Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and IAF chief RKS Bhadauria disagreed with each other on Friday about the individual roles that the defence forces — IAF, army, navy — play in the security framework of the country. While Rawat labelled the IAF as a "support arm", Bhadauria said that it has a "huge role to play in integrated battle".
Rawat, speaking at an event organised by think tank Global Counter Terrorism Council, said that the air force provides support to the ground forces.
"Do not forget that the Air Force continues to remain a supporting arm of the armed forces, just as the artillery or engineers support the combatants within the Army. They have an air defence charter and support the ground forces in time of operations," Rawat said, adding the force has to understand its basic charter.
Rawat's comments about the IAF's role were in reply to a question about a growing perception that the Indian Air Force was not keen on setting up the proposed theatre commands integrating the capabilities of the three forces.
Who said what?
Elaborating on the IAF's role, the Chief of Defence Staff talked about its air defence role and said that one of the theatre commands will look at the overall management of the air space in the country.
To a question on the argument that IAF could have reservations for the theaterisation process as it does not want to split its assets which are fewer, Rawat referred to the five operational commands of the force that manage its resources.
"In an overall assessment, it is a known fact that there is resistance to change. One needs to be conscious of that and fight that inherent resistance. The nature and character of conflicts will continue to change," Rawat said.
At a separate event organised by the same think tank on Friday, Bhadauria rebutted Rawat's comments and asserted the Indian Air Force was "fully committed" to the theaterisation of the armed forces.
When asked about Rawat's comments, the Air Chief Marshal said: "It is not a supporting role alone. The air power has a huge role to play in any of the integrated battle role."
Asked about the IAF's views on the theaterisation of the armed forces, he said it was fully committed to the proposed setting up of the integrated theatre commands. At the same time, he added, "We must get it right."
What is theaterisation?
According to the plan, theatre commands will have units of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and all of them will work as a single entity looking after security challenges in a specified geographical territory under an operational commander.
At present, the Army, Navy and the Air Force have separate commands.
The theatre commands are being set up under a larger mandate of ensuring synergy among the three service chiefs to deal with future security challenges.
Rawat took over as India's first Chief of Defence Staff on 1 January, 2020, with a mandate to bring in convergence among the three services and restructure military commands to effectively deal with future security challenges.
"The proposal envisages a maritime theatre command, an air defence command and three land-based commands for the western border facing Pakistan, the northern and eastern borders facing China, and a command for J&K and Ladakh to look at both borders and the insurgency in the Valley," The Indian Express reported.
What is IAF's involvement in India's recent border concerns?
When asked about the situation in eastern Ladakh, Bhadauria said the Chinese side has enhanced its infrastructure in the region.
India and China were locked in a military standoff at multiple friction points in eastern Ladakh since early May last year. However, the two sides completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of Pangong lake in February following a series of military and diplomatic talks.
The two sides are now engaged in talks to extend the disengagement process to the remaining friction points. India has been particularly pressing for disengagement of troops in Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang. India has been insisting on returning to the status quo of April 2020 in the region.
According to military officials, each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the Line of Actual Control in the sensitive sector.
There was no visible forward movement in disengagement of troops in the remaining friction points as the Chinese side did not show flexibility in their approach on it at the 11th round of military talks.
Bhadauria added, "After the initial disengagement which has happened, there is virtual kind of status quo. Many of the infra that were developed particularly from the perspective of air assets... except for some aircraft that they have taken back from forward deployments, rest of infrastructure has been strengthened."
The Chief of Air Staff said the IAF has been carefully monitoring the situation in the region.
"We are monitoring across very carefully and very closely. We are aware of what kind of assets are there and what needs to be done from our point of view; deployments and whatever action needed to be taken have been taken," he said.