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The grandiose Theaterization of the Armed Forces moved slowly for more than a year. The most thorough master plan since Independence has gained momentum with the appointment of new CDS General Anil Chauhan.

The most complex defence project in the nation is again getting underway after being put on hold in December 2021.

After the nation’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, passed away in a helicopter crash only days before the start of the year 2022, the plan for theaterizing the armed forces—or creating integrated theatre commands—came to a grinding halt.

The strategy is now being adjusted for implementation after a few revisions.

Integrated theatre commands are war-fighting organisations that include elements of the army, navy, and air force. They would work together to concentrate and coordinate the combat capability of all three services, providing the long-needed security adrenaline that analysts have long called for.

After General Anil Chauhan, the current CDS, assumed command in September of last year, the plan picked up speed once more. According to a senior official, the proposal will soon be finalised and will then be reviewed, examined, and further fine-tuned in cooperation with the CDS. He emphasised that the current strategy is still a work in progress and may see future adjustments as a result of additional internal discussion and feedback from the government.

In no small part, the former head of the Army, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, who stated at a memorial lecture in the final week of December 2022 that developing a national security strategy was a requirement for moving Theaterization forward, helped to accelerate the implementation of this plan in light of tensions with China and Pakistan

A nation’s national security policy effectively lays out the course it should travel to realise its goals and interests at home. The absence of such a plan has long been a topic of debate among the strategic community.

It seeks to put into place a broad range of reforms, primarily strengthening the nation’s capabilities to combat a two-front threat from China and Pakistan, at intra-defence turf wars, and the dynamics of how it would be executed on the ground.

What Does The Indian Defense Forces’ Traditional Command Structure Look Like?

There are now 17 single-service commands dispersed across the nation for the Armed Forces. While the Navy has three commands, the Army and Air Force each have seven. Six operational commands (field armies) and one training command make up the Army. Each is commanded by a Lieutenant General, who has the same authority as the Vice-Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and reports to Army Headquarters in New Delhi. There are seven commands in the Indian Air Force (IAF), five of which are active and two of which are functioning. At present, the Indian Navy is divided into three commands: the Western Naval Command, which is based in Mumbai, the Southern Naval Command, which is based in Kochi, and the Eastern Naval Command, which is based in Visakhapatnam.

What Kind Of Structure Did The Former CDS, General Rawat, Propose?

Under General Rawat, the theaterization model aimed to establish four integrated commands: two land-centric theatres, an air defence command, and a sea theatre command. The military refers to this area as the “western theatre,” where the first joint theatre command would be in charge of the border with Pakistan, and the northern theatre command would be in charge of the border with China. The security of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) will be handled by a third, Navy-dominated theatre known as the “maritime command,” while the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), an island command that is already operational, will project strength into the eastern Indian Ocean.

What Does the Diversity of Command Mean, and How Has It Influenced the Theaterization Plan?

India’s war plan has traditionally been decided by several authorities. Today, for instance, Pakistan is managed by the Northern, Western, South-Western, and Southern commands of the Army. In comparison to the Navy’s two commands, the Air Force has three overseeing that border. The border with China is overseen by a similar number of commands. Both the western and northern theatres are under the management of the Central Air Command, which is based in Allahabad, while the northern theatre is under the management of the Eastern Air Command, which is based in Shillong. The northern border is overseen by the Army’s Central and Eastern Commands, while the Northern Command is divided between the western and northern frontiers. To protect India’s traditional two-front frontiers, there are a total of 17 commands.

What Have Changed

The Army, Navy, and Indian Air Force are being integrated, along with their resources, into specialised theatre commands as part of the Armed Forces’ theaterisation plans. While late Gen Rawat’s original plan called for the establishment of four theatre commands, the services agreed to reevaluate the suggested change when Gen Chauhan requested it. One of the major ideas being examined is to establish joint theatre commands based on India’s neighbours at first, as opposed to the four designated theatre commands originally envisioned. In order to do this, a first step is to establish an integrated theatre command to manage the northern and eastern borders with China, a second command for the western borders with Pakistan, and a third marine command

What Restrictions Did The Indian Air Force Have On Gen. Rawat’s Suggestions?

The IAF had objected to earlier theaterisation plans, claiming that it would divide their fighting resources. Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, the head of the IAF, had stated last year that the IAF is not against the theaterisation process as long as the doctrinal aspect of the force is not compromised by the development of the new structures. Additionally, he had stated that while the theatre commands should be prepared for the future and be able to handle new kinds of warfare in the cyber and space domains, they shouldn’t raise the decision-making hierarchy above its current levels.

How Do The Three Services Reach Their New Consensus?

The Theaterisation process, which slowed down following Gen Rawat’s death, has been the subject of numerous studies over the past two years by top officers of the three services. However, the services kept thinking about the reform proposal as they conducted a few tabletop exercises to look at how theatres were used in various operational circumstances. After Gen. Anil Chauhan, the current CDS, took charge in September of last year, the plan started moving again. Officials claim that the services were requested to independently research and determine whether or not the Indian military’s plans for theaterization could be handled in a unique and distinct manner. Numerous meetings between the three services have taken place over the past three months, as well as between Gen. Chauhan and the heads of the three services.

An interface between the government and the military leadership, the higher defence organisation (HDO), is also required, according to defence officials, along with a national security policy. Given that nations wage wars, HDO must represent the “whole-of-government, whole-of-nation” philosophy. The HDO must include representatives from all ministries, not only the defence ministry. Once decisions have been made, the Armed Forces are free to carry out their duties, and this organisation is responsible for all other coordination.

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