To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace— George Washington
India and China topped the list of the potential inter-state conflicts in the annual threat assessment of US intelligence community published on March 8th. The 2nd potential inter-state conflict in the list involved India and Pakistan. Gist is—India should be ready to thwart any aggression by it’s nuclear belligerent neighbours. Indian Defence Forces have been carrying out military exercises aimed at practicing battle preparedness using latest equipment and weapons in a networked and integrated environment. Military exercises Jal-Vayu prahar in December and Vayu-Prahar in March, stand out for the scale, risk involved and never-before attempted wargaming. These are one-of-a-kind exercises which have been attempted for the first time in North-East India.
Jal Vayu Prahar (Dec 2022)
Soldiers carry out risky parachute-insertions on water during Jal Vayu Prahar
Imagine falling into water, releasing yourself from your chute just a few meters above water wearing a life jacket while carrying an assault rifle, rucksack, and ammunition. Such combat free fall jump is arduous to carry out as it requires ample training, and ergo this is done sporadically.
The parachute is the risk factor in such jumps; a person can get entangled in the wires as he falls into the water, therefore he must get rid of the chute and hit the surface of water while maintaining a safe distance from the wet chute. During such parachute insertions, commandos must also rigg the equipment for easy recovery after releasing it and then for getting it into an inflatable boat. Yes, it’s tough!
Indian special forces are aware of the fact that they do not have the luxury to jump in clear and on an open ground (also called a dropping zone, DZ) if they are given the task to penetrate behind the enemy lines. Therefore, they would have to utilize unusual DZs, including water bodies like lakes, to avoid coming on the crosshairs of the enemy.
During Jal Vayu Prahar, Indian commandos honed their specialist skills in a man-made lake in the Northeast. In December last year, Special Force commandos of Indian Army along with Garud commandos of Indian Airforce carried out a very risky and skilled para-insertion called wet jump, in Bada Pani (Umiam lake), Meghalaya. Commandos specialized in Jungle warfare jumped from C-130J Super Hercules and Antonov AN-32, alongside the Garuds.
Jal Vayu Prahar
The Jal-Vayu Prahar exercise has been extremely successful in achieving myriads of milestones for Indian Commandos. Wet jumps are common for MARCOs (marine commandos) but not for the Garuds and Para SF. However, with the ever-increasing animosity between India and China, practicing jumps in out-of-box dropping zones has become a necessity.
Jal Vayu prahar exercise tested the tenacity and skill sets of both the commandos and pilots who dropped them at DZ. This exercise was a major success as it gave a morale boost to the soldiers.
Vayu Prahar (March 2023)
Joint Army – Airforce intra-theatre air mobility operations rehearsed during Vayu-Prahar
Amidst readying themselves for integrated theatre commands and efforts to institutionalise tactical-level jointness between Indian defence forces, Indian Army and the Airforce jointly conducted a multi domain air-land Exercise called the Vayu Prahar in the North East. The exercise was held in the eastern theatre to validate joint plans and prosecute synergised multi-domain operations. Multi domain might sound like a misnomer as the exercise was not restricted to just land and air but also cyber, space and in the electromagnetic spectrum.
Wargaming included occupying a Key Terrain Feature (KTF). An Antonov AN-32 was used for rapid mobilisation of soldiers of a Rapid Reaction Force from the hinterland to an Advance Landing Ground (ALG) in the Eastern theatre. Whilst the commandos “penetrated” the area designated as enemy territory, hours before the infantry landed at the ALG. The air-landed force further executed contingency tasks as per a realistic exercise scenario in challenging high-altitude terrain conditions.
ALG is a single landing strip for an aircraft, which is operated by Indian military. Indian Army’s Eastern Command was ostensibly looking at intra-Theatre air mobility to prosecute synergised multiple-domain operations. Vayu Prahar exercise was successful in achieving that!
This exercise is reminiscent of an operation at Black Top (Eastern Ladakh) in Aug 2020, when Indian Special Force commandos occupied a Key ridge line, after which Indian and Chinese soldiers came within firing range of each other.
Whilst Vayu Prahar exercise had the involvement of both the infantry and Special forces, the Jal Vayu Prahar exercise saw the participation of only the commandos.
The US intelligence community’s annual threat assessment released on March 8th, says “While India and China have engaged in bilateral border talks and resolved border points, relations will remain strained in the wake of the countries’ lethal clash in 2020, the most serious in decades. The expanded military postures by both India and China along the disputed border elevate the risk of armed confrontation between two nuclear powers that might involve direct threats to U.S. persons and interests and calls for U.S. intervention. Previous standoffs have demonstrated that persistent low-level friction on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has the potential to escalate swiftly”.
Last year on Dec 9th, PLA (People’s Liberation Army) soldiers crossed the proverbial red line again, this time in Tawang sector, Arunachal. Indian Army was well prepared to cudgel the 300 Chinese soldiers so PLA’s attempt was watered down pronto. This incident came after a gamut of low-level frictions in last 5 years, from Doklam to Galwan, along the LAC.
After the Tawang incident, Indian Airforce scrambled its Rafale fighter while the Chinese PLA held a series of live-fire war drills near the Indian border. According to images released by China’s state media, the PLA launched a barrage of long-range rocket artillery. The drills were held at an elevation of 15000 feet in the Zangnan area, as Arunachal is called by the Chinese. According to official reports, annual training exercises by PLA have increased in their depth areas. Reserve formations mobilised in 2020 still remain in training areas in the depth.
It’s a well-known fact that Chinese have fair amount of presence along the LAC. During Vayu Prahar exercise soldiers practised mobilising from far off land (hinterland), so that when the time’s right they can undertake offensive operations across LAC or undertake defensive measures to deny the same to Chinese. Both Jal Vayu Prahar and Vayu Prahar witnessed Indian soldiers putting their newly acquired modern weapon systems to good use. One of the biggest achievements of these exercises was building capabilities required for seamless execution of operations. The joint exercises provided valuable lessons and opportunity to the Indian Army and Airforce to rehearse and prepare in tandem. According to reports, since last 2 years the focus of PLA’s exercises was also on integrated operations.
A few years ago, Chinese PLA had leaked a video of their exercise, a boisterous attempt at information warfare, where their soldiers were ostensibly carrying out a daring para jump over tree-lines. The degree of success of that exercise is not known to this day. Au contraire Indian soldiers have been acing exceptionally difficult exercises with ease and are transparent about it. Surge in morale of the soldiers is one of intangibles (immeasurable successes) of such exercises– the officer who was part of the exercise says. The avant-garde approach to wargaming by Indian Forces will put India’s enemies on tenterhooks.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”—Sun Tzu