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Cut the flab: Integrated theatre commands are key to modernisation of armed forces

In a significant move, government has notified new statutory rules and orders for the armed forces to ensure an officer from any one service can now exercise direct command over personnel from the other two services. This is the first big step towards having integrated theatre commands, where all the manpower and assets of the three services will be under the operational control of a single three-star general. This is necessary considering the dynamics of modern warfare, where a premium is put on joint planning and operations. Over 65 countries have gone in for this joint model, including all the major powers. India shouldn’t lag behind.
That the new statutory rules will have particular relevance for the strategically important Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) is welcome. The ANC was established as India’s first theatre command in October 2001, but failed to reach its true potential due to turf wars among the three services. The new rules are set to change this as the naval commander-in-chief of the ANC will now be able to directly control army and air force officers under him. Plus, the expanding Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region further demands that the Indian armed forces adopt the integrated approach here.
Operational integration ought to be the way forward throughout the armed forces, replacing the fragmented 17 single-service commands. And the logical culmination of this is to have a chief of defence staff who will serve as the final authority in operational planning, intelligence and force allocation to integrated theatre commands. He will also be a single-point military adviser to the political leadership. Such a joint structure will be cost effective, nimble and provide for a better teeth-to-tail ratio in the armed forces.
The need for such internal reforms and streamlining becomes all the more necessary in light of the military’s recent submission about the inadequacy of this year’s defence budget. Given other areas of critical importance such as healthcare and education there’s only so many resources defence can corner. Add to this the huge expenditure on account of One Rank One Pension. The way around would be to drastically cut military flab. And the only way to do this without compromising on operational effectiveness and leaving room for modernisation is to go for integration. Government must now push further in this direction.

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