Aerospace Command? Yeah, right!

The phrase Aerospace Command has become one of the most ironic phrases in Indian defence today. It is ostensibly to be a touchstone of jointmanship between the air force, army and navy, even though it is quite simply the opposite. The just concluded talks by the three service chiefs at FORCE magazine's celebratory sessions had one common thread -- space. All three talked at length about such lofty concepts as space dominance, the militarisation of space, space-based network centricity and the like. All three, unwittingly, also neatly undermined the entire point that the proposed Aerospace Command (which, I hear, is likely to receive formal sanction not before the next financial year in Kerala), is to be a seamless imprint of the little seen but highly successful Andaman & Nicobar tri-services command structure. What we do have, instead, is a divisiveness perpetuated by parochial ideals of who uses space the most.

Therefore, you have three separate and well-funded directorates in the IAF (the Space sub-branch, in fact), the Army's Space Cell (which falls under the Additional Directorate General, P&P for some odd reason) and a corresponding section within the Navy. All three work beautifully independently, scarcely talking to each other. The IAF is busy badgering the government to sanction the setting up of an "Aerospace Group" that will include the IAF, ISRO, NRSA and a few other agencies, but not the Navy and Army. Talk to folks in the IAF, and you'll get the picture. "We understand space and our realm of operation is closer to space than the other two services. Therefore it makes sense for there to be a primary lead service as part of the tri-service structure of an Aerospace Command." That's what the IAF thinks.

The Army? They believe that they'll be using space much more than the other two services simply because F-INSAS and its upgrade rationalisation plans for hardware will endow every infantry soldier and weapon with gear that allows satellite mapping, GPS/GLONASS etc -- so by sheer numbers of users, the Army would make the greatest demands on space for military purposes. The Navy, which is possibly the only service in the circumstances without any myopic or obtuse reservations, is steeped in ingraining its entire force strength with network centric infrastructure, which will then simply make use of whatever aerospace capabilities the government will finally deem fit for the three services.

And let's be very clear. The government, which amazingly told the IAF in 2004 that its proposed Aerospace Command was "too expensive" and "not of immediate priority for national security obligations", is just fine with the ludicrous disunity among the three services over the Aerospace Command proposal. As long as the three war with each other over concepts and doctrines, and what colour the paint of the new building should be, the Defence Ministry won't have to do the unsavoury task of endorsing a file and sending it on to the Finance Ministry, which is where the bountiful red tape of Indian defence really begins.

Or worse, maybe the government will just bite the bullet and sanction the creation of an Aerospace Command any time. Then what?

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