The Trident: Why The Three Services Must Come Together To Create Theatre Commands 

The Trident: Why The Three Services Must Come Together To Create Theatre Commands 

by Gaurav Arya - Monday, August 14, 2017 06:03 PM IST
The Trident: Why The Three Services Must Come Together To Create Theatre Commands Flags of three services.
  • Imagine one army general controlling one theatre and all the naval and air assets in his theatre of command. No more inter-services gaps.

There were many reasons for creating the elite National Defence Academy (NDA). I am not sure if this is true, but many ex-NDA officers have mentioned in passing that maybe the idea was also for cadets of the Army, Navy and Air Force to train together, bond in the manner only possible in the sweat, blood, mud and grime of the academy and then, when they went on to serve in the Army, Navy and Air Force, that bonding was expected to, somewhere down the line, help in what the services like to call ‘jointness’.

Think of ‘jointness’ as an elaborate orchestra playing a highly-complicated musical piece, never one note off-key. Think of it as perfection personified; and in war, think of the Army, Navy and Air Force together fighting a mind-numbingly complex war in perfect harmony. This is what is expected. And, its not happening.

NDA has produced, and continues to produce fantastic officers. It also creates bonding that is the envy of all military academies. However, the three services have not been able to take forward the magic of NDA. ‘Jointness’ remains on paper. The ability of the Army, Navy and Air Force to fight together is not what it should be.

China boasts of the largest military force in the world. It has five theatre commands. The United States of America’s military has the most advanced weaponry in the world and a global footprint. It fights wars everywhere. The US has nine theatre commands; six geographic and three, functional.

India has none.

Many experts argue that India, given its military commitments, does not need theatre commands. I disagree. The solution has to be bigger than the problem. The calibre of your ammunition has to be far more than what your enemy can withstand. If we want our military to be feared and respected across the globe, theatre commands are amongst the first and primary steps. A typical theatre command will have a common pool of resources, will exponentially boost inter-operability and will present the three services as a unified and potent weapon.

Just imagine one army general controlling one theatre and all the naval and air assets in his theatre of command. No more inter-services gaps. That general will be in a position to call an air strike or order a destroyer on a mission. If the theatre commander is an Air Force officer, he will have Army corps and Navy under him. A Navy theatre commander, apart from infantry, artillery and tanks will have squadrons of fighter jets, helicopter gunships and transport aircraft.

It will change the face of warfare forever.

But before we do that, what we need is structural reforms. We need the office of the chief of defence staff. He should be a five-star general equivalent, to whom all the service chiefs will report to. He may be from any of the three services. He will report directly to the Prime Minister. His position will have to be constitutional, and would ideally have to be ratified by Parliament. He will be the chief adviser to the Prime Minister on all defence related matters.

We currently have one lieutenant general as chief of Integrated Defence Staff, but the position lacks teeth. It’s a fancy sounding position. And that’s about all that there is to it.

When all the theatre commands report in the Chief of Defence Staff, the position will not just have teeth. It will be like a pride of lions out on a hunt.

As a next step, we need a new complex that will house the tri-services headquarters, and also the headquarters of the theatre commands.

South Block looks majestic from outside, but only from outside. What we need is a twenty-first century space-age complex, high on security, totally digitalised and computerised, with state-of-the-art command and control systems, latest telecommunication networks and air defence systems. It should have its own helipads. All military decisions must be traced back to this complex. It should not just be a new building. It must also have a new culture.

This complex would represent the three services. The only logical name I can think of is Trident. In Sanskrit, it means Trishul, the fearsome weapon of Lord Shiva. Each spear of the Trident will represent one service. The chief of defence staff and the chiefs of Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force will call the Trident their office. And the Trident will be to India what the Pentagon is to the US.

The Trident will be disruptive. It will shatter conventional thinking, for good. Even the seating inside would be structured in such a manner that the personnel from the three services sit together, work together and eat together. Let them totally depend on each other to simply get through the day. This will have to be enforced. That’s the easy part. The services know how to enforce.

Apart from various geographic theatre commands, the military also needs three functional commands. Space command, cyber command and special forces command are urgent and immediate requirements. They cannot wait. The Strategic Forces Command, which controls India’s nuclear assets, is already a functional reality. It reports into the Nuclear Command Authority. It is directly under the Prime Minister’s Office.

Warfare is shifting to the outer orbit. We have a nascent space command. This needs to be put on an emergency fast track. While there are civil satellites controlled by India Space Research Organisation, military satellites are few. We need significantly more high-end military satellites. They will help in communication, navigation, mapping and guidance systems. They will also directly help us in peeping deep into any corner of the world that we choose to watch. The space command will need to be commanded by a three-star general equivalent, with a direct line of reporting to the chief of defence staff. He will control all military assets in deep space. He will be based in the Trident.

Cyber command is another initiative that needs urgent attention. Enemies, who have expertise in cyber warfare, surround us, and we are ill prepared. Pakistani hackers enter our cyberspace at will, deforming, hacking and posting content, which will mislead and deceive. There is data theft on a massive scale. And we do nothing. We are the information technology (IT) capital of the world. Our young women and men run the gigantic IT engines the world knows as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Dell, SAP, Adobe and hundreds of such companies that crowd Silicon Valley, Electronic City in Bangalore, Cyberabad in Hyderabad, Chennai, Gurgaon and Noida.

And yet, we cannot defend our country’s e-frontiers from cyber attacks. Sloth, an all-encompassing dependence on bureaucracy and a psychotic obsession with hierarchy are what plague our government offices. This is a young person’s game. It’s not going to be done by aging thirty-something government employees, who look at it as a nine-to-five job posting.

Cyber command may take years to shape up. In the interim, the government must think about releasing funds for the short-term solution. Rent space in Gurgaon or Noida. Hire a team of hackers, content writers and creators, social media experts, IT whiz kids and whomever else you need to hire to do the job. Pay them market salaries. Put a senior person in-charge with clear-cut directions on what is needed. Empower that person but keep a close watch. Buy top of the line equipment, and spare no expense. Then, sit back and watch your enemies burn in flames. Yes, it’s really that simple. They will not only attack but also defend our e-frontiers. They will advise government officers on cyber security. This is not all that is needed. It is a very small percentage of what is required. It is not even a small part of the whole picture. But it is much better than what we have now. Nothing.

Knowledge about cyber security in critical government offices is seriously lacking. The equipment is third grade, which no self-respecting IT expert will touch with a bargepole. Our government offices simply do not understand this dimension of war. And if they do, they show no signs of having understood.

We need these e-walls, and not just firewalls, to go up today. This cannot wait. The day is not far when someone will try to manipulate stocks, hack into cargo manifests or simply crawl into a critical mainframe. The Chinese are past masters at this. The Pakistanis are catching up. They are slow but they have Chinese teachers. They will leave an IP address trail that will point to a computer in North Korea. Have fun with that.

That’s why we need this interim team. Once the cyber command comes up, this team can dovetail into the command or be disbanded.

Warfare is changing. The future belongs to the special forces (SF). They are the shadow warriors, who will go deep into Pakistan and China and say “Happy Diwali” whenever the leadership of this nation so desires. I have friends, who are serving officers in Para SF. I have yet to see such degree of professional excellence. They can actually do the impossible, at will. I can say the same about MARCOS. And Garud. The problem is that they operate in a vacuum. Each force is individually par excellence. Together, they amount to nothing simply because they have very rarely operated together. The special forces command will end this localisation of special forces. There will be more seamlessness and jointness. It needs to start with joint training and move to evolution of the office of Director General Special Forces Command (DGSFC). A Lieutenant General rank officer must be DGSFC. He will report directly to the chief of defence staff.

Also important is that the special forces command works very closely with Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). This is exactly what the Israelis do. Sayeret Matkal and other SF units work very closely with Mossad, Aman and Shin Bet. In the US, the United States Special Operations Command operates globally with the Central Intelligence Agency. In UK, the MI6 and SAS/SBS are like cousins.

You cannot have special forces command working without RAW. It simply makes no sense.

You will be surprised to know that some of the initiatives that I have mentioned are under some form of consideration. But they are either highly diluted or mired in red tape. And they are not likely to take off anytime soon.

Not all delays and pushbacks can be blamed on bureaucracy and politicians alone. The services are notorious for holding on to traditional thinking and operating in silos. Each service looks at itself as a unique kingdom that must be protected. But protected against whom? They must understand that together they will be greater because a force is always greater than the sum of its parts.

If you want to create an empire, kingdoms will have to cease to exist.

We have fantastic defence forces. But for too long they have been tied to a defensive mindset by the powers that be. We must project our military power outside India. We must have foreign bases in Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. We must have our navy sailing the blue waters. Let us have a few squadrons of fighter jets in Central Asia along with ground troops. We need military presence in Afghanistan.

There are many who would call this, a dreamer’s rant. Some may well ask, “Can we even afford this?”

My point is simple. A permanent position at the United Nations Security Council is not for the weak. Economic strength is crucial, but a country is not called a superpower unless it has a military that the world fears. The brutal truth is that no one fears us. We live in some strange la-la land, hanging on to old tales of world peace and brotherhood. World peace is like the dodo. It is an extinct animal.

In the last 7,000 years of human history, can anyone point to a period of worldwide peace for a continuous 500 years? No. Because peace, in vacuum, does not exist. Man is the most predatory of animals. And for all his protestations, peace does not come naturally to him. Let us accept this.

A famous Quranic Hadith says, “Paradise is under the shade of swords”. What you love, you must be willing to defend with violence.

It is only in the dictionary that the words fear and respect have different meanings. The real world is ugly. And the lines separating the meaning of fear and respect are blurred.

Some even say that such lines do not exist.

This article was originally published on Major Gaurav Aryas blog and has been republished here with permission.


Major Gaurav Arya is an Army Veteran, writer and public speaker. 

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