Why Gen Naravane’s suggestions on theaterisation are disruptive, divisive

By making some disruptive and untenable propositions in his op ed on theaterisation in ThePrint on 16 October, General (retd) Manoj Mukund Naravane has not helped in smoothening the road ahead toward integration of the three Services. Amid several weather-beaten arguments on the rationale for creation of the Chief of Defence Staff and Department of Military Affairs, and the benefits that would accrue from transformation are embedded some disruptive and divisive suggestions. The following perspectives offer a counter to some of these ideas proposed by the former Army Chief.

Also read: Theaterisation isn’t duplicating units in all Services. ‘Satisficing’ has consequences in war

Land by Land

First, the General suggests that ‘all land threats must be tackled by land-based weapon systems, aerial threats by aircraft and ships and submarines for seaborne threats.’ This thought itself is perplexing. What about the existing paradigm of Counter Surface Force Operations (CSFO) and Battlefield Air Interdiction (BAI) in which the Indian Air Force (IAF) hits surface targets, or ship-based firepower being ranged against ground targets as part of an integrated fire plan. Are these not part of what has been termed for decades as ‘Joint Operations.’ Does he imply that the land battle will be fought solo by the Indian Army, the air battle by the IAF and the sea battle by the Indian Navy? If this was the rationale to be used, then all aerial assets belonging to the Army and Navy should be shifted to IAF, which should conduct only air-air missions. Of course, India’s adversaries will need to be convinced to do the same.

Force-structuring by each Service is governed by its core operational tasks and hence assets from other domains were inducted the world over into armies and navies. This includes helicopters, UAVs, Maritime Reconnaissance (MR), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft. Hence, air forces need Surface-to-Surface Missiles (SSMs) as do navies. Air forces could have more of the long-range ones and armies could go for the shorter-range options. Of course, the details are nuanced for the security concerns and priorities of each country – no one model suits all.

Also read: Want to stop fratricide? Don’t entrust amateurish religious teachers with soldiers’ well-being

The Brahmos conundrum

The proposition is then accompanied by what seems the main purpose of the article, viz. transfer of the ownership of the land-based Brahmos squadrons from the IAF to the Indian Army to avoid duplication of training, streamlining of logistics and other cost-cutting administrative issues. This he suggests under the ambit of the creation of a Rocket Force under the Indian Army, a force he argues will be the most consequential force in the years ahead – one wonders what the Infantry and the Armoured Corps will have to say.

What he has completely ignored is the operational rationale for having split the Brahmos distribution into four segments – two land-based vectors (Indian Army and IAF), an aerial vector (IAF and possibly a naval aviation vector in the years ahead) and a purely ship-launched vector. The roles of all these vectors are rather distinct with some amount of unavoidable overlap.

The Army vector is aligned towards targets in and around the Tactical Battle Area and against targets and infrastructure that would influence the land battle, which in today’s environment could extend right to the limits of the Brahmos’ reach. The IAF vectors, both aerial and land-based are completely aligned with its missions such as Strategic Strike, Counter Air Operations and Deep Interdiction missions that would require a coordinated precision delivery of firepower on targets such as airfields, radars and AD Systems in depth. Similarly, the ship-launched Brahmos has the flexibility of attacking surface targets both at sea and on land with great effectiveness.

Though the first units of the Brahmos Land Vector were allotted to the IAF and military planners acknowledged its strategic value, the IAF did not dig in and contest the Army’s requirement of a precision vector to target the extremities of the Tactical Battle Area and fight for exclusive ownership of the Brahmos Land Vector. However, it must be reiterated that the Brahmos is essentially a strategic weapon that will never be available in large numbers to act as ‘extended artillery’ and must be used with care. It was originally conceived as an anti-ship missile and not for land targets. Further, the oblique lament on the ship-based and air-launched versions is not understood considering that the Air Launched Brahmos has given India an exponential increase in strategic reach.

Also read: India must stop ‘all is well’ narrative against surprise attacks. Learn from Israel’s failure

Siloed approach

The General’s proposal for building firewalled silos of capabilities is regressive and goes against the grain of contemporary military thinking. He writes, “the three Services must therefore stick to what they know and do best and avoid inducting platforms that are not vital to their primary role.” The IAF is inherently a strategic force with the flexibility to achieve full spectrum capability across operational, tactical and No War No Peace situations. The Indian Navy and the Indian Army too have emerged over the years as potent instruments of statecraft with multi-domain expertise.

Surely, the development of an integrated force spanning the space, cyber and cognitive domains is more pressing than the creation of a Rocket Force considering the need to develop asymmetric capabilities vis-a-vis India’s Northern Adversary. Where is the integration and the cross-pollination he refers to later in the piece but disregards the same as ‘satisficing.  This author has been an ardent advocate of cross-postings for over a decade as part of a ‘bottom-up’ approach to integration. This is not merely a lip service and plays a critical role in understanding each other’s capabilities and concepts and is as important a conduit for integration as the other top-down initiatives that are being currently discussed.

The concepts of viewing jointness through the narrow prism of ownership and ‘Under- Command’ have led to acrimony and dissension in the past. The General, as Chief of Army Staff, had emphasised the term Unity of Command but in this article, surprisingly focusses on ownership. His views come at a time when the CDS and the current chiefs have explored and progressed on common ground with regards to integration and theaterisation based on ‘India-specific’ realities and compulsions. Let us give them a chance!

Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam (Retd) is a ‘joint’ military historian and is currently writing the biography of an accomplished Indian Army General. The author has immense respect for the former COAS and has put forth his views as part of the difficult ongoing journey towards integration of the three Services. Views are personal. 


Gen Naravane’s take: The very purpose of  opinion pieces is to generate healthy debate on issues under consideration, especially when it comes to matters of policy. The more the views (of different types), the better. Differing views at the deliberations stage will only aid the decision maker(s) in arriving at the best possible solution.

This best possible solution has to be based on operational necessity and what best contributes to operational effectiveness. The thrust of the article is to highlight the perils of satisficing solutions. This is the easy way out, and more often than not, just to get everyone on board – a concession towards consensus. That is the point.