Outlining the roadmap for joint/integrated theatre commands of the armed forces which will start this year with the creation of a joint Air Defence Command, General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff, Tuesday said informal discussions on creation of other integrated theatre commands have been mooted, and these commands will be created within three years but will initially be assigned to the services chiefs.
He expressed concern over the rate at which the bill for defence pensions is increasing every year, although he believes that retired soldiers, particularly from combat arms, need to be looked after once they hang their uniform. Responding to criticism of the Budget allocation for defence, he said it is “more of a management issue than a funding issue”.
“The amount for defence pensions this year is around Rs 1.33 lakh crore (Rs 133,825 crore), and last year it was somewhere around Rs 1.10 lakh crore (Rs 117,810.44 crore). This is a very sharp jump. If this is the way the jump keeps happening, tell me is it sustainable?,” he said.
He said the solutions lie in increasing the retirement age of soldiers to 58 in roles which do not need them to be young and robust, subject to medical fitness, and taking the soldiers of combat arms who retire at a young age into the Defence Service Corps (DSC). By increasing the retirement age, he expects at least one-third of the Army to serve till that age, thereby reducing the ratio of pensioners to serving military personnel.
A study to decide on increasing the retirement age has been ordered which is expected to come later this year, and a decision on the subject can be expected by the end of the year. But he said that as far as retired soldiers are concerned, “we need to care for men who matter and give their youth in service of the nation”.
General Rawat said that the other answer is “increasing TAisation”, i.e., create more battalions of Territorial Army for civilians who can be mobilised for two months every year for specific duties, such as truck drivers being used to drive military trucks in summer months for winter stocking in high altitude areas.
The CDS & the big picture
India’s first CDS has his task cut out. As principal military adviser to the Defence minister on the three services, and head of the Department of Military Affairs, he will oversee the process of creation of join/integrated theatre commands. While creating synergy, he has to provide the big picture to the government to help it with its policies on defence.
“As far as the defence budget is concerned, if it is not sufficient, how is every service chief saying that they are ready? It is about the management of your budget, where you buy whatever is available with money in hand and are very serious about what you want and buy it,” he said.
He said that priority in procurement is extremely important as “deficiencies really matter in getting some modern equipment and some ammunition”. He also highlighted the need to focus on creating indigenous capacities for production of ammunition, as a lack of surge capacity during periods of urgent requirement are an area of weakness.
General Rawat praised the Director General of Border Roads Organisation for getting Rs 4500 crore from other users for construction and maintenance of roads. He said innovative models for getting constructed family accommodation in lieu of defence land in certain areas will have to be explored to release more funds for modernisation.
On the issue of Navy getting a third aircraft carrier, General Rawat did not sound hopeful when he said “look at our priority, what will be its effect on the Air Force and the Army. we have to look at the how the economy develops and how the other two services are developing. we have to see the impact of the third aircraft carrier”.
He laid out the roadmap for integrated theatre commands, ruling out the US and Chinese models in favour of a unique model suited to Indian conditions. He said “we will have to look at our own system and there is a way on which we can go for jointness. We have to study our threats and priorities and based on this, we need to resolve a theatre. But we will retain the flexibility for inter-theatre and intra-theatre commands”.
Describing it as a “low hanging fruit”, General Rawat said the process will start with the creation of an Air Defence Command this year. The other integrated theatre commands will be created in 2021 and 2022. He said the proposal is for a Peninsular Command for the eastern and western coastlines, a joint training command, and a joint logistics command wherein some informal discussions have been held with the three services but no formal interaction has happened so far.
He said the creation of theatre commands for the borders with China and Pakistan will be based “on the bigger picture” where “resourcing has to be seen”. He also highlighted that counter-insurgency in J&K remains an operational task for the foreseeable future and will also have to be factored in any discussion on theatre commands. On the model for integrated theatre commands, he said that some Air Force assets will be integrated ab initio to these commands with “reserves held with the Air Chief” who can then employ them in the required theatre.
He said each of the theatre commanders will be “assigned to be under one of the service chiefs” during the “transformation phase” till “full integration” happens. This, he said, was needed to remain prepared at all times because any requirement can come up suddenly and a gradual transformation will allow the armed forces to be prepared during this period. He, however, declined to give a time-frame for “full integration”.
On the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) headed by the CDS, General Rawat said that posts of six joint secretaries (JS) have been created under him, four tenanted by uniformed officers and two by IAS officials. The tasks allocated to these joint secretaries include works, jointmanship, parliamentary issues and the three defence services. The new department, he said, is also finalising delegation of powers to the three services.
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