Evolution of the Joint Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and Defence of Our Island Territories (Part I)

Author: Vice Admiral Arun Prakash, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VSM

Period: October 2002 - December 2002

Evolution of the Joint Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and Defence of Our Island Territories (Part I)

Vice Admiral Arun Prakash, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VSM


One of the myths with which we have consistently deluded ourselves for over half a century, is that the Indian armed forces have always been joint in their ethos. In support of this thesis, we proudly cite the existence of the National Defence Academy, the Defence Services Staff College and the National Defence College – all pioneering joint services institutions. Notwithstanding this hype, the hollowness of any claim to jointness is brought home to every officer who does tenure on the staff of the Service Headquarters(HQ) in Delhi and has to deal with a sister service. 

It was against this backdrop that the unified Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) was formed in October 2002, as part of a larger plan to enhance inter-service integration and encourage "jointmanship". The ANC, which celebrated its first anniversary, recently is not so much a fighting formation as a crucible for a concept. The process of creation of this command was a radical step for the Indian Armed Forces, and it should, therefore, not surprise anyone that it was preceded by much debate, discussion, controversy, and even a degree of acrimony. While most feel that this is a concept whose time had, at last, come, there are others who still harbour a degree of skepticism about the validity, viability and even the need for such a re-organisation.

In the first part, the genesis of jointness in its country of birth – the USA would be covered. Thereafter, the evolution of our defence structures, and the process of reform triggered by the battle of Kargil, which finally spawned the ANC would be covered. Finally a description of the ANC and its environment will be given. The objective of the first part is to provide a wider perspective on the issue, and to show that we failed to learn from history; because all the debate and excitement in the context of jointness that took place in the corridors of South Block in the past few years is almost a replay of what happened in the Pentagon some decades ago.


The Advent of Air Power

World War I (WWI) was the last war in which the Services could maintain their autonomy without sacrificing combat efficiency. Air power changed all that forever. The aeroplane had just made its appearance on the battlefield, and did not play a significant role in the first World War. But, shortly after the armistice in 1918, both the US Navy and the US Army saw the writing on the wall and developed significant air components. However, the doctrinal outlook of the two Services could not have been more divergent.

Naval tacticians saw aviation as just one more component of an integrated approach to maritime warfare, involving ships, submarines, and now aircraft. In contrast, non-naval tacticians, led by the US Army General Billy Mitchell, argued that air power should be used, not as tactical support for ground or maritime forces, but rather as a means for defeating the enemy by destroying his population and centres of production. Such a theory alarmed the US Army and the Navy, because it downplayed the importance of land and sea power and thereby aggravated their feelings of insecurity. General Mitchell’s vociferous (and perhaps intemperate) advocacy of air power led to a trial by court martial for insubordination, followed by his resignation, but the controversy remained alive. 

Polarisation of Doctrines

As WW II loomed large, each Service propounded with fervour, a specific theory of warfare, which best suited its interests. The US Army viewed successful ground operations as the pre-requisite for victory, the Navy saw control of the seas as critical to global dominance, and the Army Air Corps was convinced that only massive aerial bombardment could pound the enemy into submission. The divergent operational perspectives also gave rise to a polarisation of attitudes as far as jointmanship or centralisation of control was concerned. And this is quite educative in the Indian context, because it shows that armed forces universally, develop an outlook, which is shaped more by their narrow, parochial interests, rather than larger national security considerations.

The US Army, by virtue of its dependence on ships and aircraft for logistical and tactical support, was pre-disposed towards a central authority co-ordinating the assets of different Services. The Navy, on the other hand, used to operating at long distances from home, and possessing its own air power, as well as infantry in the shape of the marines, preferred autonomy and was averse to central control. The main fear of the Navy related to the possible loss of its aviation wing to the Army Air Corps. Sixty years down the line, it can be seen that a similar mix of fears and insecurities lurks in our environment too.

Beginnings of Jointness – National Security Act (NSA)1947

The US Administration kept the Services totally apart and independent of each other well into WW II .The British, however, were well ahead in this aspect, and had created a Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) some years after WW I. In order to form an interface with the British COSC at the same level, the USA had to create an ad hoc body named Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) for the duration of the War. This JCS had neither a Chairman, nor formal approval, nor charter. By the end of WW II, it was obvious to the political establishment that growing dissension amongst the armed forces had led to many instances of confusion and discord in operations, as well as much wasteful expenditure, and urgent reform was called for.

There were three other factors, which precipitated matters by 1947. Firstly, the Army Air Corps broke away to become a separate service: the United States Air Force (USAF). Secondly, it became clear that atomic weapons would be the arbiters of future wars, and that aircraft would be the preferred choice as a vehicle for their delivery for the foreseeable future. And lastly, everyone realised that the lion’s share of defence dollars would go to the service wielding the A-bomb. 

The US Army proposed unification of the Services, and President Truman initiated a wide-ranging debate amongst senators and congressmen. As per the US custom, service officers were permitted to testify and place their views before the Congress. Active use was also made of the media by the Services, to push their points of view. A great deal of political activity and debate resulted in the NSA of 1947.

This was a seminal piece of legislation, and established the US national security structure as we see it today. The act created the National Security Council(NSC) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as an apex body called the National Military Establishment (NME) headed by a political appointee to be known as Secretary of Defence (SECDEF). It also accorded formal recognition to the institution of the JCS as a body of equals. However, no sooner had this legislation been passed that fierce debates broke out between the Navy and the USAF about roles and missions, and between the Navy and the Army about the relevance of the Marine Corps.

Basically, all the rhetoric boiled down to getting a larger slice of the budgetary cake, and this is where the flaws of the new system emerged. The powers of the SECDEF had not been clearly defined, and he depended on the JCS for advice, expecting them to provide mutually agreed upon operational and budget priorities. The JCS, unfortunately, was merely a body of equals, in which each Chief preferred to represent the interests of his constituency, rather than prioritising requirements. Therefore, as is to be expected from any committee, no substantive decisions ever emerged from the JCS. If pressed hard, they would produce bottom line decisions on inconsequential issues by consensus. This led the Congress to press for another set of reforms, which represented a dramatic shift towards unification and a setback for the Navy. Discerning readers might detect here, some analogies with the situation in India.

The NME was renamed Department of Defence (DOD) and the SECDEF given tangible authority and control over the Department. A position of chairman JCS was created, and he took precedence over all other officers. It was legislated that the chain of command should run from the President to the SECDEF, and thence directly to the Commander- in – Chiefs (CINCs). Later this was changed to include the chairman JCS after the SECDEF, but without any command authority.

Goldwater-Nichols: the DOD Reorganisation Act of 1986

Between 1958 and 1980, there was relative stability in the US JCS structure, but it received adverse attention because of frequent problems, failures and fiascos in the US defence policy-making and in military operations. Apart from the Vietnam experience, there were other crisis situations whose inept handling led to strident criticism of the JCS system like the seizure of the USS Pueblo by the North Koreans, the failed Iran hostage rescue, the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut and the chaotic Grenada invasion. Over the next four years, an intense public debate culminated in the passage, by the Congress of the Goldwater-Nichols DOD Reorganisation Act 1986.

Salient features of Goldwater-Nichols Act 1986

This act, one of the landmark laws in American history, encompassed the following changes in the US National Security structure:- 


(a) It elevated the Chairman JCS to be the principal military adviser to the President, but it permitted a dissenting Service Chief to represent his views to the civilian leadership.


It maintained the Chairman’s status as the highest ranking military officer, but precluded him from exercising command over the JCS or any of the armed forces. He was charged with assisting the SECDEF to prioritise the budget, and preparing strategic plans.


It required that all military forces be assigned to the CINCs unless required for training. Units assigned to a CINC could not be re-assigned without permission of the SECDEF. The chain of command was delineated as running from President to SECDEF and thence to the CINCs.


It implemented measures to ensure that high calibre officers were assigned to joint posts, and created a "joint speciality" which required courses of study at specified military institutions.

In order to ensure that jointness received the importance due to it, and that service on joint staffs received due recognition, the act mandated that the promotion rate of officers on joint staff, should match that of other officers. It required flag rank selectees to attend a special "capstone" course, and mandated that for an officer to be eligible for service chief, he must have "considerable joint exposure". It also created the post of a Vice Chairman JCS, who is the second highest-ranking officer in the military, but again without command functions.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act represented the most sweeping changes in the US national security arena since 1947, and is seen to have had a beneficial impact, as perceived by the US forces, from their performance in Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq and lately in Afghanistan.

Goldwater-Nichols in the Indian Context

Virtually everything that took place in the USA has happened or will happen here, including the debates on air power, control of nuclear forces and creation of the chairman JCS. Had we been less insular and complacent in our outlook, we would have studied and learnt from the experience of others, and ensured that the structures for modern warfare were in place before staking claim to nuclear weapon state (NWS) status. There is also a need to clearly understand two other factors.

Firstly, our polity does not have the comprehension of defence matters to involve themselves in complex military issues. The Armed Forces by themselves at present lack the institutional will and vision to bring about any meaningful change on their own. Therefore, regrettably, we have to wait for some external agency or personality to initiate a political intervention in our cause.

Secondly, we should be well aware that jointmanship in our context has yet to take root, and that instinctively the Services will fight each other ruthlessly, if they think that their share of the budgetary cake is under threat, or what they perceive as their "core competence" is likely to be encroached upon.


Historical Context

The present day organisation, has its origins in the Presidency Armies of the East India Company, and evolved according to the colonial imperatives of the British. In very general terms, the Commander in Chief (C-in-C) in India, looked after operational matters and rendered advice to the administration on military matters, in his capacity as a member of the Governor-General’s council. The Governor-General had his own military department, headed by a military member of the Council, to convey his directions to the C-in-C. This system, with some variations, served the purpose till the early years of the 20th Century, when the Armed Forces in India began to be seen as an extension of the British war machine. The C-in-C consequently became akin to a theatre commander who would function within the ambit of Whitehall’s overall imperial design.

In 1924, a Chiefs of Staff Committee(COSC) without a permanent chairman was constituted in the UK, and about the same time a similar body was also set up in India. The Indian COSC comprised the Chief of General Staff (CGS), the flag officer commanding Royal Indian Navy (RIN) and the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) India. However, in the overall picture, the Indian Armed Forces continued to be seen as a useful instrument of imperial strategy, and their development and higher direction guided by the British rather than the Indian interests.

Post-Independence Formulation

In 1947, India had, at the helm of affairs, two very experienced military leaders, namely Lord Mountbatten as the Governor-General, and Lord Ismay as his Chief of Staff. The Government of India(GOI) asked them to apply their minds to the evolution of a system of defence management for the newly independent country. Highly disturbed conditions prevailed in India at that juncture, and the Armed Forces, like the country, were about to be partitioned. Under these circumstances, a radical re-organisation of the Armed Forces was not considered appropriate by them. 

Lord Ismay, who had earlier been invited by the USA to advise on national defence, therefore, pragmatically recommended a system which encompassed the COSC as well as a series of committees which would ensure supremacy of the civil over the military, enable co-ordination between the Services, and provide for quick decision making with minimum red tape. This framework was accepted by a national leadership unfamiliar with the intricacies of national security management.

The Bureaucracy Strikes

However, for reasons that we will refrain from analysing here, the senior Indian civil servants of that era decided to intervene, and changed the concept of "civil supremacy" to take on the entirely different connotation of "bureaucratic control". This was done by the simple expedient of designating the Service HQs as "attached offices" of the DOD instead of giving them the status of independent department(s) of the GOI that they rightfully deserved to be. The military leadership was at that juncture, either too inexperienced, or too preoccupied to determinedly oppose this fait accompli that they were presented with. Over the years, the status of these committees, the powers of the Service Chiefs, and the effectiveness of the Service HQs were all badly eroded. Consequently, it appeared to many at the senior levels that the Services were totally excluded from the decision making process in their own affairs, and entirely at the mercy of the bureaucracy.

Post-Kargil Developments

The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) formed under the chairmanship of former civil servant and defence analyst, Mr K Subrahmanyam, went into the events leading up to, and the conduct of the Kargil campaign. The findings of the Committee were a scathing indictment of the deficiencies in our intelligence services, the higher defence organisation and the management of our borders. The KRC urged a thorough and expeditious overhaul of the national security system, insisting that the exercise should be undertaken by an agency other than the bureaucracy.

The KRC led to the formation of a Group of Ministers (GOM) which in turn commissioned four task forces to undertake a critical examination of different aspects of national security. The task force of interest to us was the one headed by the former Raksha Rajya Mantri (RRM), Shri Arun Singh who , a decade ago, was the head of the "Committee on Reforms in Defence Expenditure". 

This body was charged with a critical examination of existing structures for management of defence, against the background of he Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) and our new status as a nuclear weapon state (NWS), and tasked to suggest changes for improving the management of defence. It was also tasked inter-alia to look at the interface between the MOD and Service HQs, as well as the need for integration between the Services.

Deliberations Pertaining to the Task Force

During the four months of deliberations, history, indeed, tended to repeat itself. The positions taken and arguments put forth were almost identical to those that have been described in the American context. In the US, it was the Navy and the DOD, which were seen to favour the ‘status quo’. In our case, it was the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the bureaucracy who appeared to agree (for different reasons perhaps), that there was no need for any radical changes in the security set up.

As in the US , the IAF repeatedly raised a very basic issue that unless the roles and missions of each service were clearly delineated, it was infructuous to undertake any study related to changes in defence management. There were extended discussions on the need for, and extent of integration between the Services and the MOD, and within the Services. And of course, the most serious item of contention turned out to be that relating to the constitution of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). 

The main plank of those favouring status quo was that the COSC system had worked quite well for the past 50 years, and, therefore, we needed neither a CDS, nor integration with MOD nor any further inter-service integration.

The creation of the ANC, by itself did not raise as much debate as the more basic issue of whether joint formations and integrated commands had relevance for India. Looking back at the US experience, it could be seen that there were some things which never changed.

Task Force Recommendations

The task force made a large number of recommendations, of which the main ones relating to the higher management of defence were as follows:- 


(a) The Service Headquarters to be re-designated as "associated offices" in the MOD, and substantive delegation of financial and administrative powers given to them This recommendation fell short of the demand that the Service Headquarters be made Departments, but was accepted by the Services as a compromise solution.


The existing COSC be enlarged by the addition of a CDS who will be the permanent chairman, and a Vice CDS(VCDS) who will be the member secretary. An alternate recommendation was also offered.


The CDS would be the "principal military adviser" to the GOI. He would not exercise command over any of the Chiefs or forces other than those placed specifically under his command. The Secretary Department of Defence, would be designated Principal Defence Adviser as a counterpoise.


Two joint formations; the Strategic Forces Command and the Andaman and Nicobar Command(ANC) be established.


The ANC be commanded initially by a three star naval officer, and then in rotation by officers from all three Services. The Commander – in-Chief (CINCAN) to have under command, all Army, Navy, IAF and Coast Guard assets in the islands. He would report directly to the CDS/Chairman COSC.


GOM Response and Follow-Up

The task force recommendations were, by and large, accepted by the GOM, and converted into GOI directives. While the actual issue of constituting a CDS got embroiled in controversies and no directive has to-date emerged from the GOI, the GOM did take pains to pinpoint the reasons for the creation of a CDS as under :-

(a) To provide single point military advice to the GOI.
(b) To administer strategic forces.
(c) To optimise the planning process through inter-service prioritisation.
(d) To ensure the required "jointness" in the Armed Forces.

An implementation cell was established in the MOD and each broad directive was discussed in detail by the COSC before being converted into a GOI letter. Faced with government directives, the Services had little choice but to comply, but that did not prevent extended discussions and even heated debates on many issues. Some go so far as to say that without a CDS in place, the whole exercise of re-structuring defence management is meaningless, while others contend that without a Strategic Forces Command in place, our nuclear deterrence lacks credibility. The validity of such views can be debated, but it must be accepted that the exercise triggered off by the KRC was not taken to its logical conclusion. Let us now examine the joint Andaman and Nicobar command against the backdrop provided in the preceding text.

                                                                       (to be concluded)


Vice Admiral Arun Prakash, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VSM is the Commander-in-Chief Andaman and Nicobar (CINCAN) Command.


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