While the concept of Indo-Pacific is marked within the dimension of maritime security in geopolitical arena the bilateral military exercise, called—Yudh Abhays– of the land forces of both countries broaden the concept and mark it indeed significant for Indo- U.S. security pact in the region.
With the armies of India and U.S. locked together for large scale tactical military exercise, shapes the operational capabilities in its reality.
The 2021 Yudh Abhyas (War Practice) will see the Indian army fielding troops from the 11th Battalion of Jammu and Kashmir Rifles. The United States army will be represented by 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Regiment of 1-2 Stryker. Both India and US Armies took part in the company level elements on the ground called– field training exercise (FTX), exercise which is a combined, fundamental war-fighting skills to enhance combined operational capacity.
It the brigade level force compatibility and critical interoperability that matters here. “How that leads into supporting our overall strategy in the whole,” says COL Jared D. Bordwell, Brigade Combat Team, Commander of 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, US Army. “Now our focus at the brigade level is on two things– 1: continue to build and foster the relationship we have with the Indian army, and at the brigade level, focus on how do we built that interoperability with the long time partner, and a partner that we truly want to strengthen our bonds, going into the future. So that is our focus during the Yudh Abhyas 2021. We want to make sure that we really understand and to really learn from the Indian army as well as teach them at the same time,” Col Jared sets up the ever largest bilateral exercise with India when Indian Army is battling at two fronts–Northern border with China and along the western Himalayas range with Pakistan led ceasefire violation and constant skirmishes.
Col Jared D. Bordwell, Commander of Stryker Brigade Combat Team, U.S army(Left)
In a published report by The Department of Defense (DoD), U.S. which is based upon the Pentagon’s Findings, assessed that the China’s PLA was slowly and unevenly adapting to the trends in modern warfare. The PLA’s force structure and capabilities focused largely on waging large-scale land warfare along China’s borders. How that echoes true is the ongoing Chinese aggressive tactics at LAC in Ladakh which took India by surprise.
But it also marked the change of historical perspective of India defence postures which was hitherto led by unrealistic and utopian doctrinal theme that halts Indian military’s futuristic assessment. On the night of 29 August, Indian Army carried out a pre-emptive strike on LAC and outsmarted Chinese troops in a race to occupy a dominating height on the southern bank of Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh. How vital is turned out to be is the evident during the negotiation with Chinese military commander that took place closer to that post under the Indian Flag. While the withdrawal of troops is underway from both sides, the lesson is learnt.
How the bilateral military exercise enables the both armies to adapt to such new reality? Again, the U.S. security doctrinal roadmap has come out very swiftly that address the China’s stance clearly. First time, The US National Defence Authorisation Act 2020 laid out a clear roadmap for leveraging the Indo-Pacific to counter Chinese expansionist moves by developing ‘three long-term competitive strategies’. For the fiscal year 2021, Pentagon has sanctioned $3.58 billion for the Indo-Pacific Reassurance Initiative. Ongoing Yudh Abhyas assures the alignment of U.S. Army in the region with Indian Army strengthen and maintain bilateral and multilateral military exercises and training with United States allies and partner countries.
Col Jared highlights the importance: “…how do we foster and continue to build relationships and for me as a brigade commander, that is where my focus is. And when it comes to the holistic approach, I can only speak about the relationships and training objectives that we have for the Yudh Abhyas 2021, across the board, from my perspective as a commander, we have fulfilled those objectives, which is focused on interoperability; focused on continue building our relationship and friendship as well as grow and understand within INDOPACOM– U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.”
The tactical and limited warfare in the Yudh Abhyas 2021
In the nutshell, it is about the capability gaps and enhancement that plays an important role. U.S. Army is the best equipped armies in the world with its expeditionary march across the world. The US’ armed forces role in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere make it a battle hardened army. While Indian Army with its impeccable record of tactical supremacy is largely based on the wars fought across the border and on counter insurgency operation within the sovereign boundary.
So when together in the battle field what is the tactical learning? Col Jared has been in action in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of frontier infantry combat team of U.S. army.
India and US armies -tactical strike together- 2021( credit-IA)
“Yes, so I think at the brigade level and at the battalion level, we have the great opportunity to take the experience of what we see over the last 20 years or so from Afghanistan, Iraq and from the counter- insurgency fights and also leverage the experience that the Indian army not only has within its border but also from their extensive work on the UN side of the house, and that is something that we don’t do very much of in the US army and for UN missions. So, it gives us a great perspective on how do you do both. We learned probably more from the Indian army in terms of how do they operate in both environments,” he said, referring to the role of Indian army in UN peacekeeping mission across the world.
The joint exercise is about the reality check on the fast changing rules of warfare across the spectrum. When asked how India army works with the modern and smart equipment, and the challenges for the Indian army when it comes to modern warfare and limited warfare from your perspective, Col Jared talks about the strength of Indian Army.
“I look at the US army as very technologically advanced but the balance we have to find is how do we make sure our soldiers understand the fundamentals of their job and their profession, and I think the Indian army is providing us with an opportunity to not only see a very professional organization with the JAK Rifles(11th battalion, Jammu and Kashmir Rifles) but also how technology can be complimentary to the fundamental capability within the soldiers.”
Col Jared further points out: “Like today [it] was a show of the capability of Indian Army and the Air Force. It was a great opportunity for us to appreciate not only the techniques and tactics that they have but also how they are a capable force that is modernizing.”
The US has already sold India some $18 billion worth of weaponry over the past decade. In 2016, the US recognised India as a Major Defence Partner (MDP) to liberalise transfers of arms and technologies to it. The US also conducts more military exercises with India than with any other country. The passing of US Senate’s National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) that confers on India a potential partner for advanced weaponry and sensitive technologies. Recent India and US Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA) deal on 27 October, 2020 is termed as another breakthrough in the area of Network Centric Warfare. These are Information Sharing, Improved Situation Awareness, Speed of Command and Enhanced Mission Effectiveness. This is characterised by the aspects of Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition. It further add to the ISR dimension of The Indian Army towards the process of digitization.
Based on such key foundational agreement with US, how far the Indo –US Yudh Abhyas 2021 has seen such assimilation of advance technology being brought into the realm of bilateral exercise? “So in Yudh Abhyas, we did bring our smaller tactical the UAVs and it is the commercial off the shelf that we use and it did expose the Indian army not only officers but leaders to some of the capabilities but these capabilities are fundamental and enable a capable force, that is one thing we have offered them that we use on a daily basis, Col Jared talks about that the changing contours of warfare. It is important for Indian Army as they continue to modernize their force and use modern technology that is something they are interested in Col Jared adds on to that.
This aspect of warfare calls for greater scrutiny within the Indian Army and so the adaption of such new reality in such large scale military exercise like Yudh Abhyas. It is too visible in the limited warfare that we understand, is the present and future of conflict. That we have seen the game changing role of Drones in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Drone strikes were a total dominant sight, hitting upon Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh soldiers and destroying tanks, artillery and air defense systems. Whether that was decisive or not, it certainly provided a huge advantage for Azerbaijan in the 44-day war and provided the clearest evidence yet of how battlefields are being transformed by unmanned attack drones and what is required now to address the combat capability of Indian Army. Though Indian army came up with the combat swarms drones at the Army Day Parade in January, it is more or less confined to army’s surveillance activity.
Chinook- Yudh Abhyas 2021 9 Credit-IA
Yudh Abhyas also witnessed the capability of Apache helicopters and Chinook CH-47F. India acquired 15 Chinook, a multi-role, vertical-lift platform, which is used for the transport of troops, artillery, equipment and fuel, is inducted in Indian Air Force. The Chinooks will have the capability to airlift the M777 lightweight howitzers that the Indian Army acquired. Exercise demonstrated that artillery guns can be taken from one position to another using the helicopter, even if it is inhospitable terrain.
India and the U.S. have signed $930 million agreement for 6 Apache Helicopters for Indian Army. The contract was made in the year 2015 by the Indian Air Force for 22 Apache helicopters. Out of 22 helicopters, 17 have already been delivered to India and the rest will be delivered in the year 2023. The Apache helicopters have advanced digital connectivity, joint tactical information distribution system, more powerful T700-GE-701D engines with upgraded face gear transmission to accommodate more power, the capability to control unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and new composite main rotor blade.
On the other side, Indian army fielded Russian origin armored combat tracked vehicle BMP2 and the Russian tanks–T 90 . How the compatibility works when compared to U.S. platforms? It is the ultimate dimension of interoperability of such exercise mission.
When asked on the efficacy of such compatibility when one compared the equipment used by US Army at home or across the world, Col Jared explains that it works well in India under the complex terrain.
Stryker (photo credit-US army press)
“Looking at their equipment both their tracked vehicles and compared to our Stryker vehicles, theirs is the vehicle that is more applicable to the terrain here but they give us a great appreciation for not only of the complexity of the terrain here but also why they use their BMP and T90,” he points out the workable mechanism while navigating through the complexity of Indian military platform of largely Russian origin.
That is the most noticeable aspect of Indo-U.S. military exercise which is about understanding the status quo of Indian Army and its war-fighting platforms which is mostly of Russian origin–65% of the existing military equipment of Indian Army. The geopolitical rivalries must not play its part in the greater Indo-U.S.bilateral relations as it reflects time to time, for example, the looming threat of CAATSA –Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions — law that restricts defence purchases from Russia, Iran and North Korea. India signed USD 5.43 billion agreement with Russia to procure five S-400 systems in New Delhi on October 2018.
“So, I think [it is ] a great lesson learnt for both of our armies to put our vehicles side by side and look at the strengths and weakness of both,” remarks Col Jared D. Bordwell, that will be the strength of Indo-US military cooperation in a time to come.