A SHOT IN THE DARK

India Today - - SPECIAL REPORT ARMED FORCES - By San­deep Un­nithan As China im­ple­ments joint war­fare strate­gies, the ef­forts of the In­dian armed forces to do the same re­main on pa­per

On April 25, In­dia’s ser­vice chiefs re­leased a 62-page doc­u­ment that ad­dressed the range of se­cu­rity threats fac­ing the coun­try. With an in­sur­gency in the Kash­mir Val­ley and at­tacks by Maoists in Cen­tral In­dia, as well as the strate­gic chal­lenge posed by China and Pak­istan, the re­lease of the doc­trine could not have been bet­ter timed. The Joint Doc­trine for the Armed Forces re­leased by Chair­man, Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee, Ad­mi­ral Sunil Lanba, on April 26, lists out the threats to na­tional se­cu­rity and the tri-ser­vices ap­proach to meet­ing them—by con­stantly im­prov­ing co­or­di­na­tion and syn­er­gis­ing op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties of each ser­vice for a force mul­ti­plier ef­fect across the spec­trum of con­flict. ‘Sur­gi­cal strikes’ are held out as a pos­si­ble re­sponse to ter­ror provo­ca­tions.

The doc­u­ment re­leased by Ad­mi­ral Lanba is an up­date of a 2007 pa­per on joint doc­trine which was never made pub­lic, and per­haps for good rea­son—the new doc­u­ment has been pil­lo­ried by mil­i­tary an­a­lysts. Bharat Kar­nad, a re­search pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Re­search, called it an ‘un­so­phis­ti­cated, col­lege sopho­more-level pa­per’. Ad­mi­ral Arun Prakash, for­mer navy chief and chair­man, COSC, termed the joint doc­u­ment ‘ano-

dyne, far­ci­cal and pre­ma­ture’. “There is no joint­ness to speak of on the ground, so to pro­duce a doc­trine is mean­ing­less. Ev­ery ser­vice is do­ing its own thing,” he says. “The joint doc­trine is dif­fi­cult read­ing, not only be­cause of its con­fused (and con­fus­ing) def­i­ni­tions, terms and con­cepts, but be­cause of its jar­gon and lack of think­ing,” says Anit Mukher­jee, a non-res­i­dent fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion In­dia Cen­tre.

The pur­pose of such a doc­trine is to not only guide the joint ser­vices op­er­a­tions of In­dia’s armed forces, but also to con­vey its in­tent, chal­lenges and threats to a coun­try’s strate­gic part­ners and ad­ver­saries. It is on this count that it falls short of the mark. This is pos­si­bly be­cause the doc­trine, in the works for nearly four years, was de­vel­oped in the ab­sence of a clearly de­fined na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy. The US, for ex­am­ple, has a na­tional se­cu­rity strat­egy, from which flows a na­tional mil­i­tary strat­egy. This out­lines the strate­gic aims of its mil­i­tary. The US’s joint doc­trine is de­rived from th­ese mil­i­tary strate­gic aims. The writ­ers of In­dia’s joint doc­trine have done what writ­ers of pre­vi­ous, ser­vice-spe­cific doc­trines have done in the ab­sence of a na­tional strat­egy—de­duced them from the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion.

The lack of na­tional strate­gic ob­jec­tives to guide the mil­i­tary is not the only cause for con­cern. The doc­trine also comes at a time when none of the key re­forms that would ac­tu­ally push ‘joint­ness’ has been im­ple­mented. Joint­ness is es­sen­tially the abil­ity of the army, air force and the navy to op­er­ate in a team-like, mu­tu­ally re­in­forc­ing man­ner. Th­ese re­forms, first sug­gested by a Group of Min­is­ters ap­pointed af­ter the Kargil War in 2000, en­vis­aged a rad­i­cal over­haul of the na­tional se­cu­rity sys­tem and a re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of the MoD, a process not car­ried out since In­de­pen­dence. The most cru­cial prob­lem, how­ever, is that a Chief of De­fence Staff (CDS) is yet to be ap­pointed, 16 years af­ter this post was rec­om­mended by a GoM in 2001.

Worse, the few steps taken to­wards joint­ness soon af­ter the Kargil Re­view Com­mit­tee re­port was pub­lished are slowly be­ing rolled back. For in­stance, the navy last year re­claimed the An­daman and Ni­co­bar Com­mand (ANC) head­quar­ters in Port Blair. The ANC, with its mod­est mix of tri-ser­vices as­sets—he­li­copters, naval pa­trol craft and an army in­fantry brigade—was meant to be a cru­cible for the armed forces’ ex­per­i­ment at joint­man­ship. It was a func­tional tri-ser­vices com­mand that would repli­cate joint op­er­a­tions on ground. It was cre­ated in 2002, and its com­mand was to be ro­tated between three-star of­fi­cers from the army, navy and air force. The pri­mary ob­jec­tive of the ex­er­cise was to give the top brass a feel of a tri-ser­vices com­mand. The ANC will now con­tinue as a navy-driven com­mand. The ser­vices have also de­cided that even the three newly pro­posed com­mands—for cy­ber, space and spe­cial forces op­er­a­tions—will al­ways be headed by a navy,

air force and army of­fi­cer re­spec­tively, thereby per­pet­u­at­ing a trend of ser­vice­dom­i­nated com­mands and sound­ing the death knell for joint­man­ship. Last year, China car­ried out its big­gest mil­i­tary re­or­gan­i­sa­tion since 1949. The Cen­tral Mil­i­tary Com­mis­sion, un­der Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, was ex­panded to 15 joint func­tional de­part­ments. The PLA re­or­gan­ised all its ground, air and naval as­sets into five peace­time ‘joint the­atre com­mands’, which were staffed with per­son­nel from all its ser­vices to re­alise their syn­er­gies. The Lanzhou and Chengdu mil­i­tary re­gions, fac­ing In­dia, were re­placed with a sin­gle Western Mil­i­tary Re­gion, with in­te­grated air and ground as­sets. In­dia has a to­tal of seven sep­a­rate com­mands—four army and three air force—fac­ing the dis­puted bound­ary with China.

It came as no sur­prise that this re­form was driven by the po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive, chiefly Pres­i­dent Xi. World­wide, all in­stances of joint­man­ship have been driven in such a man­ner. The US Congress pushed through the Gold­wa­ter-Ni­chols Act of 1986 in the face of fierce op­po­si­tion from the US armed forces. This paved the way for a sin­gle Chair­man Joint Chiefs of Staff to head sev­eral in­te­grated com­mands, en­sure joint­ness in the US armed forces and en­hance plan­ning through in­ter-ser­vice co­or­di­na­tion and pri­ori­ti­sa­tion of mil­i­tary bud­gets. In the case of In­dia’s joint doc­trine, the ab­sence of Union de­fence min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley at the April 26 launch un­der­lined per­haps the big­gest flaw in the present ser­vices joint doc­trine: the lack of po­lit­i­cal over­sight.

The post of Chair­man, Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Chief of De­fence Staff (CDS), has been the fun­da­men­tal force driv­ing joint­ness in four of the five P5 coun­tries (see box: Joint Ef­fort). The Modi gov­ern­ment is be­lieved to be con­sid­er­ing the ap­point­ment of In­dia’s first CDS, a four-star chief who will be a sin­gle- point ad­vi­sor for the gov­ern­ment. As the head of the tri-ser­vices head­quar­ters In­te­grated De­fence Staff (IDS), the CDS will spur joint­man­ship in train­ing and pri­ori­tise equip­ment ac­qui­si­tions. This post is one that the armed forces have awaited for more than a decade-and-ahalf. It has been the sub­ject of at least three com­mit­tees in the past 17 years. The Arun Singh com­mit­tee on de­fence man­age­ment first rec­om­mended the cre­ation of a CDS post in 2001, a pro­posal that was im­me­di­ately ac­cepted by the then rul­ing NDA-1. Un­for­tu­nately, the gov­ern­ment was un­able to im­ple­ment it. The Naresh Chan­dra com­mit­tee, set up by the UPA in 2012, rec­om­mended a per­ma­nent chair­man, chiefs of staff, in­stead. But even that post was not cre­ated. The CDS was re-rec­om­mended as re­cently as De­cem­ber 2016 by the Lt. Gen­eral D.B. Shekatkar com­mit­tee, ap­pointed by for­mer de­fence min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar. The re­port called for a CDS to be the link between the armed forces and the gov­ern­ment, and also rec­om­mended the set­ting up of three to four joint com­mands which would in­clude el­e­ments of two or more armed forces.

In the ab­sence of any po­lit­i­cal over­sight, the three ser­vices con­tinue to train, op­er­ate and pro­cure weapon sys­tems in­de­pen­dently. This has had dele­te­ri­ous con­se­quences for joint op­er­a­tions. For in­stance, when In­dia briefly con­tem­plated air strikes against ter­ror­ist camps in Pak­istan-oc­cu­pied Kash­mir af­ter the Mum­bai at­tacks of Novem­ber 2008, it dis­cov­ered that the maps used by the air force and the army used dif­fer­ent grids, vastly com­pli­cat­ing the ex­er­cise. It is for rea­sons like this that joint­man­ship is im­por­tant. The US over­hauled its mil­i­tary’s com­mand and con­trol struc­ture to over­come in­ter­op­er­abil­ity is­sues like the army ground forces be­ing un­able to com­mu­ni­cate with navy ships due to in­com­pat­i­ble ra­dios. This is still a prob­lem for the In­dian armed forces—the IAF, navy and army use dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems.

The pub­lished doc­trine analy­ses joint­ness, ob­serv­ing how mil­i­tary

integration is man­dated by re­source con­straints, and makes pos­si­ble ‘cen­tralised plan­ning’ and ap­pro­pri­ate al­lo­ca­tion of re­sources to ob­tain ‘the right mix of forces at the right time and place’ and a high-level of ‘cross-do­main syn­ergy’. “But af­ter say­ing all this about the ur­gent need for in­te­grat­ing the mil­i­tary,” says Kar­nad, “and re­al­is­ing that they had gone out on a limb, the doc­u­ment quickly back­tracks, re­it­er­at­ing on the very next page that all the pre­ced­ing ma­te­rial notwith­stand­ing, ‘it does not im­ply phys­i­cal integration’ of the three armed ser­vices.” “We can­not change or­gan­i­sa­tions overnight,” says Lt. Gen­eral Vinod Bhatia, di­rec­tor,

Union de­fence min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley’s ab­sence at the launch un­der­lined a flaw in the cur­rent ser­vices’ joint doc­trine: no po­lit­i­cal over­sight

Cen­tre for Joint War­fare Stud­ies. “Th­ese have evolved suited to In­dian con­di­tions. This new one is a first step to­wards integration of the three ser­vices. From this, the armed forces will evolve their joint warfight­ing ca­pa­bil­ity.” How­ever, in the ab­sence of po­lit­i­cal over­sight, what the coun­try gets is ‘joint and co­or­di­nated op­er­a­tions’, a eu­phemism for the three ser­vices con­tin­u­ing to guard their re­spec­tive turf.

In his sem­i­nal 2016 pa­per, ‘Fight­ing Sep­a­rately—Joint­ness and Civil Mil­i­tary Re­la­tions’, Anit Mukher­jee re­counts why this model of ‘joint and co­or­di­nated op­er­a­tions’ is deeply flawed and how it un­der­mined the com­bat ef­fec­tive­ness of In­dia’s only ex­pe­di­tionary coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign, the In­dian Peace­keep­ing Force (IPKF) de­ployed in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990. At the apex level, the three ser­vice chiefs en­joyed a good rap­port and es­tab­lished a tri-ser­vices over­all forces head­quar­ters, HQ OFC, be­fore op­er­a­tions be­gan. This was headed by Lt. Gen­eral Depin­der Singh, who com­manded three ser­vice com­po­nent com­man­ders. How­ever, within a fort­night, the naval and air force com­po­nent com­man­ders sent their ju­niors to act as li­ai­son of­fi­cers—an ar­range­ment that con­tin­ued for the du­ra­tion of the mis­sion. Even though the ser­vice chiefs wanted a type of joint the­atre com­mand with se­nior com­po­nent com­man­ders, their for­ma­tion com­man­ders re­sisted this idea and in­stead pre­ferred the older model of li­ai­son of­fi­cer to ‘co­or­di­nate op­er­a­tions’. Faced with this op­po­si­tion from within their own ser­vices, the naval and air force chiefs backed down. This, Mukher­jee points out, is what hap­pens when the armed forces or­gan­ise them­selves in the ab­sence of civil­ian over­sight.

The joint doc­trine pub­lished on April 26 lays out how the ser­vices will man­age the im­pos­si­ble task of fight­ing jointly yet sep­a­rately—a joint op­er­a­tions com­mit­tee un­der the COSC will plan and con­duct op­er­a­tions. Joint or­gan­i­sa­tions at the ser­vice com­mand HQs, ad­vance HQ (air force), mar­itime air op­er­a­tions Cen­tre (air force), will con­duct joint op­er­a­tions at the func­tional level. In­ter­faces for joint op­er­a­tions at the tac­ti­cal level are the tac­ti­cal air cen­tres, ground li­ai­son sec­tions and the mar­itime el­e­ment of the air force. The prob­lem with this ap­proach, as de­scribed in a cri­tique of the US mil­i­tary pre-Gold­wa­ter Re­forms, is what a 2016 Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice pa­per of 2016 calls ‘dual hat­ting’. ‘More of­ten than not,’ it says, ‘the in­ter­ests of the in­di­vid­ual mil­i­taries the chiefs be­longed to were pri­ori­tised over those of the joint force.’ The sta­tus quo con­tin­ues.

UNITED WE STAND Ad­mi­ral Sunil Lanba re­leases the joint doc­trine flanked by Air Chief Mar­shal B.S. Dhanoa (left) and Army Chief Bipin Rawat

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