Once World War II ended, the heady cocktail of victory, military might and America’s newly acquired superpower status saw a tussle between its three major services resulting in rivalry and turf wars for more than three decades, well into the cold war.
A study of US military operations, specially in Korea and Vietnam, made the US military strategists realise that unless there was complete synergy, interoperability and jointmanship with a modicum of ‘overall command’; having independent war fighting doctrines by its three services would only result in frittering away of resources and inability to achieve military aims.
It was also seen that unlike as in World War II, strategic bombing or stand alone air campaigns no longer guaranteed victory. Despite having overwhelming air superiority, the heavy AF bombing campaign (Linebacker) could not defeat the Vietnamese and neither was victory obtained by the ground forces. World opinion did not allow the US to have a free hand, whether in Vietnam or Korea or in any of its later interventions; and the rule stands for all wars of the present day.
Because international opinion and fear of undesired escalation allows only this much-- and no more. Subsequent US military operations and interventions too were adversely affected by the military's inability to cooperate effectively leading to military performance hampered by lack of interoperability, turf wars and inbuilt ‘silos’ which defeated all attempts at cooperation and synergy.
Turf wars wreak havoc in an organisation. They squander resources, reduce productivity and defeat commonality of purpose. Turf wars are prevalent in situations where instead of partnership and cooperation there is rivalry. Instead of collaboration there is competition, instead of team work there is disunity of purpose.
These fratricidal wars have an adverse effect on organizational performance because of ‘silo mentality’ whereby information and resources are not shared with others who are part of the same organisation. This mindset adversely affects interoperability and ultimately contributes to the dis-array of an organisation which did not adapt to the environmental requirements because of internecine jealousies. Purely service based domains are not viable anymore.
If it is a better idea for the AD assets to be under an Air Defence Commander, so be it. If the Western Theater Commander has dedicated fixed wing and rotary assets with a staff composed of progressive bright minds of the army and air force to make battle plans for conducting operations-- so be it. No one is calling for a change of roles/tasks of the services but it has to be appreciated that primary and secondary tasks of arms and services are adaptive, interchangeable and can evolve as per the requirement.
In any case the role of any of the three services is not being changed or challenged. Neither is the competency of any of the Chiefs being questioned. A unified military team will encourage trust, produce direction and break military managers out of the ‘my service’’ mentality into the ‘our organization’ mentality. If we examine the basic reason behind this conflict, we discover that these existing inter-service silo’s are the result of a leadership team that is divided.
The term theater (kriegs theater) is defined by Carl von Clausewitz as a geographically demarcated region or area over which war prevails, has its periphery secured, and hence possesses an independence of sorts with protected boundaries. It may even be spatially separated from other war zones. The kriegs theater thus is an area of operations established by the commander in charge of carrying out specific combat activities inside it with all available resources.
Even the World War II German military, arguably having one of the finest General Staff structures, suffered from inter-service rivalry and interference/control by higher echelons, especially after 1944 as the tide of war turned.
The Western Theatre was placed under the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) with service chiefs reporting to Hitler independently as different from the Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) which was responsible for the Eastern Front. To give one example, under the OKW, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was made responsible for the defense of Western Europe.
But as the overall commander, he had no direct authority over Navy Group West or the Third Air Fleet, both reporting to their own service channels which in turn reported to Hitler. This resulted in German forces fighting in an uncoordinated manner with a waste of sparse resources as the allies began their push in Europe, with Hitler himself juggling resources between the two fronts.
American field manuals define a theater of operations as the land and sea areas to be invaded or defended, including areas necessary for administrative activities incident to the military operations. A theater command is therefore tailor made to control military assets in a theater of war to achieve military aims. Simplistically put, it places all available resources of air, ground and land at the disposal of a senior military commander.
The integrated theater commands in our case envision a unified command of the three services led by a single commander. The Shekatkar Committee, chaired by Lt General D B Shekatkar (formed by Manohar Parrikar, the then Defense Minister) had recommended the appointment of a CDS as also the formation of three integrated theatre commands: Western for the Indo-Pak border, Northern for the Sino-Indian border and Southern for peninsular India (maritime role). The creation of joint theater commands had also been recommended by the Kargil Review Committee (1999).
But inter service wrangling and politico-bureaucratic sloth found the concept put into cold storage.The GoI has already approved the formation of theater commands and there is no requirement of any ‘act of parliament’ similar to the ‘Goldwater-Nichols Defence Reorganization Act of 1986’ of the United States, as is being professed by many. The question is no longer ‘if’ but ‘when’.
The Need For Organisational Transformation
Taking a leaf from the corporate world, ‘Organizational Transformation’ is a strategic method of getting your organization from where you are now to where you will need to be in the future. In many cases, this transformation is required to address a problem or a change that is long overdue.
Studying the effect of automation with respect to the functioning of the corporate world, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) economists John Hawksworth and Yuval Fertig concluded that for many roles, ‘some tasks will become more valuable and other tasks will be eliminated’.
Similarly, in fields such as the military, the availability, allotment, utilisation of resources and the command and control for fighting an integrated battle may need to be structured very differently to meet new challenges. Duplication, waste of effort, waste of resources, dual command, compartmentalisation-----will be eliminated and ‘some military tasks will become more valuable and other tasks will be eliminated’.
The art of warfare and military strategy must constantly evolve and adapt to meet a variety of challenges—from changes in military technology to the development of new weapons; to a shift in concepts of warfare to include hybrid warfare, limited war, unconventional warfare and asymmetric warfare. In the subcontinental context, our ability to fight a two front war with the integrated use of the entire military force in tandem with political, economic, informational and national resources assumes importance.
And all this in a seamless non-compartmentalised manner. This becomes all the more necessary as military technologies shift to artificial intelligence, robotics/drones, human enhancement and human genomics. We can no longer afford to be ready and prepared with an archaic command and control system tailored to fight the ‘last war’.
Thus the requirement of strengthening the centralisation of resources and transition from a strictly ‘service chief headed’ vertical command to a unified system of putting troops and weapon systems under an ‘overall’ commander. This will help in achieving synergy, economy of effort and application of maximum combat power at the point of decision. There should be no hesitancy to restructure or combine roles or ‘have an organisational transformation’ if that’s what is needed in the military environment of the day.
Creative Destruction Is Desirable
Failure to do so could lead to stagnation or worse failure and elimination of organisations, leaders and entities which do not adapt to the contemporary requirements. Or in other words face ‘creative destruction,’ a term coined by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1942.
Schumpeter characterized creative destruction ‘as innovations and changes that increase effectiveness and potency of the structure from within; incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one’. Creative destruction therefore is the deliberate dismantling of established processes in order to make way for improved methods.
In World War II, Generals Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D Eisenhower commanded vast tri-service military operations. Despite the allies ultimately emerging as victors in the war, major structural flaws were observed resulting in the creation of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff as the principal military adviser in the United States.
In the United Kingdom, by the 1960s, the three military headquarters were integrated into the Ministry of Defence and the post of Chief of Defence Staff as the principal military adviser was created. France, Germany and Australia have also shifted to a more integrated defence management system. In Russia the creation of strategic commands was laid down in 2010 and soon after China followed with the 2015 People's Republic of China military reforms and the creation of five theater commands.
Today our enemies have some of the finest weapon systems in terms of technology, destructive power, real time intelligence gathering, identifying, locating and precision targeting; all supported by electronic warfare, hypersonic weapons, information management systems, unmanned aircrafts/UAVs and robotics. This necessitates us to have the ability to strike the enemy by bringing our entire combat potential to bear on the enemy in all three military dimensions of land, air and sea.
Modern military doctrine also recognises the need for engaging the enemy throughout the depth of its territory simultaneously -- in the global information space, in the air, on land and on sea; by using all available resources as a ‘complete and integrated’ package. And if this process entails an element of ‘creative destruction’, the same has to be accepted for larger gains in our war fighting ability.
Theaterisation-Not A Bad Idea
In the newly emerging scenarios with threat perceptions ever changing, the possibility of an unsymmetrical or ‘limited area’ confrontation remains high. It would be outside the capabilities of any single service to respond effectively to such a diverse array of threats. Such conditions call for a total and real time coordination among the three services.
The existing Chief of Staff Committee has not proved to be very effective. The appointment of the CDS and formulation of the Department of Military Affairs is still beset with teething problems, acceptability and turf wars. In this muddle, throw in the Defence Secretary, the MoD and the National Security Adviser who also act as the interface between the Service Chiefs and the Cabinet Committee of Security or the National Security Council.
And with more than 15 different commands of the three services, many of them geographically separated; jointmanship, synergy, unified command, allocation/availability of tri-service resources; so vital in modern warfare is only in name at best. ‘Penny Packet’ distribution of resources exists here; in the existing system.
If the recent precision engagement of Palestinian targets by Israel or the use of AI and drones with devastating effect by the Azerjaiban military or closer home the alarm caused by drones in the Jammu and Gurdaspur areas are any indication, there is a definite requirement to change our age old mindset of how to fight a war.
Not only do we need modern weapons, we also need to revamp our command and control structure to have ease of inter-service cooperation, ability for quick reactions, decision making and application of all required resources in the battlefield. The envisaged theater commands will be effective organisational structures designed to control all such military assets in a theater to achieve desired military results in an acceptable time frame.
The present system of structured, compartmentalised service HQ’s with their ‘stand alone’ doctrines need to be replaced by force HQ’s which are more modern, task oriented, flexible and threat tailored. Thus there is a requirement of an overall commander having a guaranteed and lethal ‘force’ of all arms and services to achieve the military aim by shortening the OODA Loop.
Time-sensitive decisions can be taken by theater and subordinate commanders rapidly, especially when there may not be time to gather all the information or depend on nebulous availability of combat power not under their control. Inherently, one of the goals of designating a theater commander being to execute the OODA loop process faster than an opponent, in order to infiltrate and disrupt his decision cycle.
The Chinese Model
Being our ‘enemy number one’, it would be worth the while to study the Chinese model. With the year 2049 identified by the Chinese hierarchy for emerging as the world's economic and military superpower, the PLA has been constantly adapting itself into a more modern, versatile and powerful military machine by overhauling its command structures, battle frameworks, weaponry and hardware.
Truly speaking, the PLA is an adjunct of the Communist Party and does not directly serve the state as such. The Central Military Commission (CMC), as of now led by Xi Jinping, is the most noteworthy and dynamic military body in China and is responsible for the unprecedented economic and military transformation of China. An important facet of PLA’s modernization has been in the domain of joint operations and creation of highly flexible all arms/services task based formations suitable for joint operations.
As part of its modernisation drive, the PLA with a strength of about 2 million, has reduced the erstwhile military regions/military districts from eleven to seven to the current five theatre commands. It has very effectively re-organised its combat power into these five geographical entities, each with centralised command and control over its allocated assets which are task and role based-- the Northern, Western, Southern, Eastern, Central Theater Commands.
The theater commands have components of all services - the PLA Army, PLA Navy, PLA Air Force, PLA Rocket Force, PLA Strategic Support Force and the PLA Joint Logistic Support Force. Within the theater commands, the group armies themselves have been reorganised into 78 combined-arms highly responsive and maneuverable brigades with the underlying principle of unity of command.
The PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) too has continued to implement structural reforms that began in late 2015 and early 2016. The PLAN organizes, mans, trains, and equips the PLA’s naval and naval aviation forces, as well as the PLA Marine Corps (PLANMC), which is subordinate to the PLAN.
Similar to the other services, the PLA-wide reforms removed the PLAN headquarters from conducting operations, which became the purview of the PLA’s joint Theater Commands, and focused it on organizing, manning, training, and equipping naval forces. The PLAN’s force structure consists of three fleets with subordinate submarine flotillas, surface ship flotillas, aviation brigades, and naval bases.
The PLAN’s North Sea Fleet is subordinate to the Northern Theater Command, the East Sea Fleet is subordinate to the Eastern Theater Command, and the South Sea Fleet is subordinate to the Southern Theater Command.
The PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force) constitutes the largest aviation forces in the region and is the third largest in the world with over 2,500 total aircraft (not including trainer variants or UAVs) of which approximately 2,000 are combat aircraft (including fighters, strategic bombers, tactical bombers, multi-mission tactical, and attack aircraft).
The PLAAF’s role is to serve as a comprehensive strategic air force capable of long-range air-power projection. The PLAAF comprises aviation, airborne, air defense, radar, electronic countermeasure, and communications forces.
Amid the wide-ranging reorganization of the PLA, the PLAAF too has reorganized into five Theater Command Air Forces, established at least six new air bases, and restructured previously subordinate regiments into brigades under the new bases by disbanding its fighter and fighter-bomber divisions.
For the betterment of a concept or improvement in the functioning and structural ethos of an organisation, an element of creative destruction coupled with a certain amount of turbulence and initial resistance to change will always be there. Military leaders committed to older technology and outdated concepts of warfare will be left stranded.
Entrepreneurs of progressive military thought and understanding of new technologies may create temporary disharmony but will become harbingers of new opportunities for victory in the battlefield. Theaterisation is one such concept whose time has come.
It would be a fallacy to imagine that theatrisation would lead to employment of resources, specially of aerial assets in ‘penny packets’ or that we do not have enough resources or that the concept has ‘huge’ financial implications (to fight a war!). The argument that theater commands suit the big three because militarily they are self-sufficient, have large defence outlays or they foresee ‘out of area operations’ is not relevant to the core issue.
Two things need to be clarified here. Firstly, allotment of resources to a theater does not eliminate any of the principles of war, but actually enhances unity of command and economy of effort. Utilisation, allotment, switching/removal and re-allotment of resources to a theater will always depend on the military situation and the overall national aim.
Secondly, diverting land, sea or air resources (in terms of time or space also) from the control of a theater commander will now be dependent on an organisation which in effect, is responsible for the higher direction of war. Service dominated hierarchical control in any case is wasteful, myopic and no longer tenable in today’s battlefield.
Finally, perhaps a very churlish argument projected by naysayers is that the theater commander may lack domain knowledge for use of the other two services under his command! Needless to say, the overall force commander will always have a competent and subordinate all services staff HQ's for domain advice.
It is one of the primary functions of the staff to coalesce, amalgamate and synthesize individual service activities ‘enabling a commander to balance the art of command and the science of control’.
About the Author
Brig D S Sarao, a Gold Medalist from OTA retired in 2012 after putting in 34 years military service. As an Army aviator, he has flown extensively in J&K and was seriously injured in Op Meghdoot while on a casevac sortie. He has been contributing articles to various magazines regularly. With a diploma in Disaster Management, a post graduate diploma in Business Management and a LLM degree from Pb Univ, he also takes guest lectures in the Dept of Defence Studies and the University School of Open Learning.
(Views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)