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Reform gong goes: call for joint forces

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By SUJAN DUTTA in Delhi
  • Published 30.07.04
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New Delhi, July 30: The seniormost armed forces commander today sounded the bell for reforms in the Indian military that seek to mould the army, navy and the air force into a free-flowing integrated fighting machine.

Admiral Madhvendhra Singh retired today as chairman, chiefs of staff committee, with an appeal to break down the compartments in which India’s land, water and aviation forces have traditionally operated in. He said the armed forces “should now evolve a joint operational doctrine stressing on unified air, land, sea and special operations throughout the theatre of war”.

Admiral Singh’s vision of a force fit for future wars shakes the Indian military from its traditional British moorings and draws heavily on the concept of “jointness” developed and practised by the Americans in successive operations. The establishment of the headquarters of the Integrated Defence Staff in the Indian military should set the armed forces on the road to “jointness”.

“Total war has yielded to limited, irregular and unconventional war. Among nations, particularly those in possession of nuclear weapons, there is greater likelihood of limited wars with little warning in future, than that of an all out general war,” Admiral Singh said.

This is borne out by India’s recent experience. The 1999 intrusions in Kargil escalated into a war but the full mobilisation of the armed forces for 10 months after December 2001 (Operation Parakram) did not lead to war.

The need to integrate the forces had arisen from technological changes. Technology will increase the speed of war without altering its fundamental purpose to serve as an instrument of policy. “Even the most profound changes in technology, thought and doctrine will not change the true nature of war,” Admiral Singh said. The changes brought about by the “tempo” of operations can impact on the speed of war.

“We would have to be better prepared and at a higher state of readiness than ever before. There is also a need for joint involvement of all the three services in planning for all future contingencies. This can only be achieved when a common organisational structure at the apex level is in place,” Admiral Singh said.

The navy chief did not directly comment on the proposal for a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) that would symbolise the integration of the military at the apex. The proposal to create the post of CDS as the chief military adviser to the government has been hanging fire for nearly four years and the decision to create it rests with the Union cabinet.

Admiral Singh today passed the baton as chairman, chiefs of staff committee, to successor Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy with a reminder that he had just overseen the beginning of a reform process and it was up to the next commanders to take that to fruition.

The seniormost of the service chiefs usually takes over as the chairman, chiefs of staff committee.

The admiral, who will retire as chief of the naval staff tomorrow, said the reform of the military should have two pillars — integration of force and decentralised command and control.

The admiral’s place as chief of naval staff would be taken over by the vice-chief of the navy, Vice Admiral (to be Admiral) Arun Prakash.

Admiral Singh, among whose achievements is the formulation of a maritime doctrine that was circulated in the last month of his tenure, favoured the laying down of principles of jointness for all the three armed forces.

“To fully exploit the potential of new technological advances, operational concepts incorporating and integrating the new technologies must be developed into coherent doctrines,” he said.

Integration of the forces, he said, did not mean that command and control would be centralised. While the operations would be integrated, decision-making would have to be decentralised, meaning that commanders at all levels should make use of technology and harness it to combat.

“Future battles would be won by smaller forces operating at higher tempos, that enable them to expend ordnance faster, and more accurately, provided all commanders have the requisite levels of freedom to act,” Admiral Singh said.