Theaterisation: We need to get it right

August 14, 2021 10:39 AM

There is a difference between jointness and integration which is well understood by all professionals.

We need to act as the future is no longer distant with the rapidity of change being witnessed all around us. (Representational image: PTI)

By Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh,

Every year before Independence and Republic Day, there are whispers in the corridors of power in South Block that soon percolate down to both the serving and retired fraternity regarding major policy announcements. Earlier, these were mainly centered around pay & allowances and subsequently on the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). However, this year the subject of intense speculation is the announcement of Theatre Commands namely the announcement of the Air Defence Command at Prayagpur and Maritime Command at Karwar.

While there is no doubt that the appointment of the CDS, albeit wearing three hats presently; permanent Chairman Chief of Staff Committee, Secretary Department Military Affairs ( DMA) and CDS can be considered the biggest reform as far as Higher Defence Organisation in the country is concerned but the next logical step theaterisation is equally important. The CDS has therefore been given the mandate to steer this within a specified timeframe and thereby usher in integration of the three Services.

The appointment of the CDS has fulfilled the need for one point military advice and prioritisation of defence procurements, taking into account competing requirements of Services so as to meet the current and future national security needs as also ensure coordination and improve synergy between the Services. However, besides modernisation, the creation of Theatre Commands is imperative to improve synergy and cohesiveness while also bringing down costs.

The first step in this process is of course the visualization of how the next conflict and future wars will unfold. The manner in which the forces are transforming themselves to face these challenges and thereafter the structures of command and control required to maximise the synergy of both the forces and the systems. These aspects would have all been deliberated, debated and discussed at length at various forums and inputs would have also been obtained from experts in the field including valuable inputs from retired veterans who have tenanted key appointments. However, the outcome and contours of these deliberations lie largely in the classified space. The challenges are myriad and the views to meet these challenges are varied both in the manner it is to be done and the timing. It is also a fact that a template which is applicable to a particular country cannot be applied across the board as we are dictated by our own peculiarities of terrain, resources and adversaries.

India’s challenge today is also a collusive threat from both China and Pakistan; hence the new Commands need to be so structured as to deal with this threat and not look at each adversary individually as collusivity can take many forms, some visible and others invisible.

Theaterisation of the Indian Armed Forces will involve a significant departure from the prevailing structures, a change that is an imperative to fighting future wars. Confronting change and adapting to it is challenging, however it is no longer a choice but a compulsion; the issue now lies in the manner this is done and the speed of implementation as haste can be detrimental in the long run.

Presently, the Army and Air Force have seven commands each while the Indian Navy has three Commands. There are also twoTri-Services Commands namely the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), which looks after nuclear assets.

The challenge is that this transformation is being carried out when the forces are actively involved in facing the challenges to the territorial integrity of the country both from our Northern and Western adversary as well as internally in the form of a proxy war and a Grey Zone conflict.In view of this some analysts feel thatstrategically, it is not the right time to go through such a major apex level restructuring. The forces today are manning an active LoC and LAC as well as combating internal security challenges.There is no doubt that the current security scenario is complex and complicated but there is also no doubt that maintaining a ‘status quo’ approach as far as our organization is concerned can no longer exist.

As per the reports emerging in the press , five integrated Commands are to be formed – the Northern Land Theatre which will look after Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Central sector, the Western Land Theatre which will be Pakistan focused, the Eastern Land Theatre, the Maritime Theatre Command and the Air Defence Command.

Reform is the only solution but this must be carried out after due consultations aimed at understanding viewpoints and removing differences,these need to be ironed out and all stakeholders be brought on board to ensure smoother planning and an appropriate military response, resulting in a unified approach while fighting any future war. At the same time it should not be done by adding an additional layer to the existing command and control structures. There is also the issue of distinct cultures of each Service which don’t easily blend.

Most leading militaries, including those of the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France, function as per the Theatre Command concept with the aim of ensuring seamless integration among the land, sea and air forces for better coordination and response. The US military, the world’s most powerful, has eleven unified combatant commands including the Cyber Command which was raised in May 2018, each with a geographic or functional mission. Similarly, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has five theatre commands — Eastern, Southern, Western, Northern and Central, with its Western Theatre handling the entire border with India.

It is also rumoured that Pakistan is also considering reorganizing its forces under a similar concept. However, prior to restructuring, one must take geography into consideration. For China it is highly plausible to put the entire Indo-China border under one Theatre Command, due one single border with interior lines of communication, while on the Indian side the border is inter-spaced by Nepal and Bhutan dividing it into three distinct theatres based on exterior lines of communication.

Major restructuring is not completed immediately, it takes time and is done in phases. To imagine that it will be carried out without teething problems is also naïve. There is bound to be turbulence as existing structures make way for newer ones’. Recently, some internal differences have also come out in the public domain. There are also concerns being voiced about the role and powers of the three Service Chiefs.Mindsets steeped in years of doing things in a particular manner are even harder to adapt to change. What needs to be ensured is that the operational capability and efficiency do not suffer during the transition period and changes are made where they are required and not for the sake of making changes.

India has a unique advantage in that we have certain Tri Services Institutions existing which have focused on joint training over the years. The first is the National Defence Academy; literally the ’cradle of leadership’ which most of the top hierarchy of the three Services consider their alma mater. Here Course and Squadron spirit and bonding create everlasting ties as a result of shared common experiences. The next level where selected officers of the three Services undergo joint training is the Defence Services Staff College, which is an epitome of Indian military training and proficiency. It is here that selected middle rung officers of the Indian Armed Forces and selected civil servants upgrade their knowledge from the mechanics of soldiering to the level of conception of ideas in the sphere of military, socio-political, economic and scientific fields, and integrate them into the larger aspects of national life.The College of Defence Management, is entrusted with the responsibility of instilling contemporary management thoughts, concepts and practices in the senior leadership of the three Services.Thereafter, the National Defence College for provides instruction to handpicked senior service and civil service officers in the wider aspects of higher direction and strategy of warfare. NDC provides future decision-makers with the necessary skills and background for filling senior positions in national security and associated fields.

We also have the ANC, SFC and the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff. Each one has a separate task and mandate but these are the structures that we must draw our lessons from while we take the bold, necessary and confident steps in creating the new Theatre Commands which today is a necessity rather than a choice.

The need for a unified approach to warfighting came up after the 1999 Kargil War. The Kargil Review Committee and the then Group of Ministers besides the Naresh Chandra Committee set up a decade later post the Mumbai terror attack had called for structural changes in higher Defence Management. The Kargil Review Committee had stated that the military establishments “appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo”.

There are views that the US has a laid down expeditionary role for their military away from the mainland; hence the need of Theatre Commands like Indo-Pacific Command with ground, air and maritime assets. While both China and the US have achieved self-reliance in defence production which enabled them to carry out this reform. India, on the other hand needs to bring up its asset availability up to a point to be distributed as first priority, with indigenous technology and hardware by self-reliance.We also need a thorough well-structured National Security Strategy followed by a Joint Services Doctrine.

There is a difference between jointness and integration which is well understood by all professionals. Synergy is the key, and inadequacies in our structures need to be overcome. We need to integrate and no longer operate in silos, this is a ‘golden opportunity’; however we need to get it right.In the future, more than ever before, the mission advantage will go to forces who can coordinate and act together across all domains. Observing, orienting, deciding and acting together, faster and with greater effect than the adversaries is the next-generation technological edge.

While there is no doubt that an evolution will take place and the organization will undergo certain amount of redesigning, however we need to take the first step while at the same time ensure that it is not a sub optimal solution which needs to be redefined, as only then can we have and retain an edge over our adversaries in a multi domain environment. We need to act as the future is no longer distant with the rapidity of change being witnessed all around us.

(The reviewer is Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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