India's Cold Start Is Too Hot

By Commander Muhammad Azam Khan, Pakistan Navy (Retired)

Nearly ten months later, Operation Parakram, a massive exercise in coercive diplomacy, had run out of steam; both sides disengaged. India lost face because of its failure to elicit any strategic gains from Pakistan. This was principally because it took more than three weeks for the three Indian strike corps to reach their wartime locations from eastern and central India. 4 During this period, Pakistan was able not only to internationalize the crisis, but also to send a clear message that any attack inside the portion of Kashmir that it controlled would invite a retaliatory strike. 5

Thus for India, the drawn-out arrival time and attendant lack of strategic surprise, inhibiting a rapid punitive strike, was compounded by Pakistan’s quick marshaling of world opinion—all of which pointed to a faulty military strategy. Moreover, the enormous size of the strike corps and concentration in the forward area provided an indication of the general thrust. 6

The U.S. Navy’s Central Role in Stability

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. maritime strategy has played a major role in binding together the international system that U.S. foreign policy has aimed to establish. Meanwhile, American naval power has maintained its country’s status “in the middle of a fluid and troubling strategic environment. The size, shape and strategy of the U.S. Navy are a critical element of America’s position as the world’s great power.” 7 But this appears to be heading for a change.

The “wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have sucked the oxygen out of any serious effort to understand the connection between the large changes that strategic planners see in the future, Americans’ expectations that they will retain their ability to wield global influence, the Navy’s role in maintaining such influence, and the U.S. fleet’s slow evanescence.” 8 A clear illustration of this was the grounding of the USS Port Royal (CG-73) in February 2009, half a mile south of the Honolulu airport. Investigations revealed a sleep-deprived commanding officer and manning shortages, as well as fewer real-life training opportunities. “Reduced budgets, efforts to save money by cutting the size of crews, schemes to take up the slack with shore services and all manner of labor saving devices parallel and reflect the Navy’s increasingly distressed fortunes since the end of the cold war.” 9

Historically, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command has been a dynamic component that ensured stability and security in the Indian Ocean. It still does so. Under the Global Maritime Partnership, it continues to “enhance regional maritime security as well as build capacity of regional maritime forces.” As a consequence, key choke points critical to world trade and economy in an area with extensive shipping lanes and a “very high vessel throughput” has remained secure from traditional and nontraditional threats. 10

On the shores of the North Arabian Sea, nuclear neighbors Pakistan and India have kept the region on high alert. The presence of the U.S. Navy has been the most compelling factor in restraining and cooling frequently exploding tempers. This has ensured stability. The eventual impact of a weakening U.S. Navy may include, but is not limited to, a major shift of power away from American influence in Asia, a debilitating loss of U.S. ability to shape the future strategic environment, and a powerful reinforcement of the perception that the United States is in decline. 11

A shrinking U.S. Navy leading to a reduced presence, along with a weakening ability to project power and provide a steadying presence, will inevitably create a void—which will be filled by the new rising naval power, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy. 12 The strategic environment in the Indian Ocean region may then be altered as never before, to the detriment of U.S. interests.

Through its launch of the nuclear submarine S-2 (the INS Arihant ), India has already militarily nuclearized the region. Because of budgetary constraints and diminishing platform strength, if the U.S. Navy should outsource functions to the Indian Navy, this will have the effect of allowing India to confer upon itself the role of regional policeman. The Pakistan and PLA navies may then forge a new strategic partnership to reshape the area’s maritime environment.

The PLA Navy may deploy more than one carrier by 2015. This will greatly expand China’s ability to project power into the Pacific and Indian oceans. In the latter, it will find no better partner than the Pakistan Navy. What the Indian strategic community continues to call the “encirclement” of India will then become a reality. At that point, not only the North Arabian Sea but the entire Indian Ocean will scream for stability.

Cold Start Fires Up

Since 2004, the Indian military has tirelessly firmed up Cold Start through a series of exercises, including Divya Astra (Divine Weapon) 2004, Vijra Shakti (Thunder Power) 2005, Sang-i-Shakti (Joint Power) 2006, and Ashwamedh (Valor and Intellectual Illumination) 2007. They made extensive use of command, control, communications, and intelligence networks and systems; and of force-multiplying command posts for the integration and flow of real-time information collected through satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles, aerial reconnaissance radar networks, communication intercepts, and digital photographs of enemy areas. All this was transmitted to forward combat units, facilitating speedy decision-making. During the maneuvers, information dominance of the battlefield was practiced using electronic-warfare systems. 13

In stark contrast to the previous Indian strategy, that of Cold Start essentially is to attack first and mobilize later. 14 The idea is to achieve political and military gains in the shortest possible time, thus circumventing Pakistan’s effort to bring into play international diplomatic efforts. Through joint operations of India’s three services, Cold Start uses army strike corps to provide offensive elements for eight or so integrated battle groups (IBGs). These are fully backed by naval-aviation assets assisting IBGs in the south.

Positioned close to Pakistan’s borders, quite a few IBGs can be launched along multiple axes within 72 to 96 hours from the time an attack is ordered. These battle groups provide rapid thrusts at the same time as India’s defenses are still being organized. The IBGs can continue conducting high-speed day/night operations until the intended objectives have been attained. 15 In short, Cold Start envisages quickly moving forces into unpredictable locations and making decisions faster than opponents can plan. 16

Pakistan Prepares to Be Attacked

Among Pakistani military insiders, Cold Start has been under discussion since 2005. But our neighbor’s aggressive strategy surfaced as a major challenge after Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor sounded a warning in January 2010 that “a limited war under the nuclear hangover is still very much a reality.” 17 Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani responded: “Cold Start would permit the Indian Army to attack before mobilizing, increasing the possibility of a sudden spiral escalation.” 18

Be that as it may, Pakistan’s riposte to the Indian Army chief’s incendiary pronouncement came in April 2010 in the form one of the largest field maneuvers the country has ever mustered. Jointly conducted by Pakistan’s army and air force and called Azm-e-Nau 3 (New Resolve), the exercise aimed at developing response options to Cold Start. Between 10 April and 13 May, 20,000-50,000 troops participated. 19 The area involved Pakistan’s eastern border in Sialkot, Cholistan, and the province of Sindh in the south.

The scenario played out as follows: The Foxland army (representing India) suddenly invaded and occupied part of Blueland territory (Pakistan). A Blueland antitank battalion used dispersal tactics based on Pakistan’s real military doctrine to regain territory in an equally swift manner. 20 In the closing stages, live weapon demonstrations and the shoot-down of a drone were also carried out. Still, the reality of Cold Start places a dilemma before Pakistan’s military planners, as far as guessing which of India’s IBGs would be launched.

Kargil Hangover

The Indian Navy’s stated role in Cold Start seemingly remains limited; ostensibly, the navy will provide aviation assets to IBGs in the southern sector only. But to complement the effort on land, and posing a multidimensional problem for Pakistani military planners, the Indian Navy will inevitably take a forward posture, possibly impose a distant blockade of Pakistani ports, and/or move into sea lines emanating from the Red Sea or Far East. The Indian Navy could deploy submarines—which soon will be armed with land-attack supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles—close to the Makran coast to clog Pakistan’s sea traffic.

The western fleet of the Indian Navy routinely conducts annual exercises in February-March in the Arabian Sea, while its eastern fleet carries out yearly maneuvers in July-August in the Bay of Bengal. When the Kargil crisis erupted in 1999, the Indian military’s tri-services exercise (conducted every three years) was due. In the interest of deterrence, its navy decided to shift the venue of the eastern fleet’s maneuvers to the western seaboard. The two fleets later conducted large-scale joint exercises in the North Arabian Sea. The sole Indian carrier was then under refit, so the navy carried out trials using a containership’s deck as a platform for Sea Harrier aircraft.

A flurry of naval activity and the Indian Navy’s threatening posture prompted the Pakistan Navy to go on full alert. Naval assets were deployed to safeguard national maritime interests. Pakistan also began escorting convoys along traditional sea lines, especially on the Persian Gulf route that transports the country’s strategic commodity—oil—indispensable for both the economy and the war effort. The navy also made plans for conducting P3-C strikes on strategic points along India’s eastern seaboard.

Visibly, the contribution of both navies during the Kargil crisis was enormous. On the Indian side, tri-service cooperation set the standard for future operations, with complete harmony and synergy between its army, navy, and air force. 21 In Cold Start, therefore, the Indian Navy cannot be expected to remain dormant or play a trivial role.

Pakistan Navy at the Ready

In Azm-e-Nau 3, the Pakistan Navy was assigned the inconsequential role of observer. If continued, such a course could be a fatal mistake. Pakistan cannot afford to overlook the lessons of the past. This nation’s air force and navy learned of the Kargil conflict only after the Indian military reaction had started to unfold. By then it had become indispensable for Pakistan’s army to seek the sudden support of the nation’s two other armed forces.

Even though features inherent to naval platforms, such as rapid mobility, stealth, and speed of deployment, may discount the need for a joint response (at least for the exercises), fixations on modus operandi and clinging to dogmas have destroyed many militaries before.

Because Pakistan inherited a British colonial legacy, the army has dominated the country during much of its history. Past wars with India have been mostly land affairs, with Pakistan suffering severe setbacks because of a weak navy. Yet the army’s mindset remains unchanged. In this climate, the Pakistan Navy strives to demonstrate the significance of maritime issues in the overall national-security calculus.

Aside from its deficiently assigned role in Azm-e-Nau 3, the Pakistan Navy remains fully cognizant of the threat that the Indian Navy could pose in the maritime domain during Cold Start. Accordingly, a major conceptual exercise designed to assess this, evaluate possible scenarios of conflict at sea, and analyze response options was concluded in late 2010. 22 Named Shamsheer-e-Bahr IV (Sea Sword), the exercise addressed the new Indian warfighting concept and aimed to prepare a comprehensive counter-strategy.

Spread over two and a half months, the war game was planned sequentially, from peace to full-war scenario—particularly in the southern sector of the country bordering India. Lessons emerging from this effort will be applied in the subsequent Navy-wide exercise Sea Spark to develop Pakistan’s future naval strategy. To inject realism and draw useful information, from the outset the 5th Corps of the Pakistan Army (with its area of operation in the south) and the Pakistan Air Force (Southern Air Command) have been actively involved in the planning effort. Also included are several other representatives of relevant government departments.

No future war can be fought without operational synergy, and a military strategy that does not assimilate this reality will always fail. In Cold Start, a north-south split of Pakistan could occur in the event of a penetration by an IBG positioned in the south. The country’s military planners must think beyond using tactical nuclear weapons. This is imperative: Indian nuclear doctrine is unambiguous in declaring that even a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon will invite a massive retaliatory strike. 23 But Pakistan certainly has some other and better response options to consider.

The Pakistan Navy can play a vital role in the south. It can create diversions and fire effects using submarines and air-launched missiles, while protecting sea lines, in particular the Gulf artery that feeds national energy needs. Besides contesting a blockade, the navy could force a counter-blockade of vital Indian shipping by jutting out from the Strait of Hormuz and hugging Pakistan’s western periphery on the Makran coast. Submarines could be deployed at or close to India’s strategic energy and commercial nodes along the Gujarat-Maharashtra coast, causing economic problems. 24 All this would greatly ease Pakistan’s army and air force concerns on land and improve flexibility and liberty of action.

The Big Picture

More than 70 percent of Indian oil imports come into ports on the Gujarat and Maharashtra coasts. In 2006-07, 117 million tons of petroleum products passed through the Gulf of Kutch; 95 through Mumbai. India’s major oil refineries are also located in the region. Kandla Port, close to Karachi, handles the imports and exports of highly productive granaries and the industrial belt stretching across Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat.

At the inaugural session of exercise Shamsheer-e-Bahr-IV early in July 2010, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani of Pakistan stated: “Prosperity of our people hinges upon the freedom of the sea and security of our sea lines of communication. Notwithstanding its small size, the Pakistan Navy has maintained a close vigilance of the seas and is fully capable of protecting our maritime interests.” 25 Cold Start is based on undertaking offensive operations short of the nuclear threshold. India thereby implies that should Pakistan opt for crossing that threshold, the onus would lie squarely on the latter.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s assumptions about Cold Start are that Indian offensive operations would not give Pakistan time to bring diplomacy into play, and that such offensive operations would not cross the nuclear threshold nor prompt Pakistan into crossing it. But with Pakistan’s core areas (particularly those in the plains of Punjab) located close to borders and conventional asymmetry favoring India, Cold Start is an exceedingly ambitious and dangerous concept. The fact that the Pakistan Army can occupy contested locations faster than India grants it the capability of preempting Cold Start.

Since time and space would be of greatest importance to Pakistan, if this nation does not preempt India’s Cold Start, the result could be a decision to use low-yield tactical nuclear weapons to dislodge the IBG. And this would be the beginning of Armageddon. The fact that India’s new doctrine was not put into effect following 26/11 (the Mumbai attacks) points to dithering politico-military minds as much as it does to the danger of actually executing a not-so-cold plan.

1. “India’s Cold Start Strategy: Limited Strikes against Targets vs. Hot War Leading to Nuclear Armageddon,” 6 January 2010, .

2. “Pakistan’s Ongoing Azm-e-Nau-3 Military Exercises Define Strategic Priorities,” Intelligence Quarterly , 6 July 2010, .

3. Lt. Gen. Y. M. Bammi, Kargil 1999: The Impregnable Conquered (Dehra Dun: Natraj Publishers), p. 436, 439.

4. “A Challenging Doctrine,” Daily Dawn , 8 February 2010, .

5. “Pakistan Forces Put on High Alert: Storming of Parliament,” Daily Dawn , 15 December 2001, .

6. “A Challenging Doctrine.”

7. Seth Cropsey, “The U.S. Navy in Distress,” Strategic Analysis 34, no. 1 (January 2010), p. 36.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., p. 35.

10. COMUSNAVCENT, VADM William E. Gortney, “Global Maritime Partnership,” talk delivered at Pakistan Navy War College, Lahore, 7 April 2010.

11. Cropsey, “The U.S. Navy in Distress,” p. 37.

12. Ibid., p. 43.

13. “Cold-Starting Pakistan,” Daily News , 22 January 2009, .

14. “Cold Start and Azm-e-Nau,” Daily Dawn , 26 April 2010, .

15. “A Challenging Doctrine.”

16. Ikram Sehgal, “War-Gaming Nuclear Armageddon,” .

17. Maleeha Lodhi, “India’s Provocative Military Doctrine,” Daily News , 5 January 2010, .

18. “Kayani Spells Out Threat Posed by Indian Doctrine,” Daily Dawn , 4 February 2010, .

19. Daily Dawn , 11 April 2010, and “Pakistan’s Ongoing Azm-e-Nau-3 Military Exercises Define Strategic Priorities,” Intelligence Quarterly , 6 July 2010,

20. Ibid.

21. Bammi, Kargil 1999 , p. 440.

22. Pakistan Navy, Directorate of Public Relations, press release, 29 June 2010.

23. “Cold Start Doctrine,” Daily Dawn , 18 May 2010,

24. VADM P. S. Das, “Coastal and Maritime Security,” Indian Defense Review 24, no. 1 (Jan.­-Mar. 2009), p. 125. VADM Arun Kumar Singh, “Peep at the Nautical Crystal Ball,” Indian Defense Review 23, no. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 2008), . Asia KANDLA PORT .

25. “Credible Deterrence Important, Says PM,” Daily Dawn , 13 July 2010, .


Commander Khan is a research fellow at the Pakistan Navy War College in Lahore. He held several command and staff appointments in the Pakistan Navy, participating in previous Sea Spark and Shamsheer-e-Bahr exercises. He frequently writes about maritime and military issues in local and international publications.

Commander Khan is a research fellow at the Pakistan Navy War College in Lahore. He held several command and staff appointments in the Pakistan Navy, participating in previous Sea Spark and Shamsheer-e-Bahr exercises. He frequently writes about maritime and military issues in local and international publications.

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