A SHOT IN THE DARK
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