Future Force: How India's military must handle the change to Theatre Command structure

From the what to the how is the hard part that needs to be calibrated and understood before it is flawlessly executed

Gp Capt Johnson Chacko September 25, 2022 08:48:18 IST
Future Force: How India's military must handle the change to Theatre Command structure

Shaping out the future army. PTI

Changing the current organisational structures of the Armed Forces to Theatre Command Structure needs detailed analysis involving management experts. The management of change to integrate the Armed Forces which have a large cultural legacy is a formidable task. Any problem that needs a solution starts with analysing the “Presented Problem”, then the “Problem as Understood” by the research team after due interactions at desired user levels culminating in the “Problem to be Solved”.

Then serious work starts on solving the problem and at the Armed Forces level, the team members would include officers from all the armed forces. Interaction with the stakeholders continues throughout the process. Recommendations are shared with all the stakeholders. Metrics are drawn to assess the enhancement of effectiveness with the re-organised structures. Assessment after implementation is a crucial factor especially in a pilot project. Implementation comes after all these steps. From media reports that emanate this process has not been diligently followed. Unless we approach this in a holistic manner, we cannot come to a conclusion that Theatre Commands with Air Defence Command is the only solution.

Root Cause Analysis: Any management of change to enhance combat effectiveness is based on the objective of the organisation, how it has been functioning so far, analysis of the strengths, weaknesses and areas of ineffectiveness, ideation and formation of a plan to address these, analysis of the effect of these changes on other branches of the organisation and external linkages and addressing them to ensure minimum disruption while maximising combat effectiveness. The root cause that necessitated the change (in this case integration) is addressed so that it does not recur.

Organisational Redesign: If the above does not provide the required results, then we must re-design the organisation de-novo focussing our attention on the goal orientation specified as per the Military Doctrine and the stated objectives of integration, maximising its combat effectiveness etc. that flow from it. Then we need to plan the change over from the current organisation to the new one, addressing issues that may emerge in a pro-active and pre-planned manner.

If neither of the approaches enhances effectiveness, then we need to maintain the status quo. Change for the sake of change without adequate foresight destroys an organisation.

Cognitive Dissonance

There are articles and commentaries by some of our esteemed veteran Generals other than from Army Aviation Corps and Army Air Defence expressing their views on a subject they are not fully aware of. Creation of an Air Defence Command is one such organisation which is being forced down on the country when the writer’s exposure to air defence is limited. Theatre Command is another without adequate knowledge of employment of air power to enhance combat effectiveness of the armed forces as a whole.

Perception: The army perception is that loss of territory is unacceptable and support to ground troops should be the priority and hence the IAF should be subservient to the army. The army may not appreciate that neutralising the supplies meant for the enemy that causes the loss of territory, by the air force is in support of our army. In fact, the entire panoply of roles of air power started with support to army. It expanded to air defence so that the enemy air force does not interfere with our army operation and to ensure that our national assets in depth are secure. Then it extended to Counter Air Operations so that enemy aircraft don’t take off to attack our army and other targets in our country.

It expanded thereafter to strategic bombing so that the factories that make the guns for that army and support that nation’s economy don’t function. To state that loss of territory is unacceptable to the army and so the air force should do only support to the ground troops at the FLOT (Forward Line of Own Troops) is too myopic and goes against the tenet of flexibility and simultaneity as the same aircraft can be used for all the above roles!

Perceptions are different and even an air warrior will not accept loss of territory. We cannot afford to lock up an asset under the Theatre Commander that has the capability to cause harm to the enemy at tactical, operational and strategic levels where the theatre commander’s horizon may be just 300 km. The army moves at 2 knots, the navy at 20 knots and I have flown at 2000 kts. There will be a whale of a difference in perceptions and decision-taking capabilities because of this. Procrastination can have fatal consequences for an air warrior. The mindsets in terms of flexibility and many other attributes are vastly different.

Simultaneity: Some of the commentators are not clear as to why the air force continues to harp on simultaneity of operations while unwilling to contribute resources for joint operations under a single commander, responsible for a theatre. Simultaneity means that the omni-role aircraft can be used against tactical, operational or strategic targets including delivery of nuclear weapons across large swathes of geography well beyond the horizon of the theatre commander in a persistent manner. Omni role indicates multiplicity of roles that the aircraft can be utilised for which may be beyond a theatre. Control of such an aircraft by a theatre commander will be gross underutilisation of that aircraft when we don’t have adequate number of aircraft.

Lack of Integration: Lack of integration has been quoted by many as the reason for creating theatre commands. History is witness to the fact that the IAF is wholly behind the idea of integration in time and space for effect-based operations. Many times, the air force has been asked “How many sorties can the air force provide?” or “How many aircraft are tasked for army support?” The initiation of planning has been held hostage to the answers for these. When the answers are not forthcoming (as these are not relevant questions), the plan is made without the integration of the air force and air power is treated as an add on bonus.

Wherever the army has integrated the air force at the planning stage with a sincere appreciation of the situation, by stating which targets need to be neutralised at what time or what needs to be transported, the air force has always delivered. Lack of integrated planning destroys the essence of integration. We need to integrate the aim/objectives, integrate ideation and thought process, integrate the time frames and integrate post conflict resolution in emerging scenarios. Communication is the most important process to attain integration. Lack of it reinforces the silos.

Assets Under Control: It is a fallacy to believe that unless the army commander has air assets under his exclusive control (making him a Theatre Commander) no integrated operation can be planned. With such a mentality, Balakot would have never happened, where aircraft from the squadrons based at three different Commands of the IAF integrated to carry out the strike successfully in radio silence. There is a difference between the two. If effective integration has to take place the air force needs to be taken into confidence on the evolving situation which has not been forthcoming as experienced in the past. When the air force is needed, then the true extent of the issue is revealed and the question that is asked is can the air force do something? Kargil has been quoted as an intelligence failure. Be that as it may, the air force discovered the air defences that the Pakistanis had after losing a few aircraft and one of them bringing back an un-exploded Stinger missile it its jet pipe. Can the nation accept this in the age of satellites that can be used for monitoring our borders? Instead of trying to get assets under control, integrated planning and frank communication is the key.

Budgetary allocation to armed forces

There is a perpetual debate on the subject of “Guns Vs Butter”. This issue was settled by Chanakya a long time ago and that empire had the largest India-centric land area under its control. He had stated that one sixth of the kingdom’s revenue/expenditure needs to be spent on its protection. There were no pensions at that time. Have we ever spent that kind of resources (without pensions) on our defence? If we had spent that kind of money we would not be in this sorry state. This issue needs to be resolved by the military and political leadership before we can embark on grandiose plans of Theatre Commands so that the armed forces have adequate assets, may be a full-fledged army, navy and air force for each Theatre.

DMA Tasking

It is apparent that the DMA tasking has been resorted to without the above-mentioned due diligence. To quote “…to facilitate the restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through the establishment of theater/ joint commands”. It jumps from facilitation of restructuring to establishment of theatre commands with a reference to optimal utilisation. It is an impossible task to achieve if the above-mentioned steps have not been followed diligently.

The tasking on the lines of two land theatres, a maritime command and an air defence command effectively reduces the Indian Navy to a Maritime Command and the Indian Air Force to an Air Defence Command with all other air assets being distributed among the land-based Theatre Commands. If all naval assets are placed under the Maritime Command, then the Chief of Naval Staff may become redundant. Similar is the case in the IAF where the Chief of Air Staff may become redundant. The flexibility available for simultaneity of air operations in the tactical, operational and strategic levels will be curtailed. The potential of the omni-role aircraft will be limited as it will either be assigned to the air defence role or close air support role that the army desires. This does not enhance organisational effectiveness of the armed forces as a whole as the potential of our own assets will be intentionally curtailed which will be advantageous to our enemies.

The suggested solution

There is a need to address the cognitive dissonance caused by the prevailing mindsets and lack of communication (trust) for integration to succeed. Training at joint service institutions should include the operations methodology of the other services and this needs to be assessed. This may reduce the cognitive dissonance. The need of the hour is integration and not disintegration by implementing ill thought-out plans to change the organisational structures that impinge on the overall organisational effectiveness of the armed forces. It can be anticipated that a Theatre Commander will have a Chief of Staff and under him will be the various staff officers of which one will be from the IAF. This is a sure-fire way to waste the air resources placed under the Theatre Commander.

Taking a lead from the published article on the suggested, rudimentary, indigenous Indian Military Doctrine at http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/indian-military-doctrine-an-analysis/, it would be saner to have the same Area Of Responsibility (AOR) for the army, navy, and IAF commands which will be much larger. We may continue with the current practice of C-in-C. For example, we may call them GOC–in-C (West), FOC-in-C (West) and AOC-in-C (West). During peacetime they carry out all the peace time tasks as of now. We also need to have a Joint Force Commander of the region, JFC (West), who will be senior to all three and have no troops under command during peacetime. He could be from any service. These four carry out joint/integrated planning based on the capabilities they have and plan for capabilities that are needed if they do not have them integral to their Commands.

During war they move in under the JFC (West) and become Army/Navy/AF Component Commanders while retaining their appointments as C-in-C. It goes without saying that the JFC has staff from all three services who do the detailed planning and staff checks. This would ensure that the Cs-in-C can concentrate on training for combat readiness and administration while being involved in joint/integrated planning. JFC will also be tasked with many more functions, the prime among them being inspections of units for operational readiness as he has to ultimately deliver as head of the Joint Force. The same could happen at the centre with the Permanent Chairman of COSC becoming JFC (India) and staff of the IDS HQ with Chiefs becoming component commanders. For a lower level of task other than war, an integrated task force can be set up with a nominated Commander for the task under the JFC and the units return to their Commands after the task.

Legal Authority

Besides the doctrinal base there needs to be a legal authority like an Act of Parliament to authorise such changes. Authority to direct, control, reward and punish implies legitimate power. In a society subscribing to democratic values, the legitimacy of power wielded in any organisation finds its origin in the elected government. This has many ramifications since service in the armed forces is voluntary.

Conclusion

We have been addressing issues as and when they crop up or based on the threat posed by our adversaries because of lack of goal orientation percolating down to the National Security Policy (Guide to Action). Goal orientation defined by the national leadership is absolutely essential as a start point. This basis should not be compromised. The reorganisation of the armed forces to enhance effectiveness needs to be a well thought out exercise. There are many factors that need to be considered as stated above which includes analysis of the evolution of current organisational structures, design of a better structure, managing the change from the old to the new with adequate foresight to address all the issues that will arise besides activities at the macro level such as a legal framework, goal clarity, norms for budgetary allocations and many more issues.

The suggested solution may ensure that the strengths of each service are retained, no disruption of Service Doctrines and promote joint/integrated application of military force, enhancing overall combat effectiveness. Appointments mentioned may be renamed without affecting the tasks. There will be a need for fleshing out the suggested solution, trying it out in the small Northern Command as a pilot project and designing the interlinkages between the and army and air force. These could be extended to the higher defence organisations.

Creation of an Air Defence Command and Domain-specific Theatre Commands and then addressing the issues that may crop up as crisis management is not a solution and will have disastrous consequences. The solution needs to complement basic values, traditions and leadership principles prevalent in each of the armed forces for enhancing combat effectiveness of the armed forces as a whole as personnel deliver results and they need to be taken on board. Let us choose the harder right than the easier wrong as the adverse consequences will be detrimental to the integrity of the nation.

This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here to read Part 1.

The author was on the faculty of College of Defence Management, department of Strategic Management. Views are personal.

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