How far is the jointness of our armed forces?

by Dec 5, 2021Defence & Foreign Policy0 comments

Unlike his predecessors, New chief of naval staff (CNS), Admiral R Hari Kumar, seems comfortable with the ideas of jointness of armed forces and the establishment of integrated theatre commands. The only thing he wants everybody to understand is that these will take some time to be implemented as nothing can be done in a hurry.

“Jointness and integration can’t happen in a very, very short time. If you look at the US military, it has taken almost 50 years,” the navy chief said at his annual press briefing on December 4, the eve of Navy Day. “The thrust for jointness came after the Pearl Harbor attack (in 1941). I am not saying that we should take a similar time but it’s a complicated process, and it’s not something which can just be put together in a short time,” the navy chief said on Friday.

It may be noted that despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stress on “jointness” among the three services of the Indian defense forces – army, airforce and navy, there is still acute inter-services rivalry with regard to the control of their respective resources and creation of integrated theater commands (ITS).

In jointness, India is far behind in that respect to not only powerful militaries in the West (including the United States) but also China, the country’s principal adversary. Jointness is different from joint-operations, a semblance of which is being noticed in Ladakh stand-off.

In a true sense, jointness has four aspects: doctrinal, organizational, educational (training), and operational.

India does not have a common military doctrine; the respective forces have their own, as a result of which these are at best tactical only. India does not have an integrated defense ministry as yet, as a result of which there is no synergized use of the resources of the three services to achieve the best results in the least possible time by avoiding needless redundancy and utilizing optimally the available resources in the face of a tight defense-budget.

Similarly, there is no jointness when each of our services has its own way in matters of training, equipment, procurement, and logistics. India does not have also operational jointness. The only efforts made so far in this regard are the creation of the Andaman Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command where the three work together.

India may have a total of 19 commands — seven army commands (six operational); seven air force commands (five operational); three naval commands (two operational); and two joint commands – but none of them are co-located and their geographical zones of responsibilities have little commonality.

In most cases, the command of one service overlaps or is linked with two or more commands of sister services. This leads to increased duplication, as each service attempts to fulfill all of its desired operational roles within its own span of command.

IAF Not In Favour of Theater Commands?

It is an open secret that the Indian Air Force has serious reservations on the concept of ‘theater commands’ of the US – types where the theatre commander, leading forces from all the services, report directly to the Secretary of Defense through the Joint Chief of Staff.

The argument is that since the American troops have a global presence, their system is unique, and therefore, it cannot be applied to India whose military is only meant for protecting and defending the country’s borders.

However, experts regard the reservation of the IAF as a clever argument by half only. It is not a question of where the troops are; relevant is how they are commanded in an integrated manner by utilizing the tools of modern warfare such as satellite and surveillance assets, cyber systems, drones, space-based weapons, and so on. It is immaterial where the unified commander sits. The UK does not have theater commands, but it has a well-established structure of unified command.

However, reliable sources in the Ministry of Defence say that the Modi government is determined to have five integrated commands by the year 2022 with defined areas of operation and a seamless command structure for synchronized operations.

The Proposed Commands are:

The Northern Command – along the border with China, from the Karakoram Pass in Ladakh to the last outpost Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh. It will be headquartered at Lucknow.

With the Head Quarter at Jaipur, the Western Command will look after the border with Pakistan, from Indira Col on Saltoro Ridge in the Siachen Glacier region to the tip of Gujarat.

The third theater command will be the Peninsular Command by merging the Western and the Eastern Command of the Indian Navy. The area of the command is planned to start from Sir Creek area in the west and Sundarbans in the east and downwards. It is likely to have its HQ at Thiruvananthapuram.

The fourth one will be a full-fledged air defense command that will not only spearhead the country’s aerial attack but also be responsible for defending Indian airspace through multi-role fighters and anti-aircraft missiles.

The fifth one will be a separate command to which the existing tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Islands Command will be merged. It will be tasked with protecting the Indian Ocean and India’s Island territories as well as keep the sea lanes free and open from any outside pressure. It is likely to be headquartered at Port Blair.

Each of the above commands is supposed to be headed by commanders of Lieutenant General and equivalent ranks who would have operational control, while the three service chiefs would be tasked with mobilizing resources to the theater commanders. And this is the most Herculean task as no Chief will like the idea of ceasing to be the master of his forces.

The Modi government must find a way to please the three Chiefs and take them on the board.

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