Jointness continues to elude the Indian armed forces
(Defence and Security Alert February 2013)
Major General Mrinal Suman
The word ‘jointness’ does not appear in most English dictionaries. It is of recent origin and to the United States goes the credit for coining this expression which implies ‘the integration of the strengths of at least two limbs of the military in a coordinated effort to achieve a common goal’. It is often mistakenly considered to be synonymous with integration and unification. Whereas unification implies merger of separate entities into an amalgamated organisation with a single chain of command, integration allows entities to retain their separate identity while operating as a single body with well spelt-out hierarchy.
While joint operations have become the standard form of waging war by all the armed forces, Canada is the only major country to attempt integration/unification of the three services. Through the enactment of the Canadian Forces Reorganisation Act of February 1968, the navy, the army and the air force were merged into a single service called the Canadian Armed Forces.
Passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defence Reorganisation Act of 1986 (GNA) is generally considered to be the harbinger of the currently ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). The act aimed at achieving optimum operational effectiveness by ensuring cross service cooperation in all stages of the military processes. RMA precludes segregated service-wise operations.
The concept of jointness is still evolving and is central to the emerging Network Centric Warfare, wherein real-time information is made available to all components of a force. The United States considers joint operations integrated by common information networks to be of paramount criticality in its domination of the global war zones.
Jointness in military operations validates the well-known principle of war ‘economy of effort’, implying thereby that a balanced force with the optimum punch should be concentrated at the most vital point. It precludes wastage of resources by using an appropriate mix of force capabilities contributes to achieving the necessary leverage against the opponent.
Jointness means conducting integrated military operations with common strategy, methodology and conduct. It entails evolution of joint equipment policy and acquisition plans; joint planning, development of doctrine and policy-making; joint training; integrated preparation of budget and monitoring of expenditure; and joint operational commands and staff structures.
Achievement of jointness in services has been a challenge for every nation. Although all military commanders are professedly staunch proponents of the concept of jointness, the reality on ground is diametrically opposite. Every step towards jointmanship is fought fiercely by the obstructionists. This dichotomy has been the bane of the Indian armed forces as well. As a matter of fact, the problem gets compounded in the case of India, as discussed subsequently.
Jointness is an Attitudinal Trait
True jointness in military operations entails reforms at three levels – structural, procedural and attitudinal. Although structures and procedures are extremely important, they do not generate real jointness unless accompanied by an attitude of collaborative solidarity. Attitudes are usually defined as a disposition or tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain thing (idea, object, person or situation).
Attitude is an attribute of human behaviour and defies cogent reasoning. Attitudes are affected both by implicit and explicit influences. Attitudes can be positive, negative, neutral and even ambivalent (possessing both positive and negative hues at the same time). Even the degree or severity can vary. Attitudes are formed by observational learning from the environment, individual judgments, personal beliefs and peer influences. They encompass, or are closely related to, our opinions and beliefs. As military is a hierarchy based organisation, attitudes are influenced by precedents as well.
Response to jointness is an attribute of underlying attitudes. Although every military commander swears by jointness, their response varies from unstinted support to vehement opposition. Advocates and supporters of jointness are willing to subordinate service and personal interests to national interest. Neutralists or the fence-sitters accept criticality of jointness but need assurance as regards safeguarding of their own interests. Interestingly, even the obstructionists do not deny need for jointness. However, due to their overwhelming concern for their selfish interests; they invent most untenable and even ludicrous reasons for their opposition.
Resistance to Jointness in the Indian Armed Forces
Although, Joint Planning Committee was formed after Independence, it took close to four decades for a proper Defence Planning Staff to come into being in 1986. On the recommendations of the Group of Ministers on reforming the National Security System, Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff was set up in 2001 and the first unified command established at Andaman and Nicobar Islands. India's first joint doctrine was issued only in May 2006.
India’s track record in respect of jointness is terribly poor. Ex-Naval Chief Admiral J G Nadkarni described the true state of jointness in India when he said – “Jointmanship in India exists to the extent of the three chiefs routinely being photographed backslapping each other, but not much more beyond that. We mistake backslapping in public, playing golf together and stating that they all belong to one course in the NDA as jointmanship”. Similarly, affiliation of a few naval warships with army regiments can at best be termed as a display of ceremonial interfacing. It is not jointness at all.
Even Comptroller and Auditor General of India has faulted the three services for a total lack of jointness in their functioning, buying the same equipment from the same source at different prices, thereby resulting in failure to obtain best value for money for the country through economies of scale. It found that items (like Unmanned Arial Vehicles, Sniper Rifles and Underwater Diving Equipment), which were common to the three services, were procured by them independently without reference to each other.
There are three major reasons for the tardy introduction of jointness in the Indian services. Foremost of all, jointness or unity is alien to our way of life. We lack a culture of synergistic relationships and mutually accommodative demeanor. Our approach, attitude and practices have always been directed towards remaining disunited. We have a knack and penchant for generating innovative issues to keep ourselves embroiled in petty bickering and internal dissentions. The Indian armed forces are no exception.
Two, whereas joint warfare is team warfare, the Indian services are afflicted by the concept of regimental/corps/branch affiliations. Fierce factional loyalties result in parochial mindset and inhibit development of broadmindedness. Infantry officers resent induction of non-infantry officers in the general cadre. The disagreeable equation between the flying branch and the other branches; fighter pilots and transport pilots; and fighter pilots and helicopter pilots of the air force has been a cause for concern. A helicopter veteran’s elevation to head the air force became an issue of factional posturing. Military leaders who fail to rise above petty prejudices within their own service can never be expected to support inter-services jointness.
Three, despite all public bonhomie, there is a deep rooted mistrust existing between the services. They guard their turf with fanatic zeal. The level of distrust can be gauged from the fact that the army prepared performance parameters for helicopters without consulting the air force lest they torpedo the whole procurement proposal. Similarly, it never consulted the navy while seeking deep sea diving equipment. Every proposal that curtails a service’s sphere of control faces strident resistance. Besides, due to the large strength of the Army, the smaller services are wary of jointness, fearing loss of their independent identities.
Finally and most regretfully, egotism of some top commander is proving to be the biggest hindrance. They support a proposal only if it suits them personally. Else, they cook up innovative justifications for obstructing it. It is a pure and simple case of according primacy to personal interests. They swear by nationalism as long as it does not clash with their own interests. Their apathetic deportment towards jointness shows their total lack of concern for national security. Dreading loss of exclusivity and privileged standing in the hierarchy-conscious organisation, they stoop to unimaginable depths of self-seeking behaviour. All brouhaha by the obstructionists about safeguarding national and service interests is sheer baloney.
Government must Step-in
Kelkar Committee Report has also drawn Government’s attention to the pressing need for jointness – “Unless, our ‘Joint’ capabilities are substantially and in a focused manner enhanced with a clear vision for harnessing the existing and the emerging core technologies, the gap between the ‘capability’ and our ‘ability to undertake assigned missions’ would continue to grow.”
If the services continue their quibbling and jointness remains stalled, the Government must intervene. It cannot let the drift to continue. As consensus is the most preferred option, all efforts should be made to remove dissonance between the three services. All conflicts of interest – real or perceived – must be resolved in a spirit of mutual accommodation. The services should be directed to adopt collaborative conflict resolution methodology and achieve total jointness in a time-bound manner.
Should the facilitative approach fail to yield the desired consensus, the Government should adopt a more pro-active approach. The services must be told in categorical terms that the Government would intercede compellingly in case the services fail to respond positively. It is for the Government to handle the skeptics in a more persuasive manner to put their reservations at rest and convince them of criticality of jointness. If handled with firmness, finesse and empathy, most military leaders will come on board.
In case persuasion also fails, the Government should fulfill its obligation to the nation by issuing clear-cut orders to enforce jointness. No disagreement thereafter should be tolerated. Dissenting and obstructionist commanders should be given option to quit honorably.
Jointness does not mean that all forces will be equally represented in each operation. Joint force commanders may choose the capabilities they need from the forces at their disposal. Jointness means integration of all force capabilities into a unified whole.
Jointness means conducting integrated military operations with common strategy, methodology and execution. All Indian military leaders recognise that jointness is central to national security and swear by it. They concede that no future war can ever be won without total jointness in letter and spirit. Despite all rhetoric in favour of jointness, the reality on ground is diametrically opposite. It is a highly intriguing and paradoxical situation.
Creation of the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff was attempted in 2002-03. It was to be the start-point of genuine jointness in the Indian services. As is India’ misfortune, a handful of self-seeking commanders ganged up to sabotage the most radical reform ever attempted. Their impediment will go down as the darkest chapter in India’s quest for upgradation of its war potential. It was an anti-national act of grave magnitude. Such elements need to be named and shamed.
The obstructionists let the nation down and showed themselves to be unworthy of the high appointments they held. They made themselves the object of ridicule and derision when they brazenly claimed that their opposition was in national interest. Most disheartening was the stand taken by a few retired Chiefs who wrote to the Prime Minister against the proposal. Instead of guiding the current incumbents, they got carried away with narrow service parochialism and brought ignominy to their own standing.
Finally, although consensus is desirable, it is clear that the selfish elements in the services will continue their resistance to jointness. The government will have to force the issue. Delay or wavering can cause irreparable damage to national security imperatives. Whereas genuine concerns of all must be addressed, unjustified obduracy should not be tolerated. National security is too serious a matter to be permitted to be held hostage to petty inter-service squabbles of parochial commanders.