Media is agog with news that following China having re-structured its military commands and with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s recent maiden visit to China – during which he also visited China’s newly integrated Western Command – there is a move to have Joint Service Commands in the Indian military.
According to media, the Army, being the largest service, has been asked to work out integration with the IAF and the Navy for having joint commands, and this is possibly being discussed at the ongoing Army Commanders Conference. If army indeed has been so tasked, it is ludicrous because working out joint commands is the task of HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), not any single service. Significantly, considerable work on the issue was done a decade back, which the bureaucracy may not have bought to the notice of the present government.
Lack of true operational jointness in the military has been the bane of India right from 1962 where the use of IAF could have had a different outcome. Even during the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka, the joint command established was highly ad hoc. Later, Gen VP Malik, former army chief went on record to say, “It is not my case that 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.” His successor, General S Padmanabhan stated, “There is no escaping the military logic of creating suitably constituted Integrated Theatre Commands and functional commands for the Armed Forces as a whole.” Much later, another army chief stated at a Unified Commanders Conference, “We have very good synergy within the three chiefs. We golf together once a month and follow it up with breakfast.” This perhaps was more of a joke but also at least half the truth.
Creation of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) undoubtedly are significant milestones albeit the former has little teeth, forcing it to perpetually look over the shoulder. Hopefully, an integrated Aerospace Command, Cyber Command and Special Operations Command will see the light of the day. However, in terms of the overall jointmanship paradigm of our military true jointmanship exists mainly within HQ IDS. Jointmanship in balance military is at an extremely nascent stage. Even HQ IDS, instead of merging with MoD as intended, has emerged akin to any Service HQ. The Group of Ministers (GoM) post Kargil Conflict had recommended integration of Service HQ into MoD with progressive decentralization of decision making powers and delegation of financial powers, which has not happened. As in British India, the defence secretary, not defence minister, continues to be responsible for India’s defence, and similarly the Services HQ continue as “attached offices”.
Lack of strategic forethought in the politico-bureaucratic dispensation and the higher defence set up sans military participation in national level decision making has had direct bearing on military integration and jointness. In 2004, prime minister Manmohan Singh stated at Unified 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 service operational plans.” Immediately thereafter, HQ IDS ordered five comprehensive studies for establishment of joint commands, which were presented and analysed at HQ IDS with all three services represented at Director General Military Operations and equivalent levels. All agreed this was the much needed reorganisation, also indicating which joint commands should be Bi-Service (army-air force) and which should be Tri-Service. Thereafter, the issue got lost amid politico-bureaucratic inertia. With basic work for joint commands already in place, HQ IDS simply needs to be directed to review these recommendations in conjunction with the services in one-two months, then make a presentation to the defence minister, followed by one to the CCS presided over by the Prime Minister. There was never a need to take inspiration from China.
Going by media, a permanent chairman COSC (PC COSC) is in the offing, that too without operational powers. No military can have adequate capacity building and synergy, if overseen by a ‘committee’. The Kargil Review Committee and the follow up GoM reports had strongly recommended appointing a CDS. Latter report categorically stated, “The functioning of 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." The hitherto unheard of Permanent Chairman COSC (PC COSC) was recommended by the Naresh Chandra Committee after Naresh Chandra was reportedly briefed by then NSA to pointedly make such recommendation. Manoj Joshi, also member of the Naresh Chandra Committee, later disclosed that Ministry of Defence did not want CDS because they thought that the defence secretary and his IAS colleagues will be “somehow diminished”. Can there be a more idiotic reason like ‘loss of turf’ for not appointing a CDS?
While establishing HQ IDS, bureaucracy also put on paper, “As and when a CDS is appointed, he will have equal voting rights as Service Chiefs and in case of disagreement by two Service Chiefs, arbitration will be done by MoD”. So, how can the CDS ever be a ‘single point’ adviser to the political authority? Within the military, we never have dissent notes by army commanders and equivalents, respective chiefs being the single voice for his service, so why this provision in case of CDS? Obviously the intent was to facilitates the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the bureaucracy. Whether we continue with rotational Chairman COSC or have a two-year permanent incumbent, both are toothless creations. Despite COSC and HQ IDS in place for over a decade, neither voice or data networks nor radio communications of the three services are interoperable to desired degree. Each service develops networks on its own and starts thinking of interoperability later. Common standards and protocols, and unifying secrecy algorithm have not been evolved. Finalising and adoption of standards and protocols, mutually compatible database structures, development / deployment of interfaces between systems using disparate platforms and commonality of hardware are challenges which need to be overcome. There is absence of knowledge management. Collaborative working needs to be looked at closely, not only across the military but also within each service.
The battlefield of tomorrow requires Effect Based Operations (EBOs). EBOs which can only succeed if all components of national power are brought to bear, in turn implying that military must have full spectrum joint operations capability and an integrated approach at all levels of conflict. Efficient defence management calls for enhanced jointmanship that can contribute to optimum utilisation of the meagre resources by addressing in built redundancies in the process of force organization, equipping and establishing its support system. For all his, CDS is essential, including to set in motion fast-paced revolution in military affairs under directions of the Prime Minister.
US members of the Indo-US Defence Planning Group that first met in New Delhi post 9/11 wondered how the military functions in India with MoD sans military officers. As to reducing military manpower, particularly of army, two issues are involved. First, army’s counter-insurgency commitment may go up with burgeoning unemployment, accelerating population, and long gestation period before adequate jobs are created. The second, little understood, is that digitisation of military, especially army requires initial surge of manpower till across the board adequate technical expertise is developed. Arbitrary cutting down of manpower, if ordered, will have adverse effect on operational capabilities. The Modi government would do well to dispassionately consider the above issues. Urgent administrative reforms need to be pushed through despite bureaucratic stonewalling, without which any structures below MoD including joint commands will never achieve their full potential.
(The author is former Lieutenant General of Indian Army.)