Is the military bureaucracy as powerful as their civilian counterparts?
The new Chief of Defence Staff Gen Anil Chauhan has his task cut out in creating a consensus among the three services on theatre commands as well as holding the military research establishment in walking the talk on hardware development within specified time.
Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari on Tuesday said that his force was not opposed to any process of integration and any process of theatre commands but publicly acknowledged reservations in respect to proposed military architecture. “Each service has a doctrine. The doctrinal aspects of the IAF should not be compromised in any way by the new structures,” the Chief stated.
There are two aspects to this statement. First, the IAF has logical reservations about dividing its limited air assets among various proposed military theatre commands. Even though the so-called IAF’s sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons was never approved by Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) but merely proposed by the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), the Air Force indeed has a point of division of its assets.
However, hidden in this logic is the fact that the Air Force actually is worried about the reduction of its present command structures headed by no less than seven commander-in-chiefs, who are Air Marshal rank and three star officers with huge establishment at their disposal, when the theatre commands finally come into being.
Despite the officer cadre strength of the IAF being same as that of senior service Indian Navy, it has as many commands as the Indian Army, which is nearly ten times more in size. In comparison, the Indian Navy has only three commands in West, East and the South.
The biggest fear within the top echelons of IAF is that they will be left with one Air Defence Command to man along with the Navy having one maritime theatre command and the Army having two operational commands in west and the east. The northern command will be a tri-service command like Andamans and Nicobar Command and report to the Chief of Defence Staff.
While the Narendra Modi government will only proceed for the creation of military theatre command after discussing the issue threadbare with those involved, open statements made by Air Chiefs in the present and past have made the task more difficult. The Air Force also has different views on armed drones and is in favour of manned fighters, which are already under serious threat from latest air defence systems like the Iron Dome and the S-400.
While the IAF chief has talked about a revised and updated force doctrine which he fears may be compromised by the new structures, the question to ask is how an individual force doctrine can be different from the national war doctrine and why would the government be interested in weakening the force by imposing a super structure.
Fact is that the military theatre commands only function with an offensive war doctrine like the US Indo-Pacific Command or the Central Command. The national security planners are aware that various war scenarios will have to be visualized before operationalisation of the theatre commands. It is for this very reason that the government is thinking in terms of first establishing the cyber, space and missile command before taking the step towards the theatre commands.
Even though the military theatre commands are being discussed post-Kargil war, the public posturing by the IAF has added inflexibility and military bureaucratic hurdles into the future task. The military bureaucracy is as powerful as the civilian bureaucracy as seen from hurdles put by the military scientific establishment in acquisition of Israeli anti-tank missile system in 2018 and the Safran aircraft engines as opposed to GE-414 engines despite the French company offering joint development and full transfer of technology.
These hurdles have proved costly as India had to acquire the same Spike ATGM are a higher price post PLA aggression on East Ladakh on May 5,2020 and the expected delay in AMCA fighter, which was planned with GE-414 engine. Military reforms and creation of military-industrial complex in India is only possible if the bureaucracy of the three armed services and the scientific establishment is held accountable.