An IAF position paper instead recommends strengthening of joint operations command, says integrated theatre commands will be a strain on resources.
New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) has recommended the strengthening of the joint operations command (JOCOM) for better synergy among India’s military services, arguing that this would do away with the need for integrated theatre commands (ITC).
The IAF has argued that the integrated theatre commands would strain its resources, according to a position paper read by ThePrint.
This comes days after defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government wanted the military to move towards creating theatre commands.
“We want a bottom-up approach, create the base and then add layers to it, that way it will not be top-down,” she said at a press conference Friday, adding that the “issue of jointness is very dear to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heart”.
The IAF position was circulated within the military and the political leadership first in August last year but it has now gained greater currency since a serving navy officer, Rear Admiral Monty Khanna, wrote in a paper for the military think-tank Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS), alleging that the IAF had a “hidden agenda” in opposing theatre commands.
The IAF has taken offence to the paper in which the Rear Admiral, a chief instructor with the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, has alleged that the IAF was opposing theatre commands as it was intent on keeping avenues for promotions of its senior officers.
While the JOCOM comprises the chiefs of the armed forces or commanders designated by them to synergise operations, an ITC would essentially be helmed by a theatre commander (from any of the three armed forces) and would include within it a land forces component, a maritime forces component and an air component.
In an ITC, operational commanders at the field-level would ultimately report to the theatre commander irrespective of service. The JOCOM would maintain the independence of each service that would continue to report to the respective service chief.
‘Only integrated service’
In its position paper against the ITCs, the IAF has argued that it is the only service that is integrated, bottom-up, with each of the other two armed forces (navy and army). It has stated that its assets were always readily available to the other services, including after the terror attacks at the Pathankot Air Force Station in January 2016, and after the Uri attack, when it was involved in the conduct of the September 2016 “surgical strikes”.
The IAF has further argued that since its mandate is to guard India’s territorial integrity and airspace — meaning that it is not essentially an ‘expeditionary’ force (operating way beyond the homeland) such as that of the US— a JOCOM would facilitate the distribution of its limited assets depending on the contingency. The JOCOM technically exists even today but, the IAF has argued, it must meet at least once a month in peacetime and more often depending on the exigency.
One IAF official told ThePrint that its latest Gagan Shakti exercise had tested the concept of distributing assets in three contingencies: a live western border (with Pakistan); a live northern border (with China) and with both borders being live. It swung aircraft and other platforms from the west to the east and to the north.
This was possible because of the very nature of the air force (any air force) that is mandated to guard a largely contiguous territory such as India’s, the IAF has argued. A single Hercules C-130 aircraft has flown the land borders of India in a single day without requiring to land. (It was fuelled in mid-air). “The IAF does not feel that it is constricted by space,” said the officer.
‘Surprised that Admiral went public’
The officer said it was surprising that the Navy Admiral had chosen to go public with what is essentially a “churning and head-banging within the military” on a professional issue of force restructuring and command authority “when there are service rules against doing so.”
The IAF has also repeatedly pointed out that it needs more assets. The 32 squadrons (and dwindling) of fighter aircraft that it currently has is not enough for its mandate. There is a reason why the IAF has been authorised 42 squadrons “and that is to fulfil our mandate”, explained the officer.
“It is because we can decide where and when and which platform to deploy that maintaining integration with the navy and the army at all levels is important to us. We are not against jointness. But we do not favour the imposition of foreign concepts like the ITC (Integrated Theatre Commands) whose operational value in our environment is suspect,” said the officer.