Theatre Commands — Long Overdue

“The functioning of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) has, to date, revealed serious weaknesses in its ability to provide single point military advice to the government, and resolve substantive inter-Service doctrinal, planning, policy and operational issues adequately. This institution needs to be appropriately revamped to discharge its responsibilities efficiently and effectively, including the facilitation of “jointness” and synergy among the Defence Services.”

—GoM Report post Kargil Crisis of 1999
Issue: 3 / 2017
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army

 

In January 2017, media reports again emerged of Tri-Service Commands and other measures like appointing a singlepoint military adviser, without elaborating about the latter whether it will be a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (PP COSC). What powers the CDS/PP COSC is to have also remains vague. If the government was serious and recognised the urgency, some measures at least would have been initiated in this respect to include this in the list of achievements up to May 26, 2017, – date of completion of three years rule of NDA II. Ironically, other than ‘Make in India’ defence continues to remain at low priority.

Strategic Security Formulation

It is common knowledge that India does not have a cohesive National Security Strategy (NSS). In fact, this was admitted in Parliament in May 10, 1995 by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao when he stated, “We do not have a document called India’s Defence Policy. But we have several guidelines which are followed, strictly followed and observed… This policy is not merely rigid in the sense that it has been written down, but these are the guidelines, these are the objectives, these are the matters which are always kept in view while conducting our defence policy”. He did not amplify what these several guidelines were that were strictly being followed and observed, but the fact is that the defence of India remained in dire neglect including pathetic equipping of the military and its operational components certainly proves that these so called guidelines and their follow up was grossly inadequate to put it mildly. Yet no government has ever bothered to bridge this vital void that adversely impacts India’s national security at the strategic level. The present government’s effort towards equipping too is patchy and limited to some bigticket projects only.

Our greatest weakness is that the government has made no effort to reorganise the higher defence organisations, particularly Ministry of Defence (MoD) which has no military professionals and institutional set up for strategy security formulation, besides the military is not part of such strategic deliberations. HQ IDS has emerged as another HQ above but akin to Services HQ with little authority. The GoM had recommended integration of Service HQ into Ministry of Defence (MoD) with progressive decentralisation of decision making powers and delegation of financial powers. This too has not been affected i- only renaming the Services HQ as IHQ of MoD (Army/Navy/Air Force). Service HQ, though notionally integrated with the MoD, lack any executive authority. All operational and administrative authority rests with the MoD, which unnecessarily extends the decision making process.

Inadequate Military Synergy

General S. Padmanabhan, former Chief of Army Staff had said, “There is no escaping the military logic of creating suitably constituted Integrated Theatre Commands and Functional Commands for the Armed Forces as a whole.”Years later post the Kargil Conflict, Indian Army Chief General V.P. Malik went on record to say. “It is not my case that the Service Chiefs do not cooperate in war. Were they not to do so, it would be churlish. But in war, cooperative synergies are simply not good enough.” The battlefield requires Effect Based Operations (EBOs). EBOs can best be progressed through application of all the instruments of the nation state. What this implies is that EBO can only succeed if all components of national power are brought to bear, which in turn means that Defence Forces must have full spectrum joint operations capability and an integrated approach. It is also important to understand that this synergistic application of power is to be applied at all levels of warfare, be it tactical, operational or strategic.

Our greatest weakness is that the government has made no effort to reorganise the higher defence organisations, particularly Ministry of Defence (MoD) which has no military professionals and institutional set up for strategy security formulation, besides the military is not part of such strategic deliberations

In the overall jointmanship paradigm of our defence forces today, it would not be wrong to say that true jointmanship exists mainly within HQ IDS. The balance is at an extremely nascent stage, with complete absence at the cutting edge/tactical levels. Lack of jointness in the organisational structures leads to lack of joint training, joint exercises and common procedures at the tactical and operational levels. We have a very long way to go considering that our so called existing “patchy jointness” has to go through the stages of “de-conflicted operations” to “joint operations” and thereon achieve the desired capability of “integrated operations”.

Chief of Defence Staff

Appointment of a CDS is essential as catalyst for jointness and integration of the Services. Some sections of the polity perhaps fear that a unified military may become too strong for the constitutional establishment and may undermine its status. This factor perhaps contributes the most to the failure to appoint a CDS. Perhaps military rules/attempted coups in neighbouring Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh add to such fear. A second reason perhaps is the intransigence and apathy of the bureaucrats, some of whom revel over inter-Service rivalry. The fact is that the COSC is no substitute for a CDS, which is very apparent from the extracts of the GoM Report given above. Our political class needs to demonstrate strategic sense and appoint a CDS without further delay. Without a CDS, the military’s capacity building for network centric capabilities will continue to lag, as will the required revolution in military affairs.

Theatre Commands

Creation of the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) undoubtedly are significant milestones albeit the former has to look over its shoulder to the mainland for resources. Hopefully, Future of the Aerospace Command, Cyber Command and Special Operations Command recommended by the Naresh Chandra Committee remains ambiguous with indications the only MoD ‘directive’ reportedly to work on smaller organizations headed by two-star level officers - typical bureaucratic idiocy of delay tactics. Both ANC and SFC have proved capable of integrated operational planning. HQ ANC performed commendably during the Tsunami relief operations.

The biggest challenge to jointness is to bring about an attitudinal shift by turning the sense of insecurity and mutual suspicion into a sense of belongingness amongst the Services as well as the politico-bureaucratic establishment.

The vast expanse of India requires identification of geographical theatres that are of military security concern. Conceptually, a theatre should include within its geographical boundary the entire geographically contiguous territory of a competing entity or an adversary including geographically contiguous territories of those entities or states which, in the event of hostilities, may collaborate either with the adversary or with own country. It must also include adjoining seas and space above that may be essential for manoeuvre of own forces to address the threatening entity/adversary and its geographically contiguous collaborator(s). Fortunately, this has already been thoroughly addressed by HQ IDS through five comprehensive studies during year 2005.

Integrated Theatre Commands (ITCs) need to be established encompassing the entire operational spectrum with two to three Integrated Functional Commands (IFCs) that maybe Bi-Service or Tri-Service under each ITC; existing 17 single Service Commands need to be reorganised accordingly. Studies prove all three Services will actually benefit from such reorganization, also enhancing promotional avenues. Re-alignment of operational geographical boundaries will obviously need to be undertaken. Need of the hour is that all single Service Commands gradually evolve into either ITC s (akin to ANC) or IFCs (akin to SFC). Command and staffing of all ITC s and IFCs should be tri or bi-Service.

Hackneyed Bureaucracy

Under the Allocation of Business & Transaction of Business Rules Act 1961 that follow the British legacy of Defence Secretary (not Defence Minister) charged with defence of India and the Services Headquarters continue to officially remain “attached offices”, the MoD bureaucrats continue to enjoy power without responsibility and accountability. In order to maintain this status quo, hackneyed suggestions are projected through media, like: instead of rehauling MoD completely, some “middle-level” posts being looked at in MoD to be manned by military officers; and, permanent chairman of COSC without operational powers. The bottom-line is that if we are not going in for establishing a CDS with full operational powers and then establish ITC s and IFCs in cohesive manner, it would be fruitless exercise. But that is not all, concurrent to appointing a CDS, HQ IDS must be fully merged with the MoD. But then this last essential requires a rare quality of political leadership.

Conclusion

Jointness and integration of the military is an inevitable requirement for the modern day battle field. The biggest challenge to jointness is to bring about an attitudinal shift by turning the sense of insecurity and mutual suspicion into a sense of belongingness amongst the Services as well as the politico-bureaucratic establishment. The change will need to be implemented top down for it to take root and be effective. While there is urgent need to appoint a CDS, we should get on with initiating the process of establishing ITC s and IFCs in the larger interest of achieving jointness and integration.