Integrated Theatre Commands

Chief of defense staff is discussing the idea of having Unified or integrated theatre command in the military to have unified approach to fighting any future war.

Theatre Command

  • The word ‘theatre warfare’ means “the entire land, sea and air areas are involved directly in war operations.”
  • “Theatre command” refers to unified command under which all the resources of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are pooled, depending on the threat perception.
  • Currently, commands are set up service wise, so for instance in case of war against Pakistan on Western Border, the army will lead the fight on the ground under leadership of Army Commander and Air Force will take care of air-warfare under leadership of Air Force Commander. For a joint strategy, the Army Commander and Air Force Commander will need to coordinate efforts. Thus, there is limited jointness.
  • In case of integrated theatre commands, there will be one commander who will control all the assets and forces of Air Force and Army. This will lead to greater jointness and coordination in response.
  • The commands could be geographical — like looking at a border with a particular country — or thematic, like a command for all maritime threats.

How it works?

  • India currently has 19 military commands vertically split into
  • Army (7 commands)
  • Air Force (7 commands)
  • Navy (3 commands)
  • A Tri-Service Command at Andaman and Nicobar
  • A Strategic Forces Command (SFC) to look after the country’s nuclear stockpile
  • The plan is to bring all the 17 service commands (Army, Airforce and Navy) into 5 unified or theatre commands
  • Northern Land Theatre (Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Central sector)
  • Western Land Theatre (Pakistan centric)
  • Eastern Land Theatre,Maritime Theatre Command, and
  • Air Defence Command

Idea of Theaterisation

It was first proposed after the Kargil war. The appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and creation of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) within the Ministry of Defence can be seen as steps towards achieving greater synergy and fusion between the three branches of the armed forces.

Need for Theatre Commands

  • Enhanced coordination between the armed forces for prompt and effective military response.
  • Bringing down costs
  • Having a unified approach during defence acquisition will reduce the cost of procurement. For example, Army and IAF acted in silos during procurement of Apache helicopters which increased their cost.
  • A big chunk of the annual defence budget goes into paying salaries and pensions while outlays do not always grow in line with the actual needs of the armed forces. The theatre command system will help remove redundancies, reducing duplication of resources and bring greater focus in the allocation of resources.
  • Unified approach to fighting any future war: A potential conflict with a major military power like China may extend well beyond the typical theatres into the domains of cyber, space and nuclear, which requires a more integrated response from the Indian armed forces
  • Integrated training of armed forces
  • Currently, Andaman & Nicobar Command is an integrated command. So, India has some experience in operating an integrated theatre command.
  • All major countries globally have already restructured their armed forces on the lines of Integrated Theatre commands. For ex. China, US, UK, Russia etc.
  • No pilot project to test the scheme
  • Will dilute professionalism, military ethos & fighting spirit
  • Takes 7-8 years to become a fully trained combat-ready soldierAgniveers will be risk-averse, with Lead to the bulk looking for a second careerWill hit the basic ethos of ‘Naam, Namak and Nishaan’ (reputation of battalion, fidelity & ensign/colours) for which soldiers fight
  • Lead to militarisation of society with around 35,000 combat-trained youth being rendered jobless every year.

The need for jointness and integrated theatre commands has been highlighted by various committees. For ex. 1) Kargil review committee recommended creation of post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) with a particular focus on adopting an integrated approach in defence management. 2) Shekatkar committee also recommended Theatre command to integrate land-sea-air defence capabilities.

Concerns against Theatre Commands

  • Lack of consensus over basic structure of Theatre command itself, that is, who reports to whom and how does the chain of command flow. These involve issues of operational command and control over assets.
  • Existing mismatch between the assets of the army, navy and air force. With fewer perceived resources, the Indian Air Force has concerns about its limited assets getting spread out thinly over the different theatre commands.
  • Theatre commands will lead dilution of office of three service chiefs.
  • Indian Air force has expressed its reservations about the idea of integrated theatre command. There is a feeling that Air Force will be reduced to a support force in case theatre commands come into being.
  • There is a feeling that theatre commands will lead to superiority of Army over other forces.
  • There is also a concern how will other security forces such as BSF, ITBP, Assam Rifles and CRPF will be integrated into theatre commands.
  • Concerns have been raised about the operational efficacy of such integrating the existing three Indian Navy commands into one.
  • Theatre commands are based on the idea of tackling convention armed conflicts. However, in an age of nuclear overhang, the possibility of full-fledged warfare is very less. Today, sub-conventional warfare, terrorism and cyber warfare poses most threat to India. Theatre commands will not be suitable to meet these.
  • Integrated theatre commands are a long pending reform. However, we need to tread cautiously taking all armed forces and relevant stakeholders on board before proceeding with it.
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