Theaterisation & The Joint Military Doctrine

"There needs to be a legal framework under which this re-organisation takes place. At present the CDS functions in a legal vacuum. Which Act is the CDS subject to?"

Theaterisation & The Joint Military Doctrine

(Editor's Note: In 2017 the Chief of Staff Committee released a Joint Military Doctrine for the Indian Armed Forces based on which Group Captain Johnson Chacko (Retd) drafted his own rendition of the same, which was published in the Indian Defence Review. Following some debate on the subject of integrated warfighting the subject largely remained dormant until the announcement of the Chief of Defence Staff as an appointment on 15 Augast 2019. The issue further gained traction in the public sphere  following General Bipin Rawat's media comment in the backdrop of the ongoing 'Theaterisation of Command' debate where he claimed that the "Air Force continues to remain a supporting arm of the armed forces, just as the artillery or engineers support the combatants within the Army." This essay should be read with this context in mind)

The need to apply Military force in an integrated manner has been felt for a long time. The effect of the force applied should be greater than the sum of individual forces. If we hypothetically quantify the effect of application of military force by the Army as 1 and similarly that of the Navy and Air Force also as 1 each, then by integration we need to achieve a quantum of more than 3. If the design of Higher Defence Organisation (HDO) is with the objective of achieving this, then we can achieve true integration. This then would be the litmus test during testing/wargaming before implementation.

To achieve this level of integration we need to design an organisation de-novo without the baggage of what exists now. If we try to force fit the existing elements into a paradigm that does not permit the potential of each force to be fully exploited, it will lead to sub-optimal results. The end states need to be defined on what we intend to achieve. What will be the percentage of enhancement of integration with the Theatre Commands in place? Will the CDS control all operations? There are more questions to be answered than what meets the eye. The Nation should benefit out of this process.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Evolution and Pre-Eminence of Air Power

The basis of creation of an Armed Force is the medium in/on which it operates. Historically it is land warfare that started initially. The principles and tenets of Land warfare have evolved from the wars and battles fought over many centuries. Then came Maritime warfare, using the medium of water. Principles of Maritime warfare also evolved after many Naval battles and they are different from Land warfare. Those who controlled the seas controlled the world became an adage.

Then came Air warfare, initially as a part of the Army like the Royal Flying Corps of the UK and US Army Air Force, primarily to support the Army (Close Air Support). During such operations the enemy aircraft interfered and they had to be prevented and so the interceptors (Air Defence) came into being. Taking it further the bases from where these got airborne were attacked to prevent the interceptors from getting airborne and so bombers (Counter Air Operations) came into being.

This was further extended to destroy the war making potential of the enemy by attacking the factories that manufactured war machinery and the economy (Strategic Bombing). To achieve this, dams were busted to flood a valley that had industries with war making potential. Since the role of air power had different characteristics and principles of operation, the statesmen of the time decided to convert them into full-fledged Air Forces. Then it became evident that those who control the air control the battle on ground or sea. Nazi Germany could not invade Britain before Luftwaffe could defeat the RAF.

RAF won the Battle of Britain. In 1971 we could not have crossed the Meghna or carried out the Tangail Para drop without air dominance over East Pakistan. Similarly, the outcome of the battle of Midway between the US and Japanese Navies was decided by air power alone without both fleets coming into contact to fire at each other. Subsequent wars such as the Gulf war and the recent Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict prove that without air power no war can be won.

Relegating air power as a close air support arm for the Army and Navy would be like General Yahya Khan ordering the PAF to conserve resources for close air support of the plannedmassive, armoured thrust into India by General Tikka Khan during the 71 War which never materialised. PAF could not be used for offensive missions after that order and sat out during the rest of the war. The act of theaterisation would reverse the evolution that has taken place so far in warfare with disastrous consequences for the Nation.

The characteristics of Air Power as enumerated by Col Philip Mellinger of USAF, which I agree with are enumerated below. My comments are in parenthesis.

  • Whoever controls the air generally controls the surface. (Refer above)
  • Air Power is an inherently strategic force. (It can take on targets which when attacked have far reaching effects. Attack on the Governor’s House in Dhaka during liberation of Bangladesh hastened the surrender)
  • Air Power is primarily an offensive weapon.
  • In essence, Air Power is targeting, targeting is intelligence, and intelligence is analyzing the effects of air operations.
  • Air Power produces physical and psychological shock by dominating the fourth dimension-time.
  • Air Power can conduct parallel operations at all levels of war, simultaneously. (It can take on the leadership of the enemy forces without first defeating the troops that guard the border. Once the head is cut off the body and tail can’t do much)
  • Precision air weapons have redefined the meaning of mass. (Concentration of Force is not essential to decimate a target as accuracies have increased to the extent of dropping a bomb in a bucket.)
  • Air Power’s unique characteristics necessitate that it be centrally controlled by airmen.
  • Technology and air power are integrally and synergistically related.
  • Air Power includes not only military assets, but an aerospace industry and commercial aviation.

It is true that the IAF does not function in a vacuum. It is not true that IAF functions only to support the Army and Navy. IAF functions to support the Nation. Some roles are in support of the Army and Navy. Simulated sinking of a ship in Malacca straits one day and the strait of Hormuz the next day using the same aircraft demonstrated by the Air Force last year is but one role in support of the Navy. That is the reach of the IAF and for IAF there should be only one India theatre. We should not disperse such assets in penny packets especially with a strength of just 30 Squadrons?

IAF is the fastest to react and provides deterrence. In 65 it swung into action within an hour when asked to do so. Air Power escalates the conflict and it needs Government sanction. No Chief can privately decide to use it just because the Army wants it. As a young officer, when the orders came, our Squadron deployed at three different locations in 3.5 hrs and sent a signal to the C in C that we were ready for our first mission, for the second mission we need our technicians. Army moves at 2 knots, Navy at 20 knots and IAF aircraft have flown at 2000 knots. Flexibility, mind sets and decision-making ability varies accordingly. We need to exploit the strength of each force for true integration.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Management of Change

Integration is essentially a management issue. To have an objective analysis we need to involve experts of repute in Organisational Design ably assisted by Colonel level Directing Staff from College of Defence Management who teach Force Structuring with the clear objective of synergy as stated above as the focus. They need to analyse the problems as stated, reach an agreement as to the what exactly the problem is and reach a consensus on the problem to be solved in consultation with the powers that be at the highest level. Then they can design an organisation that can achieve synergy. Once the ideal organisation structure if defined, minor tweaks can take place to suit the existing force levels. Roles and tasks can be defined, communication levels and structures evolved, interlinkages within the Armed Forces can be firmed up and linkages within the Government can be decided.

There needs to be a legal framework under which this re-organisation takes place. At present the CDS functions in a legal vacuum. Which Act is the CDS subject to? Is it the Army Act? If so, being senior to the COAS, can he come under the purview of the COAS? Similarly which Act will the staff who are posted under the CDS come under? Can a Naval person be tried by an Army Officer? Similar issues are bound to crop up under the proposed theatre commanders.

If they cannot exercise judicial power over those placed under them, what type of command will they be exercising? There needs to be protection for an Officer who is posted to a theatre command in which he takes decisions which is in the interest of the Nation but not liked by his own service. At the time of joining personnel are asked which service he wants to join. Can that be changed by a government order considering that we are a voluntary force? There may be Officers who do not want to work in a Theatre Command. Should that be held against him for future career progression?

Suggested Solution

The existing appointment terminologies are intentionally not being used to prevent confusion. Taking it forward from the suggested Indian Military Doctrine. We need to have Western, Eastern and Southern Regions. Each Region may have the same geographical extent for the Army, Navy and Air Force with an Army Commander, Navy Commander and Air Force Commander commanding their forces within that region akin to what the GOC, in C, FOC in C and AOC in C does now.

They will subsume the existing Command Area of Responsibility (AOR) in those areas which may require merger of some present commands.  Since the geographical extent is large, we need to divide the responsibility functionally. During peace the functions of Administration, Maintenance and Training may be vested in those who command these Regions from the respective Armed Forces. Planning, Conduct of Operations, Procurement, Intelligence. Logistics, Inspections for readiness for War and other activities of an integrated nature need be carried out by newly appointed Integrated Force Commanders (IFCs) for these regions mentioned as RMAs (Regional Military Authorities) in the above article (Indian Military Doctrine).

During full scale operations the regional commanders move in under the IFCs as Land Component Commander, Naval Component Commander and Air Component Commander. They order their troops as per the integrated military plan approved by the IFCs. After operation they move back as commanders of the region. Similarly at the National level for operations, The COAS, CNS, CAS and the CDS (referred to as Central Military Authority in the above article) form a Committee of Four (C4) to decide on the conduct of operations.

If the operational task is small then a Task Force Commander can be designated by C4 and forces moved under his command for that operation and revert after the operation is over. This may be termed as Integrated Battle Groups. The vertical of CDS and IFCs would essentially control activities which can be integrated during peace time. This will need a deeper study by a body of experts as stated above so that contingencies can be ironed out in a proactive manner before implementation.

The current assets that are meagre and can be used for all regions of the entire Nation should be placed under C4 for optimum utilisation during operations till the required strength is built up. Inter-regional allocation of resources can be done by C4 when needed. This would create a flexible and nimble organisation, even during the procurement phase of deficient assets, delivering synergy in application of Military power.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Selection Process

The CDS and IFCs should be men of proven calibre (Character, Ability and Performance) and required potential, approved by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Defence after an in-camera hearing of the assessment of their potential, so that political leanings, favouritism and nepotism are ruled out and a stamp of approval by bi-partisan political leadership is endorsed. This will negate the objections that Officers who may feel bypassed may harbour. At that level it does not matter as to which Armed Force the individual belongs to or what his seniority is. It should be purely based on merit. They should have been on the faculty of at least two premier joint service institutions like DSSC, CDM and NDC.

There has been a lot of slugfests in the media regarding the controversy that has been created. However, everyone understands the need for integration but the main issue is how it is being executed. There are arguments about what an individual should have said, peacetime exercise of powers over another service, which service will lose how many 3-star posts and which service will gain, definition of Theatre Commands with prefix of Maritime/Land Theatre Commands to make it domain (medium) specific to exclude Officers from a service from aspiring to become a Theatre Commander and who comes under whom. The Government may clear the air before a setback to whatever integration has been achieved so far manifests.

All stake holders need to be taken on board. The process needs to be guided objectively by utilising the strengths of each force and mitigating the weaknesses, from the wisdom bestowed upon us by history and based on conscience rather than the consequences of which service gains or loses 3-star posts. History doesn't repeat itself to people who know history. Do we need to reverse the evolution of Air Power application for the sake of theaterisation? The need of the hour is Integration not disintegration.

About the Author

An ex-NDA, Gp Capt. Johnson Chacko was commissioned into the IAF in the Offensive Operations (Fighter/Bomber) stream in 1975 as a pilot. He landed a bomber on its belly with very limited experience, for which he was cited for a Kirti Chakra. He has taught and supervised flying of ab-initio pilots as a Flight Commander at Air Force Academy (AFA). He introduced principles of training derived from ancient Indian educational methodology with tremendous effect on professionalism.

Besides being a Ground Attack pilot his operational specialisations were in Electronic Combat (Canberra) and Strategic Reconnaissance (MiG 25). He also specialised in Surface to Air Missile systems and Commanded a SAM III Squadron. He has published a patentable mathematical derivation. His other published works include articles on “Indian Military Doctrine” and “Enhancement of Security at Military Airfields – Counter Terrorism”.

As a Battalion Commander at NDA, besides having the responsibility of overall training, he mentored about 2000 cadets (future Officers of Indian Armed Forces) on Leadership, Morals and Ethics. He has been on the Faculty of Staff College, where future Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals are trained. He was also on the Faculty at College of Defence Management where Master of Management Studies students are taught the nuances of managing resources of the Armed Forces at senior levels.

He retired prematurely from IAF in 2006 and was the profit centre head of an International Property Consultancy MNC for South India for two years. He is currently a freelance electronic surveillance consultant for physical security (non IT), helping farmers grow more food/fish and helping people to bootstrap a business on a shoestring budget. He resides in Pune and can be contacted at [email protected]

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