When Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Combined Commanders Conference at Kevadia in Gujarat on March 6, the first signs of joint manship among the three services were more than evident.
The Indian Air Force commanders were wearing Indian Army’s combat disruptive camouflage uniform to signal joint spirit and Indian Navy commanders were in their dark grey disruptive camouflage gear.
While PM Modi impressed on joint manship and synergy among the forces, the three services led by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) meant business as if spurred by the 100-day eyeball to eyeball stand-off with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in east Ladakh. “It was not a business conference of the past. The commanders were told to be battle-ready at all times with the inter-services silos showing signs of breaking and giving way to new military reform,” said a senior commander.
PM Modi’s address not only charged up the commanders but also has speeded up the process of creation of theatres commands with the announcement of key maritime theatre command and air defence command expected by June this year. The maritime and air defence command will be raised by the 75th year of Indian Independence.
The fact is that the PLA’s aggression against India in east Ladakh has really made the Indian military much more responsive and ready for battle than ever before. When the Indian Army was standing up to PLA in Galwan, Gogra-Hot Springs and Pangong Tso, the air force was aggressively patrolling the skies and the navy was harassing Chinese warships with submarines as far as the Gulf of Aden. This posture continues with the navy now questioning each Chinese survey ship, trying to map the Indian Ocean in the name of the mineral and heavy metals survey.
While the IAF is awaiting its next instalment of Rafale fighters from France, the navy is preparing to receive its first of the 24 MH-60R Seahawk multi-role helicopters from the US this year. Called a “ship on a ship” the Seahawk helicopter is a command and control machine proficient in anti-submarine warfare with torpedoes, anti-surface warfare with Hell-Fire missiles and functions as an attack helicopter at sea in a special operations role.
The navy will also get six more Boeing P8I, known for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and ship interdiction, from the US. “The Indian Navy, henceforth, will project force in the entire Indo-Pacific. The time has come for deployment as the era of naval diplomacy is over,” said a senior Admiral.
The new-found attitude of the Indian Army is exemplified by its XIV Corps Commander Lt General PGK Menon, who meets his Chinese counterparts on equal footing if not more. With all the aggressive attitude of a Sikh Regiment soldier, Lt Gen Menon has asked his troops to patrol up to designated points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and be prepared for the worst-case scenario. The same mood prevails all along the LAC.
Another attribute of the fundamental changes taking place within the Indian military establishment is accountability from the Military Engineer Services and looking at the Indian private sector and not only the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the completion of the Aatmanirbhar Bharat mission.
In this context, DRDO is being questioned on delays in the development of weapon systems as well as indigenous content in the proven systems like Brahmos missile, Arjun tank and Tejas fighter. The Indian armed forces finally have decided to shrug off their imperial baggage and are prepared for a more professional tri-service future.