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Enhancing Jointness in Indian Armed Forces: Case for Unified Commands

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  • June 27, 2014
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chair: Vice Admiral Anup Singh (Retd)
    External Discussants: Brig Rahul Bhonsle (Retd) and Gp Capt Vivek Kapur
    Internal Discussants: Col Vivek Chadha (Retd) and Gp Capt Naval Jagota

    The paper was an attempt to bring out the necessity to establish unified commands for enhanced jointness and integration at the strategic and operational level in the Indian context. While delving on the essential arguments for and against unified commands, the paper outlined various options available for India for establishing unified commands.

    The author argued that jointness and integration of the military is an inevitable requirement for the modern day battlefield. The principles underlying these features are inter-service cooperation and economy of effort, both of which are crucial to war-fighting. Unified commands that come about as a consequence of the said principles provide synergy to military endeavours. But integration and jointness are contingent upon the presence of an effective higher defence organisation. The lack of strategic thinking within the politico-bureaucratic establishment in India has, however, resulted in a higher defence structure, which excludes the services from the process of defence decision-making. The services too haven’t been united in demanding the appointment of a CDS. Despite the acknowledgement of the tremendous operational and administrative benefits that would accrue by having unified commands – theatre commands has not come through.

    The author concluded that the biggest challenge to jointness in India is to bring about an attitudinal shift by turning the sense of insecurity and mutual suspicion into a sense of belongingness amongst the services as well as the politico-bureaucratic establishment. Taking clue from UK and USA in this regard, the paper stressed that the change will need to be implemented top down for it to take root and be effective.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions to the Author:

    • One of the reasons for the slow progress in the direction of unified commands in India; it was argued is the lack of informed debate and making a strong case for it. The concept of a mountain strike corps germinated in 2004 and became a reality almost a decade later. Similarly, if we start pushing the case for unified commands now; sooner than later the idea will get traction in the policy making circles.
    • It was observed by many participants that change of mindset is most essential in order to make any headway in the direction of jointness as equipment; resource issues, etc. come only next. Jointness can be managed by adjusting attitudes. Personality-cult has been the bane of India in all walks of life and military is no exception.
    • The role of Air Force since independence has been very crucial. Even during the 1948 crisis, the Air Force played a very important role in pulling off victory. Similarly, in Siachen, though army is on the front the logistics support provided by the Air Force is key to sustaining Army’s presence.
    • It was argued that the essence of unified command is to empower theater commanders which will increase the functionality of operations.
    • One impediment in establishing unified commands in India is that it will undermine the role and importance of service chiefs as in the case of USA. However, sooner or later it will happen.
    • It was argued that jointmanship should be the first step in order to achieve jointness. From the former will follow everything else; joint planning, procurement, training etc. In essence, jointness should flow from oraganisation and not the other way round.
    • One argument was that theater commands in India are inevitable, but the tendency to draw comparison with US theater commands is erroneous as the latter’s area of interest and influence are far stretched and vast. Moreover, the resources at the disposal of the US theater commands are huge compared to India.
    • Civil-military integration should be one of the key areas to work on in order to achieve jointness in its totality. To date there has been constant turf battle going on between the two which is detrimental to the interest of the armed forces.
    • The role of HQ IDS was discussed at length. It was opined by many that HQ IDS is the prime example of jointness in India and since its inception has played a pioneering role in ensuring synergy among the services. It strengthens the case for jointness in India.
    • It was argued that the paper would enrich if it analyses the operational arguments to support the case for unified commands. A case in point is out of area contingencies. Similarly, scenarios in which the armed forces could be tasked to operate under unified commands be explored. We have many examples in the past viz; IPKF, Maldives, and evacuation of Indians from the gulf region.
    • The author gave four models of unified commands and recommended the one most suitable for India. It was suggested that the paper would benefit if it analyses the pros and cons of all the four models and then arrive on the recommended model.
    • The author was advised to explore the role of information technology in enhancing jointness.
    • It was also suggested to analyse the reasons for Air Force’s reluctance or not so enthusiastic support to unified commands. May be geographical commands are more relevant for army and navy and not for air force which can deploy resources quickly in any theater.

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