General Anil Chauhan, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, former Eastern Army Commander, assumed office as the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) and Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) on 30 September.
The second CDS of India has many tasks; among them, the most challenging is creating a consensus for Theatre Commands. While the significant defence services across the globe have re-structured to Theatre Commands, India is in the process. While the Theatre Commands directly impact the resources of the Indian Army (IA) and the Indian Air Force (IAF), the reluctance of the IAF to be part of the same has to be understood correctly. How this is resolved is a million-dollar question.
The IAF has an authorized strength of Forty-Two squadrons, which has dwindled over the years to Thirty odd Squadrons. Theatre commands would mean the dissipation of critical resources for a cohesive Air Battle to be fought in which there is complete dominance of the skies by Air Superiority.
The IAF is responsible for the Space and Air Defence of India, including the maritime boundaries along the coastline of India. In addition, the resources are utilized for Humanitarian and Disaster Relief within the country and abroad, as has been witnessed over the last two years of bringing back Indian citizens during the Pandemic and recently from the Ukraine conflict zone.
Modern-day battlefield threats ensure that technology upgrades are regularly carried out and threats are mitigated. Obsolescence of equipment and its replacement has to be factored in. The Ukraine war has disrupted the supply chain of spares and a significant equipment overhaul, thus affecting operational readiness; this is an assessment.
The way forward is to make up for the deficiencies and have a balanced approach. If viewed from the perspective of land warfare, the resources of the IAF may seem adequate. However, pragmatically, the lessons drawn from the ongoing Ukraine conflict can be deduced as a campaign being fought as individual battles and thereby suffering heavy attrition.
Preliminary Steps – National Security Strategy (NSS) – India
India needs its own version of Goldwater Nichols legislation. Is there a political will to pass an act of Parliament to meet our National Security Objectives?
Without an NSS paper, India is preparing for the last war
Unlike the US and China, where NSS is a policy document promulgated to develop capability and capacity to meet future threats, in India, the political leadership has taken the path of least resistance and therefore has been relying heavily on diplomatic parleys and negotiations to tackle its belligerent Northern neighbour, China. On the other hand, Pakistan has agreed to a ceasefire across the LoC, yet terror remains an instrument to inflict damage to civilian populations and property. Hence, one of the self-assumed aims of the Indian Defence Services is to make punitive strikes in retaliation to a terror strike like Pulwama.
The Indian Air Force carried out Jabba Top strikes in the early hours of 26 February 2018; in the retaliatory strike by Pakistan Air Force on 27 February on a brigade HQ, there was no riposte by the Indian Defence Forces.
The NSA, in its charter, is to prepare an NSS paper and get it approved by the Government for its implementation. However, NSS is not published; it appears the core competency in military affairs is lacking.
After the 1971 war, at a tri-service analysis of the conflict, General Sam remarked: “you can win as many battles as you like at sea, or in the air, or even lose them, but eventually it is the Army that will prove to be decisive”.
Great maritime thinkers like Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan emphasized that any great land victory would never be lasting or decisive unless the sea played a part in the conflict. In this case, victory at sea was an essential precondition.
Without Air Superiority, it will be a disaster for the ground forces. The lack of the above is visible in the Russian campaign in Ukraine. The lack of cohesion between troops and the Ukrainian Army has caused heavy attrition to Russian assets on land, air and sea.
A more pragmatic approach would be to have all line directorates posted with officers from all arms and services, including the Navy and the Air Force to create the jointness that is not there as of date. In the early Eighties, the Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry cross-attached officers; that is to say, an Armoured Corps Major was sent to a Mechanised Infantry Battalion to command a company which would form part of his combat team. Likewise, a Mechanised Infantry Battalion Major was attached to an Armoured Regiment to command a tank squadron. This brought confidence in the rank and file of their officers. Maverick techniques produce outstanding results, most times but not always.