Unified command

Jointmanship of the armed forces was intended to ensure that there would be a commonality of equipment wherever possible and an ability to conduct operations with a togetherness that would overwhelm the enemy.

It has been suggested, and largely accepted by the Government that three new tri-Service Commands for Aerospace, Cyber and Special Forces be created with the intention of achieving jointmanship for which a model was created in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2001 with staff drawn from the Army, Navy, Indian Air Force and Coast Guard and led by an officer of the rank of Lt General or Naval or Air Force equivalent. That the arrangement was not replicated with any alacrity on the mainland showed that there was resentment when the commander happened to belong to service like the Navy or the Air Force.

The government has, therefore, been careful in pushing the concept of joint commands even though it is a universally acclaimed method of waging war because of the synergy it is supposed to impart among the fighting elements, bringing their joint capabilities to sharp focus.

Lack of unity

Although commonality of equipment has long been held to be a sacred requirement for the past two decades or more personal preferences and idiosyncrasies of those responsible for pursuing purchases in an already deeply denigrated system after the Bofors howitzer and HDW submarine purchase scandals affects the process.

More recently the Comptroller and Auditor General had reason to comment adversely at the purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by the Indian Air Force and the Navy without including the Army in the process. The CAG put on record the “total lack of jointness in their functioning, buying the same equipment from the same source at different prices thereby failing to get best value for money for the country through economies of scale.” It found that UAVs, sniper rifles and underwater diving equipment which were common requirements of all the three Services were procured by them independently without reference to each other.

India's national security is too serious a matter to be permitted to be held hostage to petty inter-Service squabbles of parochial commanders. The government must intervene and should the facilitative approach fail to yield the desired consensus, the government should adopt a more pro-active approach. The Services must be told in categorical terms and in case persuasion fails it should enforce jointness.

As a steppingstone for greater integration of the armed forces with the Ministry of Defence the Group of Ministers constituted after the Kargil war recommended an institution known as the Integrated Defence Staff which was created in 2001. It was an amalgam of personnel from all the three Services as well as the Indian Coast Guard. It has been in existence for the better part of 13 years.  The rationale for its creation was “to ensure a high degree of synergy between the Armed Forces and it is to  act as the point organisation for integration of policy, doctrine, war fighting and procurement by employing best management practices.”

That the helicopter, sniper rifle and diving gear fiascos should happen under the very nose of the joint procurement team indicates a new method of corruption wherein there is collusive intent among all the constituted parties. It appears to be extremely distant from the intended objective of “procurement by employing best management practices”.  

It needs to be recalled that from the very beginning of the debate on jointness the Army's insistence that being the “senior service” the rank and position of its personnel should take precedence in the hierarchy caused unease among the officers of the Indian Air Force (which is the youngest) and the Indian Navy. The creation of the tri-Service Andaman and Nicobar Command incorporating the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard personnel in 2001 and the Strategic Forces Command which handles the Indian nuclear deterrent have been predicated to the jointness principle.

Joint commands

Since then, a suggestion has been mooted to create similar joint commands for aerospace operations, cyber warfare and Special Forces. To facilitate the ongoing process of jointness the Naresh Chandra committee has recommended the creation of a post of permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee which would be the single-point contact with the Minister of Defence on military matters. The IAF has accepted the concept. The permanent chairman would have tenure of two years and the officer would be of the rank of a four-star General akin to the Chiefs of Staff.

Among the Naresh Chandra committee's recommendations was the suggestion that the Service that rules the respective element-the Air Force the air and space; the Army the land, the Navy the sea and cyberspace-should have a lead role to play in that particular Command. This appears to undo everything that went into creating jointness in the first instance. The reason for inter-twining of the personnel of all the four elements of the security forces was supposed to weld them to unified action during operations. By introducing the “lead role” concept the “Integrated Defence Staff” will end up being disintegrated into the Service mode once again.

In the “lead role” in the Aerospace Command the IAF will have to create the satellite network facilities that will help it launch operations deep into enemy territory-against Pakistan's limited depth it should be in a position to reach every aerodrome and airstrip with both aircraft and missiles.

It will have to re-learn the lessons of the Kargil war during which it found it difficult to reach well-entrenched Pakistani forces till laser-guided missiles were made available. Speed of responses will also matter because no more can India afford a two-month timeframe to wrap up a campaign in the Himalayas.

Hopefully, its arsenal is acquired using the “best practices” for which the Command is being created. Those who have been following closely the transformation into Command configuration have advised that in the interest of bonhomie and camaraderie among warriors it would be appropriate that the forces should adopt the rotation system of leadership, if for no other reason than to impress those who are being led that there exists within its ranks a generosity of spirit for which they will lay down their lives unflinchingly.