Army to set up more than dozen integrated battle groups by 2020

Krishn Kaushik

A top source said the Mountain Strike Corps "has become too huge, a bit of an elephant" and will be "divided into five to six IBGs". (Express file photo by PRAVEEN KHANNA/Representational)

Preparing for the changing character of warfare across the world, the Indian Army will be ready with more than a dozen Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs) by next year. Senior sources in the defence establishment told The Indian Express that four each of the IBGs will come up facing China and Pakistan, while the Mountain Strike Corps will also be converted into IBGs.

A top source said the Mountain Strike Corps "has become too huge, a bit of an elephant" and will be "divided into five to six IBGs".

IBGs were first proposed in one of the four studies regarding the reorganising of the Army, which was commissioned last year by Army chief General Bipin Rawat. The proposal to establish the IBGs has already gone to the government and the Army is waiting for approval, the source said.


Significant changes to streamline Army

As General Bipin Rawat is set to retire this month, he is one of the top contenders to become India’s first CDS. In his three-year term as Army Chief, Rawat has initiated major changes in the Army that will see fruition. Trimming the flab at the Army Headquarters for more streamlined decision-making is one. But the other significant change is the formation of the IBGs, which will be quicker, flexible and self-sustainable combat units as the Army readies itself for future warfare.

According to the source, the unit "has to be terrain specific", and moving ahead, the Army cannot have a one-size-fits-all formula. "Difference in formations should depend on the terrain," the source said, adding that the Army has to go ahead "with smaller forces, this is what we are calling the IBGs".

It will also include a signal company, a field company and engineering and ordnance will be "merged to become the logistics unit". Each formation has to be given equipment depending upon what they are, the source said.

"Think of them as oversized brigades," the source explained.

There will be four IBGs in Sikkim and another four in the Jammu-Sialkot sector facing Pakistan. The IBGs will have the capacity to 10-15 km deep into enemy territory without requiring support.

The source said in modern warfare, attacking a significant city can lead to a severe-counter attack, leading to a pyrrhic victory. The source said that "either you can go deep into the enemy's territory" or "you can capture a similar territory linearly along the border".

"Rather than going deeper, to capture the same territory linearly" the forces may not require Strike Corps and can be done by the IBGs, the source said. "But you do not want to not have the capacity to go deeper," the source said, adding that this was why the Army needs to retain the Strike Corps as well.

The source said that after these initial IBGs are set up, more will come up. The transition to IBGs and to modernise the forces has to happen "gradually" as you cannot have the Army in "turmoil", the source said.

Three new tri-services agencies are also being built up - a Cyber Agency, a Space Agency and an Armed Forces Special Operations Division. These three agencies will have a joint command, the top source said.

The source said the Cyber Agency is looking at a strength of around 1,000, which will include defence and civilian personnel. "It is being raised for the last two years," the source said. "The Navy will lead the Cyber Agency and the personnel are being trained with the National Technical Research Organisation."

The forces are "focusing on creating cyber assets" with both, offensive as well as defensive capability. "You have to save assets and neutralize attacks" first, and then build offensive capacity "as a deterrent".

The source said the "cyber agency should become a national agency". While the military can look after defending assets, the offensive aspect should be handled by a national agency.

The top source also stated that General Rawat, as the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, has conveyed to the government the expectations of the services for the proposed post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The source said the services want an "empowered" CDS who has "direct access or channel of communication to the Defence Minister at least in the matters of operations".

Also, the CDS will be a four-starred officer like the chiefs of the three services, the source said. However, the CDS will be a first among equals. Because the ranks of Field Marshal, or the Marshal of the Air Force are five-starred, the CDS cannot be given five stars, the source said.