contours-of-theatre-command-in-the-works

Context: India is in an advanced stage of drawing up the contours of the structure and processes of the “theatre command” to bring integration and coordination of all the three services. 

  • The timeline for operationalising this is yet to be made public.

Key Points

  • Defence Minister recently cited on “Synergised Objectives”, organised to mark 50 years of victory in the India-Pakistan War in 1971,
    • He stated that the theatre integration would be ensured following the creation of Chief of Defence Staff and Department of Military Affairs in the Defence Ministry. Chief of the Defence Staff detailed the work done on theatrisation so far.
  • Recalling the integrated efforts of the three services in bringing victory in the India-Pakistan War in 1971 and leading to the biggest surrender of troops after the Second World War, they emphasised the need for integration in the changing situation.
  • In the coming days as a forward process, theatre integration will be ensured. 
  • Integration will be in procurement, indigenisation and prioritising capability development.”
  • Borrowing from the best
    • India had extensively studied the theatre command models of the U.S., the U.K., Russia and China to adopt some of the best practices. 
    • We will adopt a tailor-made model to meet our national security
    • We are moving forward with maritime theatre command, joint air defence structure and land-centric theatre command.
    • The concept of theatrisation is being progressed on a consensus-based approach at various levels. 
    • To bring about greater synergy and bring down redundancy, the service chiefs are likely to retain operational control.
  • Identification of theatre command, would be based on the tasks, threats, opportunities and assets. 
  • After the proposal was examined and finalised by the chiefs of staff committee, it would be operationalised by the Government.
  • There are no differences in the creation of theatre commands. We will take all services on board and then create a theatre command that will suit our requirement.
  • Creating an organisation and putting a structure in place will take a long time.

The current structure of defence forces:

  • There are 17 commands, divided among the three services. 
  • The Army and the Air Force have seven commands each, while the Navy has three commands. 
  • The commands under the Army are Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western, Central, Southwestern and the Army Training Command. 
  • The Air Force has Eastern, Western, Southern, Southwestern, Central, Maintenance and Training commands, and the Navy is divided into Western, Eastern and Southern commands.
  • These commands report to their respective services, and are headed by three-star officers.
  • Though these commands are in the same regions, but they are no located together.
  • Tri-services commands:
  • There are two tri-services commands at the moment. 
  • The joint command- the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), is a theatre command, which is headed by the chiefs of the three services in rotation. 
  • It was created in 2001 after a Group of Ministers had given a report on national security following the Kargil War. 
  • The Strategic Forces Command was established in 2006 and is a functional tri-services command.

What are theater commands?

  • It is a unified command in which the resources of all the services are unified under a single commander looking at a geographical theatre. 
  • Such commands are to be led by an officer from any of the three services, depending on the roles assigned to them.
  • The three services will retain their independent identities as well.
  • Several major militaries like China’s People’s Liberation Army have five theatre commands.

Advantages:

  • Integration and jointness of the three forces: For instance, the head of one of the proposed commands, Air Defence Command, will have under him naval and Army resources, too, which can be used as per the threat perception. 
  • Avoiding duplication of resources: The resources available under each service will be available to other services too strengthening cohesion in the defence establishment.

Challenges

  • The CDS is dual-hatted: 
    • Often, the Chief of Defence Staff will have to wear two hats simultaneously as part of the Defence Planning Committee headed by the NSA and Defence Acquisition Committee headed by the defence minister. 
    • It will have to consider contentious issues initially at the inter-service level as PC-COSC, and thereafter as CDS at the departmental level. 
  • Resistive nature of militaries for transformation: While the army and the navy are in favour of theatre commands, the air force has issues over the division of its air assets, the nomenclature of commands, the leadership of theatre commands and dilution of powers of chiefs.
  • Pruning the manpower in the Indian Army:  As it is a manpower-intensive fighting force, pruning the number of personnel in the Army will remain perhaps the most vexing challenge for possibly the entirety of Gen. Rawat’s tenure.
  • The armed forces’ slow modernisation, mainly due to the financial crunch, is dangerous for the country’s national security. With a poor tooth-to-tail ratio, the army is not fully geared to effect swift high-voltage strikes.

Way forward:

  • Consensus making: Experts highlighted the need for all stakeholders to cooperate to take the theaterisation forward.
  • Restructuring DoMA: The CDS will have operational control over all the integrated commands when they are fully functional - this will be in his role as the CDS, and not as permanent chairman, COSC. This will require some restructuring in the DMA.
    • The restructuring could involve the chief of integrated defence staff to COSC, or CISC, being appointed as the secretary of DMA in due course to allow the CDS to focus on the theatre commands, senior officials earlier said.

Related Facts

  • Theaterisation refers to placing specific units of the army, the navy and the air force under a theatre commander. 
  • A committee headed by Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar had earlier recommended three new commands: Northern, for China; Western, for the Pakistan border’ and Southern, for maritime security.
  • The Air Defence Command and the Maritime Theatre Command are likely to be launched soon.
  • The government expects to bring about jointness among the three services in a three-year time frame (by January 2023). 
  • One of the means to achieve this is through the setting up of integrated theatre commands for the best use of military resources to fight future battles.

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