The Mountain Strike Corps – An oxymoron in search of innovation


Navneet Bhushan


India is experiencing increasingly complex challenges in and around itself. Besides adapting to the economic, social, political, geo-political and ecological changes, we need to create new responses to our challenges that have emerged or are just round the corner. The rising, more assertive China calls for an Indian need to create a structured, informed, comprehensive and unambiguous response – immediately. The response has to be an integrated ensemble of doctrine, organization, technology and strategy. I call this response DOTS – short for Doctrine, Organization structure, Technology and Strategy. The immediate key challenges are

  • Responding to a comprehensive, controlled and integrated Chinese assertiveness backed by a unilateral posturing and meddling in multiple dimensions – economic, geopolitical, military, and foreign relations.
  • Creating a credible, conventional, rapidly executable response against Chinese Military that is feasible and effective under the threat of nuclear war constraints
  • Understanding, developing and creating – infrastructure, capability and response to the disruptive nature of information war
  • Maritime capability and response for the high seas in a rising China and declining US world

India has embarked on responding tothese in a piecemeal manner. Therein lays the challenge of creating a holistic response. We focus below the high media circulated and discussed Mountain Strike Corps and its DOTS

What will the Mountain Strike Corps Do and How?

With the announcement of creation of a Mountain Strike Corps India is in the process of creating a new organization structure. The employment and operationalizing this new structure requires a comprehensive thinking to identify key problems, challenges and opportunities to be addressed. What are the key functions, objectives and capabilities that the Mountain Strike corps should have?

What should be the organization structure of the Mountain Strike Corps? Should it be based on light armour and motorized infantry? Should it be based on light infantry? Should it utilize heavy artillery? Should it have an integrated air-assault component? Will the UCAV/UAV based capabilities change the organization structure? Should it be a completely new organization structure with new operational concepts, new systems and new technology? India need to answer these questions looking at the specific needs. The objective is to define key needs for the mountain strike corps based on its functions, doctrine, strategy and organizational structure. This should lead to development of key technologies, systems, combat systems, combat support systems, and identification of key challenges that should be met.

India faces two hostile foes in Pakistan and China. The military problem is that the borders with both these countries are very different. For example, against Pakistan the armour based operations are possible although the line of sight in plains of Punjab may be less than 1000m, yet tanks have fairly open space to make deep inroads. Desert with more than 3000m line of sight and large open space is definitely a tank warfare arena. It is really against China, India faces a very different terrain. The tank operations in mountains are extremely difficult and in fact likely to be useless as tanks may become sitting ducks when their mobility is either not possible or at best reduced considerably. The infantry becomes the key force for the army. The next dimension of warfare – that is the air is available to create a possible synergy for developing military capability and operations that are more potent and efficient.  The nature of war against Pak and against China will be different – hence what will be an armor based war with Pak, will have to be infantry/mountain plus air war against China. Do we have a doctrine for Air-Mountain Battle doctrine? The Air-land battle doctrine – the conceptual constructs of that doctrine – employed in Iraq by US/Allies was developed in 1980s. Where are conceptual constructs of India’s Air-Mountain battle doctrine? It is time to debate and create the conceptual constructs of such a uniquely Indian doctrine which our peculiar border terrain and a cunning and powerful adversary demands? The current acquisition of C130s and C17s indicates some thoughts on Air mobility and theater switching of brigade size forces. Following Sun Tzu – why we should fight the Chinese war, instead we should create the scenarios and reactions where we should be taking initiatives against China and Pakistan, not reacting to their strategic surprises.In summary, we need to create an integrated Air-Mountain Warfare doctrine. This then should also integrate Space dimension, Cyber dimension and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) dimensions for the border against China.

Mountain Strike Corps

(Image Credit: REUTERS/Utpal Baruah)

 The Mountain Strike – An Oxymoron

The dedicated strike formations are tasked to create options for going deep inside the enemy territory and destroy, degrade or disrupt enemy follow on forces, occupy enemy territory, in general, win the war for the host by separating and demolishing enemy’s war making capability. The follow-on-forces attack (FOFA) attack was the doctrine NATO forces created in 1980s against the Warsaw pact forces in heavily interlocked European theatre on both sides of the iron curtain.

The Indian Army of 2014 will need to understand that new capability today is not created or enhanced just by adding more hands and legs. That is the scaling-up method of the mass-manufacturing past of the industrial world and will lead to an unstable structures. Innovation is the need at all levels. One organizational response Indian Army created in the past which can arguably be termed “innovative” is what General Sunderji did late in 1980s – leading to mechanization of infantry and creation of potential combined arms in the form of Reorganized Army Plains Infantry Divisions (RAPIDS) and Reorganized Army Mountains Infantry Divisions (RAMIDS). The subsequent organization and mechanization of infantry, although, was diluted. In fact, RAMIDs remained at a concept level only. In 1990s Indian Army created Artillery Divisions – for focusing firepower. In 2000s, Army’s new doctrine of organizing its strike corps into 8 Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) called Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) against Pakistan resulted ostensibly in Pakistan developing tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in the form of NASR – a modification of traditional multi barrel rocket launchers.

Against China, we have a new concept of a mountain strike corps. However, going by the RAMIDs order of battle (orbat) and the fate of RAMIDs which remained more or less a conceptual construct rather than an actual change at ground level, the Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) requires a leap of faith that has been unprecedented in the history of Indian Army’s doctrine creation so far. May be, we will see a disruptive innovation from Indian Army, this time.

The key message, however, is in stark contrast to the possibility of innovation. In the nomenclature, the syntax and semantics of Indian Army, naming the new formation as Mountain Strike Corps indicates to an existing connotation of the concept of strike corps. Indian army’s existing three strike corps, all deployed and to be used against Pakistan are based on traditional armored/Tank warfare. Each strike corps has an armored division (although the tanks are old T-72s and new T-90s) and mechanized infantry (Russian BMP IIs) to be used as a mobile high momentum firepower going deeper in the open spaces of plains of Punjab and desert of Rajasthan sectors. If the word “strike” map to tank/armored warfare in the Indian Army mind, as is evident, the mountain strike corps will map to mountain tank warfare. Tanks in cluttered mountainous terrain reduce almost to the level of heavy artillery; although with less firepower than the heavy artillery of say 155mm caliber guns. The key capability of the Tanks – their mobility is nullified in the mountain terrain.  The war in mountains is excruciatingly slow, compared to war in say desert. The rule of thumb – a heuristic used by armies based on historical data, is to have 3:1 ratio of attackers to defenders for a victory in plains and deserts. This ratio increases to 6:1 in mountains, giving 2 times an advantage to defenders with prepared positions in mountains compared to same in plains. The heavy armor in mountains is actually a silly option – whether tracked or wheeled. The key combat value of tanks – the mobility is considerably reduced. However, the tanks slow down the infantry troops that potentially can move relatively faster in the valleys, passes, tunnels and narrow ridges and unannounced protrusions that one encounters in the mountainous terrains. The key traditional doctrinal construct is to use light infantry and occupy the hill tops – the higher you are, the better you are against enemy. The strike through the mountains using armor doesn’t make sense. In that sense, mountain strike corps based on tanks is an oxymoron. Hopefully, it is just the nomenclature and Indian Army has thought about an organization or orbat for its new MSC which is not predominantly based on raising new armored divisions or even armored brigades.

The Mountain Strike – has to be air-mobile if not air assault

Since “strike” as a function requires rapid mobility of forces deep inside the enemy territory, one need to consider different means to accomplish the “strike”. The mobility of firepower deep inside enemy territory, need to be accomplished with comprehensive protection. The Tank/armor gave such a capability to move deep inside enemy territory. The artillery was not accurate to stop tanks and infantry didn’t have sufficient firepower to penetrate 700 mm of heavy steel layers of a main battle tank. The anti-tank missiles and guns have comprehensively increased in their capability to stop tanks, yet a brigade of tanks (about 3 x regiments of 45 tanks each ~ 135 Tanks) is a very difficult proposition to stop by sheer infantry and indirect firepower of artillery.

In the mountains, however, the protected mobility of comprehensive firepower has to be accomplished by taking the aerial route. The air route changes the game comprehensively for defenders who might have taken prepared positions on the hilltops. Suddenly they can become easy targets in the absence of their airpower. The Kargil war, in 1999, showed the value of airpower, although Indian Air Force (IAF) realized after the loss of its Mig 27 and helicopters that the solution lays in using precise standoff weapons. The Mirage 2000 of IAF, when they were modified to release laser guided bombs (LGBs) at safe distance from the enemy shoulder fired SAMs, were able to destroy the enemy positions on hill tops with relative ease. The skills required and learned on the job to release LGBs at higher distance by the IAF, needs to be appreciated. However, the Kargil war was a peculiar conflict. The enemy had occupied Indian side of the hills. There was no Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Had they intruded inside Indian Territory, the war would have spiraled into a full scale war, with Indian forces given free hand to strike deep inside Pakistan.

So, the mountain strike corps essentially has to create its “strike” component using air assets or air-borne or air-droppable assets. Predominantly it has to accomplish the protected movement of firepower deep inside enemy through the air route, bypassing the prepared hill top positions of the enemy troops. This requires a comprehensive air-mobile capability. The USA can operate air assault divisions with a comprehensive set of equipment and aircraft dedicated for achieving protected mobility of firepower which unleashes deep inside enemy the destructive power.

Indian mountain strike corps per-se need to have strong hopping capability – the helicopter definitely is one option. However, it requires local air superiority to be achieved and an ability to escape enemy’s SAMs and anti-air artillery. Given the constraints and the need, the Mountain strike corps is predominantly infantry, 80,000 new troops indicate anyway to the thinking. These troops need to be backed up by heavy helicopter support, attack helicopters, alternative mountain mobility options, supported by unmanned aerial vehicles and potentially unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UAV/UCAV). The para-commandoes and dedicated aircraft for para dropping need to be included in the orbat of the MSC.

With the induction of C-17 globemaster strategic airlift aircraft and C-130 transport aircraft, IAF will have a capability to lift a brigade equivalent across theaters and potentially para-drop inside enemy territory. Combining with dedicated Bramhos 290 km missile regiment, MSC should be able carry considerable firepower.

I propose two key areas of immediate innovation that should be considered for the Mountain Strike Corps – one is to create a new orbat at Mountain Strike Corps Platoons and create an integrated logistics support system (ILSS) for the MSC.

Ground level orbat of a mountain strike corps platoon

I have been proposing a relook at our infantry at the company or platoon level since 1998. The proposal below was proposed in a conference held at DRDO named Battle Scene in 2020. The proposed platoon level change (a platoon is part of a company and has 30+ troops – composed of 3 sections of 10 soldiers each- typically a homogeneous orbat). The section of 10 soldiers is the basic fighting unit of infantry. The proposal was to change the orbat of platoons into three heterogeneous sections. The rationale behind it is given below.

The small, independent, information warfare capable units should be linked together through a series of multi-purpose, redundant, reliable, fault tolerant and intelligent communications links, Command and control (C2) nodes, logistics support links and Space and Electronic Warfare (SEW) links. These links should be secured and should pervade over whole battle space, where the battle space is defined as the whole extent of enemy forces including theater combat forces, strategic links, logistics dumps and command centers. Therefore the capabilities needed for are not only to observe our own space and terrain, but also the space and terrain of the potential enemies with an aim to rapidly move a large number of our highly mobile units capable of  information combat and physical destruction of the enemy. These units will be called PICK (Platoons Information Combat and Killer) platoons. The PICK will be organized into three sections – Arms Section, Information Warfare section and C4ISR section. The organization of proposed PICKs is given below.

Mountain corps table

Integrated Logistics Support System (ILSS)

Any organization that continues to operate with a logistics system designed for one environment, but operating in another, is bound to incur economic inefficiencies and operational ineffectiveness. Most of today’s military organizations face just such a situation. The Future warfare will have two fundamental impacts upon logistics system. Firstly, mobility of field forces has been a keystone. But mobility is greatly limited to the extent that the logistics system constrains it, particularly with the requirement of co-location. Mobile forces require flexible logistics systems. Secondly, the monetary value of field equipment, resulting from the introduction of electronics and advanced weaponry has risen rapidly. Overstocking rifles and ammunition may not have been relatively expensive, but overstocking electronic direction finding equipment is. Hence, two prime requisites of future logistics support are that it must enhance rather than detract from mobility and it must be accurate in its knowledge of what material is where.

The complexity of modern day support suggests that the needs of the user will be best served by an integration of the functional specialists within a single support organization that has direct access to the most vital logistic information. This indicates that the creation of an ILSS could provide visibility of assets including: quantity, condition, authorized stock levels, location and items in transit. An ILSS specialist, provided with a single command structure, should be able, upon direction, to redistribute assets anywhere within his command on a priority basis within a very short time frame.


The doctrinal shift of Indian Army – forced or designed – to create a Mountain Strike Corps is a welcome shift. The connotation of strike corps in Indian Army psyche is based on armored based force – Tanks are the key icon of the army’s morale and their choice of the strike deep inside enemy. In the mountains however, tanks are not only ineffective but they create constraints for the infantry as well. The strike in mountains requires a rethink. The rethink needs innovation at the doctrine, organization, technology and strategy (DOTS) level.

The better proposition would be an integration of multiple capabilities to achieve the function and mission. Here whatever the mountain strike corps needs to accomplish should be thought through synergistic structure based on information, combat and integration of logistics. A true integrated C5ISR system is needed. We have proposed two key organizational shifts – a concept of a platoon – termed PICK (platoon Information combat and killer) and creating a dedicated integrated logistics support system (ILSS).

Needless to say, the mountain strike based on current strike corps of Indian army is an oxymoron. Innovation in the DOTS will make the Mountain Strike Corps a truly valuable construct that increases the deterrence value of Indian Army to any future Chinese adventure – planned or unplanned.

Post By Navneet Bhushan (2 Posts)

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