New Delhi: Pakistan is confused about how India will respond to any future Pulwama/Uri type attack, and that’s good, Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat has told ThePrint.
In his time in the hot seat, Rawat said, he has worked on the ammunition shortage facing the Indian Army, and now the force has enough ammunition and equipment for a sustained 10-day war with the western neighbour.
In a wide-ranging interview last Friday, his first this year, Gen. Rawat, who is tipped to be India’s first Chief of Defence Staff after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the post on Independence Day, spoke about a range of issues and the vision for the future of the Indian military.
Among other things, Rawat also advocated a change to India’s “defensive mindset” of having troops all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, saying the country should focus on “reserves in depth” and technology when it comes to manning the areas adjoining the northern neighbour.
He also said he does not foresee a war with China, even though “small incidents” and some irritants keep happening along the LAC, as always.
Line of Control and Pakistan
Speaking about Pakistan, Gen. Rawat said even if a particular group or individual tries to carry out a small incident, it can grow into a bigger one, like in the case of Pulwama.
“My gut feeling is that Pakistan possibly feels that India might do something. They are worried that if something goes wrong in the hinterland, whether orchestrated by Pakistan or whether orchestrated from within the country with Pakistan’s help, India will hit back,” the Army chief said.
Pakistan possibly feels that India might do something. They are worried that if something goes wrong in the hinterland, whether orchestrated by Pakistan or from within the country with Pakistan’s help, India will hit back.
He said Pakistan knows if something “spectacular” happens, there will be retaliation.
“We are not going to spare them. Uncertainty prevails in Pakistan, which is good. Let them also remain under some kind of fear — don’t think you can get away with impunity. We have given a message that we will hit back and faster,” he said.
He said the Pulwama attack became a big issue because of the number of CRPF personnel who lost their lives. “Suppose the bus had only five people… The bus had 40 people, and hence, it became a big issue. That chap (suicide bomber) did not know that this bus had 40 people. He just rammed into a bus. That day, the buses were running full, otherwise not many personnel were there normally,” he said.
Rawat said Pakistan had, as a precautionary measure, moved some troops along the LoC, a step India has also taken.
Uncertainty prevails in Pakistan, which is good. Let them also remain under some kind of fear — don’t think you can get away with impunity. We have given a message that we will hit back and faster.
“Another thing that has happened is that they have moved terrorists back to forward bases. They are now seen moving in Pakistani posts,” he said.
Gen. Rawat said special measures have been taken to ensure that infiltration attempts are challenged successfully, including one more brigade being deployed along the LoC. He said the Army has built a fence along the LoC and there is a post every 300 metres, manned by some soldiers, called “picket deployment”. This is a defensive mechanism as the Army is trying to control infiltration and prevent any misadventure by Pakistan.
He also said another trend has come to light — of Pakistani terrorists entering through the International Border in Punjab. He said two terrorists with weapons were caught during a security check last week from one such truck on the way from Jammu.
“In the Valley, we will take care,” he said, adding that terror leadership in Kashmir has been eliminated.
“You can say there are still around 200-250. But these are young and do not have much potential to do much without leadership. If we are able to control infiltration in the summer months, then we can control them. We should not let new leadership come in.”
The situation in Kashmir
The Army chief said it is absolutely wrong to say “Kashmir is shut”, because people are coming out on the streets.
“I have been to Kashmir. There was smoke from every brick kiln in Srinagar and outside. This means that work is on,” he said. “On the Jhelum river, sand was being taken out. I saw hundreds of boats and trucks loading sand. Somebody was loading the sand on to the boats and then someone on to the trucks. Someone is driving those trucks.
“I found whole lot of apple cases packed, and dumped at various places in Sopore mandi and Pulwama. Who loaded those trucks? Who plucked and packed the apples?” he said.
Gen. Rawat said people are not going out because of fear, since terrorists are trying to show that curfew is on. This is why posters have been found in Sopore town asking civilians not to sell apples.
They [Pakistan] have moved terrorists back to forward bases. They are now seen moving in Pakistani posts.
“Shops are opened from behind. On the Dal Lake, night movement has started. Terrorists are saying that we have to show to the world that curfew is on. There is a hand behind this. They are trying to show that people are not happy. There is an element that people are angry. But at night, people come out,” he said.
He said the role of the Army since the abrogation of Article 370 remains being ready and denying space to terrorists, thus ensuring effective civil governance.
He also rued that children as young as 10 were being radicalised in Kashmir by telling them that Hindus and Muslims cannot stay together, and hence, Kashmir cannot be with India. He said Army Goodwill Schools in Kashmir are trying to counter this radicalisation and that teachers and children are still coming to the schools run by the Army.
LAC and China
Speaking about the contentious LAC, which saw a stand-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers last week, Gen. Rawat, somewhat disapprovingly said that Indian Army had a defensive mindset.
“I call it the LoC syndrome. Because we have been facing this menace of infiltration and border skirmishes for years along the LoC, we have started deploying and defending every inch,” he said, adding that this is being taken to the LAC as well.
“That same mentality exists on the northern and eastern borders. When you go there, you have started adopting a very LoC kind of mentality. It is not the same situation like the LoC but the mindset is very defensive,” he said, adding that company commanders or commanding officers of battalions try to replicate what they did at the LoC.
Chinese PLA has good roads on the other side and come in faster. We will have to go on foot, but then we can be sitting at a place where it takes us just about the same time to reach instead of being right up on LAC.
He said the officers forget that things being done at LoC was for a different purpose and the deployment at LAC has a different purpose.
In many areas, there is no enemy sitting on the opposite side, and the Chinese PLA comes in for patrolling from about 10 km away. That’s why Gen. Rawat is arguing for creating reserves and using technology.
“It is high time we create reserves in depth. We are re-structuring… We should create reserves, use technology for surveillance on the border,” he said. “They have good roads on the other side and come in faster. We will have to go on foot, but then we can be sitting at a place where it takes us just about the same time to reach instead of being right up on LAC.”
He highlighted that border infrastructure activities have gathered momentum and things have improved with the advent of Chinook helicopters and a number of new Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs).
“Reserves in depth, having soldiers at a strategic location a little away from the border, is important because if tomorrow the Chinese come at Point B instead of Point A, we can always move quickly thanks to helicopters,” he said.
The Chinese have got a vision and a plan. I don’t think they are going to come in and do anything at this moment… These small skirmishes (face-off with Chinese soldiers) will happen.
“But once you are sitting on the top, helicopters can’t go there, and you will have to wait for the men to come down for three hours,” he said, adding that he has been telling his men to mostly defend areas which are vulnerable and carry out surveillance over areas which are less vulnerable.
4 new Army divisions and full-stop to numbers
Rawat said it “benefits” China to compel India to maintain troops in forward locations, since such a large deployment involves a lot of money and logistics.
He said that since 2011, two new divisions have come up along the LAC — 56 and 71 — besides the two for the Mountain Strike Corps. This means that the troop numbers along the LAC have increased.
“Wherever China builds a road, we go and sit there thinking what if China comes from this way. In the mountains, the situation (on LAC) is not like what is at the LoC. Here, we need to use technology rather than depend on boots on the ground. I am not saying boots on the ground are not important, but we have to prioritise where we want our boots,” he said.
Asked if he foresees the possibility of China escalating things at the LAC to a larger extent, like a war, he said no.
“The Chinese have got a vision and a plan. I don’t think they are going to come in and do anything at this moment. These pricks (making Ladakh a separate union territory) will not make them waver from their plan. They know when they have to do something. These small skirmishes will happen,” the Army chief said.
Talking about any possible war scenario with China, Gen Rawat said the Chinese will focus first on pulverising Indian command, control and logistics centres with missiles rather than fighting a full-fledged intense war in the initial stages.
Unlike Pakistan, he said, possible future war with China will be long drawn.
Chief of Defence Staff
Gen. Rawat welcomed the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff. However, he said the issue wasn’t four or five star and one should not focus on stars or stripes.
“Whoever becomes the CDS, he will have to be the first among equals. Whichever service he belongs to, he will have to shed the inhibitions of that service. He will have to convince the other two that we need to work together,” he said.
He said the CDS would work on bringing jointness among the three services, at both top and bottom levels, such as integrating training establishments and logistics.
Whoever becomes the CDS, he will have to be the first among equals. Whichever service he belongs to, he will have to shed the inhibitions of that service.
“Some of the operational doctrines would have to be integrated. And finally we will have to come out with theatre commands. One commander controlling everything,” he said, adding that integration of the Ministry of Defence with the three services is also necessary.
He said no one from the three services can claim supremacy over the other and talked about integration of some training academies, including the higher command course such as the NDC and DSSC.
Integrated Battle Groups
Gen. Rawat said his larger reorganisation plan is to form Integrated Battle Groups or IBGs, which are brigade-sized, self-sufficient, agile formations that can ensure faster punitive and defensive operations.
“I am starting with 9 Corps in Yol (near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh). They are responsible for the IB (International Border, in Jammu region) portion in J&K. This is the place where we need to maintain leaner and meaner forces,” he said. “Then, we are also looking at 33 Corps (based in Siliguri) which looks at Sikkim.”
Referring to the Shakargarh bulge of Pakistan, he said IBGs are best suited here.
There have been reports of increased Pakistan activity in the ‘Shakargarh bulge’ — Indian Punjab is south of this while Jammu is north of it.
Pakistan has a number of large ammunition dumps and has stationed several Armour units at the location, which witnessed action during the 1965 and 1971 wars.
“Then, we are also looking at 33 Corps (based at Siliguri) which looks at Sikkim,” he said.
The IBGs are part of the reforms in the Indian Army’s functioning, and are to replace the current Cold Start Doctrine, which calls for defensive corps to carry out shallow cross-border thrusts within 72 hours for limited objectives such as the capture of territory.
The doctrine was brought in after the Parliament attack in December 2001, when the Army was unable to follow the government’s orders to deploy its strike corps to the border immediately. In fact, it took nearly three weeks to deploy the corps, which cost it the valuable element of surprise. The doctrine was not acknowledged or exercised until Gen. Rawat took over in 2016.
The new Army leadership felt that the 72 hours’ notice was also very long, and Rawat wanted to create integrated units for the border that will be self-sufficient — with artillery, armoured, combat engineers and signal units.
As such, each corps is to have three divisions, with each division to have three brigades. The overall idea is to break down the divisions into IBGs with all essential elements.
He said each IBG will be led by a Major General rank officer and will have all the integral artillery, armour, infantry and support arms.
However, contrary to expectations, the Brigadier rank is not being abolished for the time being because he wants to first wait and see how the IBGs pan out.
The IBGs are primed to strike in less than 24 hours. They will be sector and terrain-specific — in effect, the IBGs in the north will not be the same as those in the western sector. The resources, in terms of equipment, will be determined by the terrain, enemy threat and the task.
“What will happen is that there would be a lot of savings on logistics and manpower,” he said. “We are already 13 lakh, so how far will we go? We have to put a ceiling here and say nothing more. The logistics arm can be thinned down,” he said.
Gen. Rawat spoke in detail about how times had changed, and non-military logistics supply chains spread out, including petrol pumps in remote areas.
He added that he is carrying out this transformation gradually for a reason.
“We should not run too fast. It should not happen that at some stage we feel this is a mess-up but we find it difficult to go back. Let us start slowly with some units and see how this happens,” he said.
Mountain Strike Corps
Gen. Rawat said the third division of the Panagarh-based 17 Corps or Mountain Strike Corps will not be raised.
“Second division is under raising. We are raising only two divisions,” he said, adding it will only have 5-6 IBGs with all required equipment.
Physical health of soldiers
The Army chief stressed on the importance of having a healthy lifestyle for soldiers, and spoke out against issues like weight gain.
“We have stopped a lot of people from getting promoted. Recently, there was a Brigadier who was retired despite being approved by the board to be Major General. A large number of officers have been stopped from going to foreign missions,” Rawat said.
He added that officers going in for Junior Command Course will now have to clear their physical tests, else they won’t get higher instructor grading.
We have stopped a lot of people from getting promoted. Recently, there was a Brigadier who was retired despite being approved by the board to be Major General. A large number of officers have been stopped from going to foreign missions.
“Instructor training is a big thing. It has weightage on promotions and even foreign posting,” Rawat said, adding that he has been encouraging and pushing for overall better fitness of officer and other ranks.
Better artillery fire power than before
The Army chief said the force has now better artillery fire power than before. Giving examples, he said the delivery of 145 M777 light weight Howitzers had begun and they would enhance the capability of the Indian Army tremendously, especially on the mountain terrain border along China.
While 12 of these 155 MM guns have been delivered by the US, the delivery of the rest is on schedule.
Gen. Rawat noted that no artillery was purchased after the Bofors. He said while Bofors is a very good gun, it had outlived itself.
“But we did not want to let it go. The OFB was working on an improved version of Bofors which is the Dhanush. A demand for 400 such guns have been made and they will start coming in from early 2020,” he said.
The Indian Army will also be getting the K9 Vajra tracked self-propelled gun systems.
L&T had in 2017 won the Rs 4,500-crore contract from the Ministry of Defence to supply 100 units of K9 Vajra-T. These are being manufactured in collaboration with South Korean firm Hanwha Corporation.
The Army is also in the process of procuring Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), a 152 mm, 52-caliber gun.
Junior leader training wing
Gen. Rawat said the Army is starting with a new Junior Leader Training Wing at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai under which special training will be given to selected jawans to ensure that they can become officers to lead the force.
Under the plan, he said, 100 soldiers would be selected for two batches each with a gap of six months.
The focus of this course will not be just giving military training but also developing leadership traits, communication skills, soft skills, decision-making ability, among others.
However, they will have to clear the Services Selection Board exams to become officers.
ThePrint’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta also attended this interaction with the Army Chief.