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A new Doctrine for the Indian Armed Forces

Top commanders of the Armed Forces and the civilian government discussed the concept of a new doctrine at length during the six-day armed forces commanders’ conference held in New Delhi in the month of April 2017. The previous joint doctrine, which was released in 2006, was based on the successful joint operation made during the Kargil War against Pakistan in 1999.

Major objectives of the new doctrine

The objectives of the joint doctrine are as follows:

  • Outlining the national security to tackle “external and internal threats”
  • How to tackle “traditional and non-traditional threats.”
  • Drawing up India’s roadmap to counter cyber war in the next decade

General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Army Staff, stressed the need to work in a collaborative manner for maintaining combat effectiveness of the Army in his closing remarks of the commanders’ conference on April 22. He expressed confidence at the way the Army has been adapting itself to the dynamic internal and external operational environment. He said, “There is a need for sustained and holistic modernization of the Army wherein combat and maneuver of arms, Air Defense and Aviation are a high priority.” Given the limited resources, joint military doctrine will help the government to use defense fund in an effective manner not to hamper modernization. Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, the Chief of Air Staff, and Admiral Sunil Lanba, the Chief of Naval Staff, had also addressed the conference emphasizing the need to create a joint operational philosophy.

India’s latest Joint Armed Forces Doctrine was made public in the third week of April 2017. The document offers insight into the principles that guide the Indian military’s approach to warfighting. Released by Admiral Sunil Lanba, the chairman of the Indian chiefs of staff committee, the document focuses on India’s conception of its national security and its strategy for managing threats across the “full spectrum of military conflict.” In this sense, the document addresses the principles guiding the Indian military’s approach to everything from nuclear war to internal security and counter-insurgency.


Following are the highlights of the new Joint Armed Forces Doctrine:

Surgical Strikes

The doctrine has first time mentioned use of ‘surgical strikes’ as a method to strike the terrorist outfits, which attack the Indian people and establishment. This is supposed to be a clear signal, especially to the terrorist outfits supported by state and non-state players in Pakistan that India would although remain controlled in war mongering, it will not spare those who have nefarious designs against India. Although India reportedly carried out surgical strikes in the past, it is first time that Joint Armed Forces Doctrine has explicitly mentioned it as a method to respond against terror threats.

Nuclear Strategy

First time India dropped the dictum or principle of “credible minimum deterrence” (CMD) with regard to development and use of nuclear power for “credible deterrence” (CD) instead. It is break from the past as CMD had been a mainstay in India’s nuclear strategy since the release of its draft nuclear doctrine in 1999. It is again an indication of India’s hardened stance on it defense strategy  which would not rely only on negotiated solutions to the issues, but also use coercive diplomacy including punitive destruction, disruption and constraint in a nuclear environment across the Spectrum of Conflict. Disruption is defined as “a lower form of armed conflict designed to shatter the cohesion of an adversary’s military force to prevent it from functioning effectively in combat. However, the document does emphasize that “no first use” remains a “defining” feature for India’s own nuclear C2 (the command and control (C2) systems), thereby upholding an important cornerstone of Indian doctrine since 1999.

Enhancing Sphere of influence by international defense cooperation

The document calls for “complete and effective inter-operability” with “countries, big and small.” The document articulates India’s aspirations as a regional power and also India’s concerns with regard to the Indian diaspora overseas as well as international issues of larger concerns. India would now seek ever-closer logistics, communications, and intelligence collaboration with countries ranging from the United States, Japan, and Australia to smaller powers in Southeast Asia. Moreover, echoing the 2015 maritime security strategy, the joint doctrine emphasizes the salience of the Indian “diaspora” to the country’s national security strategy, “especially in the Middle East / North African regions, which are home to millions of Indians, remain central to our external security paradigm.”

Separation of nuclear power for military and civilian purposes

The document throws light on how India separates the control of its nuclear weapons between military and civilian authorities.

Vision about future conflicts

The document has given detail on how the Indian armed forces envision future conflicts. In view of the flux which geopolitics is at present passing through, the document foresees “unrestricted, unpredictable, and hybrid” conflicts in future which would require both civil-military engagements.

 In the final assessment the latest Joint Armed Forces Doctrine reflects India’s aspirations to play a greater role in international peace and conflict resolution, but at the same time it also reflects that although India will slowly drift to hard stances where its own security would be involved and respond with punitive measures and weapons of deterrence with enemies, it would remain a responsible power without desire for military expansionism.

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