Artillery and Firepower – Part 7 – Future Perspective : Role of Firepower


Part 1 : Preamble




Part 2 : Effects on Firepower in the Himalayas


Part 3 : Chinese Operational Concepts and Employment of Firepower


Part 4: Fire & Move and Historical Evolution of Firepower 




Part 5 : Operational Evolution and Key Tenets of Firepower




Part 6 : Firepower Enhancement


As per a very well researched paper on ‘Future of Fires’, the four main roles of artillery in the modern day battle field are suppression of enemy fires, striking high-value targets, breaking up enemy force concentrations and providing fire support to enable manoeuvre[1]. These   traditional  roles of Artillery providing firepower in conventional battlefields will need a major relook in the Indian context. The days of merely providing firepower in support of infantry and mechanised forces are long over.  The Kargil Conflict brought home to everyone the value of destruction and interdiction by artillery.   But for the firepower of ‘Gunners’, the whole conflict would have ended in a national disaster. This will not change in future. It will only be enhanced. Without  the enhanced range, lethality, accuracy and strategic mobility now available with ‘Gunners’, China, our main adversary will have a walk over and Pakistan, the smaller one will continue to believe that he can take us on. Whether it is against Pakistan or China, the new look firepower will dominate the battlefield. Against Pakistan it will be an overwhelming and punishing force. Against China it will be a stopping force.  In mountains the main ‘Combat Arms’ will be Infantry and Artillery. Also, the main source of firepower in mountains is Artillery since Air Force might not  be as effective due to vagaries of weather and terrain conditions. Further the increasing density and lethality of air defence systems specially in the Sino-Indian context will limit the role and effectiveness of offensive AirPower.  


The neo modern role of  firepower is strategic in nature.  Artillery is now an instrument  of  ‘conventional deterrence’. In all tactically oriented discussions and war games, this factor is not even discussed and is lost sight of. From a macro perspective, the deterrent role of artillery firepower is constantly increasing. This  subtle shift needs to be understood better[2]. Nuclear and conventional deterrence theories, scripted largely in the West,  will not work in the Sino Indian or Indo Pak ‘eyeball to eyeball’ context. On the other hand, suitably tailored conventional deterrence is likely to work. It is discriminatory, can be calibrated and the resulting damage is politically more acceptable than a nuclear holocaust. General deterrence can be put in place, before a crisis occurs, through long range vectors which will be effective over the long term. When a crisis is imminent or occurs, firepower is a potent tool of immediate deterrence.  Influence operations are a convenient medium to project the deterrence value into political thinking. Hence,  conventional deterrence becomes a credible and transparent system to convey national intent. This is now possible due to increased ranges, warhead lethality and precision of conventional firepower. Additionally, conventional deterrence can be focused on counterforce targets with minimal counter value effect. Most importantly it can be delivered at a standoff through multiple modes. Conventional deterrence is far more flexible in application. It is also for this reason that Long Range Precision Fires is the priority program of the US Army’s Futures Command. it also explains the emphasis that China places on precision fire. Largely, there are two modes of conventional deterrence. “Deterrence by Punishment” which is the threat to impose unacceptable costs, such as the destruction of an adversary’s strategic and high-value targets, in response to unwanted actions. It is offensive by nature. The second mode is “Deterrence by Denial,” which is the threat to deny an adversary the ability to achieve its military and political objectives through aggression. The concept is defensive in nature.


Pakistan employs the stability-instability paradox of nuclear deterrence to aggressively pursue a low-cost high-value proxy war strategy. Cross LOC ground/air surgical strikes have not deterred Pakistan. The conflict dynamics of the LOC, provides space and opportunity to India to put in place a credible ‘non-contact conventional deterrence’ plan using the very same stability-instability paradox. It hinges around the unfashionable but effective attrition through ground-based precision strikes.  Pakistan should feel the pain of losing something significant whenever its proxies increase terror activities or engineer an incident in India. Modern guns like M777 ULH and Dhanush have accurate direct firing and night engagement capabilities up to 5-6 km. The Pinaka has pinpoint capability up to 60- 90 km. Brahmos extends the pinpoint reach beyond that.  Hence a Kargil type ofdestruction can be planned through standoff . Pakistan will contest the battlespace. We just need to out scale the effort in time and space. India’s economic strength will provide the  military overmatch over Pakistan. Overall, Pakistan can be reined in by ‘Deterrence by Punishment’.[3]


Sino India clashes have been largely kept below acceptable thresholds due to a stability-stability paradigm between both countries. China is employing multidomain capabilities in space, cyberspace, info space and electromagnetic spectrum for military purposes extensively. Its aggressive intent is constantly reinforced by influence ops. Post Eastern Ladakh intrusions, it is common knowledge that China is building up on our northern borders. It will seek a window to enforce its will through conventional local military action. it seeks to employ deterrence by punishment on us. It must be thwarted through a ‘Deterrence by Denial’ capability. The next Chinese aggression is likely to be premised on a quick local victory backed by overwhelming firepower, which cannot be contested by India in time. We need to deny them such quick local victories. China must be convinced that it cannot achieve its political objectives at least cost and double-quick time. China must be made to understand that the next conflict with India will be long and protracted enough for it to commit and expend sizeable forces and effort which will eventually open the Taiwan front door. They could then end up with internal political instabilities. If China is convinced that quick local victories are unattainable and that there is a high chance to lose face in any exchange then it would have been deterred. To achieve that we need to put credible firepower in place which can dislocate (through standoff) all attempts at quick local victories. If we are in a situation that air forces cannot be used for the standoff due to political / escalatory compulsions, then the only recourse is long-range precision fires. We need to have a capability and a plan to punch back after even taking a hit to deny Chinese goals. If we can do that, we would have put in place a non-contact deterrence capability by denial.

Consider the Indo – Pak and the Sino- Indian fronts. Defenses and positions will be hardened by the time conflict occurs. Battles will be largely positional and attritional in nature. Space for maneuver will not exist. Two issues need to be understood about in maneuver warfare in such a context. Firstly, maneuver is feasible only if a hole is punched through the enemy crust. That punch hole is feasible and presaged only on heavy firepower delivery. Thereafter, firepower has to create or hold flanks for mechanized forces to maneuver. Secondly, maneuver is limited to the extent that is enabled or allowed by the reach of firepower. If we are to get into the depth of the enemy, firepower has to influence areas and key terrain features further in depth. Maneuver without the protective umbrella of firepower – ground and air based – is a chimera. Firepower will be an invaluable and mandatory determinant of maneuver.      


As Indian Armed  Forces are getting into an era of integrated theatre commands, the role of  the Regiment of Artillery is pivotal. At one end the Air Force, Navy  and long range artillery will have to keep our adversaries at ‘standoff’. At the other end, our indomitable infantry and mechanised forces along with tube artillery will have to fight the close battle. Artillery will be the firepower bridge in any operational theatre.[4] In this context, the concept of  Artillery being only a ‘Combat Support Arm’ needs a re-examination. This shift is important if jointness and theatrisation have to succeed in India. In this section I have spoken only of jointness between the IAF and Indian Army.  In a try-service scenario, the role of Artillery gets expanded in any joint thinking. 

Firepower has been a battle winning factor in all wars that India has fought. In an era of limited manoeuvre, firepower will continue to play an important factor in defending the nation. Modern-day developments have bestowed artillery with reach, accuracy and destructive capability, never thought of before. The Regiment of Artillery has begun an all-round  journey of modernisation in accordance with these developments internationally. This makes the Regiment of Artillery a very potent and tough customer to confront. Artillery with its proud traditions of toughness laced with professionalism will continue to be a battle winning factor for India well into the future.             

[1] Dr Jack Watling, The Future of Fires, Maximizing the  UKs Tactical and Operational Firepower, RUSI Occasional Paper, 27 November 2019, Accessed on 30 June 2021. 

[2] Michael J. Mazzar, Understanding Deterrence, Rand Corporation Perspective Paper, Accessed on 30 June 2021. 

[3] Lt Gen P R Shankar (Retired), Non Contact Conventional Deterrence , 07 Dec 2019, Accessed on 30 June 2021

[4]  Lt Gen P R Shankar (retired), The Core of Theatrisation, 27 June 2021, Accessed on 30 June 2021. 


2 responses to “Artillery and Firepower – Part 7 – Future Perspective : Role of Firepower”

  1. Forward looking analysis and greatly insightful Sir. Thank you

  2. Dear Sir, Looking forward to your views on why so many MiG 21's crash? Great loss of Pilot and Planes. We cannot afford it.

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