Low Intensity Conflict Revisited


Senior Member
Oct 5, 2009
Low Intensity Conflict Revisited

The very understandable reluctance to use air power (in the classical sense) against one's own populace has to be reconciled with the reality that insurgents do not have scruples.

Insurgencies have existed for centuries. in recent decades however, the easy availability of machineguns, rocket-propelled grenades, RDX explosive with hi-tech remote-triggering devices have made dealing with terrorists and insurgents stressful and painful.

India's experience in Kashmir and Sri Lanka, France's experience in Algeria, Russia's experience in Chechnya and America's experience in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq bear testimony to the reality that troops armed with hi-tech weapons and trained for conventional war are at a triple disadvantage when deployed against insurgents and terrorists:

* Stress levels rise abnormally when coping with ingeniously-improvised bombs in the hands of insurgents who are supported by the population and not distinguishable from innocent civilians.
* Secondly, since freedom struggles go on for decades, there is little respite from repeated tenures of such stressful counter insurgency deployment.
* Thirdly, it is unreal to expect troops trained to fight an identifiable enemy in high-intensity battles to be equally proficient in low-intensity conflict involving inadvertent harm to innocent people, and when patriotism and national acclaim the driving force to sustain morale.

Some recent inputs are relevant to this often-discussed dilemma.

* To minimise stress and sustain high morale, what should be the ratio between deployment time and rest- recovery time? In Iraq, two ratios seem to have emerged. Reportedly, the American Army needs two brigades at home to sustain one in the war zone.1Oddly enough this 2:1 ratio is the same as that used by Navies - to be able to keep one aircraft carrier continuously alert and ready on station, you need three - less than three leads either to reduced alertness or unpredictable readiness or both. The other ratio, reportedly in vogue with the British Army is 5:1 - two years at home for 6 months deployment.
* The second aspect is the repercussion of such ratios on sanctioned levels of manpower. If the levels already sanctioned are sacrosanct, then the number deployable is derivable from the ratio. Any additional deployment becomes sub optimal in terms of mental health disorders, morale and eventually decreased effectiveness.

India's problem of "prolonged low intensity conflict within her borders" is not analogous to the problem being faced by America and Britain in Iraq of "how much they can deploy overseas?" America, (progressively over-committed in Iraq), is worried about the erosion of its capability to counter other crises that threaten its global national interests. India has to remain ready to counter a 'conventional' military attack by its adventurous neighbour.

Apart from the stress disorders of our troops in Jammu and Kashmir, prolonged deployment in the counter insurgency role erodes the time that needs be devoted to training for conventional war. This problem of 'erosion of training time' has been discussed for decades. It has come to be taken for granted that since the Army is the "last resort" it might as well be the first resort until a long term solution can be agreed upon of how to be ready for conventional war whilst continuously engaged in low intensity conflict.

For the present, regiments of the Army provide a trained battalion on "rotational - Extra Regimental Employment (ERE)" basis to the Rashtriya Rifles who, along with the para military forces, are being progressively better equipped for low intensity conflict.

A Way Ahead

By its very nature, an insurgency/low intensity conflict continues for decades. The vigour of a conflict drops when the forces of law and order gain the upper hand and rises when the insurgents gain the upper hand. There is a view that in view of the waxing and waning of insurgencies, the Army-Rashtriya Rifle arrangement is cost-effective.

The other view is that it takes considerable time and effort for low intensity forces to build up their own efficient human -intelligence network on the ground and a rotational arrangement is ineffective.

Has the time come to accept that the Army should be accorded sanction for a segment specifically recruited, trained and suitably armed for low intensity conflict in specific deployment regions as, for example, distinct regions like Jammu and Kashmir region and the Northeast region, where the terrain and nature of conflict differ widely? The ratio between deployment time and rest- recovery time can then evolve, depending on the prevailing vigour of the conflict in that region without disturbing the training and readiness of the regular Army.

On analogous reasoning, should the Navy and the Coast Guard be accorded sanction for segments specifically recruited, trained and suitably armed for low intensity conflict in the creeks and estuaries for specific deployment in regions like, for example the northwest region (facing Pakistan) encompassing the Rann of Kachch and the coasts of Gujarat and Maharashtra, the southern region (facing Sri Lanka) encompassing the Gulf of Mannar, the Palk Strait and the Palk Bay, the eastern region encompassing the Sunderbans, and the Andaman Sea in each of which the maritime conditions and nature of threat differ? The inputs of the Intelligence agencies to such specific region-familiar segments would become far more productive in ensuring that insurgents and terrorists within India are perpetually denied arms and explosives through the sea route.

On similar reasoning, has the time come for the Air Force to formulate its role, in low-intensity-conflict operations within India's borders? The very understandable reluctance to use air power (in the classical sense) against one's own populace has to be reconciled with the reality that insurgents do not have scruples. There is also the political consideration whether collateral damage will aggravate the insurgency. To take a specific example, it is interesting to ponder whether, in Sri Lanka, the LTTE's use of UAVs and micro-lites to drop bombs should be countered by the Sri Lankan Army or by the Sri Lankan Air Force?

Whatever be the framework of the eventual "Way Ahead", its implementation will depend entirely on the extent to which:

* It steers well clear of "Battles for Turf" and without disturbing, in any way, the present roles of any of the organisations involved and their chains of command and control.

* It accepts that it will need tolerance and patience to overcome the problems of coordination between so many well established organisations - the Armed Forces and the Intelligence organisations, between the Armed Forces and the paramilitary organisations, between the Central and the State Government departments, between the State Government and the District administrations and between the District administrations and the local panchayats.

* All those involved agree to make a start. Well Begun is Half Done.


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