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The Chimera of Military Integration

August 8, 2019 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By PIB
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


Assam Rifles marching contingents passes through the Rajpath, on the occasion of the Republic Day Parade

In 2004, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing the Combined Commanders Conference had said, "Reforms within the Armed Forces involve recognition of the fact that our Navy, Air Forces and Army can no longer function in compartments with exclusive chains of command and single service operational plans." 11 years later Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairing the Combined Commanders Conference on board INS Vikramaditya on December 15, 2015 had said, "We should promote jointness across every level of our Armed Forces. We wear different colours, but we serve the same cause and bear the same flag. Jointness at the top is a need that is long overdue. Senior military leaders must have experience of tri-service commands, experience in technology-driven environment and exposure to the full spectrum of challenges – from terrorism to strategic". Now speaking during Kargil Diwas celebrations on July 27 this year, PM Modi called upon the Army, Navy and Air Force to better integrate themselves as they modernise their capabilities, and that the Armed Forces should also strive towards "jointness" despite "wearing different uniforms. He also said that government is taking several measures to speed up military modernisation on top priority. He warned Pakistan for its nefarious designs and said, "Pakistan did not expect such a powerful response in Kargil", adding that the time had come for a united global effort to deal with countries resorting to proxy war and terrorism as instruments of state policy. Modi said the nature of war is fast-changing, with space and cyberspace becoming the new frontiers of warfare, and government has shown its commitment to national security despite international pressure by operationalizing its nuclear submarine INS Arihant and successfully testing an anti-satellite interceptor missile to destroy a satellite in March this year. What Manmohan Singh what Modi said as mentioned above, is all very good for rhetoric and exciting voters, but can someone explain how are the Army, Navy and Air Force supposed to "better integrate themselves", when political authority has shown zero inclination towards 'executing' military integration? Where are the national security strategy and the strategic defence review to enable drawing up requisite joint operational plans? The Ministry of Defence (MoD) remains exclusively manned by generalist bureaucrats. There was much propaganda about lateral inductions at joint secretary level but MoD remains untouched. Why has HQ IDS not been merged with MoD? Is it fear of disturbing the goose that lays the golden eggs?The KargilReview Committee and follow up Group of Ministers had recommended early establishment of CDS.

Pranab Mukherjee as Defence Minister and Manohar Parrikar hinted CDS was round the corner. Now there are indications government may appoint Permanent Chairman COSC (PC COSC) at some point of time in future, who anyway will have no operational powers less out of area contingencies. It is unlikely the Prime Minister will acknowledge that without a CDS with requisite operational power, military integration and true revolution in military affairs (RMA) will remain a chimera, because political authority is dependent on bureaucratic advice and bureaucrats hold all aces. HQ IDS ordered and analyed five studies on Theatre Commands in 2005-2006, which were agreed at DGMO and equivalent level benefiting all three services, but there is no follow up.For those who feel that HQ IDS is providing necessary jointness, anyone who has served in HQ IDS will vouch that the organisation is sans powers to enforce jointness in the Services.

Military jointness is an imperative, not luxury. Yet government remains unconcerned beyond periodic rhetoric. MoD continues to follow the 'divide and rule policy' and selection of the PC COSC will probably be based on 'political affiliation-inclination and quality of 'exceptional pliability'; including whoever has contributed most in relegating military below BSF, CRPF, ITBP, SSB, even Railway Protection Force. Prime Minister Modi has said that India attaining a $5 trillion is very much feasible. So, why are we not addressing the 'hollowness' of Armed Forces? Economy of a nation dictates the size and reach of Armed Forces. Ad hoc acquisition of weapon systems and poor defence allocations are hardly the answer. Arbitrary reduction of manpower without 'physical fielding' of compensatory technological force multipliers, while we are not even manning the LAC against China in adequate strength at all times, and lack of an overall strategy construct, with a minister now quipping that Army could be employed in the Maoists belt, does appear naïve. Wonder if this minister is aware that in Chhattisgarh alone there are over 60 battalions of a mix of CAPF deployed today, which equal some five and a half Infantry Divisions of the Army?

The fact remains there is enough money in India, much of which is misutilized. This is one major reason why the RTI Act is being diluted so that no questions can be asked. Continuing to harp on pay and pensions is not going to lead us anywhere. It is a question of whether the government is interested in establishing a strong military capability or not. Military modernisation continues to remain a casualty, which is also in public domain. In 2015, Modi had said, "Ours is a difficult neighbourhood with the full spectrum of security challenges.... We know that old rivalries can play out in new theatres such as space and cyber.... We must fully incorporate the power of digital networks and space assets into our capabilities. Equally, we must be prepared to defend them, for they will be the first targets of our adversaries". On July 27 this year, Modi again emphasised space and cyberspace becoming new frontiers of warfare. However, while acknowledging the full spectrum security challenges, he only talked of the need for united global effort to deal with proxy war and terrorism. This is sidetracking the strategic asymmetry we have in sub-conventional capacity vis-à-vis China and Pakistan, while hoping for foreign powers to deal with our problems. Short-distance cross-border raids and Balakot-type airstrikes are no remedy for this. US turnaround on Pakistan and Taliban takeover of Afghanistan should be wakeup calls, ignoring which will be stupid. If we are really looking at becoming major economic power, it cannot be safe without full spectrum military muscle, including at sub-conventional level.