Indian Air Force Updates

Theatre Command under Chief of Defence Staff is not a good idea

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CDS

Mains level : Paper 3- Issues with creation of theatre commands

Context

The government is reportedly planning to re-organise the military into a theatre command under the chief of defence staff (CDS) in which the assets of the Air Force will be split into four and distributed among four operational theatres.

Background of the creation of CDS

  • In 2012, the Naresh Chandra Committee suggested the creation of a CDS, which would take on overall functions of the chairman, chiefs of committee as well as the responsibilities pertaining to centralised planning, induction, training, intelligence and logistics. 
  • Operations, according to the committee’s suggestion, would continue to be managed by the respective chiefs of staff.
  • However, sometime in 2016-17, this idea was modified to organise the operational assets of the three services into four theatre commands, all of which are now proposed to be brought under the CDS.

Issues with creating theatre command by dividing Air Force

  • Professional leadership is critical in support elements: The Air Chief’s professional leadership of the Air Force is crucial to orchestrate a variety of support elements like aerial tankers, AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control Systems), AEW, Heliborne support and UAVs in an “offensive operation”.
  • Lack of in-dept understanding: A land theatre command, if given power over the air elements, may not have the confidence to launch such a mission because of the lack of in-depth understanding of the organisational complexity and the risks involved.
  • Dilution of assets may harm effectiveness: Dilution of the combat assets of the Air Force, a 30-squadron force consisting of five or six types of aircraft, might severely affect mission-effectiveness.
  • Role of CDS: It is extremely doubtful if the CDS can cope with the enhanced responsibilities that include operations, albeit through the theatre commanders.
  • That would leave only training, maintenance, and support under the chiefs of staff — a gross under-utilisation of the operational leadership built over 40 years.
  • Resource limitations: Forming a separate air defence command for the air defence of the entire nation seems an impractical idea considering our resource limitations.
  • Current arrangement functioned effortlessly: The current arrangement of a decentralised air defence organisation managed by Air Force geographical commands has functioned faultlessly.
  •  Flexibility: The existing structures afford better flexibility.
  • There will be significant expenditure to construct the operational infrastructure of the theatre commands.
  • Timing: We are trying to effect changes at a time the military is deployed actively.
  • The Chinese have dug in hard, and we do not yet know their strategy.
  • To divide the Air Force into four units at this moment is inadvisable.

Way forward

  • White paper: There is no white paper on the advantages of the theatre commands or one listing the merits of the CDS donning the mantle of the operational head of the entire military operation.
  • So, a white paper on these aspects could clear the air over the utilities of such moves.
  • Joint planning is a must, but operations are best undertaken by individual services who know what other services are doing and when.

Conclusion

Splitting the asset of the Air Force would result in dilution of its power and is not advisable at the current juncture.

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