Book Review: The Wellington Experience

Book Review – The Wellington Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Indian Army by Colonel ® David O. Smith

 Hamid Hussain

David Smith’s book The Wellington Experience is a detailed study of Indian army’s prestigious Command & Staff College that trains armed forces officers for higher ranks. This book is based on interviews of American army officers who attended Command and Staff College at Wellington in India spanning over four decades. Foreign Area Officers (FAO) of US army spent a year at Staff College.

Colonel David Smith is familiar with Indian and Pakistan armies in view of his professional background.  He has been a South Asia hand at Pentagon and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) for over two decades. In his professional career, he interacted with number of Indian officers and familiar with the terrain.

This study looks at functioning of Staff College and evolution of its curriculum to train Indian armed forces officers for higher ranks. It also looks at professional and social attitudes and threat perceptions of Indian officers.

The major conclusions of the study are conventional thinking, adhering to staff college solutions to problems, lackluster attention to joint operations and ambiguity about China. However, the most crucial finding is lack of understanding of nuclear dimension of future conflicts with Pakistan. This factor has been noted by other observers of Indian army.  In the aftermath of devastating terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008 by Pakistan based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the shocked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked his National Security Advisory Board for options. Ministry of Defence (MOD) Simulation and Wargaming Center suggested a surgical strike on training camps of LeT in Pakistan controlled Kashmir. Prime Minister asked what was the probability of a Pakistani response? The army officer said around 75-80%. Prime Minister then asked what is the probability that these attack-counterattack dynamics leading to Pakistan escalating to nuclear counter-strike? The officer replied about 30%.  Political leadership stopped right there as it was too high a risk.

Smith’s work provides an outside perspective of training of Indian army officers at mid-career level and attitudes of officers.  It is perspective of a little over two dozen American officers who spent only a year at one institution.  It is supplemented with input from US government officials and US Defence Attachés in Delhi.  This is main limitation of the study.  US officials and officers view India and its neighborhood through American security interests while India has a different take on security challenges of its neighborhood.  Despite such limitations, it is a very methodical and in depth evaluation of existing instructional norms and pointing to areas of improvement for training of officers for higher ranks.

This study confirms what many observers of Indian army know that conventional thinking is the bedrock of Indian army culture.  Unorthodox thinking and critical evaluation of existing doctrines is discouraged, and curriculum and training encourage conformism.  It provides a window to otherwise opaque world of Indian military officer corps training.  This study can be valuable if Indian high command sees it as a friendly criticism of weaknesses of an eminent teaching institution.  Dynamic institutions improve by introspection and course correction.

David O. Smith.  The Wellington Experience: A Study of Attitudes and Values Within the Indian Army (Washington D.C: Stimson Center), 2020

Acknowledgements: Author thanks input from many informed individuals well informed about the subject matter. 

 

Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

24 January 2021

 

Defence Journal, February 2021

20 Replies to “Book Review: The Wellington Experience”

  1. “Prime Minister then asked what is the probability that these attack-counterattack dynamics leading to Pakistan escalating to nuclear counter-strike? The officer replied about 30%. Political leadership stopped right there as it was too high a risk.”

    Funny enough, almost all participants from the political side (one even wrote a book) came out boasting that they were all in favor to strike Pakistan. Of course looking at those individuals no one with half a mind would believe that. But very conveniently they used the media to disseminate that Indian army was the one who was opposed to the strikes.

  2. I’m not surprised at all. The top level people in most Indian bureaucracies including the armed forces aren’t near world-class.

    The laughable press conference when the head of the air force displayed an AMRAAM casing as evidence that Pakistan had used that missile against India showed how incompetent the top brass are.

    Lets not even get started on the beyond idiotic aircraft inventory acquisition programmes that have resulted in an incoherent and unreliable air force and navy. Overrated SU-30’s, old mig-21s, the insanely expensive admiral gorshkov aircraft carrier… virtually everything they have bought from the russians has been useless. It’s tragic and comic at the same time.

    To this day they rely on the French Mirage’s for anything that’s critical. They could easily have a fleet of rafale’s/F18/etc and brand new aircraft carriers from the west for all the money they’ve dumped down the sinkhole.

    The worst part is they don’t understand that size doesn’t mean you win. A smaller army with better equipment and training is usually the victor – ask Babar with his cannons, nader shah with his swivel guns, the east india company with their square formation and elevating screws… Hopefully they understand and adapt before a real challenge occurs.

    Here’s a hot take – Pakistan would likely win an air war against either India or China.

    1. Mig-21? This is a 65-old aircraft. SU-30? This is 32 years old aircraft. India should buy SU-57 which is the best in the world and will be on sale soon. Also, Mig-35. So as S-400 which is also the best system in the world which gives 100% protection against all enemies’ aircrafts and missiles.

    2. My view is its not that cut and dry. Any country which takes the initiative will have the first mover advantage. Just like Pak was unable to prevent the Balakot strikes, similarly India was unable to respond the next day , especially if the opponent is not willing to cross the LOC and use stand off weapons. Which both India and Pakistan used. Also getting one up in a initial engagements has got to do with luck as well (Ex: Kargil where Pakistan had the initial advantage, until India brought in the heavy guns) . But in a war-war numbers will count.

      Just like India will perhaps win a air war against China , if the theater is only limited 2 Tibet. The similar case is wrt Pakistan as well. But all bets are off once full scale war breaks out.

  3. If you want a real laugh, read up about the INSAS rifle program.

    India is the king of spending the most to achieve the least.

    The worst part is the forced domestic manufacturing. It’s always slower and the product is crappier, just a total pork barrel effort to justify hal and associated bureaucracy.

    Want to make sure these rafales will suck? Get the next batch built by hal.

    They should just outright buy the best in the world or manufacture what they can independently and work their way up in quality over time.

    But trying to get a C- government manufacturing bureaucracy to build A+ military equipment is doomed to failure.

  4. One aspect of domestic defense production in India is that HAL and DRDO are dominated by Tamils and the primary users I.e. Air Force and Army are Punjabis and other north indians. Somehow the incentive structures are not aligned between the producers and end users. I bet there would be much better cooperation and outcomes if there was more social overlap between the 2 groups.

    1. “Air Force and Army are Punjabis and other north indians.”

      I don’t think this is true for Air Force.

  5. There is a 90 minute ORF analysis of the book with its author, retired AM Arjun Subramaniam and Harsh Pant, strategic affairs expert. It is on YouTube. I recommend it for a serious analysis from the Indian side.

    The author David Smith has 31 years of field experience in Artillery and has served a large portion of his DIA career in Pakistan. All of his research for the book comes from second hand experience – all of them from interviews of approx 30 US Majors who attended training courses at Wellington in India.

    First of all, a US Major is attained at roughly the age of 30-35 years. So exposure to strategic matters have only started, so to speak. They are still in the tactical cocoon. It would be impossible to arrive at conclusions after interviewing a few mid-level American officers about another country. So the methodology is flawed.

    Like Saurav pointed out, civil-military relations in India are asymmetric. Only politicians give their side of the story. To cover their own asses. Both 2016 and Balakot have shown that the military is always capable of rising to the occasion if political will is there. UPA was quite a extraordinary strategic security failure even going by the standards of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi.

    All the other commenters on this blogpost – seriously!!! Is your reading material limited to Wiki and some newspapers? Your comments, especially Mohan, are like reading a 16 year old’s thoughts. Perhaps you ARE 14 years old, in that case I compliment you on your maturity.

    The equipment planning and strategic posture of the Indian armed forces are robust. I will leave you with a sobering thought – we are the only army that regularly fights the Chinese and bloodies them. No one else has this posture. Think beyond shiny weapons and marketing videos.

  6. //The laughable press conference when the head of the air force displayed an AMRAAM casing as evidence that Pakistan had used that missile against India showed how incompetent the top brass are.//

    This was very surprising to me that they would show that as ”proof”, it just reeked of incompetence and lack of thought. Perhaps they were forced to by the politicians who had made tall claims in the media and wanted to save face by showing something, anything to the public. I don’t know how civil military relations work in India, the optics however suggests that BJP used the armed forces to win the elections.

    However, as a Pakistani I would feel pretty confident in any future exchange with India when I see videos like these:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiAxUfX3_vk

    1. At this point, the probability of future exchanges is low. Whatever transpired in those two days, the bigger strategic outcome is that no major attack has occurred in Kashmir for two years. This is despite the demotion of J&K to UT status, which Pakistan considered a very grave provocation.

      The ratio of terrorists killed to security personnel casualties last year was more than four, so it does seem that the change in political and administrative status for the valley is having the desired security effects.

    2. “This was very surprising to me that they would show that as ”proof”, it just reeked of incompetence and lack of thought. Perhaps they were forced to by the politicians who had made tall claims in the media and wanted to save face by showing something, anything to the public. I don’t know how civil military relations work in India, the optics however suggests that BJP used the armed forces to win the elections.

      However, as a Pakistani I would feel pretty confident in any future exchange with India when I see videos like these:”

      I don’t know if they were forced, I highly doubt it. They are well coordinated, its more of a mindset issue. Maybe they thought they would use the opportunity to get Pakistan in trouble with the US for violating terms of whatever arms deal they had. But in that moment it looked a boxer getting beaten up and asking the referee for help. Not a good look.

      The issue with Indian mindset (also Pakistani to be fair) is there is a cultural sort of denial about major issues. Saving face for top brass sometimes takes precedence over actually being performant. The video you shared is an American way of thinking coming up against old Indian men trying to save face.

      In the end I’m glad it happened that way – no way to learn other than from mistakes sometimes. They ordered those rafales and meteor missile pretty fast after that. I also think it reminded them of what kind of an ally the US can be and that they truly are alone if Pak & China attacked at once. In the long run, the whole incident might be a change agent.

  7. “The top level people in most Indian bureaucracies including the armed forces aren’t near world-class.”

    It is sad that these silly and easy takes keep getting thrown around. Please go check the credentials of top Indian bureaucrats, they invariably have PhDs from top American universities, which is usually seen as a strong indicator of intellectual ability. Top American bureaucrats have similar backgrounds.

    Even by official figures, Pakistan spends way more on its military than India (see: https://tinyurl.com/336qfzwo), so on a one-on-one confrontation one would expect the Pakistanis to have the upper hand. Of course the flip side of this is that India invests its money elsewhere, and has a per capita GDP much higher than Pakistan.

      1. India’s economic growth accelerated post 1985, and the country was never as socialist as some people like to say. Harish Damodaran’s ‘India’s New Capitalists’ makes this point clear while presenting histories of traditionally non-mercantile communities entering trade and business in the early Republic.

        Our growth has been based heavily on the technology sector (IT, pharma, petrochemicals) which needed large government investments in education, ports and power. We are one of the largest exporters of food in the world ($ 20-30 billion net exports) today, and this has only been possible because of huge investments in water management structures and rural roads. Investment is the foundational pillar of economic growth, market reforms are important from the efficiency and innovation point of view.

        Pakistan being richer than India was more a matter of luck (US military aid, remittances, prior Indo-British investments in agriculture, bailouts by Arab Muslim countries), not the result of any deliberate strategy or superior management. It is a net agro importer despite higher per capita arable land availability than India. Investment as a proportion of GDP is alarmingly low, and this shows in the decrepit state of its railway network, schools and universities. Bangladeshis receive more US S&E PhDs than Pakistanis.

        1. India’s economic backwardness was (and still is) almost entirely due to it’s socialist policies. Comparing it to Pakistan starting 1947 is comparing apples to oranges. In 1947, Pakistan had no large industrial units, less arable land, only one medium sized port, relatively insignificant railway (compared to India), two wings separated by the hostile territory and millions of pennliess refugees pouring in. Much of the arable land in Pakistan was developed in the 1960’s massive canal projects in Punjab. India started better in every aspect so it’s really something that it continued to be so poor despite all these ”investments” you talk about. Socialism is to blame here. Both India and Pak are still poor countries that will become middle income countries in a couple of decades. However it remains to be seen whether they will ever break that barrier.

          1. Exactly. And India has these nonsense riots which mostly are just caste based agitations for more/continued intervention via freebies. Socialism is ok in small doses. No one is saying be laize faire. But India is still a disastrous license Raj

          2. Pakistan had less arable land before the 1960s ? In 1961, Pakistan had more than twice the arable land per capita than India. The canal colonies were established during the Indo-British era long before independence.
            https://tinyurl.com/5xt2wout

            And if Pakistan had one port, it also had only a tenth of India’s population. This whole ‘India was poor because of socialism’ is over analysis our elites keep harping to cope with our decades of poverty. We were poor because we were isolated and had nothing to offer to the rich world. We are richer now because we invested in a skilled, English speaking workforce and significant infrastructure projects.

            The parts of India that are poor like East UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha are those that are still isolated from global markets and capital flows. They are four times poorer than Haryana, MH, Gujarat and Karnataka that operate in the same ‘socialist’ regime.

  8. That is just a very misleading stat. Hectares per person? Pakistan’s relative population has doubled since 1947 in comparison to India\s growth so adjusting for that, India has not increased any arable land in comparison to Pakistan. The same link provides arable hectares as standing the exact same since partition. What did changed in the 1960’s in Pakistan was the construction of canals linking the rivers in Punjab, and getting provided with constant flow of water throughout the 4 seasons via newly constructed barrages. You can read more here

    https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.856.335&rep=rep1&type=pdf

    Also, one port for *two* wings, Karachi was a small-medium sized port, Chittagong was almost inconsequential in 1947. East Pakistan lost Calcutta to India and it was mostly farmland without any infrastructure, industrial units almost non existent in both wings. One of the reasons why Bangladesh continued to be extremely poor until recently. Hardly any rail infrastructure either, there was not much for the British to extract out of Karachi port that they could not through Mumbai.

    It’s just a bad comparison with Pakistan, India started way ahead in 1947 and it’s failed socialist experiments were the cause of it lagging behind.

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