India took another small step towards ensuring its defence preparedness is a lot more integrated with the release of joint doctrine encompassing all three military services. The doctrine, an expansion of an earlier more limited version issued in 2010 after the Kargil conflict, also incorporates new domains like cyber-security, non-state terrorism and space.
Such doctrines are largely statements of intent rather than evidence of what is actually taking place operationally on the ground. India, after all, has been kicking around the idea of tri-service joint operations since the 1990s. And the Army, Navy and Air Force still operate 17 separate commands that can carry out military operations together on the basis of the officer corps’ jugaad rather than actual institutional togetherness.
Ad hoc operational co-ordination is a serious problem on a construction site or football team, it is downright dangerous when it comes to a country’s national security. The Kargil conflict, and the difficulties that the Army and Air Force had in combining forces, was the last time the issue of joint military action was take up seriously. Since then the concept has been kicked around by various papers, committees and reports with little evidence that the political system even saw the issue as important.
The new doctrine has taken the theoretical aspect even further, postulating tri-service coordination when it comes to cyberspace and other less tangible military theatres. While the mental homework on integrated defence continues, there remains little sign of forward progress in terms of making this a reality.
The first step towards making a joint doctrine actually functional would be the creation of a joints chief of defence staff and creating means for officers to be rotated through all three services and provide the backbone for such a position. The creation of the chief of defence staff has been reportedly on the Narendra Modi government’s to-do list for at least the past year.
While the slow but steady deterioration in relations with Pakistan and India hardly signifies that a military confrontation is in the offing, the Roman saying that those who want peace should prepare for war remains a truism today.
Buying weapons is only part of any country’s defence story. How they are used effectively and efficiently is a much larger part. And an integrated military at the top and on the ground is an essential step in accomplishing the latter.