Don’t underestimate the human resource challenges that integration of single service commands will involve

Ever since the surprise announcement of the much-awaited CDS post by the Prime Minister, events appear to be moving at a pace that may be in the right spirit in terms of lost time, but may not be in the best interest of long- term good of this much needed reform. Perhaps this apparent contradiction needs explaining.

Amongst other responsibilities, the CDS is mandated to bringing about jointness in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services and repair and maintenance involving the three services. In furtherance of this, priority has been accorded for integrating single service commands into tri-service theatre commands or functional commands which in turn are expected to ensure optimal use of military resources , both human and material ,to fight future battles. Indeed, it was the previous Raksha Mantri who had stated that the issue of jointness was very dear to the PM’s heart although her prescription of “We want a bottom-up approach, create the base and then add layers to it”, appeared somewhat problematic and had some commentators wondering if experimenting with the sharp end of the fighting chain was indeed a wise move?

Soon after the CDS took charge, a reported briefing by the defence secretary had indicated that the former was expected to hit the ground running and show tangible outcomes in hundred days. In pursuance of this, a defence ministry statement later stated that the CDS has directed HQ IDS to submit a proposal to create an Air Defence Command by June 30, 2020. Reports now indicate that a Joint Air Defence Command and a Maritime Theatre Command are targeted to be operational within the next few months. To better appreciate the challenges, such far-reaching changes entail to the very conservative military domain, perhaps the US example can be a guide.

The Goldwater–Nichols Department of Defense Reorganisation Act of 1986 in the US made the most sweeping changes since the department was established in 1946. Essentially, it was triggered to fix problems caused by inter-service rivalry, which had emerged during the Vietnam War and during later joint operations. Amongst other issues, the Act laid down in detail a personnel policy relating to joint specialty officers.

Recognising that resolving challenges was a long- term exercise, the US defence department’s Joint Vision 2010 (of 1996) and Joint Vision 2020 ( of 2000) flowing from this Act, accepted that for the US military forces to be fully joint intellectually, operationally, organisationally, doctrinally and technically ,was a progressive and on-going task.

Towards this, officers that are selected for specialisation in ‘joint specialty’ duties achieve the necessary knowledge and skill through mandated courses at designated professional military education schools, that come under the umbrella of the National Defence University (NDU). Such courses are conducted at three levels of career progression of a ‘joint specialty’ officer, between seven years to thirty years of service. Post training, assignment and associated experience at different seniority levels is a pre- requisite for higher level joint assignments.

This writer was a member of the team constituted by the government in 2001 to study and make proposals towards setting up of a NDU as recommended by the group of ministers, post the Kargil conflict. During the team’s visit and interaction in USA, importance of jointmanship and the deliberate process of educating and skilling staff towards ‘joint specialty’ skills and experience, was highlighted at every level of US senior military leadership.

In our present discussion of reorganisation and integrating of single service commands into tri-service ones, however, one finds little reference to any plans towards educating and skilling those uniformed men and women who will make this joint command and control war- fighting system work as efficiently and effectively as any other military organisation is expected to do. Indeed, to one’s knowledge, a professional category of ‘joint specialty officers’ does not even exist. This is not a qualification that can be mandated by mere reorganisation and placings and like every other aspect of professional military functioning, requires dedicated training and application in the task assigned, which we know from the US experience calls for joint-specialty officers.

When viewed from this perspective, it is worth reflecting on whether in our enthusiasm to implement integration of single service commands and converting them into joint theatre ones, in a compressed time frame, we are not underestimating the human resource challenges that this major and much desired reform will entail.

Whilst this may also be an opportunity to reflect on why our own NDU, the foundation stone of which was laid by the then PM in 2013, still remains a distant dream, there is every reason for national security managers to reflect on the undue haste to embark on joint operational commands with the human resource that is not equipped for ‘joint specialty’ duties through training and experience as is the basic norm for other military assignments. Perhaps there is a need to make haste slowly!



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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