Article by Mr. Shantanu K. Bansal
Under the able leadership of General Bipin Rawat, the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) India had finally kicked off the actual groundwork for creating four Integrated Theatre Commands which includes Maritime Theatre Command, Air Defence Command and two land-based commands for combating emerging threats besides various other initiatives which he tried to bought up at various occasions to get better integration among the forces a legacy the new CDS has to follow.
“Let me be clear that we cannot fight the next war like we fought our last …We have to change as the nature of warfare is changing. New structures have to be created incorporating modern technology. That’s the way forward. These changes, reforms, will not happen overnight, but they will happen.” –General Bipin Rawat, 2018 as COAS
1. Maritime Theatre Command (MTC)
The MTC is set to take concrete shape by next year, with Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R. Hari Kumar taking over as it’s first chief. It will encompass all present Navy’s geographical commands, namely Western and Eastern commands and the Southern Training Command. Assets of the Western and Eastern naval fleets, maritime strike fighter jets and transport aircraft, two amphibious infantry brigades and coastal patrol vessels will all be under the gambit of the MTC. The MTC will be the first new “geographical” theatre command to be created as part of the biggest-ever military restructuring plan to build an integrated land-air-sea capabilities for all encompassing operations in the Indian Ocean Region.
As per media reports, the MTC will look after the country’s 7,516-km coastline and 1,382 islands as well as the entire Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and beyond. With two sub-theatres for West and East. Hence may become India’s largest theatre command. Headquarters of the MTC may come up at Karwar, Karnataka. The only integrated command presently operational that is the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) which presently comes under HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) will be subsumed under the gambit of MTC.
2. Air Defence Command
After Gen. Bipin Rawat took over as country’s first CDS in January 2020, the first thing he proposed was the creation of an integrated command that will look after the major air defence operations of the Indian Armed Forces.
The Air Defence Command shall integrate the most relevant AD assets of the forces as presently the three forces maintain their individual air defence systems. It may encompass strategic AD operations like the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD), S-400 Defence system and other long-range AD assets, forming the upper layer of the strategic AD operations.
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“The changing character of warfare, RMA (revolution in military affairs) and the extant/future threats to our active borders emphasize the requirement for faster application of forces. Technological advancements also necessitate a change in the concept of war-fighting and organizational structures,” MM Naravane, Army Chief, June, 2021
3. Integrated Western and Eastern Command
The Western Theatre Command (WTC) will have its headquarters at Jaipur, Rajasthan and will look after the western borders of India with Pakistan. It shall be the key command overlooking the cold start doctrine of the Indian Army against Pakistan and high intensity operations of that sort. It shall consist both land and air assets, a major command with capability of undertaking deep-strike operations across the international border (Aka. Out of Area Combined Operations (OACOs), if situation requires.
The Army’s South Western Commander-in-Chief Lt. Gen. Amardeep Singh has been asked to look after the overall scheme of raising of the WTC. This command is also among the first to test the idea of Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs). An IBG will have around 5,000 soldiers integrating infantry, tanks, artillery, air defence, signals, engineers and other arms as one unit rather than service specific. It may come by 2022 in it’s permanent state. Different IBGs will be configured differently as per the threat, the type of terrain involved and the task to be achieved.
On the similar lines, the Integrated Eastern Command (IEC) have been curved out with operational role including looking after the borders with China, securing strategic locations across the eastern sector, working with Assam Rifles on Counter-Insurgency (CI) operations, developing offensive capabilities with focus on China among others.
As of now, the Army’s existing Udhampur-based Northern Command, which looks after CI operations in Jammu and Kashmir as well as the fronts with China in Ladakh and active LoC with Pakistan is being left untouched due to its unique role. Media reports also states that the proposed theatre commands some of the paramilitary forces of the Ministry of Home Affairs under the theatre commands along with the Indian Coast Guard. The scheme is still under pursue.
The Army has the challenge to give effect to optimal tooth-to-tail ratio (T3R). Gen. Bipin Rawat while being the Army Chief mentioned about implementation of the study on rightsizing and rebalancing of the army (2014-15) which would reduce troops (by about 100,000), allow the army to tap technological advances in warfare, create integrated brigades that can be mission-deployed swiftly, cut down the size of the army headquarters, improve the army’s tooth-to-tail ratio and enhance career prospects.
“Modern armies are doing away with large-sized formations as future wars will be fought differently. We are talking about space-age weapons, precision targeting, battlefield transparency and other critical dimensions of warfare. So we need to examine restructuring issues in detail,” – General Deepak Kapoor (Retd.), former COAS.
4. Integrated Logistics Command
Last year, Gen. Bipin Rawat had stated that apart from these theatre commands, there will be two functional Tri-services commands as well. There will be a Logistics Command, which will have the logistics of all the three services and there will be a Training and Doctrine Command, so that all services work under a common doctrine and have some basic common training.
The CDS Gen. Bipin Rawat in April, 2021 operationalised a tri-services logistics facility in Mumbai in what is seen as a concrete step towards bringing greater integration in functioning of the three forces.
Once successful the concept can be further be matured to Tri-Service Logistics Command encompassing the logistics, maintenance and transport needs of all three services, an idea which PLA also follow after establishment of Joint Logistics Support Force (JLSF). It is reported that almost 80 per cent of PLA logistics is joint and only 20 per cent is service specific, which has proved to be quite cost effective.
5. Integrated Training and Doctrine Command
Training and doctrines plays a big role in the Armed Forces worldwide for getting actual synergy at all levels tactical, operational and strategic – it forms the basic structure of the common Conduct of Operations (CO). Presently, HQ IDS looks after developing and publications of joint training and doctrines of the armed forces.
With the formation of theatre commands, the armed forces will also have to develop integrated operational concepts hnd doctrines to fight jointly. Hence, the plan is to introduce a different command for training and for developing doctrines of war-fighting to get better synergy among the forces.
The proposed command will also look after the roles of the Navy, Air Force, Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), College of Defence Management (CDM) and others under the headman-ship of one command. Plans are also there to introduce joint laws and common service code of conduct.
Kargil Review Committee (1999) under K. Subramaniam Swamy officially suggested for the creation of the “Joint Operations Command” besides coming up with the proposal to have a post of the CDS. The post of the CDS was actually sanctioned in the year-end of 2019 which shows the delayed pace of policy planning to its implementation at the apex level.
One of the important reason behind introducing the post of CDS was to bring about jointness in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services and repairs and maintenance of the three services.
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The Shekatkar Committee on Defence Reforms (2015) had proposed for to have 3 or even 4 Tri-service integrated commands. Presently, India has as many as 17 single-service commands including IAF having 7, Navy 3 and Army 7.
“The armed forces should review and carry out a strategic rebalance to optimise the combat power and synergise the assets to transform the armed forces from a ‘MILITARY FORCE to a MILITARY POWER’ capable of securing the nation, the people and assets across the full spectrum of conflict.” – Lt. Gen. Shekatkar Committee Report- Dec 2016
In recent years the government mandate envision to reduce India’s 17 single-service commands into five joint commands. A report was prepared by the then Vice Chief of Naval Staff G. Ashok Kumar, now Chief of Naval Staff submitted to CDS Gen. Bipin Rawat in 2019. The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) which comes under CDS was given the directive to create joint military commands along with theatre commands. The process of restructuring of the Indian Armed Forces took a great pace under Gen. Bipin Rawat which the new CDS has to carry on.
“The 21st century belongs to aerospace power.” – Former Air Marshal and COSC Arup Raha
One more challenge in front of the new CDS will be to inculcate Air Force reservations towards integrated commands, which seems a legitimate demands to say the least. The changing nature of warfare all over the world suggest that air power is taking the front seat rather Army.
In this direction, the IAF needs to propose a better way of integrating with rest of the services rather allowing delimiting its resources based on certain commands which itself are pioneered on land-oriented understanding of military geography. Not only that, to recognize as the aerospace power of the future the IAF must be prioritized to lead the responsibility in the upcoming Integrated Air Defence Command and the Defence Space Agency (DSA).
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The recently established trio of Special Operations Division (SOD), Defence Space Agency (DSA) and Defence Cyber Agency (DCA) needs to be matured to the level of an established Command rather just as an agency or supporting division. The SOD can be matured to Special Operations Command, the DSA can be matured to an holistic Aerospace Command and on the similar lines the DCA can be matured to Defence Cyber-EW Command, integrating the role of offensive cyber-electronic operations under one command. It may also include Information Warfare (IW) operations including handling the sphere of common social media engagements of the three services.
“Creating interagency cross connect at multiple echelons so as to enable self synocharisation instead of adopting a top down approach. Permit (within defined limits) cross domain requisition of resources without the necessity of going up and down siloed chains of command.” – Rear Admiral Monty Khanna
There is a lot learn from armed forces around the world, since they are operating these structures since much earlier and hence a lot of know-how can be embraced from their. Like for the proposed Integrated Logistics Command there is US Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) looking after US Armed Forces logistics operations around the world on the similar lines there is French Air and Space Force (French: Commandement de l’Espace, CdE) a counterpart for India’s Defence Space Agency (DSA). Hence, a lot of endeavours needs to be put in by the new CDS with regards to defence diplomacy.