Event ReportsPublished on Jun 12, 2017
Achieving 'jointness' among Indian armed forces

In May this year, a revised version of the Joint Doctrine Indian Armed Forces 2017 was released by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Admiral Sunil Lamba, the Chief of the Naval Staff, in the presence of the Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Air Staff. To critically examine the Doctrine, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi organised a workshop on the document. The aim of the workshop was to encourage  public discussion on document with a view of generating a feedback that could assist in improving the doctrine.

Introducing the workshop, Dr Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, said that in the nuclear age, the two important imperatives to a doctrine are: one, the adversaries know how a country would react to a particular situation based on a published doctrine; second, in a wide diverse country like India, a doctrinal statement  brings the whole system onto one page. Given the nuclear factor, there is absolutely no room for improvisation.

Admiral (retd)  Arun Prakash, former Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of Naval Staff, led the discussion  stating that classified version of Joint Doctrine was first issued in 2006. There have been several criticisms of the Doctrine. For instance, it is seen as an attempt by the services to stall change and that it is detached from reality. All said and done, a doctrine is neither a visionary blueprint nor a wish-list of how to bring about change. It is meant to be a statement of what the roles and services are and how they will go about achieving them using the existing capabilities.  There has since been a suggestion that it should be withdrawn and re-issued after rectification.

He added that the doctrine cannot be blamed for lack of jointness, instead it is a good opportunity to analyse the issue. The word “joint” signifies any activity or an organisation in which elements of more than one service participates. Jointness was a term coined by the US armed forces to describe inter service cooperation. It’s a combination of at least two arms in the military coordinated towards one common goal. In the US, there is a direct linkage between the term jointness and theatre command. They are used in a synonymous manner. However, in UK, a theatre refers to a geographical area of operations for which if the situations so demands, a competent commander is assigned specific responsibility and provided with joint forces.

The recommendations from the ministers were very superficial.

Major opposition comes from the civil services who have resolutely stalled every attempt of integration of the service headquarters with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the creation of the Chief of Defence Staff. They are stubborn and convinced that decision making should come only from the bureaucracy. Notwithstanding their own inexperience and lack of domain, the bureaucrats maintain that service headquarters should be  retained as “attached offices” of department of defence (MoD), and that there is adequate consultation between the MoD and the service headquarters. Hence further integration is neither necessary nor desirable.

The Indian Air Force has been consistently stonewalling change or reform in the higher defence. IAF believes that only countries like the US that has worldwide commitments and expeditionary capabilities need jointness. However, this involves a fallacy as India may not have worldwide commitments, it certainly does have regional commitments.

A lot has changed over the last decade in terms of security threats we face. China’s military has taken major strides in terms of technology as well as doctrine and reorganisation, and the China-Pakistan axis is gaining strength by the day. On the other hand, it seems like time has stood still on South Block, the military has lacked in many spheres but most importantly in jointness with the integration of ministry of defence. We need to remember that jointness is not just an index of operational effectiveness but also a force multiplier and an economic imperative.

Lt. Gen (retd) Philip Campose, former Vice-Chief of Army Staff, pointed out that there is a sense of jointness which exists in certain quarters within the services. In the absence of jointness, the Joint Doctrine becomes a collection of the least common denominator which has nothing which anybody is unhappy with. Wherever there were points of dissention, they were removed from the doctrine. Hence, the doctrine will not be taken  seriously by forces. There was an understanding, when it was issued the first time, that a lot of things were in the pipeline and were to happen shortly. So it was expected that in another few years we would have a CDS, some other joint command and jointness would have increased in the system. Unfortunately what was supposed to happen in five years happened in 10 years and it  still doesn’t involve anything that would contribute towards change, as far as jointness is concerned.

The question is does jointness still hold the importance for the same reasons? It is far beyond the services working together. Jointness for India is far more important now than in the past. This is because India aims to be a regional power by 2030 and one of the global powers by 2050. There are many coordination problems between the services and the lack of jointness also makes for a poor culture of cooperation between them.

However, there is a bigger issue here. In order to achieve this jointness, we need to be a modern force/military power. Modernisation of the forces is the bigger issue. In economic terms, the only way out is to have a joint approach towards procurement due to limited national budget the services receive. Since government is unlikely to prioritise military over issues such as human development, human security, generation of employment etc. defence budgets will remain constrained. Besides that, the expenditure is happening in a haphazard manner.

A Chief of Defence Staff is essential to prioritise what is most required among the three services because three different chiefs of a single service cannot decide what is more important without bias. The CDS should be one rank higher, with a clear authority. This will be a road to achieving modernisation of the forces. The faster we get CDS, the faster we achieve jointness. Ideally the doctrines of other three services should emanate from the joint doctrine. A CDS will actually smoothen the functioning and procurement of resources for the services. Once jointness is achieved other things will fall into place.

Air Marshal (retd) M. Matheswaran, former Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff,  pointed out that Joint Doctrine on a whole is a descriptive document but doesn’t focus on  specific operational actions. A doctrine per se is a framework/guide of evolving strategies which needs to be linked to the environment that governs our operational philosophy. Historical understanding is necessary for structural organisation. It’s a guide to deal with the country’s environment and objective. Jointness is all about efficiency in terms of organisation. It should be based on operational methodology. A common approach towards technological  advancement in all 3 services is imperative. Structures for jointness in today’s world should fundamentally emanate in our environment, should be dictated by our threat environment.

A doctrine is also a strategic signal to others. The appointment of CDS has no relevance if a joint operational philosophy cannot come into place.

The aspects with respect to war fighting needs to be addressed in the context of the environment that governs your requirements. The national security statements should be clearer and more specific. Strategic objectives and capabilities play a forceful role in international relations changes and therefore doctrines tend to articulate those aspirations and goals. However, the doctrine involves only general statements, they could have been more forceful or articulate with respect to what India intends to do.

Fundamentally as the nature of warfare is evolves, jointness is about efficiency and optimal utilisation of resources and that will dictate various requirement in terms of optimisation of force structures, acquisition processes, training methodologies, and research and development on strategic capabilities is strong. If that is the governing factors then the starting point of a joint doctrine should be based on operational philosophy.

The importance of technological changes that are necessary in warfare has not been discussed in the Joint Doctrine. Common approaches towards technological advances in all three services is very important. The nature of war in India is different from any other nation because of the simple difference of terrain. Hence, India requires a different warfare approach altogether. A time frame needs to be indicated on where to invest. Military needs to articulate its operational philosophy through these documents more explicitly and bring about forceful jointness.

Officers associated with the writing of the doctrine also made some remarks at the workshop. They said that the aim of launching this doctrine in the open forum was to shift from opacity to transparency. The views and feedback received now can be given to MoD for revaluation of the Indian military’s capability and the necessity of technological advances. That will throw some light on how a futuristic doctrine should look like. There will be a transfer from a joint armed forces doctrine to the joint indian defence doctrine. Therefore, to achieve ‘jointness’, it is essential that personnel from the three services serve together in organisations across the military, strategic, operational and tactical levels.

This report was prepared by Sheryl Sahni, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.