Military & Aerospace

Inter Service Rivalry and its Impact on National Security
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Issue Vol. 28.3 Jul-Sep 2013 | Date : 28 Sep , 2013

In the same note the Secretary of State defined the only possible use of aircraft in war as under:

A strong political direction is essential if inter-service rivalry is to be resolved…

  • The action of air units which form an integral part of military and naval formations.
  • The action of air forces acting in close cooperation with military and naval forces in a theatre of war.
  • The action of independent air forces in minor and possibly distant theatres of war in fulfillment of special air missions.
  • The action of large air forces operating in a main theatre of war at a time when the air situation temporarily dominates the ground situation as a whole.

The Secretary of State recommended that the system of organisation and control of the RAF which would produce the greatest efficiency at the least cost was to be:

  • Air units which are integral part of the fleet and air formations capable of cooperating with the fleet on the high seas be under the Admiralty.
  • The air units which are an integral part of any army formations and air formations required to cooperate with the Army to be under the War Office.
  • Civil Aviation, research, experimental and supply to be under the Air Ministry, which relieved of all responsibility for the employment of air forces in peace and war to be much reduced.

The War Office was pitching for the disbandment of the Royal Air Force and the reduction of the existing Air Ministry to be a mere civilian organisation. If the British Government had fallen into the trap of inter-service rivalry, the outcome of the Battle of Britain might have been different.

Inter-service rivalry seems to be a constant fact of military life in peace time…

Rivalry between Special Forces in the UK resulted in the formation of the United Kingdom Special Forces and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in the United States.

The root causes of the uneasy relationship between Army Aviation and the Indian Air Force (IAF)and goes back to pre-independence in 1947. It is a fallout of the cultural ethos that existed during the years before World War II between the RAF and the British Army. The RAF’s operational strategy was driven by the belief that strategic bombing would win wars of the future. The RAF was not in favour of the close air support concept expounded by the British Army during the period. The main role of ‘Army Cooperation’, as it was then known, was to be limited to reconnaissance and spotting of artillery fire, a task assigned to light unarmed aircraft flown by pilots from the Royal Artillery. Air Observation Post Flights (Air OP Flts) were to only direct artillery fire and provide rudimentary tactical recce, all other combat roles in support of the Army would be undertaken by the RAF. The aircraft were to fly generally over areas held by friendly forces and the pilot was to use his elevated vantage point and freedom of movement to observe areas not visible from the ground.

The concept was accepted by the British Government and the first Air OP Flt was formed in 1940 and in 1941, the British Government sanctioned the formation of an Air OP Squadron. To address the issues of ownership and inter-service command and control concerns a compromise solution was accepted. The Air OP Squadrons were to be RAF units commanded by an Artillery Officer with a RAF Adjutant. The RAF would provide the aircraft and maintenance crew, the Army would provide vehicles, radios and soldiers. Pilots, however, would be officers from the Artillery trained by the RAF. The RAF would be responsible for all technical matters on flying but the Army would have operational control in the field. Post-Independence, the arrangement continued in India. Air OP Squadrons saw action in Kashmir, Hyderabad, Goa and the 1965 and 1971 Wars with Pakistan.

In February 1963, General JN Chaudhuri, Chief of Army Staff proposed the need for an integral army aviation corps independent of oversight by the IAF. The case was submitted to the Government in February 1968 with the concept of introducing helicopters including attack helicopter, with large-scale mechanisation under an integrated Army command structure for obtaining cohesive combat power. General Chaudhuri discussed the expansion of the Army Air Arm with the “Select Body on Aviation” headed by JRD Tata which recommended the creation of the Army Aviation Corps but it took 23 years to bring it to fruition. The Joint Army-Air Force Memorandum of July 16, 1986, directed that all Air OP Flights be transferred to the Army by October 31, 1986, although attack, medium and heavy-lift assets were to remain with the IAF. The Army Aviation Corps as it exists today was formed on November 01, 1986.

Inter – service rivalry is a cancer that needs to be recognised and addressed aggressively…

The Indian Army has been demanding control over attack and medium-lift helicopters for many years but this has been resisted by the IAF. India has two attack helicopter units under the command and control of the Army but flown and maintained by the IAF. The IAF will soon induct 22 Boeing Apache AH-64 D attack helicopters. The Indian Army is seeking a capability enhancement to absorb attack helicopters into its Aviation Wing and it is only a matter of time before it demands ownership of the Apache attack helicopters.

The IAF has consistently fought the transfer of attack and medium-lift helicopters to the Indian Army even though the primary task of these helicopters is to support army operations. The IAF’s contention is that the country can ill afford to have small “Air Forces”. Analysis of flying by the helicopter fleet of the IAF would show that a major portion of it is in support of the Army and other agencies, further strengthening the Army’s argument.

In December 2012, Defence Minister AK Anthony, informed the Lok Sabha that the Government had decided to allow the Indian Army to have its own heavy-duty attack helicopters and may have unwittingly stoked the fires of an ongoing turf battle. The Indian Army intends to set up Aviation Brigades for the Corps Head Quarters in 13 corps and the plan envisages that attack helicopters like the Apache will be provided to the three strike corps situated in Mathura, Ambala and Bhopal. The other ten corps will be equipped with the Rudra, the armed version of the Advanced Light Helicopter.

The Government, on its part, has stated that the attack helicopters acquired in ‘future’ will vest with the Army thus implying that the current acquisition of Apaches will be an Air Force asset and ensuring that attack helicopters remain a bureaucratic bone of contention for the foreseeable future.

There are many other questions at the operational level that have generated strong opposing views and never answered to the satisfaction of both protagonists, the IAF and the Indian Army. The salient issues are the relative importance and co-ordination of the air war and the ground battle at the commencement of hostilities, the use of air power in support of the army, command and control of attack and armed helicopters, the need for the army to have an independent helicopter airlift capability for intra-theatre mobility. Inter service rivalry and the overwhelming need to protect one’s own turf – are the stumbling blocks.

The stalemate in the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is a manifestation of inter-service rivalry in India.

The arguments put forth by the IAF and the Army in recent years to support their positions do not appear to be very different from the note submitted by the Earl of Derby in 1923.

The stalemate in the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is a manifestation of inter-service rivalry in India. The necessity of a CDS has been accepted by the Government but the Service Chiefs perceive that the appointment of a CDS will reduce their relevance as operational commanders and enhance the operational freedom of regional Commands. The IAF and the Navy are apprehensive that they will be swamped by the larger Army. The bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence fear the erosion of their authority and hence the need for all concerned to protect their own turf even at the cost of national security. A Chief of one of the Services summed it up when he said, “The idea of having a CDS is good and should be implemented but not in my time.”

Inter-service rivalry has been addressed by a number of countries including the United States, where on the basis of the Packard Commission Report commissioned by President Ronald Reagan, Senators Barry Goldwater and Senator Nichols moved a resolution which was passed by an overwhelming majority calling for the complete review of joint operations by US military forces.

India has also had a number of commissions including the HM Patel report in 1952, the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report on the debacle during the 1962 War with China, the Arun Singh report, K Subrahmanyam report and the Naresh Chandra Report. These reports are gathering dust and recently, the Ministry of Defence stated that it could not even trace the HM Patel report. A strong political direction is essential if inter-service rivalry is to be resolved.

The political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo.

K Subrahmanyam in his report after the Kargil operations stated, “The framework Lord Ismay formulated and Lord Mountbatten recommended was accepted by a national leadership unfamiliar with the intricacies of national security management. There has been very little change over the past 52 years despite the 1962 debacle, the 1965 stalemate and the 1971 victory, the growing nuclear threat, end of the cold war, continuance of proxy war in Kashmir for over a decade and the revolution in military affairs. The political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo. National security management recedes into the background in time of peace and is considered too delicate to be tampered with in times of war and proxy war.”

The Naresh Chandra Task Force report recommended the appointment of CDS and integration of the Ministry of Defence and the Service Headquarters by allowing more cross postings. There is no progress on this report.

In some of the historical cases cited above, history as it unfolded showed that if the Governments in power had buckled under the parochial demands of the Services, there would have been irrevocable damage to national security. Political and professional debates on these issues kept them in the public glare and forced the Governments to take corrective measures.

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Dr Ian Horwood, in his book, Inter Service Rivalry and the Air Way in Vietnam states, “Inter-service rivalry seems to be a fact of military life in peace time. Indeed, armed services may sometimes even measure their relative success in terms of the accumulation of resources and authority at the expense of their sister services, regardless of the extent to which this detracts from their peace-time preparations for the pursuit of national objectives in time of war. The achievement of those objectives becomes more significant – though not necessarily paramount – in wartime.”

Inter–service rivalry is a cancer that needs to be recognised and addressed aggressively by the political leadership before it results in catastrophe. At this juncture, are the powers that be in India competent, committed, capable or concerned about resolving inter-service rivalry in the interest of national security?

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Commodore KB Menon

Fighter pilot, served as a flying instructor in Iraq and also as Defence Attache in Washington.

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2 thoughts on “Inter Service Rivalry and its Impact on National Security

  1. inter service rivalary can be solved by a professional bureucracy comprising OF service officers of 10 yrs service in any of the three services and then groomed for being babus to work in afhqs , IB , RAW , MOD , HOME AND FOREIGN SERVICE , RAILWAYS , SHIPPING , AVIATION AGRICULTURE , ROADS , MEDICAL AND A FEW OTHER RELEVANT MINSTRIES , REPLACING THE ARMED FORCES CIVILAN CADRES, CSS AND NON SPECIALIST IAS , IFS OFFICERS WHO SIT IN MOD .

  2. The I. S. I., or ‘Inter Services Intelligence’ of the Pakistani state military wing, is a ground army service, that is supposed to be relevant to the other wings of the navy and air force, in a manner that is not seen to be a priority to either the army, navy or air force. This is an interested surmise. They aren’t supposed to stop invasions, nor get important intelligence pertaining to the long term, but I suspect they are relevant to internal security, to do with Pakistani civilians, and provinces. Gen. Zia ul Haq started using the I. S. I., because there was growing unrest in Pakistan, not to do with Islam, nor the state, it would seem. The regions of the Punjab and Sindh had turmoil experienced to a degree, but he wondered how this was relevant to the Kashmir valley. There was a dis-satisfaction, that perhaps in P. O. K., the Kashmiri was feeling a bit dis-enfranchised having a much smaller population in the mountainous terrain. There was no reason for the Punjabi or Sindhi to brook any difference on each side of the border. It seems, that there were people coming over the Pakistan border, and from the west of the Pakistan border. They were inter-marrying with Kashmiri’s, perhaps. The boundary with the western border of P. O. K. is very easy to navigate in consideration, that the national border exists. The reason why Pakistan sees a strategic depth in Afghanistan, is because the people don’t see the relevance of the national boundary there. It seems impossible to know, if a person is Pakistani or not, sometimes.

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