the IRAQ War –– Lessons fOR iNDIAN dEFENCE fORCES

An IDC Analysis

(Courtesy: Asian Military Review)


New Delhi, 21 October 2003

The Centre for Air Power Studies had assembled the top brass including the Service Chiefs on to one platform in mid July in New Delhi, for an intensive two day seminar titled, “Assessing Iraq War: Lessons and Implications for India”. Think tanks, professors media experts on defence who had visited Iraq during the war, and mid level serving officers were tasked to present papers. The subjects included the politico military aspects of President Bush’s run up to the war, strategy, tactics and technology including special operations and individual service contribution to the air, land, marine and sea actions. The final session was devoted to lessons and implications for India’s defence policy. The entire study and introspection carried out by the three services of the recent Iraq war, were brought to the fore by experts to derive lessons and conclusions.

The presentations detailed the entire gamut of the military and political background of the preparations made by USA, UK and Australia –– by efficiently transporting troops, ships and equipment to Kuwait and Qatar, well in advance. The requisitioning of ships of American and Allied flags and aircraft was unfolded. The No Fly Zone activities were discussed where sorties even flew from USA to Iraq with mid air tankers (which India now has) employed along the route. The command and control was highlighted and it was noted that Gen Tommy Franks, the Overall Commander met President Bush thrice at his Camp David resort and other offices for personal clarifications on the execution of the war plan. All US bases including Guam, Diego Garcia, Kuwait and UK’s contribution were brought fully into the loop for the impending sea, land and air operations. PM Tony Blair conferred with President Bush personally on the war plan. IDC note that even in peace, war plans need to be kept updated and in India the PM has a large role to play to direct and state the policy that will dictate the war plans, even if they be exercises in Military Operations. Readiness and ability to achieve the Government’s objectives is the key to security.

Discussions ensued on the neo conservative Republicans’ political attitude on pre-emptive defence, whose perspective was for America to police the world, and make any renegade state succumb. Ex PM I K Gujral discussed this in the Cariappa lecture. We had posted many stories on this alongwith the Straussian theory on this portal that are available in our Previous Stories section on the What’s Hot page. All the relevant UN resolutions commencing with 678 (1991 –– authorizing collective action including force to make Iraq vacate Kuwait), 687 (1991 –– ceasefire and disarmament of WMDs in Iraq), 1441 (2002 –– last opportunity to Iraq to disarm), 1483 (2003 –– Occupying power status to USA and UK), were tabled and debated along with Article 51 enshrined in the UN charter which permits action for self defence. Discussions veered to the India–Pakistan context and whether cross-border terrorism was cause enough to take punitive action against Pakistan, or was a UN sanction necessary. The consensus was that as a responsible nation, it was not conducive for any nation to take arbitrary action, especially in the nuclear context. To hit camps across the LOC had been discussed in the book Parakaram. USA of course had overstepped the authority of the UN, and was now running to it for support. This brings us to ponder over what India will do regarding USA’s request for troops. India has to consider helping UN in Iraq and one Indian Division can be spared but then with impending elections the soft approach may be safer. We learn that private Security Agencies were being sounded to send out trained ex servicemen and that may be a good alternative. The Government should go for it and India will join the mercenary world for the experience and benefits that will accrue.

In the seminar the Chief of Naval Staff and Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee Admiral Madhvendra Singh very ably summarised the broad details of the war with a caveat that each operation and war is unique, and stressed that the political and military objectives need to be very clearly defined, and hinted that this was a malady suffered by Indian Strategic Planners. He said no war or operation should be attempted without the objectives being clearly understood and considered achievable by all parties to the decisions. On the war itself he emphasized the advantages that the US and UK forces enjoyed by way of inter-operability, commonality of equipment and procedures, doctrines and rules of engagement, which led to greater cooperation to achieve the military aim. The role of ships and submarines and vivid descriptions of how the Navy fired over 800 Tomahawks, while 50–60% of the counter land and combat sorties were flown off carriers, were highlighted with statistics. CNS stressed the ability of the US intelligence to pin point military targets in advance and hit them with GPS aided technology. He complemented the latest JDAM bombs, which minimized collateral damage, a technology that would not be available to developing countries and cautioned that wrong lessons should not be drawn.

The role of Military Sea Lift Command, which transported 33 million cubic feet of military cargo and munitions in OP Desert Storm and 21 million cubic feet in Iraqi Freedom were described. The advanced computer logistics and electronic tagging systems minimized all errors in store deliveries and needed study. CNS and other speakers touched on the role of SEALS and mine warfare support provided by USN, RN and RAN and the use of Dolphins to clear mines. CNS credited air superiority as the leading factor and asked all participants to ponder over the issues of joint procedures, doctrine and intelligence as key factors that could lead to success in a war, though in this case Iraq could be compared to a pygmy before USA. The land forces moved swiftly, thanks to no aerial threat, which he felt will not be so in scenarios closer home, and he also opened the debate of quality vs quantity as the Rumsfeld plan envisaged less troops than what the Joint Force Commander had requested. The air campaign was covered by many speakers but the Chief of Air Staff ACM S Krishnaswamy made a strong case for control of the air by the Air Force for the time being, citing India’s technological base and ranges of operations of the air assets. He also spoke of Target acquisition techniques, Army–Air Force cooperation which had improved in India


The post war dilemma appeared to be more excruciating. It was accepted that it was too early to draw any conclusive lessons for India but what needed to be immediately studied and ingested into the Indian Armed Forces, was the very high level of synergy attained by different forces through integrated and joint operations and unity of direction. In any future war this would be an inescapable philosophy, and had to be practiced in peace. Stress should also be laid on Special Forces on an Inter-services basis. The import of expensive technology needed to be studied in the Indian economic context and the West need not be aped, but systems be acquired selectively. The shape and size of the three services with greater emphasis on maritime assets, sea-lift capability and strike from sea in support of land operations was also mooted. Gen Eisenhower was quoted. After World War II he said, “Separated ground sea and air warfare is gone forever” and that was the main lesson for the Indian Armed Forces. The other aspects that needed attention to implement lessons in context of the Indian military were listed as follows:

  • Air dominance and Jointmanship

  • Superior intelligence in military matters

  • Better Reconnaissance and targeting

  • Effective and survivable command and control needs to be put in place

  • Precision strike capability needs to be improved

  • Rapid and adaptive cycles of decision making by the politico military machinery deserves attention

  • Rapid cycles of land maneuver with lesser emphasis on manpower should be the Indian Army objective

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