Rolling out theaterization The Excelsior 21 May 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Rolling out theaterization

Rolling out theaterization The Excelsior 21 May 2024

          ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ has been the mantra for reorganization of the armed forces for decades and would have continued if the government had not decided to implement theatre commands. Calls for change were resisted, despite all being aware that there were organizational and operational deficiencies, when functioning in independent service scenarios, where coordination between them was largely non-existent. Simultaneously, there was a continuous battle for a larger share of the defence budget pie, with each service considering its participation in future conflicts, as independent entities.  

The Kargil committee, the Group of Ministers’ (GOM) which followed and the subsequent Naresh Chandra committee had all called for ‘structural changes’ in higher defence management including creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The Shekatkar committee, in addition to backing the appointment of a CDS, also endorsed raising theatre commands. The Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) as also the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) emerged post the GOM report.

          Creation of theatre commands was fought tooth and nail by the services, largely on the assumption of service chiefs losing relevance and possible domination by the army. The hidden reason was maintaining status quo in higher ranks. The army and the air force both have seven commands (with vast difference in force structures), while the navy has just three. There was fear that the air force would be the loser to both the army and the navy. Hence, dividing and employing multi-capable air assets as also low holdings, amongst other reasons, became bones of contention.

          In no nation have theatre commands been easily created, less China, which is an autocracy. It has always been driven top-down. India, while awaiting a top-down push simultaneously commenced a bottom’s up approach.  

The CDS has been chairing Parivartan Chintan Tri-Service Conferences, attended by heads of all tri-service institutions, aimed at fostering integration and jointness in training methodology and syllabus. This would ultimately be a benefit.  

          The last Parivartan Chintan conference was held in early May. As per the Press Information Bureau, ‘various Chief’s of Staff Committee (COSC) created sub-committees gave an update on the progress of initiatives considered imperative for Jointness and Integration.’ Further inputs are yet to flow.

To further integrate at grassroot levels has been the decision to convert Mumbai into the country’s ‘first tri-service common defence station.’ This implies merging facilities held by each service, including logistics, infrastructure etc, under a single organization, which in the case of Mumbai, will be managed by the navy.

The next two stations in line for a similar experiment are Sulur, which would operate under the air force and Guwahati, under the army. To boost understanding of functioning of individual services, inter-posting of officers at different rank structures has already commenced. The impact of this is bound to be positive.

An added input is that the armed forces are seeking at creating posts of Vice CDS (VCDS) and Deputy CDS (DCDS) with specific roles and tasks. The VCDS would be a four-star general responsible for strategic planning, capability development and procurement, while the DCDS would be a rank below and be responsible for joint operations, resource allocation and intelligence.

The current head of the Integrated Defence Staff, initially assumed to have been the VCDS, may possibly continue in his current profile. Would these appointments be additional or would they flow from surrendering some current appointments, is unknown.

It is quite possible that the VCDS would replace the CDS in the MoD enabling the CDS to devote time to ‘managing’ theatre commands. The DCDS would handle joint operations under the CDS. This will imply that while the VCDS would handle bureaucratic functions, the CDS operations, joint training and logistics.

The government has also propagated the Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control, and Discipline) Act aimed at empowering heads of joint service organizations and institutes ‘to exercise control over all service personnel, serving under them, for effective maintenance of discipline and administration, without disturbing unique service conditions of each individual service.’ Currently, individuals are governed by their respective service acts. The bill was passed by the parliament on 08 Aug last year.

The armed forces have, in the meantime, announced that three theatre commands are under consideration. The northern theatre command, responsible for the Chinese front, would be located at Lucknow, the western theatre command, with emphasis on western borders, at Jaipur and the maritime theatre command at Coimbatore. It was earlier earmarked for Karwar. The shift from Karwar to Coimbatore is possibly to convey its centralized intent rather than positioning it on a specific seaboard.

While the SFC would remain independent, under the National Security Council, the newly raised Cyber, Space and Special Operation commands would come under the CDS. ANC may possibly merge with the Maritime Command. The under consideration Integrated Rocket Force may be delegated to northern and western commands.

Finally, are inputs that the government has given the armed forces a period of one year, from the swearing in of the new government, for rolling out theaterization. It expects the armed forces to have their proposed structures firmed up by then. Determining structures is most time consuming as it needs deliberation and joint approval.

The message emerging from the government is that the political leadership is running out of patience. Solutions to manage resources capable of multi-tasking or overcoming shortfall in assets must flow from within the system. Further, there must be complete synergy amongst the forces on the proposed structure. The government is unwilling to be the arbitrator. This was the top-down push which was essential to enforce creation of theatre commands.

There are no issues which are insurmountable or for which solutions cannot be found. Options exist and must be examined. What is needed is will, positivity and cooperation. Maintaining rank profile would have to be determined from within the system. Appointing theatre commanders, as with the CDS, would be the prerogative of the government and must never be considered as service specific.

The next one year would witness intense debates, assessment of options and compromises. Roadblocks which existed till date will have to be overcome by mutual give and take. The exercise which began with General Bipin Rawat on 01 Jan 2020 will finally see fruitification.