Arming the Combined Arms Operational Manoeuvre: Developing Future Capabilities

Issues Details: 
Vol 12 Issue 2, May - Jun 2018
Page No.: 
Sub Title: 
The impact of technological advances on combined arms operational manoeuvre
Lt Gen AB Shivane, PVSM, AVSM, VSM
Friday, May 25, 2018

The success of the Battle of Cambrai on the 20th November 1917 cannot just be put down to only the use of tanks in large numbers. It was the new tactical way of combining airpower, artillery, infantry and armour by using infantry infiltration tactics, predicted artillery fire, sound ranging, battlefield intelligence and infantry-tank co-ordination. This new tactic was called ‘combined-arms warfare’. In the process, the “art of war” has truly become the art of combined arms warfare, in which infantry, artillery, air support, intelligence, and other key combat and combat support elements are all coordinated for maximum effect.

In the Indian context too, the spectacular success at Zojila on 1 Nov 1948 was another example of combined arms operational manoeuvre with tanks of 7 Light Cavalry spearheading the Combined Arms Force ably supported by infantry, artillery and engineers under a dynamic leadership. Thereafter, there have been progressive employment of combined arms operational manoeuvres in battles, with the East Pakistan Campaign being another brilliant example.

However, while the nature of combined arms concept has essentially remained universal like the nature of war, its character has evolved with revolution in military affairs. The nature of combined arms is still about the mutual and reinforcing effect of numerous capabilities with force multiplication effect; its changing character though is employing C5ISR, cyber, information and electronic warfare with new and innovative application of operational precision fires and aviation assets in support of a multi domain operational maneuver across the entire spectrum of conflict. As the use of these combat arms fuse, so too must organizational structures, integrated capabilities and mindsets of operational commanders for future conflicts.

Indian Army Doctrine is built on the basic edifice of manoeuvre warfare through a combined arms approach in an essentially joint operational environment. This mandates seamless and high level of integration combining the physical and cognitive effects, kinetic and non-kinetic, lethal and non-lethal, among the force in a joint service environment. However, the challenge remains in its skewed understanding, compartmentalised growth and arming this force as an integrated whole, beyond individual turfs, in a fiscally constrained environment.

Challenges & Technologies Impacting Character of Combined Arms Manoeuvre in Future Conflicts

The technology driven information age has altered the blend and character of modern warfare in 21st century, just as industrial age altered the 20th century battlefield by way of mechanization. The race to dominance on future battlespace will be a race to integrate the new and the traditional across the entire spectrum in a synergistic fashion, aimed to achieve success at least cost and in minimum time. The key to this success would lie in a combined arms team concept with focus on dominating the critical operational factors of time, space, force and information. Simplistically stating the defeat mechanism would be the interplay and reciprocal effect of targeting two key elements–Will and Capability of the adversary. What makes combined arms maneuver so potent is not the physical employment of multiple arms on the battlefield but the cumulative and complementary effect, targeting the enemy’s will and capability to resist, and his inability to effectively respond to the dilemma.

Technology and changes in the battle space which have impacted the character and revolutionized 21st century operational manoeuvres by combined arms team are as follows: -

•  Advent of Long Range Precision Fires. This has resulted in a three-dimensional expansion of the battlespace and resultant dispersion of forces. Thus, the machine age mass manoeuvre may no longer be relevant. However, Distant Punishment Vs Physical Domination continues as a debate. The fundamental limitation of distant punishment is that it commits without resolving. Thus, precision long range fires both from ground and air need to be matched with precision time sensitive combined arms manoeuvre by lean, agile, versatile force across all domains. Balance and harmony between manoeuvre and firepower remains an essential imperative for combined arms manoeuvre.

C5ISR and Integrative Technology. The key determinant of success in future conflicts across the entire spectrum will be info superiority and decision dominance rather than brute power. In short, we need a knowledge based; decision oriented networked joint force operational manoeuvre capability. This is a major grey area that requires much understanding and focus in our Army. C5ISR is a jointness compeller and must dilute inter-service lines and shun the present compartmentalised rigid approach. ISR must be addressed holistically with a single parentage and not the present culture of developing `I’, the `S’ and the `R’ in compartments with little synergy. The heart of the ISR or its jugular vein is the communications and networks.  Thus, pervasive and persistent C5ISR is only possible if there are pervasive and persistent communications.  Further, C5ISR will only be empowered if we shift from a platform centric approach culture to a network centric approach.  In short, we need a knowledge based; decision oriented networked joint force application capability.

Mass and Effects. A highly mobile, lean, agile and versatile potent integrated force capable of superimposing itself between dispersed and widely scattered enemy formations will achieve time critical desired effects. Speed and agility count far more than sheer weight of metal if the objective is to collapse the enemy’s will rather than slaughter him. The present “one size fit all solution” for all terrains will not work to address our multi front threats and future capabilities.

Arming the Combined Arms Force with Future Capabilities

The future combined arms operational manoeuvre force mandates the development of the following capabilities: -

•   Force Structure. A lean, agile and versatile high technology combined arms force to execute future operational manoeuvres which is front and theatre specific. The Indian Army would do well to review structures and organisations to give more teeth to the force by revisiting two important studies on “Transformation of Indian Army” and “Right Sizing and Rebalancing of Indian Army”. The need is for a hybrid bottom up combined arms restructuring, solely based on integral operational capability enhancement.

Synergy and Jointness. The need is to transit from intra service and inter service compartmentalised disjointed growth to interoperability and interdependency. The newly formed DPC would do well to holistically review the joint force capability building and optimisation through an integrated approach.

Vertical Lift Capability. Enhanced vertical lift capability both by rotary and fixed wings along with increased availability of Special Forces for opportunist manoeuvre will empower the force.

C5ISR. The four core characteristics and capability of a combined arms force are BFT & shared situational awareness, decision dominance, joint force synchronisation and optimization and rapidity of force application and precision fires for favourable force exchange ratios. The capability for a seamless and integrated C5ISR is thus defined as follows: -

Critical Capability. Persistent & pervasive, all weather, all terrain layered surveillance and fused intelligence for force multiplication effect at the cutting edge.

•  Capability Thrust. Achieve seamless and secure info superiority across the battle space dovetailing state of art technology with zero tolerance time.

•   Capability Mix Solutions.

▪   Layered ISR & Networks-persistent, flexible, interoperable, affordable and survivable. 

▪   A Continuous multi - tiered, multi domain, & time sensitive ISR grid.  The 4C’s for generating this capability are: -

- Capability of the Resource.

- Capacity.

- Coverage.

- Constrains of Employment to be overcome.

▪   A Geo fuser ISR data cloud with standard protocols at apex level and data fusion centres for relevant needs at lower level.

▪  Joint Service ISR optimization. Multi layered, secure, dynamic & robust communication backbone with terminal connectivity and plug and play concept with a mix of both top down & bottom- up approach.

▪  Network agile, mission oriented & focused ISR process with matching HR cum training policies and empowered structures.

•  Light Tanks and Wheeled ICVs. A limited quantity technology enabled Light tanks and Wheeled ICVs for marginal terrain and High-Altitude areas besides riverine sector, amphibious operations and OOAC tasks. Some of these could also be used for close reconnaissance tasks as part of the Mech Forces Recce Troops/ Platoon.  Besides meeting the operational requirement, induction of light tanks and Wheeled ICVs within the sanctioned fleet strength will also assist in AFV fleet management.

•  Combat Aviation. State of the art AH fleet with contemporary weapon systems, absolute night fighting capability and interoperability with mechanised forces are a pre-requisite for potent combined arms manoeuvre.  The AH being an aerial arm of manoeuvre in the third-dimension mandates total integration with mechanised forces in terms of organization structures, training and operational tasking. A dedicated Combat Aviation Squadron (AH) for each Armoured Division & a Comb Aviation Flight (AH) for each Independent Armoured Brigade would arm the ground air manoeuvre continuum.

•  Infantry Mobility and Future Combat Systems. All terrain matching mobility for the Infantry empowered with future combat systems related to communications, surveillance, weaponry/ firepower and protection gear.

•  Combat Support Arms and Services. Matching mobility for long range vectors and SP artillery as also for Integral AD, Engineers, Signals and all other combat support and services supporting the combined arms manoeuvre is a critical capability often neglected.

•  Ability to aggressively wage Electronic Warfare, Cyber and Information warfare to complement operational manoeuvre by combined arms force is a force multiplier. Presently there is a lack of training, comprehension and thus application of this important aspect of warfare, which must be a General Staff function rather than a compartmentalised approach.

•  Focused Integrated and Responsive Logistics. Logistics in an expanded battle space with attendant lethality will be a challenge. The fusion of logistics, information and transportation technology to deliver logistics based on “just in time” and “just what’s needed” is essential. Thus, an integrated theatre logistics based on a responsive and multi layered concept is the need for the combined arms manoeuvre not to lose steam.

Human Dimension of Leadership and Training. There is a need to invest much more in this scarce resource, particularly in the understanding of operational level warfare and combined arms operational manoeuvre. We need to inbuilt qualities of Directive style of Command, ability to take decisions in the fog of war with high tolerance for ambiguity, encourage unconventionality, irrationality and innovative approach, battle space visualisation, calm and confident disposition, risk and initiative abilities and above all foster an inclusive development of force. 


While combined arms operational manoeuvre will continue to be foundational to operational success in an environment increasingly tampered by casualty avoidance and time sensitivity, its implementation will pose new challenges which need to be addressed by a professional military as ours.

The need today, is for a review to refit a “big war military with smart, lean, agile combined arms joint warfare capabilities”.


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