Govt to add muscle to defence

The Defence Ministry has proposed to constitute three new institutions involving the three arms of the military for special tasks: the Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD), the Defence Cyber Agency, and the Defence Space Agency.

The Cabinet notes concerned will soon come up before the Cabinet Committee on Security, according to sources. The CCS is headed by the Prime Minister and also comprises the Ministers of Defence, Finance, External Affairs, and Home. It needs to be mentioned that the proposals are over a decade old.

The importance of cyber and space agencies can be scarcely overemphasized, for any vulnerability faced by the armed forces in the face of a cyber-attack could have unpleasant consequences not just for the armed forces but also civilians. Whether it is civil aviation, the railways, telecommunications, power supplies (including nuclear power stations), or any other sector, millions of lives would be affected if anything goes wrong. Similarly, the space programme, much of which is indigenous, can also become very vulnerable in the event of hostile action. In fact, cyber attack can be much more hurtful than border skirmishes, with the potential of hitting the morale of the civilian population.

The Defence Ministry proposals are a move towards ‘jointness’—that is, closer cooperation between the Army, Navy and Air Force. It may be pointed out that, despite much talk pertaining to this issue, little has been achieved so far in making the three Services function as one unit. Several objections have been raised to proposals. For instance, the Indian Air Force doesn’t like the idea of a chief of the Defence Staff, a fourth-four star officer. To the very idea of jointness, however, there has been little opposition.

The three Services have their respective commandoes; the Army, being the largest military arm, has the largest number. The Navy has its Marcos, the Air Force the Garuds. The AFSOD would comprise the commandos of all three Services. They would be able to be grouped and trained together; they would be used together, whenever required.

The DCA, sources said, is also urgently needed, as there have been persistent efforts by the people and organizations financed by Pakistan to hack into our security establishments. Then there are the Chinese hackers, who have been active all over the world, including in the US. The DCA would be mandated to shield our establishments against hackers and viruses and prevent their entry into protected accounts.

The Indian military is keen on the militarization of space, an area in which our technological prowess is proven and indigenous. We have a large number of satellites in space for communication, meteorology, reconnaissance, etc. The security establishment believes that it was time to have such space-based weapons as lasers and particle beams.

While the armed forces had wanted commands for the proposals, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar favored leaner bodies.