Theaterization of Indian armed forces is an inevitability given the hostile condition in the neighborhood and changing dynamics of modern warfare.
Integration of Indian Military Begins
By ANCA VERMA
Indian Air Force dogfight with Pakistan, and Galwan clash with Chinese has brought the need for change in the future battles where India will be engaged. It is learnt that the change has got go ahead in New Delhi. Under the Nuclear umbrella in the subcontinent and beyond the Himalayas, a full scale war is out of the question, hence brisk but intense battles will now decide the strength and reputation of the countries. Hence, ‘theaterization’ of the Indian Military has begun where many ‘unified commands’ will be created in the next two or three years.
Now the question is what is ‘theaterization’?
India has three services or branches in the military – The Army, AirForce and Navy. Each of the three have multiple Commands spread across the country and are commanded by a Commander belonging to that service and the ultimate reporting is done to the Chief of the Service.
Theaterization refers to optimum integration of the three branches in joint Command that not just comprise forces of all the three services but also the assets will be allocated and synergized as such. Hence, in the times of operation, Army, AirForce and Navy that constitute the Command will together attack the enemy.
At present there are 17 individual Commands of the three Services and these will be brought under four or five joint Commands. Each of these Commands will focus on specific borders and roles.
The experts have been saying that the key challenge that will emerge on the way of theaterization is the structure itself; that is who reports to whom and how does the chain of command flow. On this, sources say that as of now the three services have been asked to give double-tasks to one officer with a rank of Commander-In-Chief for working on the structures of the four theatres that have been identified. Two will be led by the Army, and one each by the Air Force and the Navy and likewise a Commander In Chief will be appointed from the Services.
There are credible reports that at least one Commander-in-Chief has been shortlisted for the ‘double purpose.’ Indian Army’s South Western Commander, Lieutenant General Amardeep Singh Bhinder is responsible to work out the structures of the Western Theatre Command. As the nomenclature suggests, this theatre will be based in Jaipur and guard the borders with Pakistan.
Thus one the similar lines, the other two Services – the Air Force and the Navy – are also instructed to nominate one Commander-in-Chief to commence the work on the structures of one Maritime Theatre Command and one Air Command. The Commander in Chief will be one the officers who will be double tasked but shall not be designated as theatre Commander. This is part of the progressive transformation, so that there is no operational vacuum created in the near future. Hence, the concerned officers will not be tied to one position and when the situation requires these officers could be sent back to what they had been doing originally.
It is learnt that about two to three years will be taken in the entire process of theaterization. Although the process will start immediately. The structure of the Commands so created will not be final. These structures will be studied and observed, and after a clearance from the Government, the raising of the ‘Unified Commands’ will start.
It’s an Existing Model
Modern Warfare is totally detached from the Wars that were witnessed during World War Second or immediately after that. Hybrid warfare is the reality of the day. Hence, many countries including the US and China, effect tight integration of the three branches in line with a system of 'theatre command.’
There are over 32 countries in the world that already have some form of theatre or unified command. In India’s neighborhood, China in the north has a theatre Command system but they have largely tried to copy the United States in this. Pakistan is believed to have none.
Experts hold that the theaterization of the military began the moment General Bipin Rawat was appointed as the Chief of Defence Staff in January 2020. Then there is also a Department of Military Affairs (DMA) created within the Ministry of Defence. The purpose of the new department is to ensure that there is synergy and cooperation between the three Services. The idea behind these moves is to create capacities for the armed forces to adapt to the requirements of hybrid warfare and ensure increased coordination to boost the overall fighting capabilities of the Indian armed forces.
Another key feature of the ‘Unified Command’ is that it will be led by a single Commander. It’s not that India does not have a Unified Command; there are already two that exist but their utility for India is quite limited. These two are – Andaman and Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command. The former is based on the theatre command principle and is at present considered to be the only one of its kind in India that combines the Army, Navy and AirForce. This is because the latter controls the nuclear assets of the country and is not related to any specific theatre of war. The Andaman and Nicobar Command is spaced strategically on the precious islands to ensure India’s interest across Malacca Strait are not hampered by anyone.
One key impediment in the making of military theatres is that there is acute mismatch between the assets of the Army, Navy and AirForce. For decades, capital expenditure of the military or asset acquisition has been weak. And the AirForce has the fewest assets. The AirForce, on several occasions, has raised red flags about the issue and don’t want its scarce assets to get spread out thinly over the different theatre Commands. The Navy too has less assets but several of its assets are under the process of acquisition.
Now it has also been learnt that the military assets would be allocated only through the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, headed by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). This means the Chiefs of all three Services will have a say, along with the CDS, in the matter of asset allocation.