevant to the case are as under:
As per the regimental history of the war written by Poona Horse the formations were told about this impending operation sometime in October 71. The actual conflict had started in November 71 in the Eastern Theatre. On the Western Front the war started on 4 December 71. Thus giving enough time to gather relevant information in the target area. (October to December 71)
During the stage management of units and formations to their battle positions there was utter confusion. Armoured regiments getting bogged down at choke points in own territory. An infantry division in the area was not aware that Poona Horse had arrived. One of their officer-led-patrol was about to shoot down Hanut in the rest house mistaking him as a Pakistani officer!9
Brief Description of Some Terms Relevant to the Study
For this paper it will be prudent to develop common understanding about some terms relevant to our discussion. These terms include, information (and its relevance in the information age war), command and control, culture and structure (of an organization), network centricity and lastly the process of decision making.
Information comprises of pieces of data that make some sense but insufficient to generate decision option. A commander seeks information based on, ‘what he wants to do’. What a commander wants to do is driven by, ‘who or what he is’. Thus the chain of data, information, intelligence and decision is contextual as well as subjective. 10 What Hayde and Hanut of our cases wanted to know and do never occurred to other commanders along and across the chain.
Command and control is a term generally confused with communication. Stephen J Andriole and Stanley M Halpin interacted with a large number of officers in the Pentagon in 1989. They learnt that ‘means of communication’ are being mistaken for command and control.11 In the Indian context too Rahul K Bhonsle -while referring to command control and communication mentions, “Command and control is exercised at the battalion level and above by communications. An important deficiency during Dograi One was lack of adequate radio communications with 3 JAT to transmit success achieved to the formation, which in turn led to a degree of alarm in the rear”. When 3 JAT had established the lodgement across the canal the commander 54 Infantry Brigade should (normally) have been be in the firm base with 15 DOGRA quite capable of seeing and hearing the battle. What communications did the commander 54 Infantry Brigade need to give the all-important decision that anti-tank weapons of 15 DOGRA (the battalion in the firm base) as also a squadron of armour should be immediately inducted into the bridgehead? Similarly, what additional communication did Commander 16 Independent Armoured Brigade need to take the command decision of advancing through a minefield which in actuals did not exist? Frank Barnby in his book, ‘The Automated Battlefield’ describes command and control as monitoring own and enemy strength and resources, specific conflict situations, assess warning signals, military capabilities, choose options, negotiate and terminate conflicts.13 Command broadly stated is determination of what to do, control is ongoing management of the execution of the command (Lehaer). Thus command is primarily a decision making function whereas control deals with all other functions that enable execution of the decision. As is evident from our cases command is subjective and is function and measure of leadership of the person in command.
Organizational culture- as per some important literature on the subject defines how an organization does things, the values and ethics that integrate the members in the organization.15 Can leadership bring about changes in organizational culture? Perhaps yes. But it takes a number of leaders to bring about sustained change in organizational culture. In our case of 3 JAT and the Poona Horse worked on unique culture not displayed by other infantry battalions and armored regiments in 1965 (Ichhogil) and 1971(Basantar) respectively. Organizational structure on the other hand is more tangible aspect. It deals with rules, roles, responsibilities and flow of information. In a sense these two units had the same structure as any other infantry battalion or armoured regiment respectively. Our cases (and there are many such cases) bring out the fact that given the same structure organizational culture plays a dominant role in the performance of a unit in battle. In military parlance this is also referred to as élan or esprit de corps of the unit.
Network Centricity is about creating impact at the point of interest (objective or the target) by synergizing the capabilities of relevant components of the network. If 54 Infantry Brigade had acted as per the network centric approach then 3 JAT would not have been left to fend for itself in the lodgment east of the canal. Anti-tank weapons, armoured squadron and other warlike stores would have been inducted across from 15 DOGRA at Gosal in the firm base. The divisional artillery would have been switched towards Lahore to support holding of the bridgehead. Close air support would have been diverted from Chhamb sector towards Amritsar-Lahore Axis. Similarly, in the Shakargarh Bulge the entire 16 Independent Armoured Brigade would have crossed the minefield. The two infantry divisions would not have wasted time in deliberate bridgehead operation. All this would have preponed contacting the defenders across Bsantar by 10 days. This would have changed the course of events in 1971 on the Western Front.
Decision making or the Observe, Orient, Decide and Act Cycle is primarily a function of the type of leader involved in the process all other factors of technology remaining the same. It is this non-technology factor that makes the biggest difference. Leaders who are optimistic or proactive look for maximizing the gains from a given piece of information/ opportunity take bold decision with calculated risks and stretch the organizational performance during the execution of the plan.18 In our case leaders of 3 JAT and Poona Horse belonged to this category. Leaders with pessimistic or reactive approach tend to minimize the losses and hence settle for sub optimal goals thus avoiding even low levels risks. There were more examples of this type of leadership along the Amritsar-Lahore Axis in 1965, and battle of Basantar in 1971.
The modern military information system is much more than the erstwhile signals communication facilitating commanders to pass orders and receive reports. The system today has four key elements architecture, function, optimization and most important purpose as described below:
Architecture. Inter connected computers, sensors, network devices, organizations and at times individuals (networked soldier/teams).
Function. Share information, experiences, situational awareness, and contextual knowledge, help commanders in taking strategic, operational and even tactical decisions.Optimization. Synergistic and precise application.
Purpose. For achieving a common goal / objective
If used optimally this would help in
Dominating the battle space with speed and precision.
Control the battlefield with overwhelming lethality and superior survivability.
Mount, execute and recover from operations in quick time frame.
Be capable of quick decisive victory with minimal casualties.
Enhance impact by flexibility of application of force
This article first appeared in www.vifindia.org and it belongs to them. The author is a research associate with VIF.