(This was originally posted On Times Of India by Rajat Pandit)
The government is determined to push ahead with joint military commands to build integrated war-fighting machinery in a more cost-effective manner, even as efforts are underway to allay apprehensions of the Indian Air Force.
The plan, as it stands now, is to formally announce the decision to create four new integrated commands on Independence Day this year. The integrated maritime theatre command (IMTC), integrated air defence command (IADC) and two integrated land theatre commands (for the borders with Pakistan and China) will then be “raised and operationalised” over a two-year period by August 15, 2023, top sources told on Saturday.
“A separate command for Jammu & Kashmir, which will include counter-terrorism operations, is also under consideration. The final modalities are being worked out. The government fully backs the creation of the integrated commands,” said a source.
As per the plan being spearheaded by chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, the “commencement of the raising” of the new commands will begin after August 15 this year. These “raisings” will be overseen by serving commanders-in-chief (senior Lt-Generals, Vice Admirals and Air Marshals), in addition to their existing responsibilities.
With the raisings to be completed by August 15 next year, the “commencement of operationalization” of the new commands will then follow with the appointments of the actual theatre commanders.
“The operationalization will be completed by August 15, 2023. The theatre commanders will report directly to the chiefs of staff committee (CoSC), which is chaired by the CDS and includes the Army, Navy, and IAF chiefs,” he added.
India currently has only two unified commands, the Andaman and Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command to handle the country’s nuclear arsenal, which were set up in 2001 and 2003 after the Kargil conflict with Pakistan.
With India having as many as 17 single-service commands (Army 7, IAF 7 and Navy 3), which have little synergy in planning and operations as well as disjointed command-and-control structures, the need for joint commands and an integrated land-sea-air war-fighting machinery has been felt for a long time.
The IAF, however, has resisted the move, stressing it would be operationally unwise to divide the country’s “limited air assets” (just 30 fighter squadrons, six mid-air refuellers, three AWACS, two AEW&C aircraft etc) among different theatre commands. Moreover, the IAF contends that it can swiftly move its forces from one front to another across the country in less than 48 hours.
A high-level committee chaired by the CDS, and including the vice-chiefs of Army, Navy and IAF, chief of integrated defence staff and representatives from defence, home and finance ministries, has already met in a bid to resolve such internal differences within the armed forces as well as consult external stakeholders.
“Theatre commands will become a reality, one way or the other. They will be based fundamentally on a particular domain, with the assets and tri-service integration required in that domain. The CoSC will decide on the reallocation of forces among different theatres as and when required, depending on the contingency,” said a senior officer.
“These turf wars cannot continue forever. Even in the US, the Goldwater-Nichols Act had to be ultimately thrust down the military’s throat to streamline integration and the chain of command, which was being stymied by inter-Service rivalry,” he added.
The commander-in-chief of the proposed IMTC, for instance, will have full operational control over the Western and Eastern Naval Fleets, maritime strike fighter jets of IAF, two amphibious infantry brigades of the Army and Coast Guard for integrated planning and execution of operations, as reported by TOI earlier.