Tri Services Integration: Need for a Novel Approach
Sub Title : Integrated Theatre Commands are in focus. The article suggests that we should considergoing in for an uni ed command structure at the apex level as a primary option, rather than theatre structures which are largely service speci c and which may proveoperationally unviable in our case. Editorial Comment: The CDS has already stated that we will evolve models of Integrated Theatre Commands which are suitable for India.
Issues Details : Vol 14 issue1 Mar-Apr 2020
Author : Air Marshal Ramesh Rai, VM
Page No. : 40
Category : Military Affairs
: April 2, 2020
General Bipin Rawat took over charge as therst CDS of the country, on 31 December 2019. He will be the principal military adviser
to the Defence Minister and serve as the permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Among hismajor responsibilities is to achieve jointness in logistics,transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance activities of the three services. Another key mandate is to facilitate restructuring of
military commands for optimal utilisation of resources bybringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands. CDS hasalready announced the formation of Air Defence and Logistics Commands and spoken his mind on formulating Tri-Service Theatre Commands. This article discusses certain compelling concerns on the operational viability of creating Theatre Structures in our context.
Re-structuring the armed forces is a far-reaching reform with vast implications on national security and would require due deliberation and foresight for the structure to meet the vagaries and challenges of a
future war. Future wars would be multi-domain, multi- dimensional and hybrid in nature, with information dominance. Cyber domain would increasingly play a dominant role along with the kinetic domains of land, sea, air and space, both in offensive and defensiveoperations. Hence, the strategic thought for re-structuringshould sprout from the idea of combining Domains and not Services, which was a concept of the bygone era. Cyber, Space and Air domains have vast geographical dissemination which ought not to be limited to the smallcon nes of a theatre. Re-structuring would thereforerequire a complete re-cast of our military strategies, doctrines and operational concepts with cross domain
synergy for an integrated response. While Cyber and Space domains do not have dedicated military structuresyet, these must be evolved, if we are to ght and win amulti-domain war. Discussions and deliberations amongst domain specialists would be imperative so that each is heard on how to optimally use their respective domains and what the structure for that should be. A case in point is the Goldwater-Nichols Act, 1986 for
re-organising the US Department of Defence and re- structuring of their armed forces, which was debated in their congress for four years and 241 days, a period longer than the US involvement in World War II. Such was theseriousness and signi cance accorded by the State to theaspect of re-structuring since they knew it would be the key determinant of their national security. We would have to do likewise, the onus of which would be on the CDS
The Chinese seemed to have understood this aspect well and as per a RAND corporation study by JefferyEngstrom, titled “How the Chinese People’s LiberationArmy Seeks to Wage Modern Warfare”, the ChinesePeople’s Liberation Armed Forces now characterize andunderstand modern warfare as a confrontation between opposing operational systems rather than merely opposingarmies, navies or air forces. Furthermore, the PLA’s verytheory of victory in modern warfare recognizes system destruction warfare as the current method of modern war fighting. Under this theory, warfare is no longer centered on the annihilation of enemy forces on the battle field, rather, it is won by the disruption, paralysis, or destruction of the operational capability of the enemy’s operational enterprise through kinetic and non- kinetic strikes against key points and nodes. Such strikes could be conducted by Rocket and Air forces. Systems and domain thinking have an enormous impact on how the PLA is currently organizing, equipping, and trainingitself for future war- ghting contingencies. Keeping in tune with our adversary’s philosophy we would need toshed the tri-Service orientation/bias and strive to integratedomains for that’s where the future lies.
Even if one were to examine the idea of formulating tri-service commands, two moot points emerge i.e. “would integrated theatre commands serve as a viable conduit for jointness” and “would such commands provide an operationally viable solution given the poor strength of our air force”. In his treatise, titled “Has it worked-TheGoldwater Nichols Act”, the author, James R. Locher III,cites that problems of jointness exist even in integrated/theatre command structures. Differences between Gen Wesley K Clarke, Commander Allied Force and Lt. Gen Michael C Short, Joint Air Force Component Commander affected campaign planning in the Kosovo operations even while under an Integrated Command Structure. Refusal of orders from Gen Clarke by Gen Michael Jackson, Commander Rapid Reaction Force, had to be resolved after the Kosovo con ict, implying that uni ed structures do not necessarily accrue jointness. In our own context, during the IPKF operations in 1987, the ArmyCommander of the IPKF Uni ed Command elected to make a helicopter drop at Jaffna University, overruling
the air force element’s advice of it being far too risky.Consequently, all helicopters were damaged, and severallives lost. These examples pointedly con rm that jointnessis not implicit in an integrated command structure. Integrated Theatre Command structures can only facilitate forcible co-operation but the true test of actualjointmanship lies in dismantling established mindsets.
Articles across nations lament that land forces dominate Theatre Commands with a belief that boots on the ground are more important than precision strikes. The groundforces de nition of jointness is – where land operationsare supported by air power. The notion that air powermight achieve anything alone is heresy. Maj Gen Charles
D Link of USAF states that Airpower not in support ofland forces is considered ‘unjoint’. In an article publishedin the Tribune in Nov 2019, titled “A CDS ecosystem
that India really deserves” a former GOC of Western Army Command (Lieutenant General Rank) expresses a similar sentiment by articulating that Air Forces insists onghting a standalone centralised war. Apart from beingabsurd, it reveals that employment of Air Power remains
a misunderstood and contentious protagonist even at the higher echelons of our land forces. Needless to say, thatAir forces don’t ght a standalone war but ght for the same objective i.e. to win the war with the sole purpose ofproviding the requisite air defence and keep the enemy air off the backs of the surface forces. Air support to surface forces is one of the important tasks for any air force butnot the only one. The biggest aw and most inappropriateuse of air power would be to utilize it solely as an auxiliary to the Army and Navy. Its speed, reach, deep penetrationand exibility in employment to target deep inside enemyborders is only vaguely understood by the surface force commanders despite the acceptance of air forces as the third entity of the military triumvirate worldwide. Such a mindset will not augur well in operational terms in our context when land commanders employ air power with little or no understanding of the tenets of its employment.A case in point is the IPKF Jaffna University Helicopter drop mentioned above. Winning a war in the future
would be critically dependent upon understanding the professional capability of each element in its individualdomain. Acceptance of this dictum as the basis for jointprofessional employment would have to ensured prior to any restructuring reform lest it costs us a war.
Theatre commands work best when you have dedicated assets. While the Army and the Navy may have enough forces to be divided into three parts and remain aneffective and a viable war ghting entity, the Air Force does not. The 30 squadrons of the air force are just about enough to ght a single front contingency (either against Pakistan’s 26 Squadrons or China elding 22-26Squadrons). In a two-front war, the same 30 squadrons would have to be multiplexed across both fronts/entire battle space/theatres using the omni-role capability to ward off the air threat/strike targets. Therefore, the country can ill afford to divide the air force and tie down assets to a single theatre’s operational plan till we build up to about a 60-65 Squadron Air force. Thus, in any re- structuring the CDS would have to factor that the air force cannot be divided or allocated permanently to a single theatre, for then each theatre would end up with totally untenable numbers and by design, we would have created an asymmetry in favour of the enemy, much to our peril.
It may also be pointed out that, none of the committees which reviewed the macro level issues after the Kargil war, i.e. Kargil Review Committee, Naresh Chandra Committee, Arun Singh Committee and the Shekatkar Committee had recommended re-structuring of the armed forces into tri-service theatre commands. When Dr K Subramanian, Chairman of the Kargil Review Committee, was asked this question, he responded by saying, 60 squadrons would be required for a theatre command structure. It vindicates the stand that with a 30 squadrons air force, creation of a tri-service structure would be unviable.
It may be instructive to glean at some existing theatre structures, even though CDS is on record to say that our structures would be unique to our requirements.
• USA. The US Theatre Commands divide the entire globe into six geographical theatres each measuring approximately 40 to 50 million Sq. Kms, (India measures 3.3 million Sq. Kms and each theatre would approximate to a paltry 1.1 million Sq. Kms in size) with the chain of command, from the President through the secretary of defence, directly to the theatre commanders, bypassing the service chiefs.
In our case the operational control over theServices would rest the Service Chiefs. Hence,this model would not be pertinent.
• UK. In the UK, CDS serves as the principal advisor to the defence minister, while the
three services are headed by their respective professional Chiefs. The entire country is in a single theatre concept structure for homelanddefence. Adapting this structure in a ve-theatre con guration, may not be feasible.
• CHINA. The Chinese Theatres were carved in February 2016 with the seven militaryregions reorganised into ve theatre commands.As per a RAND corporation study by Jeffery Engstrom, mentioned earlier, the PLA’s operational con guration does not exist in peacetime. It is purpose-built when the need for impending operations becomes apparent. As a result, each operational system is unique tothe con ict or operation. The con guration is designedconsidering various aspects such as the scope, scale,abilities of the adversary’s operational system(s), and the various battle eld domains and dispositions required for the impending war. In doing so, China retains theexibility to con gure forces for each con ict differentlydepending on the extent of threat. Such a concept would truly account for optimal utilisation of resources and is worth considering.
• AUSTRALIA. The Australian Theatre command was established in June 1997 with no forces permanently assigned to it. Appropriate forces are allocated to the Commander Australian Theatre (COMAST) by the Chiefof Defence Force (CDF) for speci c operations. TheCDF maintains full command over the Australian DefenceForces (ADF), however, the service chief’s command their respective services and are responsible to raise, train and sustain them. When the CDF orders the conduct of an operation or a campaign, he directs the service chiefs to assign appropriate forces at a specified level of capability to COMAST. This arrangement ensures appropriate configuration of forces in a theatre to counter the ensuing threat.
Analysis of these command structures highlight two commonalities which we could consider emulating.
• All Theatre structures inherently retain exibility to con gure their forces based on the impending threat. Such exibility would allow us to cater for the wide spectrum ofthreat ranging from a regular conventional war, irregular war, hybrid to a multi-domain war of the future. Retainingsuch exibility in our structures is worth emulating.
• All structures provide for a uni ed command for operational employment of joint forces in out of areacontingencies (OOAC). Whilst Americans have global aspirations, the UK and ADF are employed more in support of multinational forces. For homeland defencethey are in a single theatre con guration.
Our belligerents lie conjoined on our western andnorthern borders and could threaten us individually or in collusion/support of each other. This situation is typical to India where a two-front war is likely. Only a single integrated strategy would ward off a combined threat
and for that singularity of command would be essential both at the political and military level even though we would be waging a war on two fronts against two nations. Given this reality, a structure where the country is seen and treated as one theatre would be best suited to counter a combined or individual threat. It would also serve tointegrate all ve domains particularly at a time when Cyberand Space domain structures are evolving, and the Air domain numbers are very less. Forces could be moved and positioned between geographical spaces anywhere within the country when under one central agency assuming command and control and would respond faster to meetwar objectives unimpeded by theatre issues. To adapt andrespond faster than either adversary would be the key to winning a collusive two front or a single front war.
CDS thus needs to consider, a unified command structure at the national level as a pri entire Indian subcontinent serving as a single theatre much like the Australian model, the tri-service theatres could be translated as Theatres of in respective theatres ofoperation could be combined through joint structures in each domain and command HQs, communication anddata links for networked operations.
In a structure uni ed at the apex level, CDS and hisstaff would have the onus and the responsibility to carve out the war strategy jointly with the service chiefsfor any imminent threat. The quantum of forces couldthen be allotted after a joint appreciation, from among
the combined commands or requisitioned from other theatres of operation including cyber and space divisions/commands. This arrangement would provide edibility to configure forces specific to the emerging threats or acombination thereof. Such a structure would also afford minimum disruption of the present set up and would befunctional no sooner joint structures, communication anddata links are established between combined inter-service commands and readied for networked operations.
Future battle space would be digitised with net centricityas the main tool for co-ordination, information ow, and for combing the entire war ghting enterprise to interact on the network in real time and to ght a collective war. Such a connect must be seen as a mechanism and structure to inherently synergise application of combatpower across domains and enhance joint warfare ef cacy.A mandate that the government seeks of the CDS.
This would call for several major conceptual shifts inconducting warfare from the current way of doing militarybusiness, speci cally, adopting a new way of thinking
i.e. network-centric thinking and applying it to enhance combat power. Such a combine between commands will set the tone for jointness and integration to meet the complexity of a future war and should be preferred option of the CDS over the tri-service model which was conceptualised prior to the net centric era and would not be operationally viable in our context.
Air Marshal Ramesh Rai has had a distinguished career in the Airforce. He is a former AOC in C of the Training Command.