Sometimes one wonders how ‘distant’ or ‘far removed’ the two words ‘Jointness’ and ‘Integrated’ can be. It is literally a case of ‘so near, yet so far’; the famous leaf fluttering between the lips in a Bollywood kiss. The great bonhomie and camaraderie of tri-service training institutions and training courses, which have a sustained credibility, not only amongst the Indian armed forces but with foreign militaries too, seem to wither away in a particular arena called Integration. Perhaps the strongest word in the lexicon of this arena is ‘Turf’. It is literally, as the Army puts it, the GTI (Ground of Tactical Importance). Overcoming/ surmounting this all important GTI is virtually an assurance of victory.

Warfare is as old as mankind and one wonders where this ‘turf’ really developed? Does it exist (in present times) between the ‘arms’ and ‘services’ of each of the three branches of the military? If so, its origins must be quite dated as the armies developed from the foot soldier through the cavalry, the catapult (artillery), the Trojan Horse (engineers?), the armoured vehicles, surface vessels to sub-surface and finally the third dimension, the air and its associated support systems. If one is to understand and expect a certain continuity in human psyche, then ‘turf’ existed within the service as much as it exists between the services now. But the Army, Navy and Air Force each fight as a composite whole. So what keeps the various branches / components / arms & services, integrated? Is it the colour of the uniform? It is certainly food for thought (Some militaries have adopted a common uniform and rank structure – other than Naval ranks – they are special).

The three services are mandated to protect the nation. And they have done so successfully ever since independence. But in more cases than not, it was no one service that achieved the victory. Knowing that we need each other, we make joint plans and work at it. But as a composite whole under a unified command? No, the expected wall is raised. The need for each other is unquestioned and not debatable in the present era or, for that matter, in the foreseeable future. But the metamorphosis into that final stage of homogeneity somehow is too difficult a hurdle. The sheer nature or strength of this hurdle (or turf) necessitated that Integration (marked by unified control) had to be thrust down on the armed forces of other countries. The definition of Integration aptly amplifies, “To end the segregation of and bring into equal membership in an organisation”. Has the time come for the armed forces in India ?

The Kargil Committee report and recommendations supposedly set the ball rolling for the creation of a desired integrated structure. But, hello! The biggest protectors of their venerated turf were those not in uniform! In the sixteen years since the report, the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Defence have resistedevery effort to integrate with the uniformed personnel. Is it a lack of orientation, under-confidence or just plain apathy which has made successive governments keep the horse-blinds on and allow the status quo to continue? In fact, both the politicians and bureaucrats view with glee the turf battles within the armed forces in the pursuance of Integration.

Introspection will reveal that we in uniform are equally to blame for the unsuccessful fructification of a much needed effective war-fighting mechanism. Discussions on various western models or those of the Japanese will not (and have not) yield(ed) solutions. By design of geography and the protagonists in consideration, the Indian armed forces are Army heavy. The Navy, because of the specific domain, remain isolated in their operations but for the maritime strike element provided by the IAF. The acquisition of Force Multipliers by the IAF and its modern fighter aircraft capability has upgraded the IAF to a strategic force from a tactical one, straddling both the other services in India’s area of interest and sustained operational capability.

The Indian armed forces need to not only understand the ‘turf’ that exists but cross-pollinate to achieve viable solutions to integration. Thus, there is a necessity to accept Integration, boots on the ground, flexibility and reach of air power, vulnerability of a Carrier Battle Group, all under the composite umbrella of integrated and channelised intelligence and cyber inputs, if we are to reach our goals. And the bureaucratic Babus? Aaaah !…

An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.

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