Command and Control Arrangements

18 Aug, 1998    ·   135

Report of the sixth IPCS Seminar on the Implications of Nuclear Testing in South Asia

A seminar was held in IPCS on August 7, 1998 to discuss the establishment of command and control arrangements after the nuclear tests conducted by India in May. Air Chief Marshall (retd) S.K.Mehra, former Chief of the Air Staff, led these discussions.



In his opening remarks ACM Mehra said the Prime Minister had recently declared that adequate C3I arrangements were in place, but the Services seemed out of the decision-making loop. The existing structure for the higher direction of defence was ineffective, largely due to misplaced apprehensions in the minds of the civil bureaucracy, leading to their minimizing interactions between the political executive and the military. This interaction had to be much intimate in a nuclear environment to ensure quick decision making. The two examples cited were the civil bureaucracy sabotaging establishment of a National Security Council, and implementation of the Arun Singh report despite the three Services agreeing with its recommendations.



Proceeding further, he pointed to the lack of inter-Service coordination. It had obtained in 1971 largely due to personality compatibility, but there was a ‘frightening’ lack of coordination during the Indo-Pak tensions and crisis in 1989-90. The IAF had taken certain defensive measures, but the Indian Army and Navy did nothing. There was no coordination between the three Services during that crisis; neither was there any forum to consider such issues. The CCPA and DMC were dormant. ACM Mehra also pointed out that the Services had never been asked nor were they interested in issues like India ’s policy towards the NPT or CTBT or CWC. A system by which the Services were compulsorily consulted on such issues having a bearing on national security had to be devised. Better coordination between the Services with MEA and DRDO was imperative; as also the need for intelligence coordination. The basic problem was ‘turf protection’.



Coming to the ideal overall system for the higher direction of defence in a nuclearised situation he felt the need for a CDS and integration of Services Hqs with MOD to evolve a single point decision-making centre. There was also a need to restructure the Command structure in the field, and bring them under a single Service commander, who would function as the overall theatre commander. In a nuclear environment it was essential for the doctrine to be clear. This would govern the establishment of viable command and control arrangements. Would a counter-city or counter-force doctrine be applicable? Would counter-force be restricted to military targets or include economic assets? How would coordination for target selection and their numbers be identified?



Despite the difficulty in answering these questions, the principles of defence that should be adopted were clear. There had to be total security of command centres/nuclear arsenals and storage depots. Communications had to be secure and protected from ‘computer warfare’ to ensure that unintended launches did not occur. Besides, the line of succession for launch authority had to be clearly laid down. C4I arrangements had to be perfected. Most importantly, proper IFF arrangements were required, especially to distinguish between conventional and nuclear platforms/weapons. Response, however, had necessarily to be quick, and arrangements made either for the recall or self-destruct of platforms after their launch. Then there was the question of radiation damage due to seasonal winds being factored into nuclear decision-making.



In this milieu, the chain of command should ideally flow from the NSC to the CDS to the theatre commands, for taking defensive measures, and then to the operational units. These Special Forces, under a joint command, needed to have a two-man control system for launching the platforms. Communications down to the Central Air Command in Allahabad and the operational squadrons had to be remain secure at all times.



This comprehensive presentation led to a lively discussion. A former Army Commander felt that some kind of C3I must be in existence, since the decision to weaponize had apparently been taken in 1988. Moreover, India had announced a no-first-use doctrine, which meant its deterrence philosophy was premised on the second strike. However, early warning arrangements were probably premised on radar, since satellite capabilities were not available on real time basis. ASTRAC was known to be working on these problems, but had not received any political input. The no-first-use doctrine announced would require a complete revamp of its underlying working thesis. The Air Force and Navy were believed to be doing their independent exercises. Unfortunately, the DPS establishment had not developed expertise to deliberate these issues.



This led a former Air Force officer to point out that C3I arrangements had to be urgently put in position. It had to be relevant to India , based on a doctrine of minimum deterrence, and be affordable. Around 70 to 80 warheads were sufficient. Although the submarine-based deterrent was ideal, it would take India some 25 years to establish this capability; hence the deterrent had to be premised, for the present, on the dyad of aircraft and missiles—Prithvi (Air Force version 250 kms), Agni, and its extended (5000 km) range version. Tactical nuclear missiles were unrealistic for use in the South Asian environment; maybe, this was the reason for the government keeping the military out of the nuclear decision-making loop. But India possessed the strategic assets required for a dyadic nuclear posture viz. MiG-25 for surveillance and long-range aircraft for nuclear weapons delivery, apart from surface-to-surface missiles. A viable command and control arrangement had to include the PM, DM and COSC at the apex level—its orders would reach the Chief of Air Staff and through him the AOC-in-C, and down the line of command to operational units.



The need for greater public awareness was stressed, especially for the Services to be more forthcoming about their problems, like the need for ensuring the higher direction of defence. The military should define what are the implications of non-deployment of nuclear weapons, as desired by the United States . This question gained ascendancy because Pakistan was an irresponsible adversary; hence India needed to defend against its future adventurism. On a more optimistic note it was felt that India and Pakistan had managed a state of recessed deterrence for some 9 years, and there was no reason to believe this would break down now, or in future. More CBMs were needed to ensure stability. Indeed, the four wars between India and Pakistan had highlighted their restraint in actual combat. A less optimistic view held that the logic of a nuclear arms race was built within the obtaining nuclear situation in South Asia . The scientists had pressured the politicians into testing; hence this race would be technology driven.



The lack of C3I arrangements and declaration of a no-first-use doctrine implied an acceptance that India would have to lose its cities before launching a second strike. Besides, targets in India/Pakistan were only 6 minutes away by aircraft/missiles; hence the danger of accidents was always present, leading to nuclear escalation up the counterforce ladder. Another viewpoint held that India ’s security had, in fact, reduced after the nuclear tests due to this possibility of accidents occurring, as existed in the case of the United States and Russia . The danger from Pakistan had to be taken seriously in view of its deteriorating economy and belief that the Kashmir issue was not yielding political dividends. The option of India opening up another front to relieve Pak pressure on Kashmir was not available. Therefore the option of converting the line of control in Kashmir into an international border should be seriously considered.



Winding up the discussions the Chairperson drew attention to some of the anomalies of the nuclear situation. Nuclear deterrence, for instance, obtained until it failed; but it was implied in its no-first-use declaration that India would never be the first to use its nuclear weapons against a nuclear weapon state. How would the credibility of the deterrent be ensured if nuclear weapons would never to be used, except in the second strike? Nothing was known about the establishment of a National Command Post, although this was under consideration for years altogether. Further, the concept of minimum deterrence was beguiling, but there was no agreement among strategists on the numbers of nuclear warheads required; besides the history of the nuclear arms racing informed that inter-Service rivalry had driven it forward. The current command and control arrangements seemed to be that the AEC scientists/engineers had control over the nuclear devices; and the Services would have their command, but eventually.