Navy says IAF is against joint theatre commands

Navy says IAF is against joint theatre commands

Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, who is also the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (COSC), said: “The three services are not in agreement on theatre commands. The IAF is not in agreement.”

The armed forces have made progress in enhancing jointmanship but the Indian Air Force (IAF) is opposed to the creation of theatre commands, India’s senior-most military commander said on Monday.

Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, who is also the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (COSC), said: “The three services are not in agreement on theatre commands. The IAF is not in agreement.”

IAF’s resistance to the idea is well known but an explicit acknowledgment of that opposition by a service chief is rare.

Theaterisation refers to placing specific units of the army, the navy and the air force under a Theatre Commander. Such commands will come under the operational control of an officer from any of the three services, depending on the function assigned to that command. Experts believe that theatres are key to the way battles will be fought in the future.

Lanba was responding to a question on a December 2 Hindustan Times report, in which Lieutenant General Satish Dua, who was the top military officer handling all tri-service affairs until October 31 this year, said that the existing structure for cross-service cooperation was weak and jointmanship was proceeding slowly, resulting in duplication of efforts, wastage of resources, and delay in decision-making.

Air Marshal KK Nohwar (retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies, said the IAF would lose its flexibility if it was confined to a theatre.

“The IAF can operate from anywhere, given the range and capabilities of its assets. Exercise Gagan Shakti, conducted by the IAF earlier this year, proved that fighters could take off from a base in the east, ‘strike targets’ in the Arabian Sea and land at bases in the south,” Nohwar said, rejecting theaterisation.

An IAF spokesperson declined to comment. Lanba admitted there was room to move forward on jointmanship or a degree of co-ordination and integration in terms of strategy, capabilities and execution across the three services.

The navy chief said India needed to create a higher defence organisation (HDO) for an integrated approach before the military could theaterise.

“There’s a need for an operational commander to look after the theatres… The three service chiefs cannot be theatre commanders. We need one operational commander. You can call him permanent chairman, COSC or the chief of defence staff. We first need an HDO before we can think of theatre commands,” Lanba said at his customary press briefing ahead of Navy Day on December 4.

Lanba said the three services had finally agreed on a permanent chairman, COSC, what his role and responsibilities should be, and forwarded the proposal to the defence ministry. As of now, the chairmanship of the COSC rotates and the senior-most service chief holds the charge.

General Dua, who retired as chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, made a strong case for the appointment of a permanent chairman, COSC, during a presentation made to Prime
Minister Narendra Modi at the Combined Commander’s Conference in Dehradun in January 2017.

“I said, ‘please give us a permanent chairman. The COSC has a consensus approach. Who can understand it better than you, PM sir, that this approach is like a common minimum programme (CMP) of a coalition. India’s security can’t be left to a CMP,’” Dua said in an interview to Hindustan Times.

With increasing theaterisation, a permanent chairman, COSC would effectively become a Chief of Defence Staff, the need for which was highlighted by the Kargil Review Committee in its report inthe year 2000 as well as a ministerial group that studied the report.

Lanba said the proposal was being examined by the government.

“We have come a long way from where we were earlier in terms of jointmanship. I have been fortunate that my two colleagues, the army chief and the IAF chief, have worked together and haven’t had any differences till date. We have overruled our individual headquarters to take jointmanship forward,” Lanba said.

A defence ministry spokesperson said integration among the armed forces was a priority for the government.