Does Higher Defence Organisation in India Require Major Surgery? Part-II
Editor’s Note: Part-I of the article dealing with Civil/Military Interaction, CDS/PCCOSC (Chief of Defence Staff/ Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee) aspects and, Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Planning Processes was published in the July edition of India Strategic and hopefully enjoyed by our wide readership. The present (August) edition carries the remaining (Part-II) of the article on ‘Jointness’ and ‘Theatre Commands’. Happy Reading.
PREAMBLE: Required changes in the Higher Defence Organisation in our country are a subject of near constant debate. Many and diverse views continue to be aired. A common denominator seems to be dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs. The need to improve on existing templates is a laudable thought but do we require major surgery? Also, must we be taken in by examples of systems that obtain in other countries or should we seek solutions that are more appropriate to our circumstances? Should we blindly ape what others do or use our genius to fashion systems that are more applicable to our needs? What are the changes that could be introduced to advantage? This article addresses these questions and more. The views expressed are personal and not parochial but they are, possibly naturally, based on the experiences of a lifetime of service in our air force.
Innumerable numbers of articles have been written and discussions held on the absence of jointness in the armed forces and the overriding need to instill it. Unfortunately, jointness means different things to different people. Remedies abound but jointness has remained elusive. It was thought that with institutions like the National Defence Academy ( NDA), Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) and the other interservice organisations, greater understanding
will occur and jointness will automatically follow. Such optimistic thoughts have been belied. We have been unable to get rid of ‘turf wars’. This is in spite of the fact that with joint training institutions greater bonhomie amongst the services has come about but jointness is a long way off. There have been occasions when the services have been in agreement and have put up joint recommendations but these relate to essentially administrative issues like pay commission awards and the like.
Our history of conflicts since our Independence shows that the level of cooperation should have been better. A few examples are:
In the Kashmir War of 1947-48, despite Prime Minister’s advice to the Army Chief on the importance of Skardu, his air counterpart was not informed and this delayed the supplies to the besieged and beleaguered garrison. That led to the surrender and consequent massacre of the garrison.
In 1962, while the Government did not permit use of combat air power which had been deployed and was fully ready for any contingency, the phenomenal and back-breaking effort by the air transport fleet was wasted due to poor selection of dropping zones especially at Longju and Tsangdhar. Their unsuitability was conveyed by the AOC-in-C to the Corps Commander but the former was over-ruled.
There was little joint planning before and during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. The IAF leadership was not aware of our Army’s plan and could not
mesh its plan with that of the Army. Possibly, this resulted in the fizzling out of quick advance by the Army in Lahore sector on September 6, 1965. The air effort was available for supporting the land forces but the demands either were not raised or were rejected by the JAAOCs. This resulted in utilisation of aircraft to around one sortie per aircraft per day against a planning figure and availability of 3 sorties/aircraft/day.
Jaffna University heli- drop soon after the induction of Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) into Sri Lanka in 1987 was a disaster and resulted in very heavy but avoidable casualties mainly due to lack of joint planning. The situation changed remarkably with the setting up of HQ IPKF at Madras ( now Chennai) and of an Air Force Cell therein.
This is a sad story as one should have expected that we would learn lessons from each conflict and cooperation would improve progressively. Some improvements did take place as in the case of the 1971 conflict and the Kargil conflict but, largely, an unsatisfactory situation continues to prevail. This is in spite of a 16 years experiment with IDS and the Unified Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC).
Three issues militate against better jointness amongst the services. Firstly, there is a lack of adequate understanding of the operational thinking, strengths and limitations of the other services. This is particularly true in knowledge about the Air Force. The capabilities of the air force are not well known and hence the expectations are not realistic. What makes matters worse is that air power is inherently difficult to understand. When the air force says that it is unable to perform a task, it is sometimes mistaken for the air force not wanting to do so. It is a historical fact that the air force has always come forward to support the Army or Navy but at times this fact is not appreciated. On the other hand, the ubiquitous nature of air power is appreciated and there is a clamour for an air force under command. This goes against the basic principle in the utilisation of air power — unity of command. Jointness will remain elusive unless such cardinal issues are understood.
Secondly, in spite of so many years of seeking jointness, the roles and missions of individual services have not been defined and the core competencies have not yet been stipulated. It must be done post haste. This is an essential pre-requisite. Three independent services have been created because they have different attributes and core competencies. In the absence of stipulations of core competencies and defined roles, attempts to encroach into the other domain will continue. Such attempts, often without informing the concerned service, cannot but create bad blood. It is akin to poaching on the territory of a sister service. ‘Must guard our turf’ has become a way of life. Once again, it is the Air Force that bears the major brunt of ‘attempted encroachment’. Once the core competencies and roles and missions of each service are well defined and enforced, hopefully by a governmental fiat, ‘attempted encroachments’ should cease. In the view of the author, a Governmental order stipulating the core competencies and roles and missions of each service is the single most important remedy to bring about jointness. With better jointness better cooperation and coordination will follow.
Thirdly, by its very nature, air power has a role to play, often a decided role, in all types of operations. As a result it is much in demand. The service that needs air power often does not recognise that the air force capability is finite. It happens that at times the air effort is not available in sufficient quantity. There can be many reasons for this from availability to weather to need for prioritisation of available effort etc. However this is not understood and bad blood is created. Worse, there is a clamour for air power under command. What is not recognised is that if the demands for air assets that another service seeks are made available to the Air Force, better availability and utilisation will result as flying operations are without doubt the core competency of the Air Force. With duplication, command and control issues and air space management issues raise their ugly head and give cause to more disagreements.
Possibly a fourth factor is the desire to have all support functions under command. It is but obvious that such an approach is not conducive
A Governmental order stipulating the core competencies and roles and missions of each service is the single most important remedy to bring about jointness. With better jointness better cooperation and coordination will follow
to enhanced jointness.
Implicit in the four factors described above is the remedy to right the wrongs. One issue that will probably transcend all others to bring about jointness is joint planning. The basis of joint planning has to be recognition of core competencies and understanding of roles and missions of each service. Again, this factor cannot be reiterated or re-emphasised often enough. Joint planning will also bring to light the availability of resources and an understanding of how and why the poverty should be shared. Besides all this, it is a foregone conclusion that we must fight together. Some 15 years ago, the author had opined that far more important than planning for joint operations is joint planning for operations. This is not a play on words but an important factor. The author still stands by it and argues that joint planning is the single most important aspect for inter service cooperation. It is possible that in some circumstances, a single service operation is the best option. A single service operation is indeed a valid operation of war as long as it is the result of joint planning. Meaningful and continuous joint planning will bring about jointness.
There were two occasions in independent India where a Unified Command system was adopted. The first was during the IPKF operations in 1987 (briefly referred to above). In the early days itself, the Army Commander elected to task helicopters for a helicopter drop of Army personnel at Jaffna University. The Air Force element was against it calling it far too risky but was overruled. In the event all helicopters were damaged. More importantly, a number of lives were lost. Almost immediately thereafter, an Air Component Commander was positioned to take charge of deployment and tasking of air assets. The Air Force elements continued to support the operations but under the control of the Air Commander. The Unified Command System was a failure and discontinued with.
ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR COMMAND
The second instance relates to the formation of the Unified Andaman and Nicobar Command. The Command was set up in October 2001. One of the objectives was to establish the viability of a Theatre Command. The functioning over the last 16 years does not give confidence that a Theatre Command system will be of benefit.
The Unified Command has not succeeded in fostering jointness. Reportedly, inter service rivalry is as strong as ever. Personnel of each service have to follow the rules of the parent service even if they are markedly different from the others. Commonality has not been ensured. The authority of the C-in-C is undermined as he can try disciplinary cases only of personnel of his parent service. The personnel of the other services can be tried by the senior officer of the service in the Command but if the case has to be referred to someone senior, it is so referred to respective Service HQ. Such a situation is not conducive to good discipline. There is no combined maintenance organisation but each service has their own. A Common communication system does not exist. Service HQ, possibly perforce, have to deal with the Component Commanders directly bypassing the HQ of the Command. Land continues to be controlled by the parent service and permission has to be sought from the HQ of the service concerned for any planned utilisation. Permission is seldom granted.
The major lacuna is in the operational arena. The Command has a clearly stipulated task but little means to meet the requirement. The forces deployed are meagre and it is a moot point if augmentation of forces, in terms of how many and when they can be expected, is inadequate. The C-in-C does not have enough forces under Command to plan and conduct operational exercises and test the mettle of his personnel. One wonders how the Command will fare in war.
The ANC does not have enough forces under command as more forces are unavailable. Such poverty sharing will be a regular feature if Theatre Commands are introduced. It will be difficult to carry out meaningful training and operational planning in many such commands.
It is recommended that the Unified Command
The Unified Command has not succeeded in fostering jointness. Reportedly, inter service rivalry is as strong as ever. Personnel of each service have to follow the rules of the parent service even if they are markedly different from the others
be disbanded and we should revert to the earlier system of placing the forces under the concerned geographical command. In this way the geographical commands will have to just add on to their responsibilities but will have the freedom to work out contingency planning and training schedules as a substantially greater force level will be available. If after 16 years, there are such drawbacks in the functioning of the Command, it behoves us reconsider the setting up of a Unified ANC and to seek other solutions.
NEED FOR THEATRE COMMANDS
An organisation or proposed organisation should be based on perceived needs. It is generally accepted that whilst we must prepare for a major war to create a deterrent capability, the types of conflicts in the near future are likely to be short duration or even near continuous, event-based low level sub conventional operations. For such operations, a mammoth organisation like a Theatre Command is a gross overkill.
Conventional wisdom also suggests that if a major war were to break out it would be sharp, intense and last for 15 days or so. In wars like this, air power will have a defining role. Such wars will demand concentration of air power at different locations at different times for different roles. The radii of action of modern day aircraft can be as high as 1,500-2,000kms or more. This implies the ability and maybe the need, to hit targets at long distances rapidly and repeatedly including the ability to hit targets in the operational area of responsibility of more than one Command. The aircraft may have to – probably will have to – transcend the geographical limits of other Commands. Deployment of aircraft may have to be changed repeatedly, from one sector to another, depending on the progress of operations. History records as to how all this and more was done in previous conflicts even when our capability was nowhere near as good as it is today. The situation becomes more complex if we add the actions carried out by the adversary. Air Defence and offensive operations have to be conducted with effective synergy. All this must lead to the conclusion that air operations are markedly different from that of the other two services in terms of expanse of areas of interest and rapidity with which operations can be mounted. Strategic agility is a byword of air power. Unity of Command with devolution of control is an essential characteristic for effective use of air power and must be respected.
The above paragraph should not give the impression that the air force will fight its own war – Far from it. It is again emphasised that joint planning is the name of the game. The Joint Plan will include the aforementioned tasks for the air force but not preclude other tasks. A Theatre Command system will introduce one more level in the control of air power and place a spanner in the work of air power, arguably the work of the service that will have most to offer. Most importantly, piecemeal use of air power has never yielded good results. This is particularly true when the forces available are few. There have been occasions in the past when control and tasking of particular aircraft in short supply was carried out directly by Air HQ. There can be other reasons also where Air HQ will elect to exercise direct control over designated forces.
The underlying conclusion must be that a Theatre Command system will serve no useful purpose but would only impede the capability and potential of air power.
If a major war were to break out it would be sharp, intense and last for 15 days or so. In wars like this, air power will have a defining role. Such wars will demand concentration of air power at different locations at different times for different roles
The author finds no justification for introducing either a CDS or Theatre Commands. Indeed the argument is that it is contra-indicated. The essential need is for better joint planning that may have to be enforced by the Government. At the same time the cardinal requirement is that the Government must take it upon itself to stipulate the core competencies and roles and missions of the three services.
There are so many issues demanding attention of the Government and the Armed Forces. Modernisation requirements are urgent and so is the need for clear policies on space, cyber space, special forces etc. These are weighty issues that should be progressed at speed. Unnecessary impediments like discussions on CDS/Theatre Commands should be put to bed once and for all. We need improvements to our Higher Defence Organisation, not major surgery.