Military & Aerospace

Indian Nuclear Command and Control - II
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Issue Courtesy: Aakrosh | Date : 13 Jul , 2011

A grave shortcoming is the relationship of the NSA and the COSC with the commander-in-chief (C-in-C) SFC. The NSA heads the Executive Council, charged with the executing the Political Council’s dictate. This implies that the COSC, to whom the SFC reports, is answerable to the NSA. The COSC is, therefore, a channel for conveying orders. The COSC, with the incumbent being double-hatted as a service chief alongside, is not in a position to give this task the attention it deserves. In effect, the SFC has a part-time “boss.” This gives the NSA greater power without responsibility, in keeping with the tradition of the Ministry of Defence. This is untenable, given that India has faced many crises, and conflict has been only one step away. A service chief cannot effectively be multihatted. This leads into the next point on the CDS or chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for “unity of command.”

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The creation of the appointment is overdue, given that the nuclear capability is now two decades old and overt nuclearisation over a decade old. India may create this appointment in due course. It is perhaps not doing so presently, intending to organise the deterrent prior. The limitations of the current delivery systems are in terms of range and that the nuclear submarine–based missiles are at least half a decade into the future. In not creating the appointment, India perhaps hopes to keep neighbours complacent. It conveys a relaxed posture, even as these capabilities are built. Once the capability is acquired and the appointment is created, then operationalisation of the deterrent can be said to be complete. Creating the appointment prematurely would make neighbours take note and deem the synergy the appointment brings about as a heightened threat to them. This would create a security dilemma for them, with their reactions leading to an increased security threat to India. With all the pieces in place, India would be able to meet such a challenge.

It is required not only for operationalising the nuclear capability but also for exercising restraint along the conventional nuclear interface in limited war”¦

In case the appointment is created now, then without the wherewithal in place, such as intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) to cover China, India would be at a disadvantage. Such thinking is in sync with India’s strategic culture. It is a reflection of the restraint in the combination “restraint and resolve” underpinning India’s strategic culture. Nevertheless, the appointment is critical and cannot be indefinitely postponed. It is required not only for operationalising the nuclear capability but also for exercising restraint along the conventional nuclear interface in limited war since the CDS would be one step removed from the warfighting and, therefore, would be able to gain a wide-angled view essential to advising limitation. The task cannot be left to the Chiefs of Staff who, as representatives of respective services, have an institutional role alongside their advisory one. However, in the recommendations by the Group of Ministers (GOM) on the CDS, the appointment is only in “administrative” control of the SFC.32 This is not viable. The CDS needs to have the SFC indubitably under him in keeping with the principle of “unity of command,” mentioned in the Draft.33

The operations and planning section require being under the CDS, with the SFC in charge of the execution. Currently, the SFC is charged with both the operations and planning and execution. An analogous Operations Directorate of respective Service HQs does not exist in relation to the SFC. This could have three possible locations: the HQ SFC as at present, in the HQ IDS when under the CDS and in the NSCS since the AEC and the DRDO are joint custodians.

There is a case for thinking through aspects of transparency through national technical means and confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the nuclear sector.

In the Pakistani system, there is the over-weaning Strategic Plans Directorate (SPD). There is a case for having a planning staff distinct from the SFC. It should preferably be in the HQ IDS to service the COSC, under which is the SFC, and later the CDS on appointment. The SFC can then be left to the execution, a task requiring singular attention. On the other hand, it could be part of the NSCS under the NSA, who has been charged with the execution of nuclear responsibilities. The other civilian agencies in the loop, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and DRDO, would prefer this arrangement rather than subordinating their representatives to the military.

However, the “unity of command” principle dictates that the military is in charge and the civilian operational components of the nuclear complex would require subordinating themselves to the military hierarchy. This rules out the NSCS as a possible location for the nuclear staff. It needs to be relocated from HQ SFC, as at present, to the HQ IDS, with the head of the directorate reporting directly to the COSC in the interim till the creation of the CDS.

The military has been incorporated through inclusion in the Strategic Policy Group along with about a dozen other secretary-level officers. This would obscure the military input at a time when the conventional-nuclear interface has become a live one.

So far, the discussion has been on the system in conflict. Peacetime control of nuclear developments requires a mechanism. The controversy over the thermonuclear bomb being a “fizzle” is an example of what can be averted in case of closer supervision of the nuclear complex.34 Civilian control over the strategic enclave today is directly under the prime minister. A Strategic Joint Planning Group headed by the defence minister, with requisite staff, has been proposed to meld the technological and operational dimension of nuclear development.35 This could be along the lines of the Development Control Committee of the Pakistani National Command Authority, but with a different composition since the Pakistani one is military heavy. This would include the armed forces in the nuclear loop indubitably. It would bring technological momentum in line with doctrine and preclude technological determinism.

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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

Ali Ahmed

 is a retired infantryman, blogs on security issues at He is author of India's Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge 2014). 

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