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.
Both, AAC and the air force support operations in Siachen Glacier. The difference between the functioning and responsiveness of the two agencies is indicative of their respective attitude. 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’. It used to be an extremely sad sight to see soldiers standing at helipads with stacks of chocolates (part of their high altitude rations) prominently displayed in improvised trays to attract attention of returning air force sorties overflying them. It was their way of buying a lift to the base camp by offering goodies to a pilot as quid pro quo.
After every war, a number of accounts appear in the press referring to lack of timely air support for ground battles.
Whereas the air force pilots strictly adhere to the flight schedules as per their contracted agreement, AAC pilots readily undertake emergent sorties even in inclement weather conditions. Ask any soldier who has served at the glacier. While they hold AAC pilots in high esteem, the same cannot be said of the air force pilots. Many soldiers feel that even hired civilian truck drivers display more concern and empathy for them as compared to the air force pilots.
After every war, a number of accounts appear in the press referring to lack of timely air support for ground battles. The air force invariably contests these accusations and points out that they have to allocate air effort as per operational priorities. The air force may be fully justified but the army remains skeptical. Herein again, trust deficit makes reconciliation difficult. It is not uncommon to hear soldiers comparing ground air support with police of Hindi movies – always arriving at the scene when action is about to be over.
Reasons for Trust Deficit
Trust deficit is a manifestation of negative mindset resulting in lack of required degree of faith and confidence. Being products of their environment, attitudes and outlook of all human beings are moulded by the environment in which they operate, especially during the formative years. Due to lack of adequate exposure to open environment, they fail to acquire broader vision with advancement in career. Their apathetic deportment towards developing mutual trust is a result of their wariness of jointmanship. Resultantly, they remain apprehensive of proposals mooted by the other services.
Trust deficit is a manifestation of negative mindset resulting in lack of required degree of faith and confidence. ”¦ Due to lack of adequate exposure to open environment, they fail to acquire broader vision with advancement in career.
Services guard their turf with fierce fanaticism. Every proposal that affects a service’s span of command faces strident resistance. The navy and the air force fear that the sheer size of the army would overwhelm their independent identities. In this regard, the air force’s sense of insecurity is very well known.
It is often said that air force hierarchy’s heckles go up even if they see an army or naval officer flying a kite. They consider it to be a threat to their domain – everything airborne must be under their control. They dread loss of exclusivity and privileged standing.The level of distrust can be gauged from an Air Marshal’s views, “The army’s case for transferring medium and attack helicopters to it has merely given us a sneak preview of the old mindsets that still prevail in all service headquarters beneath the veneer of jointmanship and bonhomie.”
Many senior commanders resist change if it affects their personal status – both formal and informal. Status provides a sense of fulfillment in the highly hierarchy-conscious services. When a Chief opposes CDS citing national interests, nobody gets taken in. It is apparent to all that he dreads loss of his fiefdom. Prevailing trust deficit is a result of this sense of personal reticence.
The Way Forward
Although all the three services have laid down doctrine that support jointmanship with inter alia stress on mutual trust, the ground reality is diametrically opposite. Limited communication between the three services prevents development of mutual trust. This dichotomy has been the bane of the Indian armed forces.
It is time for all senior commanders to introspect whether they are being loyal to the country by continuing with the current atmosphere of trust deficit. National security is too serious a matter to be permitted to drift.
Prejudiced predisposition and constricted attitude are the biggest impediments in bridging trust deficit existing between the services. Therefore, modulation of attitudes is a prerequisite. As attitudes are affected both by implicit and explicit influences, the services should make judicious changes in influencing environment. Additionally, a concerted effort must be made to make selfish commander see reason and persuade them to shed their petty-mindedness.
It is time for all senior commanders to introspect whether they are being loyal to the country by continuing with the current atmosphere of trust deficit. National security is too serious a matter to be permitted to drift. Service and personal loyalties cannot be permitted to take precedence over national interests. Earnest efforts should be made to remove dissonance between the three services. Genuine concerns of all must be addressed but unjustified obduracy should not be tolerated. Existing state of trust deficit cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely as national security is too serious a matter to be permitted to be held hostage by parochial commanders.