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Turf wars and lack of political push make for half-baked defence reforms | India News

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NEW DELHI: Continuing turf wars among the Army, Navy and IAF, lack of long-term strategic planning and the political leadership’s sheer inability to push through genuine defence reforms in the country have led to the finalisation of highly-truncated unified organisations to handle the critical modern warfare domains of space and cyberspace.

To make matters worse, there is “still no clarity” on the equally crucial and long-pending proposal for a tri-Service clandestine warfare arm or the Special Operations Directorate (SOD).

Amid all this, the pivotal reform of creating the post of a chief of defence staff (CDS) over the three Service chiefs, which should be followed by integrated theatre commands in the long-run, still does not figure anywhere on the horizon despite being strongly recommended after the 1999 Kargil conflict.

The defence ministry has sent the proposals for the tri-Service Defence Space Agency and Defence Cyber Agency to the finance ministry for approval before they are placed before the Modi-led cabinet committee on security “in a month or so” for the final nod. “They may be small organisations but they do represent a step forward towards jointness among the Army, Navy and IAF,” said a source.

“The Special Operations Directorate proposal has been referred back to the integrated defence staff because clarity is needed on its command and control structure as well as the assets to be placed under it. The Army, for instance, says it will retain control of its Para-Special Forces battalions but will operationally affiliate them to the SOD,” he added.

The original proposal for full-fledged commands under Lt-Generals (three-star generals) to handle the rapidly-expanding challenges in space, cyberspace and clandestine warfare in a synergised manner has been gradually whittled down to setting up much smaller tri-Service organisations under Major-Generals (two-star), as was first reported by TOI earlier.

Sources say the Defence Space Agency will essentially be “a marriage” between the existing Defence Imagery Processing and Analysis Centre (Delhi) and the Defence Satellite Control Centre (Bhopal), with just about 100-200 new personnel being added to it.

“It will be a small technology-intensive agency that will work closely with Isro and DRDO. More assets will be brought under it progressively. The Navy, for instance, wants to retain control of its Rukmini (GSAT-7) satellite,” said a source.

The existing Defence Information Assurance and Research Agency, in turn, will be upgraded into the Defence Cyber Agency. It will primarily be “defensive” in nature, with “cyber offensives” being left to other agencies under the national security adviser.

“A major issue was sorting out how the cyber agency will work under the country’s information technology acts and legal provisions. It will be given flexibility to outsource, hire civilian experts, who will be brought under the Official Secrets Act,” said the source.

The SOD, which is still to be finalised, will see the raising of two new Special Forces battalions. The Army (Para-SF), Navy (marine commandos) and IAF (Garud commandos) will continue to retain their own special forces.

Critics say all these are “piecemeal steps” when concrete measures are required to build the country’s integrated land-air-sea war-fighting machinery, backed by effective space, cyberspace and special operations geared for the wars of the future.

China, incidentally, is developing potent military space and cyberspace capabilities, ranging from advanced ASAT (anti-satellite) and directed-energy laser weapons to cyber-weapons capable of crippling an adversary’s information networks.

India has only two unified commands till now.

Updated: November 5, 2017 — 4:51 am

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