New Delhi: The military turf war over the “theaterisation” of the armed forces heated up on Friday. As the Air Force expressed concern on the proposals, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat on Friday called the Indian Air Force “a supporting arm” of the military, specifically the Army, just like the artillery and engineering services. However, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, countered this, saying the Air Force is not just a supporting arm but has a wider role.
“The Air Force is required to provide support to ground forces. Do not forget that the Air Force continues to remain a supporting arm to the armed forces, just as the artillery supports or engineers support the combat units in the Army,” said Gen. Rawat. “They will be a supporting arm. But they have a charter. They have an air defence charter and supporting the ground forces in times of operations. This is the basic charter which they have to understand,” he said.
Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said “it is not a supporting role alone” that the Air Force plays. “Air power has a huge role to play in any integrated battle area. It is not an issue of support alone, and there are a whole lot of things that go into any air plan that is made,” the IAF Chief added.
Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said the integrated theatre command is a much more complex matter. “There are issues in terms of some of the options that are being discussed,” he said, adding: “We must get it right. It is the most important reform that has an impact on warfighting.”
“There are many issues when you set up to integrate theatre commands and many of those issues should be upfront looked at very clearly. We should clearly understand how we are going to structure it. Sort out the principle and sort out important issues and thereafter implement it,” he added.
The defence ministry has set up a high-level committee which includes the three vice-chiefs of the armed forces and the Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff to thrash out differences on theatre commands among the three services and other ministries. The different theatre commands will integrate the assets of the Army, Air Force and Navy in a domain under one commander to give punitive response to any external threat.
The IAF, however, has concerns over dividing its limited number of aircraft among different commands. Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said that every service has its own doctrine and has the best knowledge of how to employ the capabilities and capacities to get the desired results. “Whenever we have a system, which is integrated we must look at that entire doctrine. The abilities of the services must be brought in, and it must be a synergised result,” he said.