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Overdrive To Minimise Cost Of Defence, Restructuring Should Not Compromise Operational Effectiveness: Maj Gen Asthana

There is no question that Indian Armed Forces needed that twitch of modernization and restructuring in the times that are changing the dimensions of warfare. The Integrated Theater Commands (ITC) is designed to do so. Some formulations are already up on the ground-- restructuring to address some of these aspects was done, with formulation of HQ Integrated Defence Staff, Andaman and Nicobar Command and Strategic Force Command (SFC). But make no haste, says military veteran Major General S B Asthana as speaks with BW Businessworld's Defence Editor Manish Kumar Jha on the ITC -- its complexity and the conflict within. It is about the training and equipment that must fulfill the spirit of jointness in building command.

Photo Credit :

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Could you elaborate what is the concept of Integrated Theater Command (ITC) and why is it necessitated to restructure our armed forces under the theatre Command like US, Russia and China? 

The concept of Integrated Theater Command is to have all the required combat resources for force application in a theatre, placed under one theatre commander, fully integrated to synergise the joint warfare effort. This would ensure unity of command, cut down duplicity in chain of command and logistics and thereby result in economy of effort. It is also to ensure that the theatre commander has all the required combat and logistics resources under him, so that he can allocate/sub allocate them as per requirement, and he is not dependent on outside agencies for required resources. It is also to ensure unity of command by cutting down multiple service specific chains of command and logistics.  


The Indian Armed Forces had recognisable accretions in size and equipment since independence, but the Service specific structure at the top hierarchy and theatre level has broadly remained same, despite lessons learnt from few wars, campaigns and small scale operations. After every war one specific lesson always came out loud and clear, that the joint planning has rarely been optimal, and the synergy amongst all the three services, Intelligence agencies, and other elements of the Government was not in the best form.The concept of so called ‘Jointmanship’ has not worked well, and there has been sub optimal utilisation of resources including logistics. Although having three equally ranked Service Chiefs and each service having its own set of commands, which are not even co-located, may have been a compulsion considering the geography/terrain, peculiarities of borders, conventional and sub conventional challenges so far, but with extension of domains of warfare to include strategic arsenal, counter terrorism, cyber, space, information warfare and other forms of operations including out of area contingencies, a need was felt to objectively look at reorganisation of top hierarchy and theatre commands. Post Kargil intrusion, The Group of Ministers (GoM)Report, Kargil Review Committee Report (KRC), some restructuring to address some of these aspects was done, with formulation of HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), Strategic Force Command (SFC) and lately the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and Department of Military Affairs (DMA).


The kind of Armed Forces a nation should have, is governed by its National Interest in the existing global and regional political, diplomatic, and security environment, and the National Aim derived out of it. The nation has to have a grand strategy in place to achieve the stated Aim, by having a comprehensive national power, and a sound stated Military strategy to achieve it. The kind of Military Hierarchy and Command structure will then be dictated by the roles assigned, the geography/terrain, the threat envisaged, the technological advancements and all the resources of the nation including economic resources. Normally a major overhaul is necessitated by lessons of last war, change in National ambition/aim/objectives, change in threat perception, strategic environment, and sometimes internal political and domestic compulsions, technological changes, and change in leadership.


If  the above mentioned factors are applied to US Military, it can be inferred that the USA has global strategic interest, aims to dominate the world, and needs an expeditionary military force capable of global deployment, and be effective everywhere. It has no direct military threat to its mainland (leaving aside terror strikes). The institution of Joint Chiefs of Staff has been in place since 1947. However, in 1986, after Goldwater and Nichols Defence Reforms Legislation was passed to ensure closer integration of the US military, leading to evolution of the present structure based in Unified Commands. The five regional unified commands are expected to operate independently, away from the mainland and other commands, mostly on expeditionary role in designated areas of the globe, require integrated combat power of the three services, which justifies the need of unified commands. They do require some other force multipliers needed to be controlled centrally; hence they have functional US Space Command, and the Strategic Command. For Special Operations, a Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) is formed to plan, rehearse and execute operations regardless of their geographical location. Russians also have four Strategic Commands since 2010, with appropriate allocation of resources from the three Services and independent arms directly under the Centre viz. missile, space and airborne forces, following almost similar logic. 

In case of China, the National interest is to grow economically, and militarily, invest globally to fuel its growth, with an aim to become a Superpower by 2049.As a subset of her Grand Strategy, It released a well-orchestrated National Military Strategy, in early 2015 with Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) documents.An intent of expeditionary design of PLA to increase its global footprints, and protect its SLOC and trade interests globally can easily be inferred.  The growing strength of President Xi Jinping,who besides being the Chairman of the CPC is Central Military Commission (CMC),over-ensuring PLA’s loyalty to CPC5. With his expansionist ambitions, he overhauled  its military, which otherwise displayed a poor show in 1979 Sino-Vietnam conflict. He reorganised erstwhile 7 Military regions to five integrated theatre commands placing himself at Apex level. Chinese model is designed for expeditionary role with adequate resources, however it has a major weakness of over-centralisation, because most subordinates have the tendency to look at Xi Jinping at the time of crisis.

What is also common in all these models is that US, China and Russia went in for integrated theatre commands only when they achieved self-reliance in defence manufacturing, so that creating required military hardware inventory was not a major problem, except diverting money and using surge capability. 

It is also common that all the three countries had a well drafted National Security Strategy placed in open domain, so that there is a reference point for all ministries/departments to synergise capability building effort for national security. 


What about Indian scenario?  India has much of unsettled border and that requires us to physically hold the LC, AGPL and LAC. In that case, how will Theater command be structured?

India, seems to have the National Interest of peaceful development, inclusive, growth, and has not indicated any expeditionary interest so far. It needs a grand strategy to have comprehensive national power, to be able protect its strategic interest, strategic choices, sovereignty, maintaining peaceful periphery, and protect its growing areas of interest. There being no structured National Security Strategy in public domain, there are many contradictions in decision making for security for the country. 

The contradiction starts from the fact that except for LOC and AGPLwith Pakistan, the entire land borders of the country are being manned by Para Military Forces, operating directly under Home Ministry, and not Armed Forces/Defence Ministry under the formula of “One border One Force”. 

The Home Ministry, directly responsible for internal security, is involved in borders, conversely the Military is increasingly getting involved in internal security. The intelligence agencies are getting coordinated at the level of National Security Advisor, who also gets increasingly involved in External Affairs, becomes overly burdened and powerful to call the shots in all security matters including Defence. It has therefore given rise to the anomaly that despite ongoing standoff with PLA and largest concentration of troops in last five decades, ITBP manning the border is not under Indian Army, and both despite being co-located continue to be under MoHA and MoD respectively. 

Indian geography, border commitments (as you pointed out), Counter insurgency/terrorism involvements, threat perception and military resources has led to formulation and location of Service Commands in the manner they are currently disposed on ground through repeated studies. 

Amongst Army Commands, except for Southern Command, not many joint operations with Navy are visualised, unless some formation is picked up for Out of Area Contingency Tasks, amphibious operation and MOOTW.  Even in this case, a major responsibility of Andaman and Nicobar and islands in Bay of Bengal has been taken away by correctly raising the Integrated ANC. 

In India,The IAF is working in coordination with Army and Naval Commands, but not co-located under existing arrangement. Insisting on co- location apparently sounds as cost saving move, but it doesn’t accrue much operational advantage for many reasons.

Firstly, India does not have the luxury of adequate IAF resources to be allocated to Army/Naval Commands ab initio, hence switching of IAF resources is a must for their optimum utility. Secondly, the IAF has the flexibility to mobilize the required No of aircrafts at the point of application which is more relevant than the co-location. To coordinate that a skeleton integrated staff has already been co-located with all these Command Headquarters, with some elements at Corps Level. Thirdly, the distances in Indian theatres are not as large as US integrated theatres; hence the requirement of co-located Air Force is more critical in their case, in comparison with India. Fourthly IAF like other Services is a National Resource, with many other national commitments besides being exclusively tasked for Army/Naval Commands.

With no major change in geography, border commitments, counterinsurgency/terrorism involvements, threat and military resources disturbing the existing structure of Service Commands will need fair amount of gestation period. We can think of Integrated Theatre Commands after we have adequate air resources and there is a major change in some or any of the factors discussed above. 

One major factor which is changing rapidly is Technology, especially in Information Warfare domain; hence I recommend the raising of Information Warfare Command, with Defence Cyber Agency as a component.Highlighting Indian strategic compulsions, I am in agreement with  Air Defence Command, Defence Space Agency (DSA), Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD).  The Maritime Command accruing advantage of unity of command, will have to be weighed against  manageability of increased span of control, as Indian definition of Indo-Pacific and area of maritime interest has grown from eastern coasts of Africa to northern Pacific, up to Japan. 

Overdrive to minimise cost of Defence, restructuring should not compromise operational effectiveness,  span of control and chain of command. With tri-service structure, ITC will have to ultimately report to CDS/Chairman COSC for every decision beyond it, which was being addressed by service Chiefs. 

Reducing the status of Chiefs to only training maintaining and sustaining may relegate service specific issues, which may be counterproductive in the long run. It will impinge on a large number of national tasks which each service is performing separately under its Service Chief like counterterrorism by Army, Strategic missions including heavy airlifts by IAF and sea control/sea denial/submarine operations by Navy. 

Centralising all operational decision making to CDS/COSC Committee system will also create delays due to over centralisation and sometimes not arriving at a consensus in COSC. With existing roles of CDS, it may be difficult for him to manage operations, (unmanageable span of control), and he not being tasked & organised for it. Surely the implementers will settle these issues, before execution. 


With the existing size of Indian Military, there are concerned that restructuring the entire 17 commands into 5 to 6 integrated units(Integrated Theatre Command) will be like a giant monolith to manage. How do you look at such concern? Will it reduce the monstrous budget on military manpower for raising the capital procurement? 

One of the major expectation of such reforms, besides modernisation, continues to be restructuring of Defence Forces to bring down the overall defence expenditure, which can be utilized for capital procurement. It seems to be one of the logic to justify creation of fewer Theatre Commands from conversion of existing 17 Service specific Commands (seven each of Army and IAF, and three of Navy, which are not co-located) into Integrated Theatre Commands, with a hope that it will bring down the cost and improve jointness and synergy. As per announcements by CDS, the proposals of future Theatre Commands like Maritime Command, Air Defence (AD) Command, and two to five theatre commands along borders suggest that India is rightly looking at Indianized model of Theatre Command structures. 

While it may appear logically correct, but it increases the span of control of existing commands beyond manageable limits. The case in point is Maritime Command, wherein the span of control and measures to exercise them are inadequate to match the new definition of Indian area of maritime interest, mentioned above. 

Comparison with Chinese Western Command may not be appropriate, because of large asymmetry in asset holding, infrastructure along LAC, laterals along LAC to switch forces and other operational factors. 

Today, due to infrastructure constraints, against Chinese WTC, all the three continental commands of India have to fight isolated battles. It must be noted that in last seven decades barring few tactical and operational proactive actions, strategically India has been reactive, posing no offensive threat to China. The absence of such threat has enabled WTC to manage such large span of control, because the initiative has always been with Chinese and WTC has a choice to activate chosen segment of LAC. The same has not been the case with Indian theatre commands, which reacted to Chinese incursions, sometimes after being surprised. In this context, there is a need to fully equip the Mountain Strike Corps capable of operating deep inside Chinese perception of LAC, to create a threat for WTC and seize initiative sometimes.  

The timing of such restructuring is another cause of concern more serious than financial gains. Today India is facing a ‘Two Front Threat’ in real terms, in a manner that it is already in standoff with the largest military in the world, and the other adversary is also devising new ways to disturb peace through drones/terror attacks. 

Irrespective of merits and demerits of Theaterisation, strategically, it is not the right time to go through such a major apex level restructuring, when the largest military force is knocking at LAC. Such major restructuring takes at least few years of teething problems; hence it will bring turbulence in time tested command structure during the intervening period, a risk which the country must avoid. 

The restructuring should not compromise operational effectiveness of Indian Military. The need for existing separate Command for Union Territories of Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh is inescapable and should not be tampered with.I am sure that the executers will have cater for these concerns.

The savings expected out of restructuring will be miniscule to impact capital budget in appreciable manner. The restructuring of headquarters will spare a sizeable number of officers, but considering the overall deficiency of officers, it will contribute to making up some deficiency. It will trigger a large number of human resource issues regarding rank structure and making rank pyramid steeper, reducing the satisfaction level of officers, a problem, which will snowball for many years. With overall deficiency in the infrastructure like accommodation in defence forces, the spared assets will be adjusted against deficiency and creation of additional infrastructure in selected locations of ITCs. 

The manpower saving is miniscule in percentage terms.  To generate more funds for capital procurements MoD should look at reducing defence civilians and manpower like in MES doing tasks, which can be outsourced, yet spending large part of revenue budget of defence, as first priority.  


Apparently, the ultimate aim is to imbibe that spirit of jointness among the forces. What is the roadmap that you see in such effort? Expect for Defence Services Staff College and Army War College, which has limited capacity, there is not enough for joint military training to lead such command?

I presume that almost all potential ITC commanders would have done the basic joint service courses like the ones you mentioned.  Going by experience of other militaries including PLA,  it may not be easy to train the integrated Theatre Commanders and other commanders handling joint forces in Indian Military. 

Besides Defence Services Staff College, Army War College, Indian Military needs to expand and utilise Tri-Service organisations like CENJOS, USI of India and re-activate National Defence University to organise more Joint Training Courses for all Services to promote integration. 

Joint training and serving in joint service organisations will have to brought in to training and promotion policies. Integration of Training Commands of Army and IAF, and the Naval component can be integrated to promote joint training, along with service specific training and economising resources.  

US experience reveals that forced integration doesn’t induce jointness, but training, mental acceptance and attitude developed therein, does bring positive changes in jointness. It also needs to be noted, that training of joint services commanders at apex level will also need some orientation period. US operation Anaconda, highlighting that unified structures can facilitate forcible co-operation up to a limit, but the true test of actual jointmanship lies in dismantling established mindsets. 


To addressed the critical aspect of military logistics and optimize resources, a case of Joint Logistics Command was proposed a decade earlier. As a military veteran, how do see the need for such Command and how can it be structured within?

At national level there are various ministries looking after various components of logistics including military logistics, however the coordination for military logistics is being done by Ministry of Defence (MoD).Major military powers across the world have steadily integrated their military logistics for enhancing efficiency and rationalize defence spending.Indian Military has majority of logistics as Service specific component, and has a very limited component on Joint logistics model like Medical services, MES, DGQA, DRDO and few more organisations, which is not a cost effective model.This aspect will need to be addressed by introducing incremental changes towards commonality in logistics functions. For instance, it’s not cost effective if in one military station there are three supply chains working and meat being procured at three different rates for three Services.

To ensure efficient logistics system, national logistics assets under various Ministries relevant for military,need to be integrated with all the Services through MoD. China has adopted it successfully, where almost 80 percent of PLA logistics is joint, and only 20 percent is Service specific, which has proved to be quite cost effective. 

CDS can be an important bridge between Ministry of Defence and Service Headquarters.The ‘Defence Logistics Cell’ which interacts with respective service Headquarters can be placed under CDS, to coordinate the Integrated Logistics System. 

I do not recommend a separate command for logistics. An ITC should have one logistics commander responsible to theatre commander and all common logistics components should be controlled by him. There will still be some component of service specific logistics, as is the case in other militaries being referred.   


The immediate success story of ITC is the formation of Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC). Does it not boost the case for more such Command? What are the learnings out of ANC?

The ANC is a workable and successful model to suit its peculiar conditions. The basic principle of theaterisation holds good for it. Considering the numbers and locations of islands it controls, and distances from eastern coastline of India, it needs to have its ground, naval and air assets and forces in its location, because there is no reaction time to support most of the islands in its jurisdiction, from mainland, if anyone of them is attacked by hostile forces. This came to lime light during Tsunami disaster also. The same condition doesn’t hold good for rest of the country, wherein air and ground resources can be switched from one of the existing theatres to another.  It also reinforces the point I made earlier that in case the ANC is absorbed in Maritime Theatre Command, the span of control will be too wide. ANC is workable because the span of control is limited.


Now over the situation at LAC, while there seems to be eerie calm, the de-escalation is stuck with China’s PLA taking aggressive pasture. What Indian military must do in the vast stretch of LAC and hostilities prevail?  

With both militaries stepping up deployment along LAC in high altitude region, in addition to the troop deployment in ‘Other Areas’ like Gogra, Hot Spring, Depsang and Demchok, the situation doesn’t promise de-escalation. It puts entire surveillance plan of India to test, to avoid any ‘First movers’ advantage’ to China like 2020. The Indian forces and the country have given a befitting reply to Chinese misadventure, and will do so each time, with added confidence and experience of 2020.   The capability building of Indian Military to face the eminent threat and resolving integration, command and control, jointmanship issues of ITBP and other PMF on LAC/LOC must be given higher priority than apex level restructuring of theatre commands. 

India needs to induct various force multipliers like drones on priority to address real threats in real time, on priority. India must first bring up its asset availability up to a point that they can be distributed as first priority, with indigenous technology and hardware by self-reliance, which is still a work in progress.

Indian aim should be not to concede Chinese attempt to redraw LAC as LAC-2020. In light of no major breakthrough in 22nd round of China-India border talks, I do not expect any worthwhile development on delineation, delimitation for demarcation of LAC, which, is necessary to prevent repeated standoffs, even if the present one sees some resolution. This is inescapable and must be insisted. A temporary solution/side-lining main issue is recipe for the next standoff, leading to LOC-ization of LAC further. Chinese will like to keep border unsettled, till the time the political cost of Not settling it, becomes higher than doing so, for CCP, China. Its efforts of bilateral border talks with Bhutan and Nepal including trijunctions, are to create further complications in the long-term resolution of borders.

India must be prepared for ‘Two Front War’ as a worst-case scenario, and continue capacity building in all domains, including maritime arena. Ongoing infrastructure development along borders should lead to settling of locals in villages along LAC with better facilities, to ward off Chinese design of developing hundreds of new villages along LAC.  Strategic partnerships with like-minded democracies and collective naval posturing to create multifront situation for China are efforts in right direction. There is a need for alternative supply chain, trade and technological eco system, independent of China for which some initial steps taken by Quad countries need to be pursued on strategic plane.