Indian Army's Land Warfare Doctrine 2018: Questions and Concerns

Writing a doctrine can be a helpful exercise, but we have to see if it leads to a change in policies.

“I am tempted to declare that whatever doctrine the Armed Forces are working on, they have got it wrong. I am also tempted to declare that it does not matter that they have got it wrong. What does matter is their capacity to get it right quickly when the moment arrives. It is the task of military science in an age of peace to prevent the doctrine being too badly wrong.”

     – Sir Michael Howard

The Indian Army’s doctrine was first published in the form of a book, Fundamentals, Concepts, Doctrine – Indian Army (1998), by Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi. It is difficult to find this book.

The second time Indian Army’s doctrine was published was 2004, under the aegis of the then Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General N.C. Vij.

A third attempt was made when General V.K. Singh was the COAS. It was published in electronic format on the websites of the Indian Army and HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS). Today this doctrine is not available on any of the official websites, a signal about the state of institutional memory of the Indian Army. The Army Training Command must take the lead.

Cold Start Doctrine

General Deepak Kapoor, in his tenure as COAS, developed the concept of Cold Start Doctrine. While much has been said about this concept, some important observations are :

  • Pakistan has used Cold Start to the hilt to justify its development of tactical nuclear weapons. Whatever the Indian Army wanted to do, it could have done without announcing to the world. Pakistan presumably would have taken action immediately to counter Indian Army’s Cold Start Doctrine.
  • Was this doctrine was discussed in the National Security Council (NSC) before it was announced? The NSC was formed for discussing this type of issue – but it was never done.

To add to the confusion, General V.K. Singh, while COAS, downplayed the Cold Start doctrine, saying:

There is nothing called ‘Cold Start’. As part of our overall strategy we have a number of contingencies and options, depending on what the aggressor does. In the recent years, we have been improving our systems with respect to mobilisation, but our basic military posture is defensive.

Former defence minister Jaswant Singh also denied the existence of the doctrine: “There is no Cold Start doctrine. No such thing. It was an off-the-cuff remark from a former Chief of Army Staff. I have been defence minister of the country. I should know”.

Yet on January 6, 2017, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat admitted the existence of this doctrine. In an extensive interview with India Today Executive Editor Sandeep Unnithan, General Rawat was asked whether the Cold Start doctrine was an option in response to attacks like 26/11 in Mumbai, or attack on Parliament in 2001.

Also read: New Land Warfare Doctrine Is Not a Credible Deterrent to China or Pakistan

Rawat replied: “The Cold Start doctrine exists for conventional military operations. Whether we have to conduct conventional operations for such strikes is a decision well thought through, involving the government and the Cabinet Committee on Security.”

Are we still following Cold Start Doctrine? More clarity is required.

Sub-conventional warfare

In December 2006, the Army published am excellently crafted, 45-page document on the Doctrine of Sub Conventional Warfare. In today’s cacophony of ‘Hybrid Warfare’, one wonders what has happened to it. Has it been superseded? Yet again, more clarity is required.

Land Warfare Doctrine 2018

Most recently, the Indian Army published its Land Warfare Doctrine – a well-written, compact, 13-page document.

Under the broad heading of Geo-Strategic Environment, Environmental Realities has been covered in two bullet points. Future Security Challenges has four bullets. Jargons like Grey Zone, Hybrid and Multi Domain warfare have been used. We should be very careful about using these terminologies when writing formal official doctrine.  US Army’s 366 page operational doctrine Field Manual 3-0 released in December 2017 does not have these terminologies.

Counter-Insurgency/ Counter-Terror: These find a paragraph under the heading “Current Dynamics/ No War No Peace”. A large part of our Northern Army has been actively involved in CI/CT Ops since 1991. Surely it merits more than a paragraph in generic terms. This is the place where the Indian Army must put forward its strategy, concept or doctrine in clear terms and send a message that we mean business.

Spectrum of conflict and force application: It is not clear whether Integrated Battle Groups (IBG) will be applicable in Northern and Eastern Army.

Capability development: It has been stated that a pragmatic mix of both, capability and threat-based approaches, will enable a greater span of responses to plausible scenarios for force developers to work on. We need more clarity on threat-based versus capability-based approach. As per the US Joint Warfighting Center Pamphlet 1:

“Our military has been moving in recent years from the Cold War threat-based approach to force structure to a concept of capabilities-based transformation. This reflects the fact that we cannot predict with confidence what nation, combination of nations, or non-state actors will pose threats to United States’ interests or those of our friends and allies a decade from now. We can, however, anticipate the capabilities an adversary could employ to coerce its neighbors or to deter the United States from assisting its friends and allies.”

We do not have any such dilemma. We have two potent threats in our Western and Northern neighbours with whom we have fought wars. At least for now, we need not be concerned about the capabilities of insurgents or terrorists to change our capability-development plan.

Techno-centric environment: There is no harm in having a wish-list, but technology costs money. With the present state of budget allocations to the Indian Army, it is hard to even dream of these technologies.

To date, all these documents have been published as Indian Army Doctrine. This time it is called the Land Warfare Doctrine. Are the two interchangeable, or is there a subtle difference?

Also read: India’s Armed Forces Must Stop Depending on US Jargon


The writing of doctrines in the Indian Army is a recent phenomenon. The 4 Corps of Eastern Army performed brilliantly in the 1971 Bangladesh War, using the concept of ‘manoeuver-warfare’ from World War II. The crossing of the Meghna river using Bell helicopters and country boats is written in gold in the annals of Indian military history. There was no official written doctrine then.

Former US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates puts the value of written strategy or doctrine in correct perspective in his memoirs:

“Personally, I don’t recall ever reading the president’s National Security Strategy… Nor did I read any of the previous National Defense Strategy documents when I became secretary. I never felt disadvantaged by not having read these scriptures.”

Writing of a doctrine can be a helpful exercise, but we have to see if it leads to change in policies on procurement, tactics, training, leadership, human resources or organisation. It will be prudent to check if any of these underwent changes based on earlier doctrines. If not, this remains an exercise of writing good “English”.

The Army’s Land Warfare Doctrine 2018 is a good attempt. However, it is too crisp, missing some important issues like operational art, manoeuver-warfare etc. When a doctrine is published after a gap of about eight years, one looks for changes that have taken place since the last one. Those should be clearly brought out.

The latest doctrine must supersede the earlier publication. Somehow, none of our doctrines have been superseded officially.

Maj Gen P.K. Mullick, VSM, retired from service as  senior directing staff at the National Defence College in New Delhi.