Newspapers on August 20 blared headlines ‘Govt gets cracking on three new Tri-Service Commands’. The “cracking” part was amusing for in 2004-2005 the same hype was created about the Aerospace Command, creating an impression it will be a reality next year. This was 10 years ago and much before the Naresh Chandra Committee was formed. Same hype was created about the Mountain Straike Corps that even the Chinese took notice and we know what its state is today, though not aware what state it eventually will come up in. Ditto for the National Defence University.
…what shape these new Tri-Service Commands will come up and how effective they will be?
All this is because the higher defence set up including the MoD is without military expertise, the very reason we don’t have a National Security Strategy, have not undertaken a comprehensive defence review and have not been able to establish credible deterrence against asymmetric wars that both Pakistan and China are waging against us. Unfortunately, the Modi government despite being in office for 15 months has made no move to undertake administrative reforms, particularly of the MoD.
The military, which being users should be at the design, planning and decision levels of the DRDO-DPSUs-OF are denied the same, while the overall output of these organizations has remained grossly insufficient to meet the country’s defence needs with joint secretary level officers on the boards of these organizations – simply because big money is involved that is being squandered off as per persistent CAG reports.
As per media reports, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on August 19 has directed HQ IDS to “work out and fine-tune” the “basic structures” for the Cyber, Aerospace and Special Operations Commands. In headline blaring ‘Govt gets cracking on three new Tri-Service Commands’ media said the Modi government has finally got cracking on the long-pending proposal to create three new tri-Service commands to handle the critical arenas of space, cyberspace and clandestine warfare in the form of Special Forces.
Detailed notes for the three commands, with presentations and timelines, have reportedly been exchanged between HQ IDS and MoD a couple of times. The media further reports that “It will take another year or so for the commands to be created” while quoting government source in saying, “The new commands will, of course, not be set up in one go. They will come up in a phased manner depending on availability of funds…the accretion of manpower will also be progressive.”
The ANC, the only Theatre Command set up 14 years back in 2001 has little teeth contrary to what was envisaged by the Kargil Review Committee…
It is not unusual for the media to periodically create euphoria that something is happening in double quick time, perhaps at behest of the bureaucracy, where actually a case for it does not exist. Looking at the status of the Mountain Strike Corps, rapid expansion of the Special Forces in sharp contrast to global norms diluting their combat potential, grossly underequipped military, by the time these three commands come up and are somewhat operational a period of 7-10 years may be needed, if not more. Exchanging notes with HQ IDS is one issue but what eventually comes up depends on the bureaucracy and the bureaucratic advice given by the bureaucrats to the political masters. More important is the question in what shape these new Tri-Service Commands will come up and how effective they will be? Take a look at the two Tri-Service Commands that we already have.
The Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), the only Theatre Command set up 14 years back in 2001 has little teeth contrary to what was envisaged by the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) and follow up GoM reports submitted in year 2000. The focus on ANC remains insufficient even today despite aggressive Chinese designs and movement in IOR with China stepping up bases, acquiring islands, nuclear submarines prowling the waters and plans to reclaim reefs and land akin to what she engaged in ECS and SCS. Even the Navy’s case for a Marine Brigade has been languishing with the government for the past decade and a half.
The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) set up in 2003 to handle the country’s nuclear arsenal was placed under HQ IDS as recommended by the KRC and follow up GoM reports, with the nuclear button with the Prime Minister presiding over the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA). However, over the years, HQ IDS and the even the Chairman COSC have quietly been taken out from the nuclear loop, placing the SFC directly under the NSA without any discussion with the military. When Pranab Mukherjee was Defence Minister (now President), he was told by the then Chairman COSC in a Tri-Service forum in the INCP that with this arrangement, even the Chairman COSC was not aware of what would be India’s response in case of a nuclear strike. The reason for such change is obvious – bureaucratic advice blindly followed by the polity. The problem in India always has been that the civilian control of the military has boiled down to bureaucratic control, not political control which it should be.
India needs Special Forces in two tiers, both complementing each other’s tasks; first tier under the military for employment at tactical level to support the military and second tier under the highest political authority for employment at strategic level through politico-military missions.
The three new Tri-Service Commands are what the Naresh Chandra Committee had recommended. As mentioned above, setting up an Aerospace Command was hot news in 2004-2005 but given the burial thereafter. This Command requires satellites for surveillance, communications, early warning about missiles, precision targeting etc are vital for this command. Presently, only Rukmini (Navy’s GSAT-7) is operational, which was launched in 2013. Other military satellites are supposedly in the pipeline though their timeframe is not known. Understandably, military satellites would be prime targets for China’s anti-satellite weapons. There has never been a debate about meeting total satellite communication requirements through exclusive military satellites or whether a mix of hired foreign satellite(s) with the gateway established in India with additional security layer (s) is an option. This also needs to be seen in the context that the spectrum allotted to the military is not contiguous and interspersed with commercial bandwidth has its own security issues.
As to the Cyber Command, the military has deliberately been kept away from the nascent cyber warfare program in India even as the cyber warfare programs of USA and China are steered by the US Military and PLA respectively. So it should not be surprising that as and when the Cyber Command comes up, it will be left in isolation with some perfunctory links to NTRO. This would be a sad commentary and contrary to meeting the present and future requirement of terrorists and states using cyberspace are creating more potent threats. A drone on display at the DEF CON 23 hackers conference held at Las Vegas, US this month was a quadcopter modified as a flying hacker that scans the world below for insecure devices and vulnerable Wifi ports. It can be bought for US$ 2,500. So now hackers would have a new weapon in their arsenal; a drone loaded with software capable of probing any wireless network in range, and relaying the data to its operator. Incidentally, the New York Police Department (NYPD) is developing technologies to counter weaponized drones in concert with the US Military, bomb squad, emergency services and aviation units. In our case, the bureaucratic culture has prevailed to keep the military at arm’s length.
As to the Special Forces Command, India needs Special Forces in two tiers, both complementing each other’s tasks; first tier under the military for employment at tactical level to support the military and second tier under the highest political authority for employment at strategic level through politico-military missions. The planners and policy makers may wish to refer to the book ‘India’s Special Forces’ available in the market and online, copies of which were presented to the Prime Minister and to the NSA last year. It is quite possible that all the Special Forces effort will be put under the Permanent Chairman COSC who doesn’t have any worthwhile powers anyway. In optimizing the Special Forces Command we need to remember that today warfare has primarily become sub-conventional, we have failed to create credible deterrence to asymmetric threats and it is the Special Forces that should be central to asymmetric response. Former ambassador RS Kalha writes in his book ‘The Dynamics of Preventive Diplomacy’, Costs of always following an inward looking policy may be that much higher. Therefore, the most effective foreign policy for any country, whatever its weight, is one that balances realism and idealism – that in effect makes idealism realistic. The fact is that today’s conflict is dirty. We must follow Chanakya who said, “Do not be very upright in your dealings for you would see by going to the forest that straight trees are cut down while crooked ones are left standing.” Both China and Pakistan have been following Chanakya, high time we should.
Even the news about the new Tri-Service Commands is laced with which service will head which command – the usual bureaucratic ploy as to how many three stars and how many two stars each individual service will have.
One of the few times that Manmohan Singh spoke when Prime Minister was while addressing the Unified Commanders Conference, wherein he said, “Reforms within the Armed Forces also involve recognition of the fact that our Navy, Air Forces and Army can no longer function in compartments with exclusive chains of command and single service operational plans”. That synergy is still lacking completely. In 2005, HQ IDS had ordered five studies for establishment of Theatre Commands, all of which recommended to convert the existing 17 Commands of the Army Navy and Air Force to various Bi-Service or Tri-Service Commands. The presentations made to the Tri-Service DGMO and equivalent level were welcomed by all three Services considering the tremendous operational advantages that would accrue. India required a CDS with full operational powers 10 years back but is likely to get a Permanent Chairman COSC without any operational powers because of bureaucratic skullduggery. Even the news about the new Tri-Service Commands is laced with which service will head which command – the usual bureaucratic ploy as to how many three stars and how many two stars each individual service will have. That is how the Aerospace Command was given the burial in 2004-2005 through throwing up such infructuous issues.
So while the question remains what shape these three new commands will come up, in what time-frame and how effective would they be, the government would do well to reverse the decision of appointing a Permanent Chairman COSC without any operational powers and instead appoint a CDS expeditiously with full operational powers. The former will be not able to right the appalling state of synergy in the military. The Defence Minister would do well to examine why Dr Marc Faber wrote years back, “India continues to be ambivalent about power, it has failed to develop a strategic agenda commensurate with its growing economic and military capabilities … throughout history, India has failed to master the creation, deployment and use of its military instruments in support of its national objectives”, and whether anything has changed since then.