The Indian military has made progress towards theaterisation, or the merger of its three services, after years of discussion. While disputes between the services are seen to have been resolved, theatre commands, intended to create jointness or integration among the Army, the Indian Air Force, and the Navy, could become a reality soon.
In October of last year, Gen. Anil Chauhan was appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Since then, he has been successful in gaining the support of all three services, and a draught idea for the new Theater command organization is now available. The revised version of the suggested theatre command concept is currently being brought to the cabinet for approval. A possible announcement on the subject is anticipated to be made at the next Combined Commanders Conference (CCC), which is set to take place in Bhopal from March 30 to April 1 and will feature Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the nation’s top military officials.
History of Theaterisation
In order to give the commander-in-chief and officer-in-command of tri-service commands disciplinary and administrative authority, the Ministry of Defence introduced the Inter-services Organizations (Command, Control, and Discipline) Bill in the Lok Sabha on March 15. Army, IAF, and navy personnel are currently subject to their respective laws.
Gen. Bipin Rawat was selected as the nation’s first CDS by the Modi administration in January 2020, and he was tasked with the enormous task of uniting the troops and enhancing communication among them. According to Gen. Rawat, each service must recognise how their roles complement one another and that they cannot work independently. This conviction led him to launch the work of establishing theatre commands, which is regarded as one of India’s most significant military reforms. The use of theatre was suggested as the ideal way for India to make the most of its limited military resources and adapt to new-generation warfare, keeping in mind that it must be prepared to tackle the converging threats from China and Pakistan.
To improve coordination between the Army, Navy, and IAF, Gen Rawat proposed establishing four commands by the end of 2022: the northern, western, air defence, and maritime commands. A theatre command, according to Gen Rawat’s plan, would include specialised units from all three services and would be led by a single commander. Depending on the function assigned to the command, such commands will report to an officer from any of the three services. Logistics, training, and even support services will be woven into a unit to bring jointness to operations. 17 single-service commands currently govern the Indian military. Unlike the Chinese military, which only has one theatre command in charge of the borders with India, it has eight commands to oversee the China front.
Different Views on the Process
IAF has, however, been adamantly opposed to Gen. Rawat’s theaterization plan. The establishment of an air defence theatre command, in the opinion of the IAF, “may prove counterproductive.” According to IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhary, air power has the unique potential to conduct independent strategic operations, echoing the sentiment of his predecessor RKS Bhadauria. Using the argument that “air defence and offensive air operations are interconnected and if done in isolation, these would not only be fragmented but also ineffectual in designing or executing the joint strategy,” he defended his remarks. Unless they are part of a bigger integrated air defence system, Chaudhary thinks fielded individual air defence systems will be of very limited use in battles of the future.
The argument caused delays in establishing theatre commands. The proposal was put on hold after Gen. Rawat’s unintentional death in December 2021, and the CDS position remained unfilled for the following eight months. Ultimately, the government selected Gen Anil Chauhan to be the nation’s new CDS in October 2022.
Gen Chauhan made the decision to completely rewrite the theatre commands’ organisational structure following numerous brainstorming sessions. The new framework was given a fresh design while keeping the divergent viewpoints in mind.
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