Article by Shantanu K. Bansal
Experts for long have realised the need for integrated commands. In order to have tri-service synergy, it was largely understood that India must go for making 3-4 tri-service commands as China had done in 2015.
The last comprehensive committee on defence reforms set up by the government, the Shekatkar Committee on Defence Reforms had proposed for to have 3 or even 4 tri-service integrated commands. The Shekatkar Committee was set up by former defence minister Manohar Parrikar, and submitted its report in December 2016. It is understood that the report is now the guiding principle for on-going defence reforms, has never been made public because it covers operational aspects of the armed forces, and its disclosure is not in the interests of national security.
Recently, a high-level committee has been formed for the consultations on the creation of integrated triservice theatre commands. India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat has reportedly made a head way on the long standing demand and as per media there are plans to make 4 integrated commands by end of this year. These four commands are going to be named Air Defence Command, Integrated Eastern Theatre Command, Integrated Western Theatre Command and Maritime Theatre Command.
At presently, the army, navy and air force have got 14 commands in total based on respective understanding of the geography from the point of view of their services which includes Indian Army (6), Indian Air Force (5) and Indian Navy (3).
Facing just China border, the Indian Army presently has three commands- the Eastern Command based in Kolkata, the Central Command in Lucknow and Northern Command in Udhampur besides these there are three Air Force Commands tasked for operations along the China border. On the other hand, China operates a single theatre command called the Western Theatre Command (WTC) to operate along the LAC which includes all assets of Air Force and Army under one command. Against one command of PLA WTC, India has got 6 commands in answer that of course is not a viable command hierarchy to follow.
Therefore the need for integrated command becomes more important in recent times which will enable greater synergy, operational effectiveness and of course will lead to cost-cutting but beyond making commands there are many other objectives which needs to be taken into consideration by policy makers for better synergy in modern battlefield.
Major re-organisation is required in Indian army which presently has most number of commands. The Integrated Eastern Theatre Command and Integrated Western Theatre Command which the media reports outlined as part of integration of Indian Armed Forces will probably cater to security of the western border with Pakistan and Chinese border from North to East.
Decentralisation of Indian Army is also an issue which needs to be given a thought. As Indian army’s focus towards defending mountainous regions, operating and maneuvering in a mountainous environment, it requires centralized planning and decentralized execution. The dispersion of forces is useful when conducting offensive, defensive, and stability operations in the mountains. Hence, decentralization enables greater flexibility and responsiveness across the operational area.
As wars are fought in local conditions and controlling everything by the higher hierarchy may not prove effective. A hierarchy where the higher command is centralised while bottom is decentralized would be the order of the day. Therefore, now focus also must shift to making Short Service Commission (SSC) more alluring which till now has not been the case.
Today the Air Force operate most of the rotorcraft in service. Many experts believe that the rotorcraft technology better suits the Army Aviation Corps (AAC) in comparison to IAF. Military helicopters main role is to find fix and destroy the enemy through fire and maneuver and to provide combat support and combat service support in coordinated operations as an integral member of the combined arms team.
On a modern battlefield, the AAC, unlike the other members of the combined arms team, has the organic flexibility, versatility, and assets to fulfill a variety of maneuvers like Combat Service (CS), Combat Service Support (CSS), surveillance, reconnaissance roles and functions.
Aviation can accomplish each of these roles within the limits of finite assets and capabilities during offensive or defensive operations and also for joint, combined, contingency or Special Operations which suits more to Army’s role.
Army Aviation has become one of the most important components in the changing nature and structure of armies all over the world with more and more air elements being added to the inventory of land forces.
Also Read by the Author: Army Aviation Corps on The Wings of Transformation at the Indian Defence Review magazine
Former Air Chief Marshal and COSC Arup Raha notes that 21st century belongs to aerospace power. The IAF have to gradually work towards itself transforming into an Aerospace power. This will further shelve need for a separate Aerospace command in the country. In this direction, the IAF must lead the responsibility in the upcoming Air Defence Command, the Defence Space Agency (DSA) as it nurtures towards becoming a full-fledged Aerospace power. The long Range Air Defence (AD) including Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Systems should largely be under the responsibility of the Air Force while point defence systems shall remain under jurisdiction of 3 services as needed. This will also subside Air Force’s objection of integration been planned to move around only Army.
Also Read by the Author: Understanding How Modern AD Systems Work
Any integrated war fighting capability is dependent on individual services maintaining capabilities in their core competencies. Converge, across multiple domains, to create “windows of advantage” to manoeuvre and achieve effects against the enemy should be the aim. To get integration India should adopt only those changes which suit it in light of the peculiar geography/terrain, threat perception, resources and technological threshold. As Army Chief in past had asserted that India’s limited experience with integrated command structures may require a fair bit of “mid course correction” as we finally move on the path of integration!