India may soon get a Tri-Service Chief



India will soon get a new tri-service chief, a four-star general like the Army, IAF and Navy chiefs, to ensure synergy in training, logistics, planning and procurements among the three forces. In the longer run, the country will also have theatre commands to integrate the air, land and sea assets under single operational commanders for a greater military punch from limited budgetary resources.

This was among the major takeaways from the combined commanders' conference+ held at the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun, which saw PM Narendra Modi and defence minister Manohar Parrikar brainstorming with the country's top military brass led by Admiral Sunil Lanba, General Bipin Rawat and Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa on Saturday, said sources.

There was no official word on the military deliberations in the backdrop of the Election Commission warning the government that the conference should not be used as a platform to make any public speech or announcement that may "affect" the electoral process in poll-bound Uttarakhand.

But sources said the PM received a series of presentations on issues ranging from operational preparedness and infrastructure development along the borders with China and Pakistan as well as the long-pending reforms in the country's higher defence management.

The proposed reforms range from creating the post of the fourth four-star general and theatre commands to re-energizing joint training and doctrines. "Unified structures, first in the shape of tri-service organizations or agencies and then full-fledged commands to handle space, cyberspace and special operations, are also on the anvil," said a source.

The NDA government acknowledges the crucial reform to have a chief of defence staff (CDS) or a permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (CoSC), in addition to the three existing chiefs, cannot be delayed any longer.

"The post of a permanent chairman of CoSC (which currently comprises the three service chiefs, with the seniormost acting as the head) or CDS is likely to be created within this year," said the source.

"Issues about how he will relate to the government as well as the three chiefs, who will continue to operationally run their forces, have been fine-tuned. The Cabinet, however, will take the final decision," said the source.

But the theatre commands will take some years to take concrete shape, with the Army, Navy and IAF often indulging in turf wars and pulling in different directions. At present, India has 17 single-service commands and only two unified tri-service commands in the shape of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC).

While the SFC handles the country's nuclear arsenal through "land, air and sea vectors", the ANC is the only theatre or "geographical" command with all military assets placed under one commander-in-chief at Port Blair.

Theatre commands, of course, are urgently needed for the conduct of synergised operations with unity of command. They will also prove to be much more cost-effective. The Eastern Commands of the Army, IAF and Navy, for instance, are headquartered at Kolkata, Shillong and Visakhapatnam.

While the US has had unified combatant commands to handle different parts of the globe for long, even China re-organised its 2.3-million People's Liberation Army into five theatre commands last year.


Defence Reforms History:
-- 1999: Army & IAF commanders squabble over operations during Kargil conflict
--2001: GoM report recommends a chief of defence staff (CDS). Holds existing chiefs of staff committee (CoSC) has "serious weaknesses" in giving single-point advice
--2001-2003: Tri-Service structures like integrated defence staff, Andaman & Nicobar Command, Strategic Forces Command, Defence Intelligence Agency etc come up. But CDS post kept in cold storage
--2012: Naresh Chandra Taskforce recommends permanent CoSC chairman (diluted version of CDS)
--2016: Lt-Gen D B Shekatkar Committee suggests re-balancing of defence expenditure to boost combat potential as well as new 4-star general as 'chief coordinator'


Why a new tri-Service chief?
-- Provide single-point military advice to government
-- Bring synergy among 3 Services in doctrinal, planning, procurement & operational matters
-- Prioritize inter-Service procurements to build long-term military capabilities
-- Bette manage country's strategic resources & nuclear arsenal
--Integrate Service HQs with defence ministry & reduce civil-military divide
-- Around 70 countries (the US, UK, France, Germany etc) have CDS-like post for integration in military planning & operations


Why Theatre Commands?
-- India has 17 single-Service commands (Army 7, IAF 7 & Navy 3), with HQs in different places around the country
--Only 2 unified commands: Andaman & Nicobar Command (set up in Oct 2001) & Strategic Forces Command (established in Jan 2003 to handle nuclear arsenal)
--Theatre commands will be much more cost-effective, save on desperately-needed resources & infrastructure --Future battles will require integrated land-air-sea operations with unity of command

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