Updated: Nov 16
Image credits- Twitter
The Lok Sabha recently passed the Inter-Services Organisation (Command, Control & Discipline) Bill - 2023. While the bill only entails disciplinary and administrative powers, it is considered to be a precursor to the greater integration among the three services and the theatrization of military command. As of now, the Military personnel are administered as per the arrangements contained in their particular service Acts - Army Act 1950, Navy Act 1957, and Air Force Act 1950. The sanctioning of the Bill will have different substantial advantages that is upkeep of effective discipline in inter-services organisation by the Heads of ISOs, no necessity of returning staff under disciplinary procedures to their parent units, quick disposal of instances of wrongdoing or indiscipline, and setting aside of public cash and time by keeping away from numerous procedures.
The Bill would likewise make the armed forces ready for a lot more noteworthy combination and jointness among the three services; establish a strong foundation for the creation of Joint Structures in times to come and further improve the functioning of the Armed Forces. Theaterisation intends to substitute the existing operational commands with theatre commands, giving one commander in a designated zone the authority over all the resources of all three services positioned in that specific zone. Through this article, we try to contemplate the whole idea of creating integrated theatre commands or the theatrization of Indian armed forces and examine the existing command and disciplinary framework of the Indian armed forces and how this bill lays down the foundation of a disciplinary framework for tri-services command.
No Unified Strategy
A problem that the Indian military in its current regime has not been able to solve is the formulation of a unified war strategy at the national level.
The Sino-Indian War of 1962 marked the first failure of the common strategy. No Indian Air Force (IAF) strike elements were used. Even the transport elements used in ground operations were often unclear of the ground deployments. "The Air Force knew nothing of the Army's plans and was not consulted about defending against a Chinese attack." A similar lack of common military strategy was evident in 1965. Leading up to the 1965 war, the IAF and the Indian Navy (IN) were excluded from army-led strategies until the army requested assistance. Although the carrier had just been repaired, the official history records that "the Army and the Indian Air Force both had their sights firmly set on their respective goals, and their cooperation was rather accidental and not well-planned." The only exception was the 1971 war, the only war in which we acted proactively rather than reactively. The focus of the war was East Pakistan, and India's political and military leadership jointly decided to stay in the west and gain territories in the east. The results of the unification strategy were spectacular: Pakistan split in two. The 1999 Kargil conflict caused a further setback to the one-service strategy. The IAF and IN mobilised after ground forces had already launched a frontal assault and had little choice but to engage in an attrition ground battle with artillery and air fire. Thus, except in 1971, there was either no joint military strategy at the highest level, or else it was the strategy of separate forces with the two powers trying to catch up.
The responsibility for a lack of a unified strategy rests on both the structures and processes at the highest level. Structurally, the only level at which all three branches of the military sit together is the Chief of Staff's Committee (COSC). But without a standing committee to house the war planning staff, strategy development at this level is nearly impossible. Keeping the Structure aside, there is no process to ensure that the military solution offered to the political leader for any warfighting problem must necessarily be the result of tri-services. In addition, because even joint agencies are proportionally staffed, decisions tend to unwittingly result in an army-driven strategy. Considering our large army, a legacy of the colonial era, most of our public, political, and even military leaders believe that the military is synonymous with the army. Various strategic options are not evaluated or introduced together as a strategic option.
At the operational and tactical level of the war, however, the historical implementation was much less bleak. This is due to the organisations like IAF HQ (and established processes) that a degree of cooperation is ensured below the army and naval command at the lower levels of warfare. The IAF was established as a "tactical air force" operating in tandem with the Army and is the only air force to establish an organisational structure that provides combat capabilities in support of the Army and Navy in line with that philosophy. But they are not uniform. This is because they assume the Air Force's supportive role in land-sea warfare, and do not expect the Navy to support the army or the army to support the Air Force. Nevertheless, due to the structure and processes put in place in 1965, the IAF deployed 1,400 offensive fighter-bombers for offensive air support from 6 to 23 September 1965, which is close air support (CAS) and interdiction. In 1971, the IAF's offensive air support force increased to 49 percent of total deployment. At the tactical level, however, these collective efforts were not entirely effective. However, the main problem remains not the implementation of tactics, but the lack of common strategic planning beyond the operational level of warfare.
Integrated Theatre Commands
Theatrization or Integrated Theatre commands is a concept that has been on the anvil for a long time now. Certain Important steps have already been taken in the past to lay the foundation of thetarization. These include the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) to be headed by the CDS. This concept was briefly explained by CDS Anil Chauhan himself, in a conference by DRDO. To quote him, “Theaterization involved the creation of tri-service commands and theatre-specific structures for an effective response along the entire spectrum of the conflict. Theaterization is a concept that seeks to integrate the capabilities of the three services- Army, Navy, and Airforce and utilise their resources for wars and operations.” Currently, there are reports that the Indian Military would go into three geography-based integrated theatre commands.
In an integrated theatre command, one commander takes unified command of the three services for security concerns in a particular geographical theatre. The commander of ITC has the power to efficiently and quickly deploy all the military resources that are at his/her disposal. These resources will be from all three wings of the armed forces: Army, Airforce, and Navy. The Army’s South Western Command (SWC) in Jaipur will serve as the headquarters of the integrated theatre command that will counter Pakistan. The Central Command, based in Lucknow, will serve as the headquarters of the integrated theatre command that will safeguard the borders with China. The theatre commanders will be four-star rank officers making them equivalent in rank to the Chiefs of Army, Navy, and Air Force, with the CDS commanding all six. The other joint commands, which handle specific activities like logistics, training, cyber and space, missiles, and intelligence, will be headed by three-star officers. All the theatre commanders, and the commanders of new commands will report to the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), which is headed by CDS. The rationale behind creating ITCs is simple: Duplication will cease to exist and all the resources of the military can be employed in a synergistic manner.
Image credits- Wikipedia
Importance of ISO Bill 2023
As we have discussed above, the command structure of the Indian military will go through a drastic change shortly when integrated theatre commands are in place. This sort of change requires a legal framework in place to formalise the disciplinary and administrative powers that the new commanders would have in this command structure. If we closely examine, a similar but rather insignificant situation (compared to this one) arose during the creation of the National Security Guard (NSG). The NSG had to draw a lot of their personnel from the special forces of the Indian army for training purposes and then other volunteers from the army and para-military forces who would come in for deputation to NSG. These individuals who were coming into the newly formed organisation were subject to the laws and disciplinary framework of their parent organisations. Now, under which legal framework would the NSG function became a pertinent question back then. This problem was solved by creating a new NSG Act which put-downs the framework for the disciplinary and administrative functioning of NSG.
Similarly, tri-services organisations also required a legal framework to function since the personnel belong to different parent organisations, namely Army, Air Force, and Navy. These organisations already have their frameworks in place individually under the Army Act of 1950, the Air Force Act of 1950, and the Navy Act of 1957. The bill seeks to empower the Commander-in-Chief or Officer-in-Command of Inter-services Organisations to exercise disciplinary or administrative control over the service personnel under their command, irrespective of their service.
At this time, the Commander-in-Chief of the Inter-Services Organization does not have the authority to exercise disciplinary or administrative powers over personnel of other services. The existing inter-services organisations will be deemed to have been established under this bill. These include the Andaman Nicobar Command, the Defence Space Agency, and the National Defence Academy. The central government may establish an inter-services organisation with its staff attached to at least two of the three agencies, the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The bill authorises the Commander in chief of an Inter-services organisation to exercise command and control over personnel serving or assigned to that organisation. He will be responsible for the maintenance of discipline by military personnel. This will include personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The bill provides for commanders to command units, ships, and installations. Officers also perform duties assigned to them by the Commander-in-Chief. The Commanding Officer has the authority to take disciplinary or administrative action against personnel appointed to that Inter-services organisation.
The Inter-Services Organisation Bill 2023 is a key fundamental for the overhaul that the Indian Military is planning to execute in the near future. With regard to the constant apprehension of a two-front war and India becoming a major regional power, the overall changes in the command structure that are being proposed are necessary. Efficiency and expeditiousness being the key factors in determining the outcome of modern combat or warfighting situations, the concept of theatrization and the legal framework provided for in this bill exponentially increase the speed of resource mobilisation of the military.
By: Aditya Goyat
He is a second year student at Hindu College pursuing B.Sc (Hons) Statistics. He has a peculiar take on domestic politics and is an avid tennis player and a fan as well.