CDS brushes aside IAF concern on asset division under Theaterisation

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat on Wednesday brushed aside concerns of the Indian Air Force (IAF) about the division of its assets under the Theaterisation model under consideration to best utilise the military’s resources, arguing that the 36 Rafale fighter jets ordered from France were split into two squadrons to tackle likely threats emanating from the westerns and eastern sectors.

One Rafale squadron is based at Ambala in Haryana while the other is coming up at Hasimara in West Bengal.

Rawat also said that India was looking at the possibility of raising a rocket force with different types of missiles in its arsenal.

CDS said the Rafale aircraft had been split ab intio between the air force’s western and eastern air commands but when the time comes the assets would be operated together along either front. “Assets are distributed ab initio before war starts, and they are allocated and reallocated depending on how the threat evolves. Grouping and regrouping of military assets before, during and after combat will always happen,” Rawat said while delivering a talk on defence reforms at the India International Centre.

He said allocation and reallocation of assets took place during the 1971 India-Pakistan war, which was fought on the two fronts. The current Theaterisation model, which has the full backing of the government, seeks to set up four new integrated commands for synergy in operations — two land-centric theatres, the Air Defence Command and the National Maritime Theatre Command.

In July, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria flagged concerns about the Theaterisation model, arguing that it was critical to first get the structure right, even as Rawat gave out details of the plan to achieve jointness and brushed aside the reservations. Asset split, leadership and dilution of the powers of the chiefs are key concerns for the IAF on the Theaterisation move, as previously reported by HT.

CDS said that the three chiefs will be responsible for raising, training and sustaining their respective services after the theatre command model is fully functional.

“Theatre commanders will become operational commanders in the long run, and they will report to the chairman, chiefs of staff committee (COSC),” Rawat said. CDS wears three hats — he is the permanent chairman of COSC, heads the department of military affairs (DMA), and is the single-point military adviser to the defence minister.

In response to a question on the IAF needing more combat squadrons, Rawat said fighter jets were only one of the elements of the air force’s power.

“The S-400 air defence missile systems are coming (from Russia), the IAF last week inducted the medium range surface-to-air missile systems…Look at the modern aircraft and other systems you have. We are looking at creating a rocket force because the more aircraft you keep in the air, the more will also be on the ground. Look at the air defence systems that are coming up.”

Rawat said aircraft like Rafales and Sukhoi-30s were capable of undertaking up to six sorties a day compared to three for the older MiGs. CDS said future wars would be different and integration among the three services was critical to tackle new threats.

Creation of theatre commands could take two to three years, with senior officers from the three services being assigned key responsibilities to finalise the joint structures.