There is ‘constant fight between the Army, Navy and Air Force’.
New Delhi: The delay in implementing the military theatre command in India has not gone unnoticed in China and has been termed by Chinese watchers and domain experts as one of the biggest obstacles that India is facing as it prepares to face an aggressive China.
In a recent article that has been written by two Chinese scholars for government military site, that is being shared widely among the military circles in the country, it has been stated that the Indian military is struggling to transform its military structure that consists of 19 commands into 5 theatre commands due to the “constant fight between the Indian army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air force”.
It further goes on to say that these three organizations are vying for resources and positions while giving the example of how India bought 22 AH-64E Apache helicopters for the IAF, and something that is also being sought by the Indian army.
According to the article, India’s reform for a theatre-based command system to be led by an official of the army is unlikely to get support from the navy and the Air Force. The differences among the three wings regarding the composition and working of the theatre command, an idea which has been in the pipeline for long now, has been coming out in public frequently.
Military officials, speaking to The Sunday Guardian, said that all the three services were on the same page when it came to agreeing on having a theatre command, but there were “small differences” on how it should be implemented.
However, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi pushing for implementing this reform, touted as the biggest in Indian military history, it is expected that all such differences will be sorted out by mid-late 2022 and the first of the five expected theatres will come into existence by late 2023-early 2024.
In December 2019, the Chief of Defence Staff was assigned the responsibility as the first Secretary of the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) to plan and execute the formation of theatre command structure. As per the statement released by the Indian military, among others, the responsibility of Secretary, DMA would be of “Facilitation of restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands”.
At present, apart from the 19 individual commands that take care of the Indian army, there are two tri-service commands—the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command, which looks after nuclear assets.
Officials say that once the theatre command system kicks in, these multiple commands will be reduced to at least four to ensure that the next war is fought in an integrated manner. The DMA has asked the three services to prepare a report on how the command structure will work and submit the same by April next year. Once the report is prepared and submitted, it will be further evaluated and worked on, an exercise that is likely to take 7-8 months.
All the major military powers have a theatre-based command structure, including US, China, Russia, UK and France. In September, CDS Bipin Rawat, for the first time, had made public details about how the theatre command system in the country is likely to look like. Rawat said the 17 single-service commands that currently exist would be combined into just four geographical commands, each with elements from all three services.
The first joint theatre command would be responsible for the border against Pakistan in what the military refers to as the “western theatre”, while a second command—the northern theatre command—would be responsible for the border with China. A third, navy-centric theatre, called the “maritime command”, will be responsible for the security of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR); and an island command, already functional and called the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), would focus on the Eastern Indian Ocean.
Rawat shared the details while speaking in New Delhi at an event at the India International Centre. He had pointed out that, as of today, there are four different army commands looking after Pakistan: Northern, West¬ern, South-Western and South¬ern commands. Similarly, three Air force commands were looking after the Western frontier: West¬ern Air Command, South-West¬ern Air Command and South¬ern Air Command, while from the navy, Western Naval Command and a Southern Na¬val Command were tasked with keeping an eye on Pakistan. This, officials said, was leading to duplicity of responsibility and wastage of precious resources in many places, apart from creating conflict and confusion among the decision takers.
On its Eastern front, India was managing China by using multiple commands. The Central Air Command, located in Allahabad, plays a crucial role in managing both the Western and Northern theatres, while the Eastern Air Command at Shillong is responsible for the Northern theatre.
“The army’s Central and Eastern Commands look after the Northern border while the army’s Northern Command is split between the Western border and the Northern border. In total, there are 17 commands that are responsible for guarding against both our adversaries,” said Rawat.
As per Rawat, once the new system comes into play, the one looking after Pakistan would have a commander, whether from the army, navy or air force—who is best suited for the job. He would have subordinate commanders from the other two services, who could offer him advice specific to their respective services.
“There is also a thought pro¬cess about co-opting the central armed police forces (CAPFs) for tasks with the army. The CAPFs train with us and have weapons systems that are as good as what the army has. So they can take on some defensive tasks and, thereby, relieve the army to carry out offensive tasks.” Rawat further stated that the military was also looking at creating a single theatre command for managing the threat from China. This theatre commander would also have under him elements from the Eastern Naval Com¬mand and IAF components.
Rawat said the navy’s two combat commands—the Western and the Eastern na¬val co¬mm¬ands—would be integrated into a single headquarters, the Nat¬io¬nal Mari¬time Com¬mand. It would be responsible for the security of the Arabian Sea, Bay of Ben¬gal and the northern Indian Ocean.
The fourth joint theatre command, according to Rawat, would be responsible to defend India’s island territories, which he termed as “islands of resistance”. The fifth theatre, said Rawat, would take care of India’s air space, while the sixth joint commander would be in charge of cyber war. The US forces are divided into 7 commands, based on geography and space apart from four separate specialized commands.