Navy Chief blames IAF for opposing theatre command

India's senior-most military officer and Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba has finally let the cat out of the bag – it is the Indian Air Force that is not in agreement on the creation of integrated theatre command as proposed by a section in the military.

“The three services are not in agreement on theatre command. The IAF doesn't agree,” Admiral Lanba, who is also the Chairman to the Chief of Staff Committee (COSC), said at his annual medial interaction on Monday – a day prior to the Navy Day.

An integrated theatre command envisages a unified command of the three Services, under a single commander, for geographical theatres that are of security concern. Most of the western countries follow theatre commands and China too adopted it.

For instance, instead of having four Army commands and three Air Force commands catering to India's border with China, one single command can be created and all assets can be placed under the Commander-in-Chief.

The concept, however, was opposed by many in Indian military because of a multiplicity of factors ranging from internal ego tussles to an underlying fear of losing posts.

A common apprehension is that much bigger Indian Army would subsume most of such higher-command posts once a theatre command is formed.

IAF, which opposed the concept, claims that it considers the entire country as one theatre.

To create an integrated theatre command, argued Admiral Lanba, India first required a change in the higher defence management.

“Over-riding individual Service Headquarters, the three Service Chiefs have agreed on having a permanent chairman to the Chief of Staff Committee. We fixed the role and responsibility of the permanent chairman and forwarded the proposal to the Defence Ministry,” he said.

At the moment the panel of the three Service Chiefs is being headed by the senior-most Service Chief. The panel has a fourth member in the form of the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC)

Nearly two decades ago the Kargil review panel suggested the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff as the single-point military advisor to the government.

While there is no political convergence yet on the creation of a CDS, a permanent chairman to the Chief of Staff Committee is being proposed is being proposed as an ad-hoc solution.

The Kargil review panel also recommended jointmanship in operations as the deployment of air power was an issue of contention between the Army and Air Force chiefs.

Subsequently, the Integrated Defence Staff was created but the extent of cross-service synergy remains far below than the desired level.

For instance, Army and Navy maintain their own aviation wings; Army and IAF fly choppers of different sizes to serve the same troops in Siachen and during the terror strike on Pathankot air base, commandos were rushed from Delhi despite having an Army division and a brigade at the Punjab town.

The absence of jointmanship, according to Lt Gen Satish Dua (rtd), led to wastage of resources and duplication of asset purchase and training programmes.

“On a scale of 10, I would give jointmanship, as it exists now, a 4,” Lt Gen Dua, who retired as the CSIC in October, said in an interview.

Asked about the synergy between the three services, Admiral Lanba said such jointmanship existed between the three Services in training, logistics and preparation of war doctrines. “We are training IAF chefs in our catering school (INS Hamla in Mumbai),” he said.

“We are looking at the joint capability to operationalise remotely piloted aircraft,” he said.

The Navy Chief, however, didn't respond to queries on whether the three Services would come out with joint perspective plans to acquire new military hardware.

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Navy Chief blames IAF for opposing theatre command

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