Military professionals have long perceived the concept of joint commands as an absolute necessity in today’s multi-domain battlespace. However, the most powerful stakeholder among those whose consent was required to initiate the transition in the Indian armed forces, the political leadership, had shied away from pressing the change button. The appointment of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, Late Gen Bipin Rawat, was keeping in view the necessity of implementing all aspects of the joint functioning of the three services. However, his untimely demise, and no CDS being appointed for some time, slowed the pace of progress. Now, with a new CDS at the helm, there is an apparent change in approach from being more top-driven, to a more consensual one that’s sensitive, especially to the views of the prime stakeholders, i.e., the three services.
The new approach, apparently, has begun to bear fruits, and a degree of progress is visible. BharatShakti’s Editor-in-Chief, Nitin Gokhale, broke the news that the jointness and setting up of Theatre Commands were progressing well, and it would be in place by 2024-25 during an interview on 12 April 2023. It would be most gratifying if we find these commands functional even in 2025.
Progress on specific areas that joint command implies is already visible. The office of the CDS has definitely led to an improvement in the joint planning of major acquisitions. A case in point is the possibility of inducting the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drones. Apparently, we are going in for 31 of these most advanced platforms, with 15 of them going to the Indian Navy and eight each to the Army and Indian Air Force. The configurations of these birds will conform to the requirements of each of the services. While arriving at the decision, we have not had separate evaluations of the three services. Two of these UAVs were leased by the Navy, and as much as can be assessed, the Navy’s evaluation has been the basic input for joint procurement.
As of date, the Indian Army has seven commands. The Air Force has another seven, the Navy has three, and there are two tri-service ones- the Andaman Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command. As India undertakes the transition, it needs to be ensured that there is no loss in efficiency in the interim. India’s threat perception is dynamic on its timeline axis. With the Chinese aggressiveness barely displaying any regard for the long list of agreements between the two countries, a volatile situation prevails. Another set of transgressions by them could easily result in a quid pro quo response from the Indian side, which could lead to further escalation.
The induction of expensive assets like the MQ-9 in all three services also calls for their joint basing, repair and maintenance facilities when viewed from the costs point of view. Basing would undoubtedly be influenced by tasks and roles. However, such commonality in equipment between the three services will only increase with time, asking for cost-effective options.
However, it must be stated that even today, the three services can undertake joint operations most successfully. The joint command will result in further optimizing the assets. A recent example of successful joint operations was triggered by the Galwan incident of 15 June 2020. Eastern Ladakh witnessed a huge joint effort in building up the logistics when the troops’ strength in the area steeply surged to over 50,000. The IAF and the army worked with synchronized precision to build up the logistics network required to support the formations inducted. It involved the movement of personnel, stores, rations, equipment, and ammunition while creating infrastructure to include housing, roads and tracks, and storage. All these activities required joint planning and execution and were successfully undertaken.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)