CDS refers Air Force as support arm; IAF chief objects, claiming they play a vital role
According to sources, the IAF is aware that its assets would be divided among the proposed theatre commands, and the theatre commander will report directly to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which is chaired by the CDS.
Reigniting the argument over the functions of the proposed integrated theatre commands, General Bipin Rawat, Head of Defence Staff, described the Air Force on Friday as a "support arm," while IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria disagreed, stating "airpower has a big role."
General Rawat stated at a Global Counter-Terrorism Council event that the “Air Force is required to provide support to the ground forces” and that “do not forget that the Air Force continues to remain a supporting arm to the armed forces, as the artillery support or the engineer support the combatant arms in the Army.”
“They will act as a reinforcing arm. Though they have a charter, an air defence charter, and they support the ground forces during operations. This is the fundamental charter that they must comprehend,” he stated.
Without alluding to the CDS's words, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria added later at the same event: "It is not a supportive role alone." Airpower has a significant role to play. It is not just a matter of support in any of the linked battle areas.”
The IAF has certain qualms about the projected structure of consolidated theatre commands. The idea seeks for a marine theatre command, an air defence command, three land-based commands for the western border with Pakistan, the northern and eastern borders with China, and a command for J&K and Ladakh to oversee both frontiers and the Valley insurgency.
According to sources, the IAF is aware that its assets would be divided among the proposed theatre commands, and the theatre commander will report directly to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, chaired by the CDS.
General Rawat stated in his address, "we aim to create an air defence command that will be responsible for airspace, whether it be aircraft, helicopters, drones, UAVs... you have artillery weapons systems that use airspace, there are missiles that will be employed in the airspace."
“I believe there is a need to coordinate anything that uses airspace because fratricide cannot be tolerated. I've only witnessed one incident where a drone entered our airbase and caused some inconvenience. All of this must be avoided, and there is a need to combine under a single unified command... air defence command, where one commander will be responsible for assuring overall management of the airspace above.”
“Since you have the western and northern theatres dealing with Pakistan and China,” he explained, “we are constructing land-based stages for them.”
“The explanation for this is that the Air Force is responsible for more than just air defence. It has the charter to provide close air support to land forces during operations, as well as offensive air actions if you go into enemy territory. Similarly, while the Navy is at sea, naval ships require some air support.”
He also stated that the Air Force is "accountable for close air support and offensive air support."
“You obviously need some sort of air command component, assisting the theatre commanders. What we mean is that there will be air component commanders who will advise the commanders of the western and northern theatres, while the air defence command will be handled by a single organisation, as it is now. Even now, the whole Air Force's air resources are not commanded by a single agency. They have five operational commands where the entire Air Force's resources are distributed.”
According to General Rawat, the naval theatre command "shall be accountable for the security and safety of everything that happens in the entire Indian Ocean, including island territories on the east and west coasts."
He stated that there will be "two different theatres responsible for taking on the western opponent and the northern adversary," and that in the event of a "two-front conflict, we will decide on the primary front and the secondary front."
Concerning the existing Northern Command, he stated that it is “one command that looks after both fronts, such as the China front in Ladakh and the northern front in the Kargil sector,” and that “you have a unified command headquarter that is functioning very well, ensuring stability in internal security in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Even though the "situation is steadily improving day by day," he cautioned that "this does not guarantee that the situation will not turn ugly again." As a result, General Rawat stated that the Northern Command "would remain as a command for the time being while we have two theatres on the east and north, and another on the western side."
Later, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria stated that the "problems we have discussed, in internal debates, is how we should do it, and we must get it right." He referred to it as the "most important reform that has an impact on warfighting."
“When we conduct an integrated theatre command, we should be able to project our comprehensive national might to the next level. We should be able to collaborate.” He stated that the concern expressed by them in internal discussions is to "get it properly."
“We are completely dedicated to the theatrical command, but we must get it right. And it is with this in mind that we are conducting all of our discussions. And some issues are being investigated. The CDS is currently deliberating between three services, and that process is ongoing.”
The "important issue is, there are several serious matters when you set up an integrated theatre command, and many of those matters should be looked at very clearly upfront," he said, adding that "we should understand exactly how we are going to structure it, sort out the principles, sort out the key matters, and then enact it."