Proposed Theatre Commands Structure to Finally Take Off with Army, Navy, IAF On Board

Indian Army

New Delhi: The Army, Navy and Indian Air Force (IAF) are “99 per cent” on board after months of dithering, multiple plans and objections, and in agreement with the broad contours of the theatre commands being given shape by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Anil Chauhan.

“One per cent is still out there but this is a work in progress. It will take some more time,” said a top source in the defence and security establishment. Asked what apprehensions still remain, the source said the issue was more administrative than operational.

Theatre commands are being set up with the hope that they will lead to better planning and a joint military response to any future conflict. According to the plan currently under formulation — one different from what was envisaged earlier — there will be three theatre commands based on geographical boundaries.

Of the three, two will be land-based and one will be maritime, sources said. It is likely that the three theatre commands will be headed by four-star officers, like the service chiefs and the CDS. Other joint commands, like those for logistics, training, cyber and space, missiles and intelligence, will be headed by three-star officers.

All the theatre commanders will report to the CDS with the service chiefs being responsible for raise and sustenance issues, sources said. While it was claimed in February 2020 that the theatre commands will be ready in three years, reports said that strong differences among the armed forces over the basic structure of theatre commands would be a delaying factor.

The CDS, as secretary, Department of Military Affairs, has been tasked with the “facilitation of restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations including through establishment of joint/theatre commands”. This envisages a unified military under specific commanders with area of responsibility, similar to Americans and the Chinese.

Former CDS late Gen Bipin Rawat was keen to roll out two theatres first — the Maritime Theatre Command and the Air Defence Command. While the nearly 17-lakh strong Indian armed forces have 19 individual commands as of date, only two of them are tri-service commands — the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command, the latter looking after nuclear assets.

The original idea was to cut down these different service commands to five theatres and functional commands — the Northern Land Theatre (Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Central sector), the Western Land Theatre (Pakistan centric), the Eastern Land Theatre, the Maritime Theatre Command and the Air Defence Command. It is expected that the final contours of the theatre command structure will be formalised over the next few months, and will then go through a formal approval process.