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The ambitious 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 ambitious defence project in the nation is now 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 just 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 currently being adjusted for implementation after a few changes.

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 power 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 plan will soon be finalised and will then be discussed, examined, and further fine-tuned in consultation with the CDS. He emphasised that the current plan is still a work in progress and may experience additional changes as a result of additional internal discussion and input from the government.

The former Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, who stated at a Memorial Lecture in the last week of December 2022 that framing a national security strategy was a prerequisite for taking Theaterisation forward to best utilise the military’s resources for future wars and operations, significantly contributed to the need to swiftly implement this plan in light of tensions with China and Pakistan. A rare sarcastic remark from a former head of the military, which, unlike in many other nations, has chosen to remain in the barracks, he claimed that pursuing the long-awaited reform without such a clearly defined strategy would be equivalent to “putting the cart before the horse.”

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

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

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

There are currently 17 single-service commands spread 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 operational and two of which are functional. 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 maritime 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, would project power into the eastern Indian Ocean.

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

India’s war strategy has historically been determined by a number of commands. For instance, four different Army commands—the Northern, Western, South-Western, and Southern commands—now oversee Pakistan. While the Navy only has two commands responsible for that frontier, the Air Force has three. A similar number of commands oversee the border with China. The Eastern Air Command, based in Shillong, is in charge of managing the northern theatre, while the Central Air Command, based in Allahabad, is in charge of managing both the western and northern theatres. The Army’s Northern Command is divided between the western and northern borders, with the Central and Eastern Commands in charge of the northern border. The traditional two-front borders of India are protected by a total of 17 commands.

What Changes Is the New CDS Gen Anil Chauhan Proposing?

The Army, Navy, and Indian Air Force and their resources are being integrated into specific theatre commands as part of the Armed Forces’ theaterisation plans, which are currently in their final stages of development. When Gen Chauhan asked the services to reevaluate the proposed reform, they chose to do so even though the late Gen Rawat’s original plan called for the establishment of four theatre commands. Making joint theatre commands based on India’s neighbours as opposed to the four defined theatre commands originally planned is one of the top ideas being considered. In order to do this, you must first create an integrated theatre command.

take care of the northern and eastern borders with China, another for the western borders with Pakistan and a third maritime command to tackle threats in the maritime domain, from the 17 service-specific military commands operating under the three services at present. There are several potential locations being discussed for their headquarters, including Visakhapatnam, Jaipur, and Lucknow. The formation of a joint training command is another topic up for discussion. Up until 2021, three joint logistics nodes were already operational. Currently, India has two joint services commands: the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) and the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) (SFC). Plans for theatre commands take into account threats coming from China, Pakistan, and via sea routes.

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 creation 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 forms 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?

Top officers from the three services have conducted numerous studies over the past two years to look into the Theaterisation process, which slowed down after Gen Rawat’s passing. However, the services continued to discuss the proposed reform by conducting a few tabletop exercises to examine how theatres would be used in various operational scenarios. After Gen Anil Chauhan, the current CDS, assumed command in September of last year, the plan picked up speed once more. Officials claim that the services were asked to independently research and assess the viability of using a fresh strategy in contrast to the Indian military’s Theaterization plans. There have been numerous meetings within the past three months, and

How Will Defense Theaterization Function Locally?

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 strategy. Given that nations wage wars, HDO must reflect the “whole-of-government, whole-of-nation” philosophy. The HDO must include representatives from all ministries, not just 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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