Military Jointness and Theatreisation

Updated: August 13, 2021 3:13 PM

HQ IDS was to be merged with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on establishment but before then Defence Minister George Fernandes could do so the deep-state falsely implicated him in the ‘Coffingate’ knowing he would step down.

bipin rawatThere is speculation that PM Modi will announce the establishment of Theatre Commands on the coming Independence Day – like he announced the CDS. (File photo: IE)

By Prakash Katoch,

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the establishment of a CDS, it was to usher in true military jointness. But we have a ‘monkey’ as the bureaucracy that revels in the cat-fights amongst the three services. This monkey slyly inserted a line in the CCS note for establishing HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) that read: “As and when the CDS is appointed, he will have same voting rights as the service chiefs and if two service chiefs disagree the ministry of defence will arbitrate”. The aim was to have a toothless CDS controlled by bureaucrats.

HQ IDS was to be merged with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on establishment but before then Defence Minister George Fernandes could do so the deep-state falsely implicated him in the ‘Coffingate’ knowing he would step down. Later during the tenure of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, media mentioned the monkey wanted the Defence Secretary upgraded to ‘Principal Secretary’ before appointing a CDS.

Eventually the bureaucratic set up succeeded in creating the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) headed by CDS as its Secretary (one among four) but below the Defence Secretary in terms of functioning of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The bureaucratic setup played a similar trick years back when the three Services HQ assumed the suffix of Integrated HQ of MoD; IHQ of MoD (Army/Navy/Air Force) but without any integration worth the name.

The Armed Forces need to be integrated with the MoD which has not happened. No serving Service Chief would say military jointness is lacking for obvious reasons but voids exist. ‘Theatreisation’ no doubt is vital, without which operational concepts to enable ‘effective’ combat in the cyber, electromagnetic and space domains cannot be evolved and executed. But Theatreisation done in a hurry can be harmful to say the least. Military transformation of which Theatreisation is a part did not happen overnight in the US, China, Germany and elsewhere.

In China, military transformation began with President Jiang Zemin and theaterisation came many years later. In the US, Joint Forces Command was established as the transformation laboratory after the fiasco of the hostage rescue in Iran, followed by the Goldwater Nichols Act. The German defence forces were transformed through the Berlin Decree. In contrast, a CDS is appointed in India and told to complete theatreisation in his 5-year tenure. Little wonder being one among equals, the CDS vent his frustration to do so in public by belittling a sister service and this has become a joke.

There is another game being played – that of rotating certain appointments within HQ IDS and others specific to particular service. Speculation is that this will happen in theatreisation too. But if the Andaman & Nicobar Command Commander can be from any service and the Defence Secretary rules the roost over all, should any Theatre Command have a service specific commander? Also, we have joint commands in the Strategic Forces Command and Andaman & Nicobar Command but latter with inadequate resources.

Should Prime Minister Narendra Modi ask for a detailed briefing on the current status and deployment of the Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD) which was raised amidst media blitz, it would bring home the monkey games behind the rhetoric and how combat capabilities are being undercut by the monkey feeding on foreign fruits and nuts. The high-level inquiry for installation of cheap quality Chinese surveillance devices in high-security buildings including the South Block, North Block and Sena Bhawan reportedly involving key officials of MoD should be a wakeup call given the alleged Rs 100 crore scam and more importantly compromising national security.

In terms of theatreisation, we must examine China’s Strategic Support Force that combines the functions of intelligence, technical reconnaissance, electronic warfare, cyber warfare and space warfare. There is also the question of who will the theatre commanders report to – the toothless CDS, the principal monkey – the Defence Secretary or the Defence Minister?

There is speculation that PM Modi will announce the establishment of Theatre Commands on the coming Independence Day – like he announced the CDS. But it would be prudent to take cognizance of the monkey games.

Theatreisation is required but must be deliberate without putting us at disadvantage if war is thrust upon us midway. Many strategists have opined that only an Act of Parliament can bring about required transformation in our Armed Forces. Government could appoint a ‘Committee for Military Transformation’ to undertake such an exercise in a time-bound manner.

Additionally, the PM Modi could give a thought to a Revolution in Bureaucratic Affairs as mentioned by the Army Chief recently though only for defence procurements. It would be a momentous milestone if the monkey is tamed.

(The author is veteran Lieutenant General. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online)

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