There have been recent articles and reports re-kindling the issue of establishment of Theatre Commands.
The theatre command is nowhere in sight not because of threats to identities of the Navy and the Air Force, but because of a lack of National Doctrine on how we need to achieve our long term goals. Goal definition is of prime importance for integration and restructuring of the Armed Forces. The goal will decide whether we have expeditionary intent or we are content with defending our borders and protecting sea lanes of communication for trade. Violation of this sequence of events definitely puts the cart before the horse. Does the nation deserve to muddle through this ill-conceived restructuring process, reducing the combat effectiveness of the Armed Forces as a whole?
Theatre Commands typically have a complete Army, Air Force and Navy “Under Command” of the Theatre Commander. Theatres are generally autonomous and do not depend on support from the rest of the Armed Forces of the country when a crisis emanates in its theatre of responsibility. None of the Armed Forces of India have the assets to divide into autonomous theatres yet. We do not have the resources to defend our borders or our sea lanes of communication adequately as evident from many articles in the public domain. Expeditionary interventions are a far cry.
The Indian Army is divided into Commands which are responsible for a defined area. It is commanded by a General Officer Commanding in Chief (GOC in C). He is colloquially referred to as an Army Commander. Actually he does not have an Army under command. The Navy also has Commands. However, the assets docked in the bases within the Command can be moved to other areas of operation by the Naval HQ depending on operational requirements which includes tasking by that Command. Similarly, The IAF has Commands and there are Stations within the Command where Squadrons of aircraft are lodged. These assets are tasked by Air HQs which includes the tasking by the Commands. This does not mean that the Naval and IAF assets are for exclusive use of that Command. However, that is not the case with the Army, where the Army Commander has full control of the assets “Under Command” during peace and war. If the Air Force omni role assets are “Under Command” of the Theatre Commander, then those assets cannot be used by the Air Force when needed in other areas because of Command conflict.
Relegating the Indian Navy to a Maritime Command, the IAF to an Air Defence Command and promoting an Army Commander to a Theatre Commander has nothing to do with Identity, but will be disastrous for integration.
The Armed Forces the world over are organised on medium of operations as the principles of war fighting are specific to those media. The Army deals land based threats, the Navy with sea based threats and the Air Force with air based threats. The Commander of a Joint Command needs specialists who are component commanders of these respective media to enhance combat effectiveness. Integration is a must and needs to be achieved for enhancing the combat efficiency of the Armed Forces as a whole complementing basic values, traditions and leadership principles prevalent in each of the Armed Forces.
What the Air Force is expected to do is in support of the national war effort. All such efforts definitely support the Army directly and indirectly. Destruction of the enemy infrastructure and force concentrations ensures that their Army cannot be brought to bear on ours. It does not perceive direct support to the Army as a secondary role. It is one amongst the many roles that it has to accomplish.
IAF is not restricted to bases within the peninsula. The limits of range have been crossed with air to air refuelling aircraft. IAF can effectively project airpower from the straits of Hormuz to the straits of Malacca. Similarly, it can be used at the tactical, operational or strategic level simultaneously.
Deterrence has two parts - Capability and Will. Without capability espousing Will is a lot of hot air designed to mislead the masses. Do we have the capability to prevent the Chinese from salami slicing or the capability to prevent subversion by Pakistan or prevent cyber-attacks? If not, isn’t it time to fast track development of these capabilities to project credible deterrence? Have we truly exploited the IAF in the joint scheme of things for deterrence?
The broad budgetary allocation to the Armed Forces without pensions needs to be one sixth of the national expenditure as propounded by Chanakya so that we have Armed Forces commensurate with the economy that they are expected to defend.
The need of the hour is greater integration using the structures already in place rather than creating Theatre Commands, without a goal orientation at the national level. Enhancement of combat effectiveness can be achieved with minimum disruption to the current organisational structures.
Gen. Naravane is absolutely right in his perception.
Among the many appointments that have been held by Group Captain Johnson Chacko in his career, he has been on the faculty of Defence Services Staff College and College of Defence Management in the Strategic Management department.
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)
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