In the present era of strategic uncertainties and rapidly changing threats, there is now an unavoidable necessity of establishing a Joint Planning Staff headquarters for the planning and conduct of joint operations under a single overall Commander-in-Chief who could be called the Chief of Defence Staff or the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff. Once theatre commanders are appointed, the Chiefs of Staff of individual Services should have responsibility Primarily for force Structure and drawing up perspective plans, thy development and acquisition of weapons and equipment and planning recruitment, overseeing individual training at specialised training establishments and administrative matters such as the annual budget, pay and allowances, maintenance support and medical services etc.
A Single Commander-in-Chief for Integrated Operations
The formulation of a Joint Military Strategy based on the national aim and the military aim is an inescapable necessity in modern war due to the interdependence of individual Services on each other. At present, the three Services in India draw up their own operational plans based on the Raksha Mantri’s (Defence Minister’s) Operational Directive, with some coordination being carried out at the operational level and the tactical level. Only a mutually agreed Joint Military Strategy can synergise the strengths and capabilities of the three Services to achieve a common military aim. In the present era of strategic uncertainties and rapidly changing threats, there is now an unavoidable necessity of establishing a Joint Planning Staff headquarters for the planning and conduct of joint operations under a single overall Commander-in-Chief who could be called the Chief of Defence Staff (as in the United Kingdom) or the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (as in the United States).
In a situation where the security environment is uncertain and subject to rapid changes and Joint Operations are the order of the day, ‘single point military advice’ to the political masters becomes absolutely essential During conventional wars in a nuclear environment, single point military advice is even more essential. With India’s ‘no first use’ strategy, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) would be in a real quandary if at a critical stage during war, two Chiefs of Staff were to express divergent views on the payoffs of using nuclear weapons and the type and nature of response if deterrence failed. Besides the national interest, Service Chiefs would to a large extent be guided by the impact of the use of nuclear weapons on their forward-deployed field formations and would need to take the prevailing military situation into account while making their recommendations to the Government. Only an overall Commander-in-Chief could present an objective analysis of the situation along with the available options and the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
Given India’s long land borders with a varied terrain configuration and two major seaboards and adversaries who are geographically separated, a ‘theatre’ system of tri-service command is best suited for the optimum management of both external and internal security challenges. Contrary to the belief that only the United States needs a theatre system because of its wider geo-political interests and involvement in security issues all over the globe, India with its inimical neighbours and peculiar national Security threats and challenges, needs a theatre system for integrated functioning to achieve synergy of operations with limited resources. The Chinese, with similar needs, have a well-established theatre system.
Each theatre command should be headed by a four star General or Marshal. The state of Jammu and Kashmir would naturally form the ‘Northern Theatre’ for both conventional and low intensity conflict operations (LIC) and could be headed by a General. The ‘Western Theatre’ comprising the plains of Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat could be led alternately by a General and an Air Chief Marshal. The ‘Central Theatre’ with its area of responsibility for the borders of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim with Tibet and India’s borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, could also be placed under an Air Chief Marshal. The ‘Eastern Theatre’ should be given the responsibility for all national security interests, external and internal, in the seven eastern states and should be headed by a General as the predominant component of the force would be the army component. The ‘Arabian Sea Coastal and Maritime Security Zone’, including the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, should be an Admiral’s domain. The ‘Bay of Bengal Coastal and Maritime Security Zone’, including the and Nicobar Islands, should be headed alternately by a General, an Admiral or an Air Chief Marshal. Each theatre commander should have under him forces from all the three Services based on the requirement. The initial allocation of forces would not be permanent and could be varied during war or during the preparatory stage.
Several other areas of functioning necessitate overarching military command and control at the national level. The shrinking defence budget more and more inter-service coordination in the development and acquisition of weapons and equipment and in the planning of cantonments which should be common to the three Services. and not mutually exclusive. Dispassionate macro level decisions regarding inter se procurement priorities and periodic reviews of laid down priorities to keep pace with the changing security environment are necessary. The need for inter-service compatibility of electro-magnetic equipment and the need for inter-operability demand that weapons and equipment development and acquisition, especially those pertaining to the development of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) capabilities, be undertaken jointly with common staff and user requirements. For example, the present ongoing controversy about which Service should man the Searcher Mark II (or equivalent) high-altitude UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) cannot easily be resolved by the Chief’s of Staff Committee and may need to be deferred to civilian decision makers who are not adequately schooled in operational requirements.
Advantages of Having a CDS
The Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) lacks executive authority over Services other than his own. The COSC works primarily by consensus and cannot make hard decisions that would be binding on all the Services. As Churchill said famously, “Committees cannot fight wars.” The rather limited achievements of coordination during the previous wars, notably in 1965 and 1971, were mainly due to the personalities of the Chiefs in position of authority and not due to any institutionalised arrangements. For example, General Sam Maneckshaw was able to carry his Naval and Air Force colleagues with him due to his affable nature and his personal rapport with them during the 1971 war. Yet, it is well known that there were several glitches in the planning and conduct of the land and air campaigns. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that India fought a coordinated ‘air-land” war, as the term is now understood.
There is no permanent organisational structure for joint operations planning at inter-services level. The present Joint Planning Committee (JPC) is an ad hoc sub-committee of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The Director General Defence Planning Staff (DG DPS) is not organised and staffed for joint operations planning. The concept of National Command Post (NCP)/Interim NCP, vital for nuclear operations, is yet to mature. Hence, there is no joint services operations room. It is well known that the Operations Room of Army Headquarters in South Block was the hub from where the Kargil conflict was directed by the political leadership forming the CCS and where coordination between the Army and the Air Force was carried out on a daily basis. While it may have served the purpose during a localised limited conflict, it will certainly prove to be inadequate for a larger conventional conflict, particularly one involving more than one front.
Despite the establishment of inter-services organisations to coordinate weapons development and acquisition and communications and electronics, the state of interoperability continues to be low. Several cases are known of weapons and equipment development and acquisition where two or more Services have taken divergent routes for ‘similar . systems and equipment. In fact, with the proliferation of hundreds of transmitters in the combat zone, electro-magnetic compatibility and electro-magnetic interference (EMI) are likely to play havoc with communications and radar systems when the full complement of equipment is deployed during the next war. Only a joint approach can overcome the inherent difficulties in reconciling different staff and ‘user requirements.
A CDs with full command over the three Services and supported by a well-structured Joint Planning Staff, will be able to overcome almost all the problems inherent in the present system of higher defence control within the Services. Ideally, a CDS should be appointed simultaneously with theatre commanders. However, in order to minimise turbulence and to ensure that the change comes about gradually, initially India could graduate to a CDS system at the apex level, with the Chiefs of Staff of respective Services continuing to perform their present functions, and move step by step to a theatre system. Once theatre commanders are appointed, the Chiefs of Staff of individual Services should have responsibility Primarily for force Structure and drawing up perspective plans, thy development and acquisition of weapons and equipment and planning recruitment, overseeing individual training at specialised training establishments and administrative matters such as the annual budget, pay and allowances, maintenance support and medical services etc.
Finally often during war, the fate of an entire campaign can hinge on a single decision. Such a decision can only be made by a supreme, overall commander and not by a committee that operates on the principle of the least common denominator. Military history is replete with examples of how such decisions changed the course of a war. Eisenhower’ decision to launch the Normandy landings in the face of continuing weather and MacArthur’s decision to land at Inchon against stiff Opposition from virtually his entire staff, could not have been made by a committee.