Indian Army Updates

The problem now with the military synergy plan


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Integrated Theatre Commands

Mains level: Issues over the constitution of ITC

The recent controversy over the alleged marginalization of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the proposed ‘theaterisation’ of the national security landscape has led to some debates.

IAF concerned over ITC

  • The Indian military continues to work in silos, like all governmental agencies in India, and a need was rightly felt and directions issued by PM to bring about jointness.
  • The aim is to bring about synergy in operations while economizing through the elimination of duplication and wasteful practices or processes.
  • IAF is keen to bring in the requisite reforms to improve the war-fighting capabilities of the Indian military as a whole while also economizing.

Reservations of IAF

  • In the current formulation of theatres, the objections from the IAF have essentially been due to air power being seen as an adjunct to the two surface forces.
  • IAF veterans feel that the IAF is being divided into penny packets which would seriously degrade the effectiveness of air operations in any future conflict or contingency.
  • They feel that the use of air power is found to be sub-optimal under the military ethos of “an order is an order”.

Hurry by the CDS

  • Concurrently, such an intellectual exercise would identify duplication, wasteful resources and practices.
  • This is what the CDS should have been pursuing before first freezing the structure and then trying to glue the pieces together or hammer square pegs in round holes.
  • Only such a strategy can define the types of contingencies the military is expected to address, leading to appropriate military strategies, doctrines and required capabilities.

Why is the IAF right?

  • Airpower is the lead element, particularly since the Indian political aim, even in the foreseeable future, is unlikely to be the occupation of new territories.
  • A large, manpower-intensive army with unusable armour formations would then also come into focus.
  • Even the proposed air defence command conflicts with the domain command in the seamless employment of airpower.
  • It is due to the absence of such an intellectual exercise that the IAF does not wish to see its limited resources scattered away in fighting defensive battles by a land force commander with little expertise.
  • The Army fails to realise that offensive air power is best not seen, busy keeping the enemy air force pinned down elsewhere as shown in 1971.

The Army-Air Force silo

  • Historically, the Indian Army has always kept the IAF out of the information loop and demonstrated a penchant to ‘go it alone’.
  • The charge that the IAF joined the party late during Kargil (1999) is also totally baseless and shows a lack of knowledge of events and a failure to learn from historical facts.
  • Recorded facts and a dispassionate view would clearly show that the IAF began conducting reconnaissance missions as soon as the Army just made a request for attack helicopters.
  • This despite the IAF pointing out the unsuitability of armed helicopters at these altitudes and their vulnerability.
  • The use of offensive air power close to the Line of Control also required that the political leadership be kept informed due to possibilities of escalation, something that the Army was unwilling to do.

Echoes from Kargil

  • Seen in this light, the Chinese incursion into Eastern Ladakh last year is reminiscent of Kargil.
  • While the response has been swift, it is evident that a clear intent to use combat air power, as against 1962, has significantly contributed in deterring China.
  • However, such intent and a joint strategy would have been forcefully signalled by the presence of air force representatives in the ongoing negotiations to restore status quo ante.
  • The continuing build-up of the infrastructure for the PLA Air Force in Tibet further emphasizes the need for an air-land strategy, with air power as the lead element to deter or defeat the Chinese designs at coercion.

National security strategy should be at the centerstage

  • If war is the continuation of politics by other means, then it is essential to first define the political objectives flowing into a national security strategy before any effective use of force can be truly contemplated.
  • The failures of the mightiest militaries in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and even our own Indian misadventure in Sri Lanka bear testimony to the lack of clear political objectives and appropriate military strategies.
  • It is, therefore, unfortunate that even after over seven decades after Independence, India still does not have a clearly articulated national security strategy.

Address the structural gaps

  • Finally, theatre or any lower structure requires an institutionalized higher defence organization, which has been sadly missing.
  • This has lead to little regular dialogue between the political and military leadership, except in crises resulting in knee-jerk responses.
  • This led to a remark from a scholar-warrior that, “it is ironic that the Cabinet has an Accommodation Committee but not a Defence Committee”.
  • In the current proposal, it appears that the CDS, as the permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), would also exercise operational control of the theatre/functional commands.

Way forward

  • Prudence demands that instead of ramming down such structures without adequate deliberations and discussions with all stakeholders.
  • We need to first evolve appropriate military strategies in a nuclear backdrop in concert with the political objectives.
  • Thereafter, joint planning and training for all foreseen contingencies, with war-gaming, would automatically indicate the required structures with suitable command, control and communications.


  • We must remember that in war there is no prize for the runner-up.
  • It is better that such objections and dissenting opinions come out now before the structure is formalized than once it is set in stone.
  • The nation would then end up paying a heavy price, with the Air Force carrying the burden and blame for the failures.

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