Reorientation of Indian Armed Forces to deploy the Military Theatre Commands

June 21, 2021 12:05 PM

All the operations by the Armed Forces are meant to defend territorial integrity and safeguard the political objective(s), including assistance towards Internal Security and HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) within India and beyond.

indian armed forcesThe military Theatre Commands shall bring an enormous shift in the warfighting paradigm of the Indian Armed Forces. (Representational image: IE)

By Milind Kulshreshtha, 

The 2017 Joint Doctrines document of the Indian Armed Forces sets the National Military Objective which is first to prevent war through strategic and conventional deterrence across the full spectrum, and defend India’s sovereignty and interests. All the operations by the Armed Forces are meant to defend territorial integrity and safeguard the political objective(s), including assistance towards Internal Security and HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) within India and beyond. The military Theatre Commands shall be devised to fulfill such objectives, however, each of these goals are highly complex in an ever evolving geo-political scenario.

Presently, the process regarding creation of the Theatre Commands is in progress under the aegis of Dept. of Military Affairs (DMA) by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The military Theatre Commands shall bring an enormous shift in the warfighting paradigm of the Indian Armed Forces. These Theatre Commands are not only a transformational philosophy but involve an efficient enactment by more than a million troops. These fighting Commands are planned to be rolled out sequentially (initially with Maritime and Air Defence Commands) but seeing the complexity of the task, there are high chances that each Theatre Command itself is further implemented in a gradual phased manner. The Theatre Commands are not merely an administrative activity but their success or failure shall be highly dependent on the underlying warfighting technologies, which are still being evolved by the Armed Forces. The translational of Indian Navy into a Maritime Theatre Command shall firstly require the integration of fundamental Doctrines and Concepts of Operations of IAF and Army, to work out a cohesive operational philosophy for the sea, land and air borne warfighting units operating under a single structure.

Within the ambit of complex Naval warfare tactics, Maritime Theatre Command shall be much more than re-deployment of fleet ships with IAF fighter jets with support from Army’s amphibious units sailing onboard the flotilla warships. A Maritime Theatre Command would be a highly composite and intricate architecture working in a Real-time scenario, a structure which is well threaded to maximise the efficiency of maritime operations. Multiple variables shall be required to be fine-tuned firstly on drawing board and, thereafter, practiced in the field zones, ensuring Indian troops are always in an advantageous position so as to ultimately win the battle while incurring minimal losses. All adverse impacts for such a major overhaul shall be considered in minutest of the details to de-risk them from future advancements in adversaries’ capabilities.

Here, for a mere comparison, even a well-rehearsed process of a major Naval ship building programme can take a minimum of half a decade from conceptualization to the delivery of the first warship. Expecting an evolutionary process like a Maritime Theatre Command to be executed within a span of one year may not be easy to achieve. The Maritime Theatre Command is an uncharted waters for Indian Armed Forces and needs to be a gradual, methodical and well executed initiative based primarily on the indigenous technologies, before fighting units are outfitted as Theatre Commands for deployment. Since the solutions evolved by US or NATO Theatre Commands may not merely translate in the Indian context, the Theatre Command formations shall have to be solely designed by Indian Armed Forces.

Core Technologies for Maritime Theatre Command

Technologies similar to the principles of Multi-domain Operations (MDO) are some of the optimum solutions for Theatre Command architecture. MDO concepts shall provide the essential joint engagement means in the domains of air, land, maritime, electronic warfare, Space and cyberspace in the next face off with the adversary. A Theatre Command for modern warfare shall also include hi-tech solutions like Multi-sensor Multi Platform Data Fusion, re-configurable Software Defined Radios, low-earth orbit small satellite networks etc. It is already well known that modern battle lines are blurry and any offence may commence silently in a virtual world, even before a conventional attack is recognized. In fact, multiple attacks may already be progressing to identify various critical infrastructure vulnerabilities which the adversary plans to exploit at an appropriate moment in the future as per his choice of time and place. Such ever evolving complex challenges in the virtual world of cipher and cyber-physical domain shall be a major component of Maritime Theatre Command. However, such operations related to cyber security shall fall within the overlapping roles of multiple Government organisations, and responsibilities in terms of coordinating such activities require a clear detailing. The Theatre Commands shall go beyond interoperability definition for the three services and involve other key governmental agencies.

Inclusion of Support Organisations

Military Theatre Commands evolved as the modern war fighting arm to achieve a robust defence of India as the shape and form factor of today’s adversary in asymmetric warfare has already undergone a sea change. The adversaries may use tactics like unknown drone attacks, cyber-attack or covert fishing vessels at sea. The integration of Maritime Theatre Command with other agencies like inland security organisations for effective operations is a necessity. For example, Indian Navy successfully conducted “Ops Tasha” in 1990s era during the Sri Lanka operations by undertaking JCPs (Joint Coastal Patrolling) with Coast Guard and other coastal State agencies deployed along with the Naval Detachments (NAVDET) and Naval Air Detachments (NAVAIRDET).

While Indian Navy is responsible for the overall maritime security of India, including the coastal areas and offshore assets, the Indian Coast Guard, Coastal Police, various Central and State Departments too have their roles cut-out to assist these missions. Coast Guard protects the Territorial waters against maritime terrorism, illegal arms trafficking etc. and is the designated Coastal Commander to coordinate activities between Central and State Agencies. A long coastline of about 7,516 kms and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of over 2 million sq kms involves many overlapping activities and jurisdiction by multiple agencies, such as the Ministry of Ports and Shipping), Ministry of Fisheries etc. The defence and security is ensured by the State’s coastal police, Navy and Coast Guard in a pre-designated multiple tiered roles and responsibilities. Accordingly, a few days back a committee has been set up by MoD to discuss the involvement of various other external agencies in the military Theatre Commands.


The Theatre Commands are the need of the hour, but while everyone is making sure to deploy these at the earliest, no gaps within the technological framework can be overlooked else future shall be enslaved to these architectural shortcomings. The rapid development in the defence cyber-physical world may also pose a challenge to the military’s traditional approach since the Theatre Commands are meant for future war zones (including virtual domain of Artificial Intelligence and Electromagnetic spectrum using disruptive technologies). India’s indigenous industries may be of immense support here to identify such futuristic technologies, with a possibility to develop some of these cutting-edge technologies under Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative. Surely, in this modern warfare era, DMA and Service Headquarters have some serious challenges at hand before re-orienting the world’s second largest active military manpower into a lean and mean fighting force under the concept of Theatre Commands.

(The author is a Strategic Analyst with a keen interest in technology related to C4I solutions and Multiplatform Multi-sensor Data Fusion (MPMSDF) technologies. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Email:

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