Integrated Theatre Commands

  • IASbaba
  • June 25, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-2: Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive
  • GS-3: Security challenges and their management in border areas 

Integrated Theatre Commands

Context: Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat held a meeting with the Vice Chiefs of the armed forces and government representatives from multiple ministries and proposed the model of the integrated theatre commands — both within the Services and outside, as it involves paramilitary forces as well.

Present Structure of our armed forces

  • As of now, the three forces have 17 commands between Army, Navy & Airforce
  • Even if these commands operate in the same region, they are not co-located, and their areas of operational responsibility are not necessarily the same.
Army Seven commands Northern, Eastern, Southern, Western, Central, Southwestern and Army Training Command (ARTRAC).
Navy Seven commands Western, Eastern, Southern, Southwestern, Central, Training, and Maintenance commands.
Air Force Three commands Western, Eastern and Southern, of which Southern is largely about training.
Andaman and Nicobar Command
  • It is tri-Service command
  • It is headed by rotation by officers from the three Services
Strategic Force Command,
  • It is tri-Service command
  • It is responsible for India’s nuclear assets.

What are integrated theatre commands?

  • In the simplest words, it is a unified command under which all the resources of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are pooled, depending on the threat perception.
  • The commands could be geographical — like looking at a border with a particular country — or thematic, like a command for all maritime threats.
  • Theatre commands enhances jointness among the forces, and also reduces duplication of resources.
  • Several nations in the world have theatre commands, including the United States and China. The Andaman & Nicobar Command in India is an example of theatre command.

Is theatre commands a new idea?

  • The idea of creating an integrated tri-Services command in India is not new — it had been recommended at various levels after the Kargil conflict.
  • After Gen Rawat was appointed Chief of Defence Staff in January 2020, he held discussions with Vice Chiefs of the forces to come up with ideas of what these commands could look like.
  • In early 2020, Gen Rawat had suggested that the first of these commands, the Air Defence Command, could come up by the end of 2020. However, the process has been delayed due to multiple factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is the proposal under discussion?

  • A model with four to five integrated tri-Services theatre commands is under discussion, with each command headed by a three-star officer.
  • This officer, the theatre commander, will report to the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), which, includes the three Service chiefs, and is headed by the CDS as its permanent chairman.
  • This brings in a major change — the Service chiefs currently have all the operational control over their forces; operational powers will now move to the COSC.
  • Each of these commands will have the needed assets from all the three forces. Operational control over all of those assets, regardless of the force, will lie with the commander of that theatre.

The proposed commands are:

  • Maritime Theatre Command, which will take care of all the maritime security needs of the country on both the eastern and the western seaboards, and will include air strike assets and amphibian forces of the Army.
  • Air Defence Command, which will be mandated with air defence across the country and beyond. The fighter jets will have reconnaissance and surveillance assets as well.
  • Two or three land-based commands are proposed. If there are two commands, there will be one each for India’s borders with China and Pakistan.
    • There is also a proposal to have another command looking at India’s borders with Pakistan and China in Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, given the unique territory and security needs of the country in that region.
  • Functional tri-Services commands: Apart from these theatre commands, the following functional commands are also mooted
    • Logistics Command, which will have the logistics of all the Services under one person.
    • Training and Doctrine Command, so that all Services work under a common doctrine and have some basic common training.

What will be the role of the Services, if not operational?

  • As of now, the Services have to speak to each other in times of need and urgency to request their assets to conduct a particular operation.
  • The presence of Theatre commander would leave the Service chiefs with no direct control over their assets operationally. 
  • This does not mean the roles of Chiefs will be made redundant. Now they will have the core tasks to Raise, Train and Sustain their respective forces.
  • Also, as each chief will be a member of the COSC, and an expert of his/her domain, his or her inputs will be necessary for all operational decisions.

Is everybody happy with the proposed idea?

  • While the Army and the Navy are on board with the proposal, the Air Force has certain reservations.
    • One, the Air Force does not want the Air Force chief to lose operational control of Air assets.
    • Two, the Air Force is concerned that all of its assets might be divided within these integrated theatres.
  • All such concerns need to be addressed before such a significant transformation of the defence set-up takes place.

Connecting the dots:

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