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Will the Joint Doctrine Result in Synergy on the Ground?

A. Vinod Kumar was Associate Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • June 08, 2006

    The release of India's first joint doctrine on May 17 marks a major step towards military integration and interoperability among the three services. Intended to complement existing individual service doctrines, the joint doctrine outlines the guiding principles for future joint operations by synergising their operational capabilities. It is common knowledge that in contemporary RMA-oriented warfare, joint operations constitute the key to battlefield dominance and military superiority. As for Indian security planning, jointmanship was long overdue given the disparity in force levels and the operational strain caused by inter-services differences on roles definitions and control over command structures.

    From the Joint Planning Committee formed after Independence, followed by the Defence Planning Staff in 1986 and Integrated Defence Staff in 2001 to the formation of the first Unified Command at Andaman and Nicobar islands, the path to jointmanship has been a long one. As the first integrated theatre, the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) was the testing ground for joint planning and integrated operations, culminating in the formulation of the joint doctrine. The new doctrine purportedly exhorts the services on the need for joint planning and resource sharing. However, it is not known whether this document elucidates guidelines on the nature and level of integration to be achieved for joint operations, and how such operations need to be organised and executed. For, joint structures have always been an area of intense debate, with the three services known to have differing perceptions on the character of jointmanship. Thereby, the significance and influence of the joint doctrine on Indian military planning could be speculated upon as the services have their individual doctrines well in place.

    After the Indian Air Force (IAF) took the lead in publishing its service doctrine in 1995, the Navy followed suit with a 'book of reference' in 2004, which pronounced its objective of becoming a regionally visible maritime force. Lately, the Indian Army has been working on its "Cold Start" doctrine, which focuses on integrated battle groups, notably with naval and air elements, intended to achieve swift mobilisation and instant offensive operations in a limited conventional theatre. Though it highlights integration as its primary component, ambiguity persists on the nature of air and naval elements in the integrated battle groups. For that matter, the recently held Sanghe Shakthi exercises demonstrated the possibilities of superior dominance by land forces in joint operation scenarios thereby potentially minimising the operational and command roles of the other two wings. While the IAF role might be confined to air support and transportation, the naval element would be minimal in most land-based joint operations unless units of marine commandos (Marcos) are deployed in the integrated battle groups alongside the Army's strike corps.

    Taking this into consideration, it is difficult to ascertain how far the joint doctrine, devised by the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), would influence a credible military integration process on the ground. Besides the IDS, the ANC and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) are the only other visible military entities with a joint character. Amidst the clamour for creating more 'joint structures' across the spectrum, it should be noted that the ANC, which validated its raison d'être by achieving rhythm in interoperability among the services, was not sufficiently used as a model platform for raising new joint structures. The ANC has been successful in evolving a set of functional joint procedures and has helped mutual appreciation of different procedures and ethos among the three services. Yet, its mandate is largely confined to the defence of the A&N islands, the security of the eastern approaches of the Indian Ocean and protecting the Exclusive Economic Zone in that periphery. Though carrying out planning and strategic operations in specific contingencies falls within its designated tasks, the failure to nominate the ANC as the nucleus for all such eventualities denotes the undercurrents hindering comprehensive military integration. Similarly, though the ANC could cover strategic and tactical operations in the Eastern Seaboard, the actual role of effecting sea control in this zone rests with the Eastern Naval Command, thus providing immense scope for turf disputes.

    Total military integration and application of the joint doctrine could apparently work only after pivotal structural-level issues including defining joint operation scenarios and military objectives are dealt with. While the 'Cold Start' doctrine fits into the Pakistan theatre, future joint operational planning has to go beyond individual case-to-case modelling and should encompass roles ranging from counter-insurgency to counter-proliferation as well as peacetime operations. For the joint doctrine to hold relevance and to ensure that future operations do not become avenues for conflicts over operational space and roles, well-defined joint structures need to be evolved involving a credible synergy, if not parity, among the services. Significant in this context is the notion that complete military integration might be unachievable in the absence of an overarching entity like the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who could act as the single point command of all integrated planning and operations. Realistic integration would inevitability depend on a hierarchy which has to be methodically structured with equitable participation of the primary actors involved.

    Similarly, if the 11th Parliament Standing Committee Report on Defence is to be believed, the Indian military suffers from serious equipment shortfalls, which would prove detrimental to its military preparedness. Functioning of joint structures would be feeble in the event of equipment deficits as the applicability of joint warfare strongly depends on technological edge or asymmetry. Thereby, the country's defence technological proficiency and access to cutting-edge weaponry would have to be evenly accounted for in any joint operations planning. In the long run, it is not just joint structures but all-round military capabilities, including manpower, equipment and technology, which have to be augmented for tangible jointmanship to take shape.