Sunday, June 23, 2024

Infantry: Omnipresent In Peace & War

Lt Gen VG Khandare (r)

Lt Gen. VG Khandare (r), Principle Advisor to the MoD

Every nation which takes pride in its security honours its gallant and professional Armed Forces personnel in a befitting manner on an appropriate day / date. These celebration days significantly relate to some major achievement or some heroic deed. Infantry Day is celebrated on 27 Oct every year in India. This article is aimed at those who want to know about Infantry. The nation must know what is Infantry.

Infantry is a a pivot of the Army organizational structure and operational machinery. This is a proven fact in military history. Relevance of Infantry will continue in future too albeit with an improvement in weapons, equipment, training and employment but boots on ground are required to establish a nations sovereignty and supremacy. Unless you wipe out enemy from the area there is no assurance of actual victory. In the newly formed independent India, Infantry along with supporting artillery, engineers, signals and logistics was assigned the national challenge to restore an adverse situation in Jammu & Kashmir in Oct 1947. Notably, after the Maharaja of J&K, Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession with the Union of India, on October 26, 1947, the region legally became a part of India. The Pakistani leadership had unwisely initiated kinetic action to grab the region even before the Maharaja’s decision. The Pak military option planned and exercise by Pak political leaders was led by Pak military. It may be deduced that it also had some connivance of a few British officers. The operation was camouflaged as that of Lashkars or tribal militias. This infamous Pak military misadventure has been described in the book ‘Raiders of Kashmir’ by Maj Gen (Retd) Akbar Khan of Pak Army. He wrote “On October 22, 1947, the operation began with Pakistani forces crossing the border and attacking Muzaffarabad and Domel on October 24 from where the Dogra troops had to withdraw. The next day these troops moved forward on the Srinagar Road and again took on the Dogras at Uri… On October 27, India intervened and sent troops to Kashmir.” Reference to Dogras is for the Army of Maharaja Hari Singh and the sentence ‘The next day these troops moved forward on the Srinagar Road and again took on the Dogras at Uri…’ is for the so called Lashkars who have been referred to as troops by the author Maj Gen Akbar Khan (Retd) of Pak Army who was deeply involved in the military operation. The book which was released decades after Pakistan’s Operation GULMARG in J&K admits to the role of Pakistan Govt and its leadership. Giving out minute details of Pakistan’s aggression in Kashmir, the author states that ‘the crisis was hatched and formulated in Lahore and Pindi’. In September 1947, Maj Gen Akbar Khan of Pak Army was asked by Mian Iftikharuddin, a leader in the Muslim League (the ruling political party) to prepare a plan to take over Kashmir.

He amplifies, “Ultimately, I wrote a plan under the title of ‘Armed Revolt inside Kashmir’, as open interference or aggression by Pakistan was obviously undesirable, it was proposed that our efforts should be concentrated upon strengthening the Kashmiris themselves internally — and at the same time taking steps to prevent the arrival of armed civilians or military assistance from India into Kashmir”. Giving proof of top leaderships’ role in the crisis, he mentions, “I was called to Lahore for a conference with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Liaqat Ali Khan. On arrival there, I first had to attend a preliminary conference at the Provincial Government Secretariat in the office of Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan who was then Minister in the Punjab Government. I saw copies of my proposed plan in the hands of some…”

In response to the Pak sinister design, the Indian Armed Forces essentially Indian Army and Indian Air Force were called in to ward off the Pakistani invaders. Infantry and some artillery were airlifted from Palam Airfield, landed at Srinagar Airfield on October 27 and deployed for military operations against the Pak invaders specifically after Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of accession.

Indian Infantry painstakingly and bravely drove away Pak invaders, restored normalcy and ceased its operations only after the two nations agreed for a Ceasefire on 01 Jan 1949. In the subsequent part, Pak Army declared its participation. The role performed by the Indian Infantry was remarkable. Most befittingly, the valiant and tradition respecting Indian Army, annually observes 27 Oct as the Infantry Day.

India is a nation known to consolidate and promote its ethos in society through festivals and celebrations. Therefore, it is quite appropriate to remind the current and the future generations about the achievements and sacrifices of the forefathers in promoting nationalism, dedication and resilience.

So, while we look upon Indian Infantry as omnipresent, it would be expected of the nation to also make them more potent. These legitimate expectations are to be met at the earliest to ensure combat capability parity or superiority with the adversaries. This is to be viewed and acted upon as a whole of nation responsibility. Time is of essence to ensure that the nation is fully prepared for any and every eventuality.
In the current and the foreseeable geopolitical context esp in our perpetually troubled inherited neighbourhood, we have an assertive, revisionist and spectacularly rising China with clearly focussed timelines on regional and global domination; collusivity of China and Pak to undermine India’s position; an extremely radicalised and failed State- Pak. There is one certainty that the role of Infantry will be extremely important to safeguard India’s sovereignty along the IB, LAC and LC. It is also pertinent to note that geographies change during conflicts and Infantry is the ultimate artist to give finishing touches to the new geography.

It is the national responsibility to create and equip a highly organised, focussed and disciplined armed force. Thereafter, it is the Armed Forces responsibility to train, educate and harness the human capital and its war waging equipment to outperform the adversary from a position of strength and convey to the adversaries the futility to attempt any misadventure. Strong armed forces deter conflicts and in the eventuality of a war they have to be successful and win the conflict/ war at the least possible cost or loss, simultaneously impose huge cost penalties for the adversaries. National character is conveyed by armed forces during such emergencies, the preparation for which is during peacetime; ‘THE MORE YOU SWEAT IN PEACE THE LESS YOU BLEED IN WAR’. Training and equipping is an integral part of this preparation as also is the process of reforms, consolidation and Transformation.

Amongst the Combat elements, what are populary believed to be COMBAT ARMS, it is Infantry which is described as the Queen of the Battlefield because the Queen is the most potent power in the game of chess, which is synonymous with the chessboard of the battlefield. The Infantry is a close combat force of the military which is mobilised and launched by land, air or sea during war and no-war-no-peace or peace. Nations with weak Infantry lost wars despite their Super Power status. Vietnam and Afghanistan could never be defeated by the current day super powers who incidentally are the Permanent 5 in the UN Security Council. It is the grit and raw courage which gets nations the ultimate victory. Infantry of many developed nations has gone soft and these nations are averse to close combat. These nations look at stand off combat, employing technology and even unmanned atounomous systems to handle the dirty and dangerous tasks in battles. Relying purely on technology and compromising on soldiering capabilities of men / women in uniform leads to catastrophic loss of national reputation as is visible in the ongoing conflicts between Russia and Ukraine and between Israel and HAMAS.

Infantry world over expects to be provided with contemporary and futuristic battlefield and non battlefield solutions in the following ways:-
Lethal, relatively long range and precise firepower; In the battlefield ‘one who sees first with clarity and fires effectively first, lives longer’ is the dictum for day and night engagements. Therefore relative advantage in clear and accurate sighting with better engagement ranges, accuracy and lethal effect at the target end are the fundamental planning parameters for acquiring or designing weapon systems.

Infantry wins on collective effort by collaborating with all Combat Arms, Supporting Arms, Logistic Services as also the civilian fraternity. The capability enhancement of all the collaborators would add to the chances of success of Infantry. Silo approach has never worked for anyone. All elements of the Armed Forces are equally important, each one has its own specialisation and specific place of utilisation. Therefore fire support, communication support, engineering support, protection from enemy air and ground firepower, mobility support, medical support, civilian support are the composite grouping in the ‘Whole of Services and Whole of Nation’ approach. The ultimate aim of all is to annihilate the enemy and deliver victory at the doorstep of the nation.

To amplify; the integral fire support from the basic section right up to battalion support weapons needs modernisation. The relative advantage gain over the adversary is for range, accuracy, first salvo effectiveness and lethality. The portability or mobility of the weapon system and its associated paraphernalia is also a decisive parameter to assure success. ‘In war there are only winners, there are no runners up as is the case in sports or other academic competitions’. Secure and reliable communications in terms of digital communication and rail-road- air connectivity is a mandatory requirement of infantry. To have situational awareness, intelligence availabilty and for command and control secure devices and secure networks are most essential. In the contemporary capability matrix even data transmission is needed by Infantry for digital maps, pictures and satellite images to be shared. Physical mobility connectivity is also essential. The dictum ‘We reach we fight’ emphasises the need of infrastructure needed to take Infantry where it has to fight. The need for such capabilities is no more a luxury. Infantry requirements are specific to equipment miniaturisation to ensure agility; low physical and radar signatures and real time communication availabilty in all kinds of terrain and weather. Weapons and equipment ruggedisation with weather proofing and terrain specific customisation is a mandatory requirement. Infantry operates in imaginable and the most unimaginable conditions like hills, mountains, High altitude areas, Glaciers, plains, riverine terrain, deserts, islands, coastlines, jungles, built up areas and anything more one can think of. Extreme variations in temperature, humidity snowfall and precipitation challenges have to be addressed for the human capital and the military hardware. Our operational, weather and terrain challenges are far more different and varied from those of other militaries esp the ones from Europe, Africa and Americas. This is an imperative for the weapon, ammunition and all other equipment required for operations and sustenance thereafter.

Disruptive technologies create more challenges with cyber threats – operations, Electronic spectrum jostling and information space domination. Infantry is impacted due ro these new challenges in the battlefield and off the battlefield. This demands ruggedised protection measures as also specific skilling. Equipment philosphy and Human Respource policies have to be imaginative and different from the current ones based on the last Wars experiences. Assured protection from enemy’s kinetic and non kinetic targeting – in fact with disruptive technology applications, there are superior kinetic options and varied non kinetic options for targeting the inadequately equipped infantry soldier. Protections have to be more comprehensive, contemporary and imaginatively futuristic. Protections from non kinetic threats have to take into account the vulnerable family members and other associates too.
Relatively better Mobility than the adversary is needed to be able to achieve operational success. Infantry has a history of being transported to the combat space by various means of transportation. With advancement of science the transportation modes keep improving and keep changing. Infantry personnel have to possess flexibility and adaptability to acquire proficiency in getting transported and then deliver a death blow on the enemy in close combat. Simultaneously, the planners and the support system has to devise ways and means of giving improved transportation means with relative advantage overr the enemy. Industry has to offer such game changing solutions.

Infantry suffers a very high degree of casualties, fatal and non fatal. Infantry personnel need an assurance of being looked after, in case of getting incapacitated in combat or even otherwise away from the Combat Zone. This assurance has to come from the Govt and continue with the nations support. Expenditures for these national heroes is not a luxury and more important for intangible gains. This is distinct from lifestyle diseases related expenditures. In the event of fatalities the assurance that the family will be cared for, is a mandatory requirementt of the armed forces personnel esp Infantry which is at maximum risk in combat. Such a positive attitude maintains the risk taking ability in Infantry which is the biggest battle winning factor in close combat. Regimental traditions and ethos does take care of this aspect and emanates from the human angle of an infanytry unit being a family.

Infantry the Queen of the battle is known to be the silent contributor to military victories by sheer grit, determination and courage in the face of an unscrupulous enemy in close combat braving the lethal storm of bullets, bombs, missiles, mines and finally the bayonet.As if that is not enough the battles often end in hand to hans bloody duels as was seen in Galwan in 2020. Nature of Was change due to tactical and technological evolution but the brutal character of war never changes.

In the new era warfare there is increased lethality with intense technological empowerment of the adversary in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. The adversary’s capability to dominate the battlespace utilising precision engagement , brutal lethality, enhanced use of mechanisation – automation, unmanned systems. Incorporation of data enabled AI solutions complicates the role and empowers the Chinese Infantry to optimally operate with less manpower and create destructive chaos within Indian decision making, from top to bottom. There is a dire need to increase the technological threshold of Infantry by providing easy to operate, affordable and customised solutions for ensuring victory. A nation will stay safe, secure and prosperous only when the nation is well guarded round the clock, in all weathers and in all terrains, kinetically and non kinetically. Trust your infantryman to keep you safe from the lurking and trespassing enemy. These enemies come in different forms, at varied times and in different places. Look after the Infantry and they will look after you and succeed even when you fail to look after them. The myths about demise of conventional wars and the myth of short wars maybe over after the spectacle of Russia – Ukraine War
Nations have to be prepared for national resilience, militaries have to be prepared for long haul logistic stamina and Infantry has to be prepared for large number of young but trained reservists in view of the heavy toll of trained Infantry personnel.
Infantry performs silently and selflessly for the nation and for humanity. Neglect of Armed Forces and esp of Infantry is at the peril of nations sovereignty, security and prosperity.

Long live Infantry!!!

Lt Gen. VG Khandare (r) is the Principal Advisor to the Ministry of Defence

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