Wednesday, April 20, 2011

After Pakistan missile test, India flexes muscle

NEW DELHI: Diplomatic re-engagement may have begun afresh but both sides are keeping their powder dry. The 1.13-million strong Indian Army is honing its war-fighting machinery with a major combat exercise, codenamed "Vijayee Bhava'' (Be Victorious), in the Thar desert to practice "high tempo'' operations to cut across the border. 

Squeamish for long with India's "pro-active conventional war strategy'', or what is colloquially dubbed the "cold start'' doctrine, Pakistan in turn test-fired a new nuclear-capable ballistic missile Hatf-IX on Tuesday. 

Given that Hatf-IX has a strike range of only 60 km, it is clearly intended for brandishing as a "battlefield nuclear weapon'' to deter Indian armoured forces from launching rapid thrusts into its territory. 

"Pakistan already has the long and medium range Shaheen and Ghauri series of missiles, acquired with help of China and North Korea, to act as the delivery mechanism for strategic nuclear weapons,'' said a senior Indian official. 

"So, with this new missile, Islamabad seems to be looking at tactical nuclear deterrence against advancing enemy formations. But it is being foolhardy if it thinks nuclear weapons are war-fighting weapons,'' he added. 

India, of course, has its own nuclear and missile plans. It may be steadfast about adhering to a "no first-use'' of nuclear weapons but has made it amply clear that a nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be "massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage''. 

The "Vijayee Bhava'' exercise, of course, is more conventional in nature, even though the combat manoeuvres may be simulated under "a NBC (nuclear, chemical, biological) overhang''. 

The exercise, which will enter its peak phase in early-May, is being primarily conducted by the armoured corps-intensive 2 Corps, considered to be the most crucial of Army's three principal "strike'' formations tasked with virtually cutting Pakistan into two during a full-fledged war, said sources. 

Incidentally, the 2 Corps based in Ambala is aptly called the `Kharga Corps', taking its name and formation sign from the deadly scythe wielded by Goddess Kali to vanquish enemies. 

"In 2009, the 2 Corps had conducted the `Hind Shakti' exercise to fine-tune the pro-active strategy, which is all about mobilizing fast and hitting hard at several border points to catch the enemy unawares and gain momentum,'' said a source. 

"The `Vijayee Bhava' exercise, which will also include elements from other Western Army Command (WAC) formations like the Jalandhar-based 11 Corps, will further validate operational concepts,'' he added. 

With hundreds of tanks, artillery guns and over 30,000 soldiers, the exercise geared for "network-centric operations'' will see the extensive use of satellite imagery, helicopter-borne surveillance systems, spy drones and a wide array of land-based radars to "achieve battlefield transparency''. 

As reported by TOI earlier, after Operation Parakram in 2002 took almost a month to reach D-Day readiness, India has reorganized Army formations all along the western front to enable a more swift and powerful offensive punch. 

It was under this overall plan that the South-Western Command (SWAC) was created at Jaipur in 2005 as the Army's sixth operational command. With the Mathura-based 1 `Strike' Corps and Bhatinda-based 10 `Pivot' Corps under it, SWAC is responsible for offensive operations on the western front in conjunction with the Western Army Command (Chandimandir), which controls the 2 `Strike' Corps. 

The Northern and Southern Army Commands, with the latter having the Bhopal-based 21 `Strike' Corps, at Udhampur and Pune respectively, will of course also play a crucial part in the event of a war but it will be SWAC and WAC which will assume the pivotal roles. 

Moreover, both the western and southwestern commands of IAF have also stepped up coordination with the different Army commands in the western theatre to synergize efforts to build "an integrated and organic'' air-land war-fighting machinery.

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