There is no escaping the military logic of creating suitably constituted Integrated Theatre Commands and Functional Commands for the Armed Forces as a whole
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Speaking during a programme organised by the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Forum at Jammu on July 24, 2022, to pay tributes to the martyrs of the Indian Armed Forces, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced the setting up of joint theatre commands of the tri-services to enhance coordination among the Armed Forces. “Keeping in view (joint operations as seen in Operation Vijay in Kargil), we have decided to set up joint theatre commands”, he said. RSS General Secretary Dattatreya Hosabale also addressed the gathering at Gulshan Ground near Jammu University. Earlier, Rajnath had visited Jammu on June 17 on the occasion of the 200th year of coronation of Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said India wants to have friendly ties with Pakistan, but cannot understand why the neighbouring country behaves ‘differently’. He also went on to say that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) is an integral part of Indiaand will remain a part of India. He further said, “For over two decades, it (Pakistan) has tried to bleed India with a thousand cuts. Time and again, our brave soldiers have shown that no one can disturb the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India. Pakistan’s behaviour is totally different. During the Kargil war, Pakistani intruders had sneaked into Indian Territory, but when Indian soldiers launched their attack, Pakistani soldiers and intruders had to flee.” Pakistan, as usual has rejected the Defence Minister’s statement.
On appointing General Bipin Rawat as the first CDS, the government had tasked him to work out and establish Joint Theatre Commands
Referring to defence production, Rajnath Singh said, “India was the world’s largest importer (of defence products). Today, India is not the world’s largest importer but is among the top 25 nations engaged in defence exports. The country has started defence exports worth 13,000 crore and it has fixed a target to increase it to 35,000 to 40,000 crore by 2025-26.
The Defence Minister’s announcement of establishing Joint Theatre Commands is not new. In fact, it appears to be like the proverbial Sher Aa Gaya, Sher Aa Gaya syndrome like the noise over establishment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) which continued for several years; eventually culminating in a damp squib with the CDS functionally subservient to the defence secretary.
18 years back in 2004, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Combined Commanders Conference, “Reforms within the Armed Forces also involve recognition of the fact that our Navy, Air Force and Army can no longer function in compartments with exclusive chains of command and single operational plans.” Earlier, General S. Padmanabhan, Chief of Army Staff (October 2000 to December 2002) 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.”
Ironically, only those recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee and the follow up Group of Ministers reports have been implemented which enables the bureaucracy to retain its supremacy in functioning of India’s defence apparatus. In 2006, the then Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Arun Prakash said, “What worries me is the collective sense of indifference with which we have, since independence, regarded the study of war, strategy and national security.” 16 years later, we still don’t have a national security strategy despite the NSA tasked to define one in 2019.
Appointing a retired three-star officer or Chief as CDS would imply that the panel of serving officers are not fully qualified to be promoted as CDS
On appointing General Bipin Rawat as the first CDS, the government had tasked him to work out and establish Joint Theatre Commands. One model being talked about was establishment of four new integrated theatre commands – two land-centric commands, one air defence command and one maritime command to optimise the military resources and reorganising the existing 17 commands that the three services cumulatively have. Examination for establishing joint training and joint logistics command(s) would have been a natural fallout. Rawat somewhat messed up the progress by publicly stating that the IAF is a “Support Force”.
However, the then Chief of Air Staff was against the establishment of the Joint Air Defence Command, as is the current Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari. Reservations by the Air Force against splitting of sources in various commands need to be seen in the backdrop that the IAF is functioning with barely 30 squadrons against the authorised strength of 42 squadrons operationally required. Besides, the IAF is struggling with obsolescence especially of the MiG-21 that have had 400 plus crashes since induction with 200 pilots killed. Since January 2021, there were six MiG-21 crashes in which five pilots were killed. Notably, Russia retired the MiG-21s in 1991 – 30 years back. Also, the IAF assets have the dual offensive and defensive roles, which need war-gaming and deep analysis for splitting these resources, not an arbitrary order.
Hopefully, the next CDS will be appointed soon and we will get on with integration of the three services
The post of CDS is lying vacant since December last year when General Rawat died in a tragic air crash. There appears to be no urgency in appointing the next CDS with the bureaucracy possibly saying that when the joint Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) could be established without a CDS, what is the great hurry?
In the case of the criteria for appointment of CDS, the panel has recently been enlarged in a way that retired three star officers and Chiefs have also been made eligible provided they have not crossed the age of 62. Appointing a retired three-star officer or Chief as CDS would imply that the panel of serving officers are not fully qualified to be promoted as CDS; which is a wholly subjective assessment given that they have been elevated based on their relative merit. Appointing a retired officer as CDS would also signal preference for political alignments and pliability, which in turn adds to politicisation of the military.
India’s security challenges are rising, including China’s muscle flexing and its anti-India nexus with Pakistan, which have been described elsewhere in these columns. Hopefully, better sense will prevail and the next CDS will be appointed soon and we will get on with integration of the three services in holistic manner.