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A stalemate between the Army and the Air Force over who should take over the SFC has pushed this worrisome situation at a time when India is contemplating a military response to the Uri attack.

NEW DELHI: India's Strategic Forces Command (SFC), the entity that manages the nation's strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and decides the warheads' targets, has been without a chief for almost a month.

A stalemate between the Army and the Air Force over who should take over the SFC has pushed this worrisome situation at a time when India is contemplating a military response to the Uri terror attack against a backdrop of nuclear threat from Pakistan.

The SFC is one of the three Tri-Services Commands (TSC), the other two being the Andamans and Nicobar Command (ANC) and Headquarter Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS). A TSC comprises of elements of the three defence services - Army, IAF and Navy. The three Commands are headed by Army Commander equivalent officers from the defence services on a rotational basis with a maximum tenure of each appointment of about two years.

Until now, the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to Chairman Chief of Staff Committee (CISC), who heads the HQ IDS, is being held by an IAF officer while the SFC was being held by an Army General and the ANC by a Naval officer. This rotation has ended.

In the upcoming rotation, the Navy has to head the HQ IDS, the IAF to take over the SFC and the army is expected to control the ANC. "The Navy has been demanding to retain the ANC, and this demand has received the approval of the Centre. The IAF officer who was heading the HQ IDS is scheduled to retire in the next four to five months," said an official.

The IAF has flagged its officer's short tenure for the SFC head's position as the reason for its disinclination for the post as the normal tenure is that of two years, according to the official.

The SFC is one of India's top secret entities as it keeps crucial details of India's nuclear weapons. The body, hence, appoints a minimum number of people and ensures a tenure of two years.

"The army is now at a stalemate. If it sends an Army Commander to head the SFC for four to five months, while the IAF officer managing the HQ IDS retires after this period, a situation should not arise thereafter wherein the IAF starts demanding to take over the SFC, in view of the rotation," explained the official.

One of most viable options to break this stalemate could be that the Army and the IAF both get an additional term in the SFC and HQ IDS. The most likely replacement of Lt. Gen. Amit Sharma as the head of the SFC is touted to be Lt. Gen. Rakesh Dua, who has just finished commanding the Srinagar based 15 Corps.

"He is likely to get the vacancy of Lt. Gen. Amit Sharma. And ideally Lt Gen. Dua should be sent to the SFC, but this has not happened so far, leaving India's strategic assets without a head," said a high-level official.

The issue has arisen at the backdrop of India's arch rival Pakistan's threat of using nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack by India and the absence of an officer to manage India's nuclear arsenal. Earlier this month, the Pakistan Defence Minister Khawaja M Asif said the country would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if its security was under threat. Following the Uri attack, the President of Azad Kashmir Masood Khan said that Pakistan was a strong nuclear state and any adventurism from India would result in its own failure.

Defence experts feel that in a hypothetical situation, Pakistan will use tactical nuclear warheads - of small range - against Indian armed forces as its last resort. India, which believes in the concept of 'second strike', will then launch nuclear attacks against its adversary.

Source>> Economic Times

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