IT seems from the Army Headquarters’ recent decision to send armoured corps units (less their tanks) for counter-insurgency operations to J and K that the assigned role of this (seniormost) arm has become insignificant. There is no other reason why an important arm that carries the day in the plains warfare should be diverted from its role.
The thinking that appears to prevail in certain circles since the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May last is that the days of conventional warfare are over. And the decision ostensibly is the brainchild of the protagonists of this idea. What needs to be remembered is that any major decision of this nature that will affect the tactical doctrine of an army should not be taken in haste but after a wide-ranging debate and detailed deliberations on the subject.
That six to seven armoured regiments are moving to J and K after shedding their tanks, which are being mothballed at a cost of nearly Rs 1.5 crore, indicated that the tanks will remain in suspended animation for two years because this is the normal field tenure for a unit. Not only that, the officers (JCOs) and men of these regiments have to learn the basic infantry tactics, for what is involved in countering insurgency is patrolling, laying and countering of ambushes, carrying out raids, comb and search operations as and when required.
Now imagine the essential training on tanks, including training exercises and firing that these regiments will miss during the period of two years. Leave alone the higher rate of casualties that they will suffer as compared to the infantry in these operations because of not being well trained for the new task, these units will also be rendered unfit for war in their own role at least for two and a half years. For, after returning to their base, they would need about six months to re-marry with the tanks, train on them and then carry out their firing. Meanwhile, if the balloon goes up, we will have to fight our armour battles without these regiments. Can we afford this?
By just carrying out a few nuclear tests, a country does not become a nuclear power to be reckoned with. Nuclearisation is still way off for India and Pakistan because the delivery systems for warheads have yet to be fully developed by both countries. Even the advanced nuclear powers such as the USA, Russia, France, Britain and China have not thought of discarding their tanks. In fact, they continue to enhance the performance of their main battle tanks by bringing in further improvement in them. Nor have they thought of saying goodbye to the conventional warfare. The nuclear frenzy has so gripped us that we seem to have lost our balance.
The example of a few armoured regiments, minus their tanks, having been employed during Operation Rakshak II in Punjab is being quoted by some to give strength to this case. What needs to be recalled about that experiment is that the training of personnel and maintenance of tanks and other sophisticated equipment did suffer during that period which was of a shorter duration though.
To overcome the shortage of troops for counterinsurgency commitments, about 36 battalions of the Rashtriya Rifles were raised in the first half of the nineties. This experiment has proved useful. However, the mistake made in their composition is that they get their manpower not only from infantry but also from all other arms and services. And this is the main reason why their casualty rate in J and K has been higher as compared to infantry battalions.
Granted that there is a spurt in insurgency in the Jammu region, especially in Doda, Rajouri and Poonch districts, and we need more forces to quell it. But this does not mean that the Army should lower its war preparedness level to meet this requirement. Why can’t we pump more paramilitary forces into the Jammu region, for their strength has been increased manifold over the years, and this is their main task. They will start measuring up to the task if we remove the complex from their mind that what they cannot do will be done by the Army.
Today we are sending cavalry manpower to J and K to combat militancy, and tomorrow when we need more troops there we will have to send engineers because they are infantrymen first and then engineers, as it is often said. Thus there will be no end to this wrong practice which must be stopped before it is too late.
The views expressed in the Article above are Author’s personal views and kashmiribhatta.in is not responsible for the opinions expressed in the above article.
Courtesy: The Tribune: 12 August, 1998