“I have visited nineteen countries in my career of two decades. Do you know that your Navy is interoperable with over twenty six other navies?” The dashing naval Commander from the visiting naval training squadron was not trying to impress the communications staff officer of India’s first Joint Services operational theatre Command headquarters. He was merely stating a fact to the recently posted officer to drive home the strategic nature of his service, the Indian Navy. For the next four years, the officer wished that Indian Navy were as interoperable with Indian Army and Indian Air Force as it was with the rest of the world. The conversation had occurred in July of 2004 and in December the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were struck by an unheard of earthquake intensity closely followed by a devastating tsunami now known as the Asian Tsunami of 2004. The Joint Services Command went through its first test and every problem in the hypothetical realm suddenly became real.
To its credit, the Joint Services Command rose magnificently to the occasion and reacted with speed and initiative crucial to retrieve whatever was physically feasible. Precious lives were saved as support was pushed in from the mainland from all available approaches. It was a war and the challenges were communications, coordination and logistics. It did not help that the runways were damaged, jetties were washed away, navigational aids ceased to exist and the thin telecom infrastructure washed away or submerged. Hydrographic changes made amphibious beaching risky. The magnitude of personal risk undertaken by the rescue and relief personnel cannot be assessed. It was magnificent to say the least.
This single incident brought out the absolute necessity of jointmanship ab-initio. It lent immediate focus to the goals of the nascent Command and a sense of purpose to the officers and men. It also brought out the value of common training as NDA, Sainik School, Military School, RIMC and DSSC networks helped cut military red tape to get the essentials done. It also brought out the fact that while we did get a head start for jointmanship with the establishment of Joint Services Wing, the military community failed to buildup on it till shaken by the events of OP VIJAY and introspection by the Government of the day.
Two years down the line a French naval ship, FNS Var, visited Port Blair. During the official interaction it transpired that while they had problems of their own, the country’s top leadership had taken an early decision to have unified tri services communications architecture under the ministry of Defence. At least their Army, Navy and Air Force could talk to each other transparently. Compare this to our own situation in the heart of the capital where our Service Headquarters talk to each other and their ministry on civil telephones. They can integrate with civil networks but not with each other. There will always be an explanation but things don’t have to be this way six decades after independence.
During the colonial era, the Indian troops functioned in a joint environment during World War II. This may seem difficult to believe at first but if you decipher the familiar acronym ANPRC, you will realize the import of the statement. ANPRC stands for Army Navy Portable Radio Communications. A quick check on the internet will reveal that all significant armed forces have a joint family of communications equipment. We may have only started on that path largely due to the disconnect between the services, R&D, DPSUs and the absence of an apex level specialized structure with a political mandate and oversight to unify Defence communications. With increasing UN commitment and possibility of out-of area contingencies arising in our neighbourhood, it is essential for us to identify a single network for joint operations. Once a soldier is transported to an area of operations, do we expect him to carry separate radios to talk to supporting Navy and Air Force in addition to the Land Forces radio? We require resolving this sooner than later.
We are aware of Albert Einstein’s observation that no problem could be solved by the way which created it in the first place. I leave you for now with this interesting observation of the military thinker JCFC Fuller which we can connect with:-
“There are two main causes for this military shortsightedness- the first is the worship of traditions, and the second is our incapacity to see world forces in their true relationship.”
– JCFC Fuller
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