Express News Service
NEW DELHI: Difference of opinion on the biggest military reform in the country turned into a public spat on Friday, when Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria were caught in a debate over the role of the Air Force. Experts this newspaper spoke to felt airing differences in public has created an unhealthy situation. They think it also means not enough consultation has taken place.
Longtime advocate of higher defence management reforms, Admiral Arun Prakash (retd) said: “Other nations attempting national security reform faced similar situations opposition to change and infighting over air power issues. However, they were forced by their governments to sit down and resolve differences.” The world’s most powerful US military took four years before a bill in the parliament was forced upon the military commanders. Even the UK faced similar problems, with services on divergent paths having tussles, arguments and counter arguments.
There had been two prominent instances when the Indian armed forces were seen lacking cohesiveness. When the Indian Peace Keeping Force was formed, a joint command was tried and it did not succeed, leading to confusion, said an expert who did not wish to be named. In Kargil also, a similar scenario appeared, added the source. Resolution of these matters took time. Without going into details of the CDS-Air Chief spat, Admiral Prakash said: “It is too important an issue to rush through with half-baked solutions. They have to find consensus even if it takes time.”
Major Gen SB Asthana (Retd), Defence Expert, said in the US, lawmakers played an important role by initiating a highly educated debate to change the structure. “India may have to wait before such erudite debates take place on complex matters.” Sources said since the beginning, IAF has been flagging the issue of dilution of the powers of the Chief of Air Staff. Today, India is facing two threats it is in a standoff with the largest military in the world, while the other adversary is devising new ways to disturb peace through drones/terror attacks.
Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd) says discussions are for solutions. “Air power, within a hundred years of the first manned heavier-than-air flight, has graduated to pole position in war execution. With it’s virtual presence far from where it is positioned, air power can coerce and dissuade adversaries. In India’s case, the situation is similar and the IAF would carry the war deep into adversary territory. It is imperative that the government ensures the IAF’s bite does not get blunted due lack of resources. The IAF would be a major player in the joint application of power in any future conflict.”
Modern war is swift and will need a joint approach. The present system of the 17 commands of the Army, Air Force and Navy spread out geographically may not work. With the aim of restructuring, the present government went in for the biggest post-Independence military reform. General Rawat was made CDS in January, 2020. The brief for him was “Facilitation of restructuring of Military Commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through the establishment of joint/theatre commands.”
Theatre commands are to strengthen cohesion, pool in resources, cut duplication and redundancies. Seamless integration among the land, sea and air forces is expected to lead to better coordination and response. Also, this reform will clear the chain of command for better response in case of any exigency. Three services, under the new arrangement, will plan, train and practice joint warfare. The command of all the resources under one theatre will lie with one Commander, cutting time lag.
India, as explained by the CDS, is planning to have five theatre Commands — Air Defence Theatre, Maritime Theatre, Eastern Theatre (China will be under it), Western Theatre (Pakistan) and Northern Theatre (Line of Control and Line of Actual Control together with counter-terror operations). Across the world, most militarily powerful nations have theaterised their armed forces. These include the US, UK, France, Russia and China. Even Pakistan is moving to reconfigure into this format.