The Theatre Commands are expected to yield better synergy between the three branches of the armed forces. Instead of existing system of separate commands in isolation for the army, navy, air force, a unified command is led by a single military commander. Presently, the Indian Army, Navy & Airforce, each have their own commands. The army and air force have seven commands each while the navy has three commands.
The idea of Theatre Commands the world over is not new, rather, the most modern armies are now operating seamlessly with theatre commands to fulfill their sector-specific objectives. Besides, they cooperate & coordinate in resource re-allocation to meet overall military objectives in their national interest.
In India, though the talks to re-organize the military into Theatre Commands System have been for the last few decades but the voices became strong after the Kargil War. It was felt that, had the Airpower & Naval resources integrated well, we could have achieved the same objectives in a faster time frame with lesser casualties. Besides, the threat in Indo – Pacific, led to integrate three service resources & raise Andaman & Nicobar Command as Theatre Command.
So far, India, the Army, Navy & Airforce are operating under their respective commands yet coordinating effectively in deploying their respective
resources to achieve overall military objectives. And no major fault lines have been found in this system.
However, the modern wars with a new dimension of warfare such as the use of low-level air space by drones, use of satellites, AI, Cyber arracks, Information Wars, etc. need better integration of all the national resources at hand.
Major Issues Concerning Theatre Command
- The judicious utilisation of meagre air & sea power. It is felt that such commands once dedicatedly allocated these resources, may fritter away. And these resources may not be available to be used as centralised resources for greater & concentrated effects.
- The Navy & Airforce feel that they will be placed mostly under army commanders and likely to be being labelled as in a “supporting role”.
- Domain knowledge of the integrated force commander of other services remains questionable.
- Theatre commanders allocated with dedicated and precious air and naval resources may not timely release these resources, if needed elsewhere, in a rapidly changing scenario.
The Air Chief’s viewpoint in a Webinar, to stress the air force’s primacy in shaping the battlefield has merit. Though he is not averse to Theatre Command as such. It is unfortunate that Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat has firmly refused to accept the Chief of Air Staff viewpoint and dubbed airpower as “a supporting arm”. This has led to a controversy.
The is SYNERGY is the key. The three services are complementary to each other by changing their lead roles in time & space.
- This is not a very uncommon issue in military corridors. It crops up now and then at each level of command in exercises/sand model discussion/in a war like situation. Wherein the air & maritime resources are allotted dedicated and in- support to the army. The flexibility of employing these resources is the CRUX. The reserves at any level are always dynamic & created. Integrating resources for a desired outcome and then splitting them again to re-allocate for other objectives in different time and space is the military art. So, there seems no controversy here except the understanding in coordinating.
- The short intense wars of the future may warrant use of only air power to produce desired effect. Recent Balakot strike deep within the enemy territory was a clear example, where we did not use any ground forces and yet sent a clear signal. This may be a favourable case in a limited short wars scenario, but not in an all-out conventional war or in a low intensity conflict. In such scenarios it is the infantry which has to show the boot strength on ground to achieve military objectives. Afghan war has witnessed this shortcoming clearly in last few decades, wherein no major powers could yield any results due to lack of long term effective physical domination.
- Moreover, this issue at present, seemingly involves allocating air and maritime resources to two land-based theatre commands for their raising, wherein the army has a lead role in a conventional sense. But the initial concentrated air efforts will certainly have a supremacy in shaping the battlefield. The other theatre commands such as Maritime Theatre Command (MTC), Air Defence Command (ADC), seems may not have a significant divergent view.
- So, I do not understand why this is being debated as a controversy?? These are just view points for better national strategy??? Having, theatre commands is a necessity and it is very well understood by the higher echelons. It is now a matter of their re- organisation, laying down policies, preparing plans and carefully allocating resources to cater for all the contingencies at the highest level. And more importantly, validating all these plan & contingencies.
- But that’s for the entire purpose CDS is in place?? It needs to be resolved at Department of Military Affairs??