Bitter Turf War Over Theatre Commands Erupts Publicly, CDS Rejects IAF’s Concerns
(This was originally posted On Times Of India by Rajat Pandit)
The bitter festering turf war within the armed forces over the creation of four new integrated theatre commands erupted in public on Friday, with chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat firmly rejecting the concerns of Indian Air Force and even dubbing it “a supporting arm” in war-fighting akin to artillery or engineers in the Army.
The country’s senior-most military officer said the maritime theatre command (MTC), air defence command (ADC) and two land-based theatre commands for Pakistan and China already have government sanctions and would be created in a time-bound manner whether the IAF likes it or not.
Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria, speaking at the same webinar later in the day, in turn, stressed the air force’s primacy in shaping the battlefield. The IAF is not against integrated theatre commands but the country “must get it right” because this “most important defence reform” would have a decisive impact on war-fighting in the future, he said.
The CDS-led defence establishment plans to “raise and operationalize” the four new commands — each of which will place all the assets and manpower of the Army, Navy and IAF under a single operational commander — over a two-year period by August 15, 2023, as was first reported by TOI.
The Army’s existing Udhampur-based Northern Command, which looks after counter-terrorism operations in J&K as well as the fronts with China in Ladakh and Kargil with Pakistan, will however continue as a single-service command because of its unique role. “We do not want to disrupt its existing organizational structure for the time being,” said Gen Rawat.
At present, India has as many as 17 single-service commands (Army 7, IAF 7 and Navy 3), which have little synergy in planning and operations. With unified tri-Service commands, the government wants to build an integrated land-sea-air war-fighting machinery in a more cost-effective manner.
But IAF contends it would be operationally unwise to divide its “limited air assets” like just 30 fighter squadrons, six mid-air refuellers, three AWACS, two AEW&C aircraft and the like among different theatre commands.
Gen Rawat, however, flatly dismissed these concerns. “Even today, IAF assets are divided among its five operational commands (apart from the maintenance and training commands),” he said, adding that “resources” will be re-allocated from one theatre to another as and when a contingency is faced, as is the case even now.
“The air force will always remain a supporting arm, just like artillery and engineers support the combatant arms in the Army. It will look after the entire airspace of the country under the ADC. Its charter is also to provide
close air support’ to the land forces andoffensive air support’ during operations. This is the basic charter for them (IAF) to understand,” said the CDS.
The creation of the theatre commands has “already been spelt out” by the Union cabinet, which has tasked the CDS (he took over on January 1, 2020) to usher in “jointness and integration” in the armed forces within a specified timeframe. “So, we are actually working backwards. Half the time is over and now is the time to move forward,” said Gen Rawat.