Theatre Commands – haste will be waste

November 09, 2021 2:05 PM

The project perhaps may have been pushed faster but for CDS General Bipin Rawat publicly terming the Indian Air Force a “supporting force”.

theatre commandsTheatre Commands were required years back albeit the recent catalyst appears copycatting reorganization of China’s PLA. (Illustration: CR Sasikumar)

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd)

According to PTI, India will likely firm up a roadmap for rolling out Theatre Commands by mid-2022 and likely operationalise these organizations over next 2-3 years. Everything being connected to votes in India, wonder if this timeline is linked to the 2024 general elections? The project perhaps may have been pushed faster but for CDS General Bipin Rawat publicly terming the Indian Air Force a “supporting force”.

A committee comprising Vice Chiefs of the three Services, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and representatives of other ministries and departments is presently resolving internal differences of the Services and consulting external stakeholders like the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Finance (MoF) to review the structure, composition, nomenclature and reporting channels of the proposed Tri-Service Commands.

Theatre Commands were required years back albeit the recent catalyst appears copycatting reorganization of China’s PLA. But aren’t we putting the cart before the horse? We still don’t have a National Security Strategy (NSS) and haven’t undertaken a Strategic Defence Review (SDR). Recall that on September 6, 2017, Bipin Rawat (then Army Chief) speaking at a seminar on ‘Future Contours and Trends in Warfare, at New Delhi had warned of the possibility of two-front war despite our nuclear deterrence.

Had we undertaken a SDR, we would have not continued to consign the 800-km LAC in Eastern Ladakh to a solitary infantry division, that too with the ITBP in the show window which still has not been placed under command of the Army. The result is our debacle in response to the 2020 Chinese Aggression. In this information age and access to open sources intelligence can we really hide behind the political slogan of “not even one inch of territory lost” and making statements like “we knew PLA can occupy the new positions between 24-36 hours but never expected them to do so (sic)”. Should we not be ashamed and affix accountability?

The US Department of Defense has exposed our pusillanimity further by reporting the 100-house Chinese village constructed in Arunachal Pradesh during the ongoing India-China standoff. And, what ‘jointness’ are we talking about if the political authority lacks guts to place the CAPF along the LAC under command of the Army.

The PLA’s transformational reorganization did not happen overnight; it was initiated by President Jiang Zemin (1993-2003) with its implementation overseen by the Central Military Commission and Chief of General Staff of the PLA. In Germany the transformation process was initiated by the Berlin Decree to integrate German Armed Forces ensuring full benefits of ongoing technological advancements. In the US, the catalyst for the transformation process commenced with Secretary of Defence, Donald H. Rumsfeld; the US Department of Defence created US Joint Forces Command as the transformation laboratory. The Goldwater Nichols Act finally brought about the transformational changes in US Armed Forces but this act too was debated for four years.

Haste makes waste. There is an article in circulation on social media terming bureaucrats eunuchs (sic). But whatever be the case, they have the politicians dancing to their tunes. This was evident from the creation of the CDS and the Directorate of Military Affairs in the Ministry of Defence – hailed as a political landmark but actually a bureaucratic bombastic victory; issue of reorganization of MoD is closed forever and the CDS is used to down the military with no blame to the bureaucrats.

CDS, a four star General, is a one of the Secretaries in MoD but in actual terms ‘below’ the Defence Secretary heading the Department of Defence who wields all power and finances including capital acquisitions, is in-charge of defence of India and defence policy including in war – continuation of British-India legacy though then defence secretary was also Defence Minister. Fact is that post Independence, defence ministers have largely been used by ruling parties to consolidate party position, money and votes.

Let us not make the same haste in earning brownie points by rushing into Theatre Commands especially when China appears to be getting ready for limited conflict and Pakistan in the grip of extremists is more than ready to assist China in a dual front. Should we be reorganizing when war is thrust on us and what about the financial implications? In establishing Theatre Commands we need to be deliberate and pragmatic.

Many strategists and military thinkers in India have opined that only an Act of Parliament (like the Goldwater-Nichols Act of the US) can bring about required transformation in the Armed Forces. This will also stymie the bureaucrats from making changes periodically according to their whims and fancies.

For establishing Theatre Commands, the CCS needs to work such an exercise through a committee in a time-bound manner, by tasking the National Security Council (NSC) or the DMA to work out a Draft Act of Parliament for Military Transformation. This will be better for transformation to be implemented smoothly rather than hurrying up in the present manner.

(The author is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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