According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, novelist and short story writer, “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Reports emanating from the recently concluded Joint Commander’s conference shows proof of such first rate intelligence. One report talked about moves for setting up theatre based commands, wherein all the war fighting and sustenance resources would function jointly under a single theatre commander. It is presumed that this refers to not only rehashing the combat and logistics elements of the army, but orchestration of joint services resources. The other report talked about the Defence Minister being irked by the inter service rivalry, particularly on the issue of army aviation.
Not being of ‘first rate intelligence’, the contradictions somehow did not gel with me. Appears to me to be attempts to run before we can walk. Theatre based commands are certainly a necessity in certain operational conditions, and are essential for coordinated operations in a modern battlefield. For such organizations to function, inter services cooperation is of essence. The question is, how can such cooperation be made integral to the organizational culture, wherein the decision makers rise above turf issues and focus on what is operationally necessary?
Jointmanship is a word that one first hears at DSSC (In NDA you actually practice it without even knowing what the hell it is – but by then you have not really been initiated into your service), and I presume a lot in subsequent courses. But it is practiced more on personal levels for booking accommodations, than on an organizational level. When it comes to the service HQs, the preservation of individual service turf takes precedence over jointmanship – whether it is for the sub-allocation of the defence budget, providing manpower for joint services organizations, or institutional imperatives like the appointment of CDS. Marching to the beats of different drummers, each service is busy in pushing its own agenda.
Setting up of HQ IDS and Joint Services Commands like the ANC have been milestones in moving towards desired level of inter services cooperation. To make such organizations more meaningful, it is necessary to inculcate a culture of jointness within the services too, as barely a handful of officers get exposed to such joint services organizations. It is also necessary to ensure inter-operability through compatible equipment, communications and procedures. Some suggested measures are:-
- Strengthen existing inter-services structures such as NDA, DSSC, CDM, NDC in further nurturing better understanding of other services.
- Create additional structures and institutions by combining functions wherever feasible, even at the marginal cost of single service interests. Some examples are:-
- Combined services training institutions for similar activities and / or cross training of personnel in other service institutions. For example, communications / telecom subjects can be taught at a combined institution for all the three services. This could include combined courses for basic subjects followed by specific coverage of individual service requirements such as particular equipment or procedures. This should also work towards better interoperability between services.
- Combining of logistics and maintenance functions wherever feasible. The medical services are already functioning in this manner to a limited extent. The supply, procurements, maintenance and transport services offer themselves to optimisation towards providing matching facilities on an inter-service basis. Such a pooling of resources would also have a spin off benefit of freeing up some manpower that can be deployed elsewhere.
- Enhanced cross service postings on staff functions. A start has been made in selected branches in service HQs, which could be expanded to subordinate HQs also.
- Enlarge the scope of existing practice of cross affiliation between units, ships and squadrons by cross attachments / postings, participation in training activities and ceremonials.
The list is by no means exhaustive, and the first rate intelligence can come up with many more measures to ensure joint services thinking amongst the rank and file. If these mean letting go of control over some of the resources so zealously guarded as of now, it should be done in the interest of creating structures and organizations that can withstand the test of future battlefields. Only then can we truly move towards theaterization in the true sense.