Unified tri-Service agencies to handle cyberspace, space, special operations

NEW DELHI: The government is finally moving ahead to approve the creation of tri-Service organizations to handle the critical domains of cyberspace, space and special operations in modernday warfare, but has virtually junked the proposal to establish a separate procurement body to streamline mega arms acquisitions. The defence ministry (MoD) has found the recommendation to set up a centralized defence procurement organization, with some autonomy to integrate the long-winded and cumbersome arms acquisitions, offsets, defence production and other such processes, to be “impractical and unworkable” as of now.

Government sources, however, say “at least two, if not all three” of the proposed agencies to handle cyberspace, space and special operations will soon be approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security led by PM Narendra Modi. Modi, incidentally, is slated to address the combined commanders’ conference at the Jodhpur airbase on September 28. At the last such interaction with the military brass, held at the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun in January 2017, Modi had stressed the need for better “jointmanship” among the armed forces, which need to become far more agile and lethal with better teeth-to-tail ratios.

India certainly needs a tri-service chief or chief of defence staff to inject some much-needed synergy in logistics, planning, procurements and training among the three forces, who often pull in different directions, as well as to provide “single-point” military advise to the government. Similarly, there is no getting away from the need to have theatre commands in the long run to integrate the air, land and sea assets under single operational commanders for a greater military punch from limited budgetary resources. But politico-bureaucratic apathy, inter-Service turf wars and lack of long-term strategic planning have stymied systemic reforms in the defence establishment so far.

The original proposal, for instance, was for full-fledged commands under Lt-Generals (three-star generals) to handle the rapidly-expanding challenges in space, cyberspace and clandestine warfare, especially with China making huge investments in all the three domains. But it has been gradually truncated to setting up much smaller tri-Service agencies under Major-Generals (two-star), as was first reported by TOI earlier. Sources say the joint structures for the new Defence Space Agency, Defence Cyber Agency and the Special Operations Directorate, which will be raised from existing resources without fresh manpower accretion, are after some delay back on the government’s agenda, said sources.

While the Defence Space Agency is supposed to bring together the existing Defence Imagery Processing and Analysis Centre (Delhi) and the Defence Satellite Control Centre (Bhopal), the existing Defence Information Assurance and Research Agency is to be upgraded into the Defence Cyber Agency. India has only two unified commands till now. The first was the Andaman and Nicobar Command, established as a theatre command in 2001. The Strategic Forces Command, in turn, was created to handle the country’s nuclear arsenal in 2003. But there are as many as 17 single-Service commands, with the Army and IAF having seven each, and Navy three.