Does Higher De­fence Or­gan­i­sa­tion in In­dia Re­quire Ma­jor Surgery? Part-II

India Strategic - - CONTENTS - By Air Mar­shal Vinod Pat­ney (Retd)

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.


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.


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.

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