Military & Aerospace

New Tri-Service Commands
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 22 Aug , 2015

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.

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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

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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5 thoughts on “New Tri-Service Commands

  1. Little wonder the Pakistani view as espoused in the controversial book ‘Neither hawk nor Dove’ about India’s incapability in excercising the military option post 26/11 is quote “It was found that the Indian military machine, hollowed by yeärs of neglect, lacked the decisive conventional edge to localise a conflict” unquote.
    Whatever happened to LTIPP covering the 12-15 Plan period, that couldnt even kickoff. Rafale deal & MSC are case in point. And what can one expect under dismal 1.7% budgetary allocation that has been in plaçe since 1962.
    One doesnt need a Kautilya to assess India’s self authored predicament, with the Indian eatablishment itself willing to serve Raheel Sharif’s interests!
    A pointed article by Gen Katoch a master of SF, which unfortunately will be consigned to the coffins by Parrikar in keeping with his predecessors.

  2. Gen Katoch, I fully agree with your hypothesis on over all defense scenario of our Nation. Confusion prevails at every level attributed purely to turf wars between various agencies. Week polity and lack of understanding of security matters even within military leadership is responsible for the state. Add to this lack of faith or some may call it confidence is another issue. Our politicians do not hesitate v-bit to seek public credit of mates which need due secrecy.
    Hope some good sense prevails and we see national security above limited parochial interests.

    My cmpliments to you for such a revealing article.

  3. The present Government will be different from the previous Governments.. Both PM and MoD will be spending full time for the benefit of the country. George Fernandes might have taken interest to study the requirements of defense services. But I do not know how far he was succeeded. At that time Internet was not popular he has to depend on bureaucrats , Army officers and DRDO. for taking decisions. If there is any deference of opinion between DRDO and Army, it will be very difficult for MoD to sort out the differences. Now internet is there. The other day I read a report that Army does not want Arjun Mark- II battle tank because Railway wagons, bridges and culverts in Punjab. do not have capacity to carry. So I wrote a comment some Railway wagon can take load up to 88 tons and if it is more they will impose speed restriction. If some of the bridges and culverts are not able to carry this load they should strengthen by giving extra support. The extra money going to spend on imported Tanks should be used for modifying the bridges and culverts in Punjab. This will create employment. .Moreover Israeli’s Main Battle tank weighs 65 tons. If they can mange why is Indian Army refusing to accept. Arjun Mark II.
    “Another person wrote Any engineer knows that it is ground pressure which matters in operating a tank than its weight. Ground pressure of Arjun is 0.86 kg per sq. cm and that of T90 is .90 kg per sq. cm. This have been proven in desert trials where Arjun ran as Ferrai and T90 like Maruti 800.
    3. Any informed person knows that designing Tank takes 10 years or more. But going by the contents of RFI, Army wants a design which can serve as BMW and Tata Nano based ”
    When I further checked in the internet to make it double sure. I found what he wrote is correct. BJP has started local circle every where and People can write suggestions and complaint and that will reach immediately to the concerned Minister. M-777 is a good gun like Bofors. But it cannot move on its own like Bofors. The gun has to be relocated very frequently to escape from the weapon locating radar of the enemy and subsequent enemy fire. The weapon locating radar is very effective. The Army Chief General J .J. Singh has not taken the right decision to go in for M-777. I wonder how he missed the vital point I mentioned. It is unfortunate that these senior Army officers have no war strategy If this is the condition of the officers in the Army MoD has to do something to improve the condition.. Defense force cannot fool the general public any more by throwing responsibly on MoD and Bureaucrats.

  4. I doubt that India’ policy makers and strategy formulators know what the word “command” means. I remember them using the word “Commando” to describe a proposed force of Border Security Patrols along the Gujarat Coast a year ago. I wonder whether India’s “bosses” will ever go beyond intriguins vocabulary such as they have in the “Constitution” such as “secular” or “equality” without having to grapple with the difficulties of understanding the meaning of words at least intellectually if not experientially. They seem ill equipped for both.

    What India needs is a Highland Command, a Plains Command, an Oceanic command and a Deterrence command. Cyber, aerospace and operations are tools of command that must be available to every theater and focus. As must be air power, sea power, land forces, and “special” (or air borne, sea borne and other specific task capable) forces From the Brigade level and upwards, elements of Army Navy and Air Force need to be mixed to task depending on terrain and nature of perceived threat and deployment challenges. Specialist expertise needs to revolve around “Centers” designed for training. From such wide spread training will rise both specialists, tacticians and instructors while providing a wide spread of skills. Indian Armed Forces need a static Matrix organization from which task forces can be quickly formed and used with inter-operability built through training and exercises. The Deterrence Command would be resourced and held held accountable for asymmetric war fare, ccyber war fare, covert operations and nuclear assets including submarines.

    India’s Brass Hats and the Neta-Babus they serve under have, progressively, over the last 69 years lost all notions of military aims, policies, rules, and organization, not to mention the sensitivity to threat perceptions, force creation and layering strategy, tactics and operations and logistics and their inter play.

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