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Theaterisation of the Indian Military

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

A war fought with a united and powerful navy, army, and air force and protected by brave and disciplined soldiers is sure to be victorious. India, which has a profound geography with all different types of physical features, is connected to its most prominent neighbours, some of whom represent a threat to our security and sovereignty.

A graphical illustration of Shri Narendra Modi and Theaterisation of the Indian Military

Illustration by Geostrata

Keeping in mind that the larger the borders, the greater the risk of a security breach, it becomes essential that all the defence commands coordinate together to ensure that India avoids a situation similar to the Indo-Sino War of 1962. Though the outcomes of the war cannot be attributed to a single factor, the Sino-India War of 1962 serves as an explicit lesson for India in terms of the ,necessity of Intelligence gathering, military preparedness, and diplomatic strategies in ensuring our national security.

Learning from this, the armed forces have attempted to maintain constant communication. However, the idea of Theaterisation of the Indian Military has been formulated and circulated for a long time and came to the table when Late CDS General Bipin Rawat took over charge as the first CDS of the Indian Defence Forces.

In warfare, the term "theatre" refers to the area where many significant events take place. In these regions, or "theatres," all the units of all the forces are under the command of a single person, depending on where the operation is taking place.

Theatre command is an organisational structure from which the theatres of war, i.e., all the assets of the army, navy, and air force, can be controlled from a single place so that during wartime, precise and more lethal attacks can be planned and done.

There have been certain shortcomings in the country's reform efforts since 1962, as the reforms did not address them holistically. After the Kargil conflict, the major discussions held by The Kargil Review Committee (2000) noted that there was a major lack of coordination between the three branches of the armed forces as well as a lack of synergy among them.

The appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the creation of combined theatre commands, and the unification of the services with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) were all suggested as radical defence reforms. The Group of Ministers Report on "Reforming the National Security System" from 2001 also suggested the creation of the position of CDS, which would serve as the government's primary advisor.

The Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security was established by the government in 2011–12 to examine the progress of the GoM-recommended defence reforms ten years later. The committee discussed the establishment of functional commands for Special Forces, Cyber, and Space while highlighting the need for a CDS. 2015 saw the formation of the Shekatkar Committee, which made 99 proposals for defence reforms, including a detailed review of the requirement of Theaterisation. They also recommended a military Intelligence school in Pune that will focus on tri-service intelligence.

Historically, after the Second World War, the world saw firsthand how important it is to have an organisation when fighting another country with unified forces. Different nations had already designed their operational commands in a very strategic manner, like The United States of America.

The USA has in total 11 theatre commands, of which 6 cover the whole world. Despite the resistance from the Pentagon, the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act came into force, which introduced Theaterisation in the US, showcasing the true politico-military fusion.

While talking of China, he reorganised the 2.3 million People's Liberation Army into five theatre commands in early 2016 to boost offensive capabilities and control structural commands. Within five theatres, China keeps an eye on India with its Western theatre command.

And when it comes to India, there are a total of 17 distributed individual commands: the Army and Air Force have seven commands each, and the Navy has three commands, but only two joint commands, of which one has been in operation since 2001 on the island of Andaman and Nicobar, and another one being Strategic Forces Command (SFC) comprising India’s nuclear command authority.

In the beginning, four theatre commands—the Western Theatre Command, the Eastern Theatre Command, the Air Defence Command, and the Maritime Theatre Command—were to be established as part of the Theaterisation programme. Furthermore, the Joint Command for Logistics and the Command for Training were also to be established.

However, because the preparations are now in their last phases, three theatre commands are to be anticipated. There would be two land-based and one maritime theatre commands based on the geographical boundaries of India.

The South Western Theatre Command will be in charge of the entire country's western front, headquartered in Jaipur, Rajasthan. The Northern Theatre Command would be in charge of maintaining the whole Himalayan frontier with China, which stretches from Ladakh in the west to Arunachal in the east, passing through Uttarakhand and Sikkim in the process, and will be headquartered at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

The Maritime Command will be in charge of managing and securing marine territories on the eastern, southern, and western fronts and will be headquartered at Karwar, Karnataka.

The unfortunate demise of General Bipin Rawat has affected this plan to its core, and as a result, it is running two years behind schedule. Again, it is not the first time that all three services have coordinated, but usually, they do so during a period of major conflict, whether it was the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War or the Kargil conflict. In the age of hybrid warfare, conflicts are no longer limited to conventional methods but are also incorporated through other means, such as information warfare, cyber warfare, financial warfare, etc.

Therefore, the integration of the tri-services becomes essential to optimising our combat capabilities. The whole concept is for better coordination of the tri-services, and with the implementation of integrated commands with minimum resources and assets, the nation's security and combat readiness would be ensured.

In the words of General Anil Chauhan, "It is one of the most ambitious changes with far-reaching implications attempted post-independence. The start of this journey depends on the right steps being taken first towards jointness and integration. Theaterisation involves the creation of tri-service theatre-specific structures for an effective response along the entire spectrum of conflict.,"

Theaterisation is going to be the biggest defence reform till now, and with enough economic and military assets in place for a larger run, it must be done effectively, so that readiness and effectiveness are enhanced.




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