Following the release of the Joint Doctrine by the armed forces, the Union Defence Ministry has simultaneously asked the three defence services for their views by month-end on the creation of integrated theatre commands. This has invigorated the long overdue debate around force integration and jointness in military operations initiated by the expert committee headed by Lt General D.B. Shekatkar (retd).
The expert group had proposed the creation of three integrated theatre commands, one in the north for China, another in the west for Pakistan and the last one in the south for the maritime role. The army is in favour of creating integrated theatre commands while the Indian Air Force (IAF) is opposed to it; the Navy is not in favour of creating them anytime soon.
The defence services currently have 17 service-specific geographical commands, which operate under the respective service chief during war. This means that there are seven commands from the Indian side on the Chinese border, while the PLA has only a single theatre command. The army contends that centralisation of command, with dedicated resources, will lead to a more effective and efficient performance against an adversary. It points to the American and Chinese models of integrated theatre commands, and seeks their replication.
The IAF believes that the whole country should be considered a single theatre under the defence minister. The IAF can thus use its scarce resources, under its chief, in the desired manner. The Navy also feels that its maritime strategic role is best fulfilled by maintaining a service-specific role.
It is not that India doesn’t have an integrated theatre command. The Andaman and Nicobar Command, formed in 2003, was supposed to act as a role model for the eventual creation of other integrated theatre commands. But there are fears among the smaller services that such a change would diminish their importance and the power of the service chiefs. This has been the case globally, and it has taken a huge political push to form integrated theatre commands, whether in the US, the UK or China. A precursor to the creation of integrated theatre commands has to be a single-point military advisor to the government, which has not seen the light of day since it was proposed in 2001.
In any case, the services have concerns and reform will be painful for the chiefs and their services. The armed forces must remember that their job is not to fight among themselves, but to defeat the enemy.