The Indian army has proposed the creation of a high-powered information warfare directorate in an attempt to overcome existing shortcomings in this crucial aspect of modern warfare.
The department, proposed under a Major General rank officer, would be part of the Directorate of Military Operations, if the present thinking is anything to go by.
The army traditionally has been handling its information warfare through the Military Intelligence set up so the decision to set it up under Military Operations is significant as well as an admission of the partial failure of existing structures.
According to army sources, the proposal for the creation of the new directorate was put forward by the army headquarters and is pending final clearance from the defence ministry. With Defence Minister George Fernandes back from China, a final decision on the proposal is expected soon, army officers said.
The Major General to be appointed would be called Additional Director General (information warfare), and the army headquarters has already zeroed in on a couple of officers, all of them highly accomplished soldiers with significant field experience.
The information warfare department would on the face of it make faster dissemination of information possible for the army. "Media is an important element in our daily battles," admitted a senior army officer, pointing out that the present structures for media relations have not been 'successful to our satisfaction'. "There are various aspects of information warfare, media is a critical element of it. However, we want to have a forceful, faster approach through a single office," the officer said.
Presently, the Indian army has two major fronts for information dissemination and other media contacts: One, the Public Relations Office under a senior civilian officer of the defence ministry. The army PRO till recently was a Colonel but now with the promotion of the present PRO the rank is being held by at a Brigadier's level.
Similar middle-level officers are also managing public relations for navy as well as air force.
Besides, Indian army also has an Army Liaison Cell under the Military Intelligence. The Liaison Cell is headed by a Brigadier rank officer and has a variety of activities, including making of documentaries, managing media reports in hotspots.
The ALC was upgraded to a high-profile stature during Kargil conflict, when Lieutenant General Arjun Ray was brought in to improve media relations. The daily media briefings in New Delhi, however, were done by Colonel Bikram Singh, an officer from the Military Operations branch, during the conflict.
The army top brass has for long been worried about the exploding media scenario and the failure of the defence ministry to arrange new competent means to meet the demands. Senior journalist B G Varghese was assigned to suggest improvements, but nothing has come out of his recommendation.
The defence forces wanted senior officers from services to manage media relations in place of the existing PR system where the civilian bureaucrats call the shots. Despite several meetings after Kargil conflict, nothing came of the suggestions.