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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Proposed integrated theatre commands: What we know so far

Sources within the Services and the Defence Ministry have mentioned that while the Army and the Navy are on board with the proposal, the Air Force has certain reservations.

Written by Krishn Kaushik , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 25, 2021 9:34:31 am
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat (Express Photo: Amit Mehra, File)

Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat held a meeting this week with the Vice Chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and representatives of the Ministries of Home and Finance, National Security Council, Integrated Defence Staff, and Department of Defence, among others.

The meeting was held in the backdrop of concerns about the proposed model of the integrated theatre commands — both within the Services and outside, as it involves paramilitary forces as well.

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.

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Several nations in the world have theatre commands, including the United States and China.

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.

When Gen Rawat was appointed Chief of Defence Staff in January 2020 with a mandate to raise such commands within his three-year tenure, the idea was finally brought to the design table.


After his appointment, Gen Rawat had commissioned studies within each of the armed forces to come up with ideas of what these commands could look like. These were headed by the Vice Chiefs of the forces.

Last year, 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.

Officials are now suggesting that some of the new commands could be rolled out by the end of this year.


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, as the name suggests, 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:

* A 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.


* An 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.


But 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.

A final decision is yet to be taken.

Last year, Gen Rawat had stated that apart from these theatre commands, there will be two functional tri-Services commands as well.


There will be a Logistics Command, which will have the logistics of all the Services under one person; and there will be a Training and Doctrine Command, so that all Services work under a common doctrine and have some basic common training.

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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 proposal is to have a theatre commander who will have operational control of the assets under his command, thus enhancing jointness among the forces, and also reducing duplication of resources.

However, this would leave the Service chiefs with no direct control over their assets operationally. This does not mean their roles will be made redundant. Now the Services 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?

Sources within the Services and the Defence Ministry have mentioned that 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, according to the sources.

Two, the Air Force is concerned that all of its assets might be divided within these integrated theatres.

To iron out all such differences and concerns, a committee of the Vice Chiefs of the three Services was set up last week, and the CDS had met them.

Sources in the Air Force said that all such concerns need to be addressed before such a significant transformation of the defence set-up takes place.

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How many commands are there now; are any of them tri-Service commands?

As of now, the three forces have 17 commands between them.

The Army has seven commands: Northern, Eastern, Southern, Western, Central, Southwestern and Army Training Command (ARTRAC).

The Air Force has seven as well: Western, Eastern, Southern, Southwestern, Central, Training, and Maintenance commands.

The Navy has three: Western, Eastern and Southern, of which Southern is largely about training.

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.

There are two existing tri-Service commands as well — the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), which is headed by rotation by officers from the three Services, and the Strategic Force Command, which is responsible for India’s nuclear assets.

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First published on: 25-06-2021 at 07:00:41 am
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