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Will IAF just support Army in new theatres? CDS Rawat says yes, but air chief says no in public

CDS Gen Rawat labels IAF as supporting arm to ground forces — likening it to roles of artillery, engineers in Army. But ACM Bhadauria says air power has a huge role to play in battle areas.

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New Delhi: A fresh row broke out Friday between Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat and Air Chief Marshal (ACM) R.K.S. Bhadauria over the role of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the planned theatresisation.

While the CDS labeled the IAF as a supporting arm to the ground forces — likening it to the role of artillery and engineers in the Army, the IAF chief said air power has a huge role to play in any of the integrated battle areas and is not an issue of support alone.

ACM Bhadauria also said that the IAF was supportive of the integrated theatre command, but underlined that it is important to “get it right” because it will have an impact on war fighting.

These contrasting statements by two of the most senior Indian military officers came in the backdrop of differences within the Services on the basic structure of theatres, which aim to bring in a joint and integrated approach to war fighting.

The government has directed the Services and the CDS to fine tune the theatre command concept.

The latest row broke out during an online seminar organised by think-tank Global Counter Terrorism Council.

Also read: DRDO says its anti-drone system can help Army prevent Jammu airbase-like attacks

What CDS said on IAF role 

Speaking first, Gen Rawat outlined the concept of theatres and stressed their need.

Asked about reservations expressed by the IAF, which favours one theatre for the entire country instead of several, Gen Rawat said the entire air space of the nation will be looked after by one air defence command.

“We are creating one air defence command which will look after the entire nation’s air space. But what we are looking at, because we have a western theatre and a northern theatre, one dealing with our northern adversary, one dealing with our western adversary, and we are creating land-based theatres for them,” he said.

He said the IAF is not just responsible for air defence, but also has a charter of providing close air support to the land forces when they undertake operations and for offensive air support in case you go into an adversary’s territory.

Similarly, when the Navy is operating, the naval ships or the naval armada also requires air support, the CDS added. “So therefore, in addition to air defence, IAF is also responsible for carrying close air support and offensive air support,” he said.

He said theatre commanders need some kind of air component commander advising them.

Responding to the argument that IAF assets are fewer than required and cannot be split into different theatres, the CDS argued that even today, the entire resources of the air force are not controlled by one agency.

“They have got five operational commands where the entire resources of the air force are distributed. Even today, air force assets are distributed. So we do not understand in case an air defence command is created, will all these air assets go under one commander? I don’t think that is going to happen.

“They are not going to collapse their existing commands. If that is the thought process, they can come forth and say we intend to collapse our five operational commands and we will have one command. Then I think we need to address the entire issue from a different perspective,” he said.

He went on to add that the IAF is required to provide support to the ground forces.

“Do not forget that the Air Force continues to remain a supporting arm to the armed forces just as the artillery or engineer supports the combatant arms in the Army. They will be a supporting arm and they have air defence charter and supporting the ground forces in times of war. This is a basic charter that they will have to understand,” he said.

Also read: India, China should be able to gradually achieve status quo in eastern Ladakh, says CDS Rawat

IAF chief says air power plays huge role

Asked about CDS Rawat comment, ACM Bhadauria said, “It is not a supporting role alone. Air power has a huge role to play in any of the integrated battle areas. It is not an issue of support alone. And there is a whole lot of things that go into any air plan that is made…”

In response to the perception that IAF is being a roadblock in the path towards a unified approach, he said it was “totally incorrect”.

“CDS was also a big reform. CDS has been established. The next big reform is integrated theatre command and it is much more complex. I have said it on record many times before that we are for establishing an integrated theatre command but the issues we have raised in our internal discussions has got to do with how we should do it (structure of theaterisation),” he said.

“We must get it right. It is the most important reform that will have an impact on war fighting,” said the ACM.

“We already have a functional system today. But when we do an integrated theatre command, we should reach the next level of ability to project our comprehensive national power. We should be able to synergise… have more flexibility, we cannot have more boundaries,” he said, but refused to elaborate on IAF’s specific concerns to the media.

He added, “These are all facets of deliberation to get it right. It is not an issue of spanner etc… We are totally committed to theatre command but we must get it right. That is the focus area that we are deliberating between the three service chiefs and the CDS. And that process is continuing.”

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: Army focuses on bridging capabilities against Pakistan & China, inducts 12 indigenous bridges


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