Thursday, February 9, 2023

Joint Command Structures – The Way Ahead

Admiral Sunil Lanba (r)

After a delay of about nine months, the government has finally filled the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) vacancy. The CDS has his plate full to take forward the integration between the three services. The first task which should be perused by the CDS is to get the National Security Strategy (NSS) published. The NSS should be a whole of government approach which should define the core national interests and geo-strategic goals. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) can draw up the National Military Strategy (NMS) based on it. The NMS would be the plan that signifies the utilisation of means and concepts of employment of national power and the military to achieve political ends.

As part of the NMS, there has to be a Joint Military Strategy that envisages the utilisation of military force, denoted by the three services jointly. To date, only the Indian Navy has published a strategy document. In 2015, the Indian Navy released the updated strategy document, ‘Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy.’ The objective was to increase maritime cooperation and coordination and provide a framework for synergising actions in the maritime domain between all stakeholders. Unless we have the NSS and NMS documents, we must move ahead with caution regarding joint commands and structures.

For the past two years, there have been discussions and a focus on creating Integrated Theatre Command. The first steps should be the publication of NSS and NMS, based on which an analysis can be carried out on the structures required to execute the strategy. A Higher Defence Organisation (HDO) structure in New Delhi is required to execute any strategy. In the gazette notification propagated to appoint the CDS, the operational responsibility of executing operation rest with Service Chiefs and the CDS has no operational role. As the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staffs Committee (COSC), the CDS was tasked with creating jointness in operation, logistics, training etc.

The domain knowledge will always rest with individual service experts at the operational and tactical levels of operations. There has to be a singularity of command in the command and control structure; otherwise, it would lead to confusion and chaos in the execution of operations.

Theatre Commands should be the end state. To start with, the CDS should focus on drawing up what should be the command and control structure to draw up joint plans. In the past, the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee tasked individual service headquarters to work together to draw up an operational plan for different scenarios, which were then presented to the committee.

The CDS needs to focus on integration and jointness between the three services, with the publication of an NSS absolutely essential. Based on the NSS, a joint capability plan can be drawn up. The capability plan must be supported by the budget requirement. Also, the time frame for it to be developed and acquired must be indicated. A call needs to be taken on what the role of the Service Chief entails. Would it entail an operational role in the execution of the operation or merely a capability provider? The COSC may be given the responsibility of drawing up the operational plans for different contingencies and scenarios. Once the system stabilises and a way ahead for Theatre is formulated, the command and control role of Service Chiefs and CDS can be determined. Without the preliminary organisation being put in place, one can always expect the cart to appear before the Horse.

Another critical issue that needs to be examined before making changes is the long-term effect of these changes on human resources (HR) issues, including promotions. What do we do to the present structures and the existing static commands? For example, the South Naval Command under the Commander-in-Chief is responsible for training in the Navy. The present C-in-C could be designed as Area Commanders with administrative function, internal security, logistics etc., responsibilities. This will protect the career prospects of the officers in the three services, and the operational commanders of Theatre should be of four-star rank. The whole issue has to be dealt with with caution and due diligence, allowing for a structure which best suits the needs to achieve the desired results.

Admiral Sunil Lanba (r) is a former Indian Navy Chief

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