Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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India’s ‘Cold Start’ Warfighting Doctrine Courts the Risk of a Nuclear War with Pakistan

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(Photo : Indian Army) Russian-made Indian Army T-90S tanks on parade.

The Indian Armed Forces' "Cold Start" warfighting doctrine makes a nuclear war against Pakistan all but certain and is arousing fierce debate in government and military circles.

The controversial Cold Start Doctrine prepares the Indian Armed Forces for a short, intense and "blitzkrieg" war against Pakistan. It posits the rapid mobilization of the Indian Army's armored regiments and infantry divisions, and is based on the questionable assumption a rapid seizure of Pakistani territory across the Line of Control by massive armored attacks will deter Pakistan from launching nuclear counter strikes in retaliation.

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This strategy will allow the far larger Indian Army to annihilate the Pakistan Army in a series of massive conventional battles.

The Indian government and military are united in publicly stating Cold Start doesn't exist, but the ongoing rearmament of the Indian Armed Forces and current military exercises by the Indian Army seem to indicate otherwise.

India claims that what it does have is what it calls a "Pro-Active Conventional War Strategy," which some observers insist is Cold Start by another name.

"(The) essential risk (of the Cold Start doctrine) is that of triggering a nuclear exchange," said Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier general who is now a defense analyst.

Other military analysts labeled Cold Start as a destabilizing doctrine by its very nature since it unrealistically assumes India can invade Pakistan without triggering a nuclear war.

The Cold Start Doctrine essentially prepares for the next war against Pakistan, which will emerge on short notice; will be of short duration and will be fought at high tempo and intensity.

"The doctrine would mean combined operations by air, land and sea forces, which will require greater coordination," said Nitin Mehta, an Indian defense analyst.

If Cold Start does become doctrine, it means India will have to acquire specialized weapons and equipment to realize its goals of a blitzkrieg campaign. India already has the nuclear bombs and missiles needed to fight a nuclear war.

India on Dec. 26 conducted a fourth successful test of its Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a road mobile, canister-launched weapon capable of delivering its payload of nuclear MIRVs (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) to targets anywhere in China and Pakistan.

Indian military analysts believe Cold Start's emphasis on a blitzkrieg will mean the Indian Army will have to fight a network-centric warfare for which it is neither equipped nor trained.

The army will also need more armored vehicles (tanks, armored personnel carriers and self-propelled guns), and will also have to upgrade its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities along the LoC.

In all, these changes will require massive investments of money, resources, personnel and time.

Newly-appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Bipin Rawat early this year said the Indian Army is prepared to simultaneously fight a two-front war against Pakistan and China, a statement that left some Indian military observers shaking their heads in incredulity.

"As far as armed forces are concerned, we are tasked to be prepared for a two-front war and I think we are capable of carrying out our task in whatever manner that we may be asked to do by the political hierarchy," said Gen. Rawat.

"We want peace at borders because civilians lose the most."

Gen. Rawat said while India and its army want to maintain peace and tranquility at the borders with china and Pakistan, it will not "shy away" from using its power "in any form."

Despite its controversial premises, the Cold Start doctrine will be considered by the armed forces.

An anonymous senior Army officer told Indian media Cold Start "will be discussed in the near future between the top military leadership as part of a new war doctrine."

The Indian government, however, has issued no comments on Cold Start, or even acknowledges it exists.

Whether it exists or not won't matter since discussions about Cold Start will inflame military tensions with China and Pakistan. One analyst even claimed Cold Start will be given a different name such as preemptive defense to make it appear less threatening to China and Pakistan.

But there is the chance Narendra Modi's government will adopt Cold Start for the simple reason it has nothing else to consider.

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