09 Mar , 2013
Nothing could have painted a clearer security picture of our neighbourhood than three prominent news items on the same day in one national daily .Osama plotted to nuke US with AQ help, India surrounded by failed states and in Tripura militancy is a cottage industry. If these were not enough food for thought for our security planners one more was added: IAF in dogfight with Army over helicopters.
Differences within the armed forces, especially in relation to respective roles and missions, should theoretically have been silenced after Kargil.
The irony is stark. Sitting in a dangerous security environment with the probable mix of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, our armed forces have the luxury to indulge in their own turf battles, our defence ministry humours them and our legislature has no grander horizon than scoring partisan debating points.
Differences within the armed forces, especially in relation to respective roles and missions, should theoretically have been silenced after Kargil. This has not happened because there is neither continuity in our national security policy making nor any legislative authority directing the framework within which the three services must function. Not surprisingly, one of the most crucial recommendations of the group of ministers, pertaining to appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff, still remains unimplemented due to lack of political will.
Army aviation is as good a subject as any to understand the dynamics of interservice turf battles. The army’s justification for aerial platforms originated with the need to improve the accuracy of their long-range artillery fire. Hence the need to put artillery officers on elevated platforms. Initially, their officers flying Indian Air Force helicopters achieved this operational need. Soon the desire to own the helicopters gained ground and in the mid-eighties, the army won the battle with the IAF and the Air Observation Post helicopters were transferred to them.
Having got its own air arm, the army continued encroaching into IAF mission areas of communication, casualty evacuation, tactical reconnaissance, attack and so on, even as modern technology had rendered the old concept of artillery observation obsolete. The Kargil review committee report brought out that the army was carrying out tactical reconnaissance from helicopters with hand-held cameras. The KRC is silent on why the army chose this archaic method instead of asking the IAF, whose legitimate responsibility this was. So while state-of-the-art reconnaissance capability was idling at IAF bases, it was shepherds who alerted the army. This rivalry resulted in a war costing us some five hundred lives.