Interview with Indian geopolitical analyst Debasis Dash: „India’s foreign policy is still very much independent“

von Ralf Ostner

Global Review had the pleasure to have an interview with Mr. Debasis Dash, an Indian geopolitical analyst. At present, he is a Graduate Student (Strategic and Defense Studies) at the University of Malaysia, based in Kuala Lumpur. He is working on a research paper on India’s Strategic Partnership for Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS), Mumbai. His last assignment was with the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS). His research assignment at CLAWS involved working on the concept of using “Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence as Future Ingredient of Area Denial Strategy in the Indian Army”.

United Services Institute (USI), the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) are the three most premier defense and security think tanks in India. IDSA is funded by Ministry of Defense and CLAWS is under the administrative control of the Indian Army.)

We are very glad to hear the Indian point of view, as in Europe we have limited opportunity to have interviews with Asian and Indian specialists and experts. Global Review wants to give the Asians and the Indians a voice in the Western world and are happy that our interview partners were willing to give us detailed and basic information. Here is the interview with Mr. Debasis Dash.


Global Review: Mr. Dash, you are an expert in land warfare. Regarding the land warfare, India faces China and Pakistan as possible and potential adversaries. As India, China and Pakistan are nuclear powers, how likely is a land war between them? Is a land war between these countries under the threshold of a nuclear war likely or even in form of a limited nuclear war? As China has only mountainous border areas with India: Would a Sino-Indian war be very limited? And what about Pakistan?

Debasis Dash: This kind of question has often been brought to the table for debate and also has been part of deliberation in strategic circles in India. The situation of a limited war does exist with these countries; however, the nature of that war will be different in case with China and Pakistan. While latter may choose to retaliate using Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) such as Nasr (range 60 Km), the former has more restrained policy of “No First Use” regarding use of nuclear weapons in a limited war scenario. Also, the lines of communication at political, diplomatic and military level between the two countries have attained a level of maturity, while in case of Pakistan, it’s their military that calls the shots.

Unlike China, Pakistan intends and often reiterates to use its tactical missiles as an offset against India’s conventional military capabilities. The origin of such a debate in their case has been the “Cold Start Doctrine” of Indian Army, even though India is silent on existence of any such plan. India had its first nuclear doctrine of “No First Use” in 2003, in which it took a stand of “No First Use and also stated to initiate “Massive Retaliation” after being attacked by an adversary. There have been events such as “1999 Kargil War, and “2002 Operation Parakram” where India chose to use its conventional military capabilities instead of threatening to use nuclear weapons to retaliate. So, basically the presence of Nuclear Weapons, ensures credible minimum deterrence instead of initiating a real nuclear war.

In case of China, the war will be of limited nature, given the terrain in which it will take place, whether it’s in Tibetan Plateau or the mountainous terrain along its eastern sector. Since 1962, on two occasions i.e. in 1967 (Nathu La and Cho La incident) and in 1987 (Sumdorong Chu incident) last shots were fired. While military establishment will keep track of every possible incursion by PLA troops, there are enough mechanisms between two countries to avert any possible military confrontation. This was further evident from the recent stand-off at Doklam which continued for 70 days since June 20, 2017.

Global Review: In Europe, NATO had Air-land battle, in Asia the USA relies on Air-sea-battle or Offshore Control. Does India have similar integrated war concepts and if yes: Has the Indian land war concept similarities and differences to NATO´s Air land battle? What are its main elements?

Debasis Dash: When we talk about the concept of integration in military, we must understand that it refers to the jointness at three levels viz. Strategic, Operational and Tactical. So, any evaluation regarding the concept must be done accordingly. In case of Indian armed forces, the concept is yet to be fully implemented at the strategic level, even though there are instances of close cooperation along operational and tactical level. We have one tri service command i.e Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) which have units from Army, Navy and Airforce working together. However, if seen through bigger picture, we work in silos. The Joint Armed Forces Doctrine 2017 released this year talks of achieving the concept of jointness at the earliest. But the true jointness will only be achieved with the appointment of a permanent Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

The operating environment of Indian military and that of the U.S and NATO forces are different. The former is a national force with most deployments within country’s borders, having the U.N deployments as the only way of transnational assignments. Whereas the latter are transnational forces having fought war in Iraq, Africa and Afghanistan. Also, the concept of anti-access and area denial stills finds a place in U.S armed forces discussions and papers, as they witness the rise of China in Asia-Pacific theatre. Hence the concept such as Air Sea Battle Concept finds its place.

In 2010, the Ministry of Defence of India had released a document titled “Doctrine on Air Land Operations” whose contents are classified. It was meant to ensure better coordination between Army and Airforce, both having assets with overlapping functionalities. For example, Indian army has Air Defence Control and Reporting System (ADCRS) which its shares with Airforce for Air Defence operations.

Global Review: Does India perceive itself more as a land power or does it want to become a sea power? As China is building a continental and maritime Silkroad (One Belt, One Road) is such a distinction useful or has India to do both: to counter China at land and at sea?

Debasis Dash: With around 7,500 Km coastline, exclusive zone and trade routes and around 15,000 Km of land borders out of which its shares around 6,000 km (3,488 Km with China and 2,916 Km with Pakistan) with hostile neighbours, the task of national security is equally divided between Army and Navy. Also, the responsibility to secure national aerospace rests with Airforce. So, you can’t say it can be a land power or sea power. But in terms of human resource Indian Army is the largest military force.

Global Review: India is celebrating its 70th anniversary of independence. In the beginning, it supported the Non-Alligment Movement then had close relations with the Soviet Union and after the end of the Cold war its relations with the USA are getting closer and closer. Some experts even claim that India is already part of an anti-Chinese US coalition together with Japan, Australia and South Korea. Is this reality or could this become reality? Are there any integrated war concepts between the USA and India?

Debasis Dash:  India’s foreign policy, is still very much independent, as it understands the dynamics of power politics and military alliances. So, I don’t think it will become U.S centric or pander to any military alliance. Because while having differences with China, we do have substantial cooperation with them on platforms like BRICS, SCO, BCIM corridor etc. You can’t get rid of your neighbours, so its always better to keep the window of cooperation open, while maintaining guard

Global Review: You wrote a publication about artificial intelligence and its impact on land warfare and strategy. Could you summarize the main thesis of your publication?

Debasis Dash: The objective of my research was to provide the concept of using the powerful algorithms of artificial intelligence and weapon platforms such as UAVs, UGVs with varied degree of autonomy in implementing the area denial strategy of the Indian Army. It involves automating the command control and communication system, creating a cloud based infrastructure, database and integrating legacy systems with the new acquisitions.

Global Review: China as other countries are preparing for the digitalization of warfare. Artificial intelligence and learning logarithms will be part of this digitalization process. How will they change modern warfare and strategies?

Debasis Dash:  The core to design and implement any strategy is having the right, relevant and real-time information without which you cannot mobilize your military force. This is where AI will bring difference. Also, there has been instances of data analysis methods being used to explore patterns in the historical database consisting of images, videos, texts and audios to carve a strategy. For example, analysing the contents of logbooks maintained at battalions to identify the patterns of cross border infiltrations.

Global Review: Has the Indian army a cybercommand and a space command for cyberwarfare and space warfare. Is there any integrated command and concept for all military forces?

Debasis Dash:  Not Yet.

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