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Nuke forces command in pipeline

New Delhi, Dec. 30: The Indian defence establishment has evolved its own structure for a nuclear and strategic forces command and only a formal shape has to be assigned to it, outgoing army chief and chairman, chiefs of staff committee, General S. Padmanabhan, said here today.

Handing over charge as chairman, chiefs of staff, to the navy chief, Admiral Madhvendra Singh, Padmanabhan said he would prefer not to make the strategic forces command a public issue. “These are things that should not be in the public domain. We may have an informal structure already.”

“If it does not appear to be there, it does not mean it is not there. What is invisible today will become visible tomorrow,” Padmanabhan replied when asked when the command would be formed.

An air force officer is likely to head the command, with Air Marshal T.M. Asthana topping the list of probables. Defence ministry sources said the strategic forces command would be formalised shortly.

Asthana was today attached to Air Headquarters, pending a formal announcement as commander-in-chief, strategic forces command.

It is possible that the announcement of the command being formed will be made by the Cabinet Committee on Security after the Prime Minister returns from his vacation in Goa.

Padmanabhan said the situation in Kashmir had improved because militants’ supply lines were being cut off. “It is because their (militants’) morale is low that they are hitting soft targets and indulging in barbaric acts like slaying women and children,” he said.

“We have been able to choke their money and arms supplies.”

Padmanabhan said the creation of a chief of defence staff would effectively prove little more than a change in nomenclature for the structure headed by the chairman, chief of staff committee. The current structure has served well and ensured cohesion among the services. He said that till the government took a decision on creating the chief of defence staff, the institution of the chiefs of staff committee had to be made more effective.

On the setting up of the chief of integrated defence staff, which is directly under the chairman, chiefs of staff committee, Padmanabhan said operational and staff requirement of the system had been developed, “though a lot has to be done”.

Air Marshal Asthana, tipped to head the strategic forces command, has been deputy chief of air staff. He was superseded by Air Marshal Madon who was appointed air officer commanding-in-chief of the Eastern Air Command.

Defence ministry sources explained that Asthana “was being held against” the post of air officer commanding the Bangalore-based training command. This was being done as a recognition that the officer has achieved the position as “air officer commander-in-chief”.

A minor reshuffle in the top brass of the IAF has also seen Air Marshal A.K. Trikha being appointed as AOC-in-C, Southern Air Command. Air Marshal Trikha was commandant of the National Defence Academy. It was announced earlier that Vice Admiral S.C.S. Bangara, from the integrated defence staff, will take over as the head of the academy.

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