Guest Column | Too Little Too Late

Indian armed forces urgently need to include joint-ness as part of military reforms

Vinod BhatiaLt Gen. Vinod Bhatia (retd)

The Indian armed forces are one of the most battle-hardened and combat rich force in the world with a proven record of ensuring national security. However, the key question is, are they optimal and future ready?

Lack of joint-ness has been recognised as a major weakness and hence, the imperative need for a pragmatic, acceptable and implementable Joint warfare structures, systems, organisations and doctrine for the Indian armed forces. While addressing the Combined Commanders Conference in December 2015 onboard INS Vikramaditya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi challenged senior military commanders to reform their ‘beliefs, doctrines, objectives and strategies.’

He identified six areas for military reforms to include joint warfare, restructuring higher defence organisation, defence planning, manpower rationalisation, defence procurement and professional military education. PM’s direction challenged the established structures, systems and organisations of India’s military and the mindset of senior military leaders. However, two years down the line, little of substance has actually been set into motion, except that a beginning has been made.

On 23 April 2017, the Chairman COSC Admiral Sunil Lanba along with the Chiefs of the Army and Air Force, Gen. Bipin Rawat and Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa and the head of Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) Gen. Satish Dua, released the Joint Doctrine of and for the Indian armed forces. It was a rare show of solidarity among the service chiefs indicative of congruence and convergence of interests leading to enhancing the efficacy of joint operations in the long run.

For far too long the services have been blamed for protecting their turf and thwarting optimisation of scarce resource. The perceived divide among the services has also been exploited by the bureaucracy in the ministry of defence (MoD) to thwart projects, modernisation and growth of the services, often playing one against the other. The Joint Doctrine driven by HQ IDS for once has finally found approval among the three services. It remains to be seen whether or not this first step is carried forward for enhancing joint operational efficacy or remains as a mere document showcasing a non-existent joint-ness.

Jointmanship and Integration are very often used interchangeably, but they are two different concepts. While jointmanship would help achieve the desired end state, integration would invariably result in synergy and thus transcend the desired end state. Jointmanship can be enforced physically while integration commences in the mind. This lack of joint-ness and integrated thinking was obvious in the 1962 and 1965 conflicts; the former was left purely to the army to conduct, and the latter saw each service fighting very much their own individual wars.

Again the 1999 Kargil war was marked by lack of any kind of joint planning and response. Though essentially a land war, there was an obvious functional discord between the army and air force. The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka established how far distant the three services were to any operational integration or joint-ness. The then GOC-in-C Southern Command, Lt Gen. Depinder Singh was appointed Overall Force Commander (OFC) and a formal directive was issued for the OFC to undertake the mission with Commanders from all three Forces placed under command OFC.

The fissures in joint-ness were apparent with the Cs-in-C of the Southern Air and Eastern Naval Commands not delegating command. This led to Component Commanders being designated and functioning as Liaison Officers between the OFC and their respective Cs-in-C. On the other extreme, 1971 Indo-Pakistan or the Bangladesh War is a classic example of effective joint warfare and synergy between the three services and the political-bureaucratic structures. This effective and exceptional joint-ness can be attributed to personalities rather than formal systems. There is another rare example of effective joint operations, Operation Cactus (Maldives), wherein the armed forces executed a very sensitive operation jointly accomplishing the mission, executing it with military synchronisation and precision within 16 hours of the first indication of an impending operation. Operating in concert, the mission was accomplished at zero costs – showcasing the might of the armed forces and a politico–military will which prompted the Time magazine issue of 3 April 1989 to carry the cover ‘Super Power Rising: India’. The success is again attributed to personalities and not systems.

Wars in today’s context cannot be fought with outdated single service assets, organisations and structures, wherein the army, navy and the air force conduct operations in a linear standalone mode, with coordination and cooperation only being achieved, based on personalities. War is a joint endeavour, with all elements of national power and all resources of the union being synergised. This truism is even more relevant in the present day Indian context.

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