Military & Aerospace

Need to Bridge Inter-Services Trust Deficit
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 01 Nov , 2010

Existing trust deficit amongst the three services is adversely affecting national defence preparedness and is the primary impediment in achieving the goal of jointmanship. Lack of mutual trust has infected the whole system and the psyche of most senior commanders. Although all senior service officers keep stressing the criticality of ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), their deportment shows a distinct lack of understanding of the underlying principle of RMA, i.e. integrated functioning of all elements of the armed forces as RMA precludes segregated service-wise operations.

Jointmanship means conducting integrated military operations with common strategy, methodology and execution. It implies assigning supremacy to national interests and subordinating all other considerations. The most unfortunate aspect is that every commander is aware of the criticality of jointmanship in military matters, yet the current environment of lack of mutual trust forces them to remain mired in parochial service-centric issues.

The army prepared General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) for helicopters without showing it to the air force lest they torpedo the whole procurement proposal. Similarly, it did not consult the navy while formulating GSQR for deep sea diving equipment for its special forces.

Regrettably, the infamous Indian failing of disunity permeates inter-services equations as well, public posturing of bonhomie notwithstanding. Ex-naval chief Admiral J G Nadkarni was constrained to comment – “Jointmanship in India exists to the extent of the three chiefs routinely being photographed backslapping each other, but not much more beyond that. We mistake backslapping in public, playing golf together and stating that they all belong to one course in the NDA as jointmanship”.

The malaise of trust deficit is so acute that the three services buy the same equipment (like unmanned aerial vehicles, sniper rifles and diving equipment) from the same foreign vendor, albeit at different rates, without consulting each other. Obviously the nation suffers – no benefits are drawn through economies of scale and technical support facilities get duplicated/triplicated. Even Comptroller and Auditor General of India highlighted this imprudent blemish in his report of 2007.

The army prepared General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) for helicopters without showing it to the air force lest they torpedo the whole procurement proposal. Similarly, it did not consult the navy while formulating GSQR for deep sea diving equipment for its special forces. Needless to say, both GSQR were highly flawed and had to be retracted, leaving critical gaps in the modernisation schedule. It is indeed a dismal and worrisome state of affairs.

A Look at the Prevailing Environment

Although all the three services are guilty of insular outlook, it is the air force which is generally considered to be the prime perpetrator of mutual distrust. Both the army and the navy feel that the air force resists joint functioning. They feel that the three services fail to put up a united front to the government due to air force’s intransigence and lack of mutual trust. A senior MoD bureaucrat once famously remarked, “We know how to deal with the services’ joint proposals. We discreetly put the fear of the army in the minds of air force commanders and they promptly disassociate themselves.” Thus the policy of divide and rule continues to be in operation.

After delivering stores to forward posts, air force pilots prefer to return back to the Base Camp without load rather than give lift to some needy soldiers. Their logic is simple ““ “˜it is not a part of our designated task.

Take the case of the proposed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Even citizens with limited military knowledge know that introduction of CDS is absolutely critical for national war effort. When some impedimentary commanders oppose it on the grounds of national interest, nobody is fooled. Everyone knows that all brouhaha by the obstructionists about safeguarding national interests is sheer baloney and that such public posturing of nationalism is a façade to hide their own parochial interests.

When creation of CDS appeared imminent, the air force mounted an all out campaign to scuttle the proposal, even going to the extent of roping in retired air chiefs to write to the government. As no retired chief displayed statesmanship to counsel the air force hierarchy properly, they are equally guilty of convoluted thinking and blinkered vision.

The army and the navy have no clash of domain interests and get along well together. On the other hand, increasing demands by the army and the navy for integral aviation resources are perceived by the air force to be a threat to its exclusive domain. This fear of reduction in its role and sphere of influence is the prime cause for the air force’s circumspection and resistance. Resultantly, over a period of time, the air force has developed a culture of guardedness towards the other services, albeit with an element of haughtiness.

When the air force was asked to transfer some helicopters to the Air Observation Corps (AAC) in 1986-87, it made its opposition to the move evident through total non-cooperation. Embryonic AAC was left to fend for itself both on operational and maintenance fronts. It was commonly said that an informal word had been passed to all air force personnel to extend minimum inescapable help to AAC technicians. It is providential that no fatal accident took place.

Air force officers are often heard complaining that the other two services do not appreciate their contribution and trust them. Trust is a complex attribute and has to be earned. Unfortunately, the air force has still not comprehended this fact. It is sad to see the way army men are treated at the courier services operated by the air force. Soldiers are made to feel as if a great favour is being done to them.

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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

Maj Gen Mrinal Suman

is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Services Group of CII.

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