NEW DELHI (TIP): The armed forces are now finalizing the plan for creation of three new tri-Service commands to handle space, cyber and special forces, which will be “critical” in deploying capabilities for conventional as well asymmetric warfare in a unified manner. Contours of the Cyber, Aerospace and Special Operations Commands (SOC), after “a lot of spadework” over the past several months, are now being fine-tuned to ensure the “formal joint plan” can be presented to the government by end-July, say sources. “The Aerospace Command, for instance, can be based at Hyderabad because of the presence of ISRO, DRDO there.
Similarly, the SOC can come up at Delhi since the C-130J `Super Hercules’ aircraft, which are customized for special operations, are based at Hindon airbase,” said a source. The chiefs of staff committee — headed by Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne and including General Bikram Singh and Admiral D K Joshi — as well as other forums of the top military brass have been mulling over the plan since last year, as was first reported by TOI. Though the “urgent need” for Army, Navy and IAF to “synergise” their efforts in tackling challenges in the domains of space, cyber and special forces is well-acknowledged, especially with China furiously developing counter-space and cyber weapons, there has been no final decision on who will “mother” which command.
The experience of India’s only theatre command at Andaman and Nicobar islands (ANC), with its commander-in-chief (a three-star officer like Lt-General, Vice-Admiral or Air Marshal) being rotated among the three Services, has not been successful. “Turf wars ensure the Services are not very keen to part with their assets for ANC,” said the source. At present, each Service gets to head the three unified commands — ANC, Strategic Forces Command (SFC) and Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) — by rotation.
“But it is felt one particular service should have stake in a specific command that can draw assets and manpower from all three but is steered by that Service,” he said. So, a view that has emerged is that while SFC, IDS and Cyber Command can continue to be “rotated”, ANC should be headed by Navy, Aerospace Command by IAF, and SOC by Army. “This fits in with the domain expertise of each Service. The government will of course have to take the final call on the new commands,” he said. India has floundered for long in setting up effective and unified structures to deal with threats in space and cyberspace as well as in strengthening its clandestine and “unconventional” warfare capabilities.
The Aerospace Command, for instance, has been demanded by the armed forces in the past also but the government has kept it in cold storage despite China having an expansive military space programme that extends to advanced ASAT (antisatellite) capabilities with “directascent” missiles, hit-to-kill “kinetic” and directed-energy laser weapons. Cyber-warfare, too, is a frontline military priority for China. Cyberweapons can cripple an adversary’s strategic networks and energy grids, banking and communication, and even sabotage a country’s nuclear programme like Iran learnt after the Stuxnet software “worm” destroyed a thousand of its centrifuges a couple of years ago.