A US-Style Unified Command Would Sharpen Indian Military’s Edge
The Prime Minister will be addressing the Combined Commanders’ Conference in Dehradun on 21 January. As per reports, the army is scheduled to give a presentation on the establishment of ‘unified commands’ during the conference. This has immense significance for ensuring defence and national security, as it changes the very nature of the manner in which future wars would be fought.
For the uninformed, a unified command signifies that all resources in a sector, irrespective of the service, would be under the command of one single entity, who would be called the theatre commander. This system has been in place for a long time in the US and has recently been adopted by China.
Maximising Combat Potential
The US has adopted it for a specific reason. Their military has always been an expeditionary force, since they have never fought a battle on their soil. Since the First World War, the US has fought wars in other continents. Hence, it needed a pattern of command which could integrate different branches of the military and marines into one cohesive fighting force.
China has realised that one commander coordinating operations would maximise combat potential, rather than each service conducting operations. This change in concept came about in its recent military restructuring. Further, in the long term, it visualises itself as playing a larger role in the international arena, mainly to protect its investments and interests spread across the globe.
A Theatre Command is the Future
India at present has four army, two air force and one naval command solely dedicated for operations against Pakistan. Hence, seven commands are deployed against one enemy. Simultaneously, against China, there is one command each from the army and the air force.
Wars of the future would be short and intense and would therefore demand simultaneous employment of maximum combat potential. In this scenario, the operations would never be single-service specific. The ideal organisation would be a theatre command, wherein all the resources deployed in a theatre of operations would function under one commander, irrespective of the service to which he belongs. Further, the number of HQs could reduce, saving manpower for better employment.
How Many Commands Does India Need?
The system was being considered post Kargil, but faced maximum resistance within the services itself. In our existing scenario, the service chiefs are almighty. They command and control their respective service, including allocation of resources as also coordination between different services, hence simultaneously functioning as force providers and force employers.
In the case of the unified system, the operational commanders would be the theatre commanders, who would have a mix of resources specific to the area of operations and would therefore become force employers. The service chiefs’ role would then only remain as force providers. This would dilute their power.
The present leadership of the military is now in the hands of mature leaders, who have participated in the Kargil war in different roles and have realised the importance of joint operations and maximum employment of combat potential. Hence, they support this concept. They have accepted the necessity of joint operations against individual service power.
In India’s context, there could be as few as four to five theatre commands, mainly due to terrain restrictions, apart from the already existing Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command.
Two among them can be against Pakistan, with the northern one only comprising of the air force and army and the southern comprising of all the three services. China could have one with elements of the army and air force. Ideally, the nation could create an ‘overseas operational command’ with all services integrated. Its role could involve conduct of operations overseas to protect Indian assets and to support friendly nations. UN operations could also come under its purview. Resources of the navy from the eastern command could be reallocated to the ANC.
Appointing Chief of Defence Staff
The command and control of theatre commanders would also undergo a change. Unlike the present system, where the senior commanders function under the service HQs, these would need to be directly under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and his HQs, the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS).
While the presentation may be made, taking major decisions in restructuring the management of defence implies determination and clarity in the eyes of the government. It would need to bring about changes in a sequential manner.
Thus, the first step to be undertaken would be appointing a CDS, after which it could consider creating theatre commands. Management of defence in India needs to evolve with time, especially as the nature of war undergoes a change. We cannot aim to fight a war in present times with outdated concepts.
(The author is a retired army officer based in Lucknow. He can be reached @kakar_harsha. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)