Standfirst Editor’s Note: The following article is based on a Discussion Document prepared by Lieutenant General (Dr) Prakash Menon, Director, Strategic Studies Programme at the Takshashila Institution, a think tank based in New Delhi. The Document was prepared in June 2020 with inputs from Admiral Arun Prakash, Air Marshal M Matheshwaran and Lieutenant General K T Parnaik. The Document, called, ‘India’s Theatre Command System: A Proposal’ has proposed the structural framework for India’s Theatre Command system with terrain and strategic threats being prime factors. Indian Newslink acknowledges the Discussion Document and its observations, which Lt Gen Menon has said, “does not necessarily constitute the Policy Recommendations of Takshashila.”
Image from ‘India’s Theatre Command System: A Proposal’
As India starts re-organising its internal military command matrix to effectively deal with the security challenges and negate the challenges in the external geo-political imperative, it will be interesting to see how the composition will be perceived in the years to come and the sum effect that it will have on New Delhi’s evolving Grand Strategy.
The Department of Military Affairs under Chief of Defence staff will facilitate restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing more synergy in operations. This may include establishment of joint commands.
Further, it will Implement a Five-Year Defence Capital Acquisition Plan (DCAP), and Two-Year roll-on Annual Acquisition Plans (AAP), as a follow-up of Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP).
The Tri-Command Structure
As of now, Andaman and Nicobar is the only Tri-Command structure overseen by the Integrated Defence Staff and military strength at present is evenly distributed among the three services, despite the fact that the Indian Navy’s stake runs deeper.
The Tri Command service model could be replicated as when India rearranges its command matrix. Such a model will facilitate India’s image as a Great Power which of course will be facilitated by a Command Structure modelling both China and the United States.
This will replicate the US military working under the six theatre command for its Global Command Responsibility while China shunned seven regional commands in 2015.
Lieutenant General (Dr) Prakash Menon (Asia Centre Bangalore)
The initial proposal for India’s theatre command involved geographical commands: an Eastern Command responsible for China, South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia; a Western Command responsible for Pakistan, Central Asia and West Asia; and a Southern Command responsible for littoral Africa and the Middle East.
More theatre commands may be created as the scale and scope of military activities expand and it’s likely India will have five theatre commands.
It is understood that the Indian Air Force was against the Theaterisation of the command as the it has five Commanders-in-Chief level billets compared to six of the Indian Army and three of the Indian Navy with area responsibilities.
Theaterisation and amalgamation
Theaterisation would result in amalgamation of existing commands, thereby cutting down their number from 14 to possibly four, with the Indian Air Force possibly opposing the theatre command.
On the other hand, the change in Command matrix will provide a shift from the centralised Soviet rigid Command structure to be an effective force, which is capable of Joint Power-Projection in the wider Indo-Pacific region and beyond.
The work of preparing reports for more common commands will begin so that theatre commands can begin this year. It is expected that India will have two theatres of command; the Continental Theatre would be primarily built on Army and Air force elements.
The Maritime Theatre would be primarily Navy, which also incorporates elements of the other two Services (namely Army and Airforce).
The theatre command will be under the Head Quarters of the Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS), since a single Continental Theatre would be unwieldy, managed by a solitary Theatre Commander. Therefore, the Continental Theatre is split into two theatres with respective responsibility for the North (Northern Theatre Command- NTC) against China and the West (Western Theatre Command- WTC) against Pakistan.
Factors against singularity
These two commands could be part of a single Maritime theatre Command.
But two factors work against singularity.
First, the maritime vision is one of expanding capabilities to the waters beyond the Indian Ocean and that would make a single maritime theatre unwieldy.
Image from ‘India’s Theatre Command System: A Proposal’
Second, the permeability of external and internal threats demands that Theatre Commands share the internal continental space. The internal space that a maritime based Theatre would have to share is sizeable and evident from the map above. Therefore, the two existing Western and Eastern Naval Command have been re-designated as Southwestern Theatre Command (SWTC) and South-Eastern Theatre Command (SETC).
The Western Command will be remanded from Indira Col on Saltoro Ridge in the Siachen Glacier area with its headquarters prospecting at Gujarat’s trip to Jaipur. The third theatre command will be the Peninsular Command which will also be responsible for the security of the entire Indian Ocean region and South India. The Peninsular Command’s likely headquarters may be Thiruvananthapuram.
Army Commands Infographics from the Maps of India
Earlier, the USA was the first nation to adopt the theatre command concept to do justice to its global military commitments . These ‘unified combat commands’ are organized either on geographical basis with a defined mission in a specific ‘area of responsibility’ somewhere on the globe or on a ‘functional’ basis.
USA has six geographical combat commands and four functional commands comprising cyber command, special operations command, strategic command and transportation command. Each combat command is fully equipped with necessary resources of land forces, air assets, naval vessels and Marine Corps elements. They have integral C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities and can seek assistance from any of the functional commands when required.
They can conduct military operations independently. Each combat command has one commander-he or she could be from any service-who reports directly to the President of the USA through the Defence Secretary.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (CPL) has five Theatre Commands, namely the Eastern Theatre, Southern Theatre, Western Theatre, Northern Theatre and Central Theatre Commands.
The President being the Commander-in-Chief of PLA and Head of the National Command Centre and the Central Military Commission can take independent decisions without seeking military advice. However, the allegiance of the PLA to the Communist Party of China (CPC) makes it a political Force.
In case of the USA, despite being a multiparty democratic country, the institution of Joint Chiefs of Staff has been in place since 1947, which makes it possible to render one point professional military advice directly to national decision-makers.
In conclusion, as India reorganises its military command matrix to suit its geopolitical perspective and geostrategic orientation to deal with the external security environment, it will have challenges. These will be internal, primarily among the services.
Balaji Chandramohan is Indian Newslink Correspondent based in New Delhi. He acknowledges the Discussion Document prepared by Lieutenant General (Dr) Prakash Menon, Director, Strategic Studies Programme at the Takshashila Institution, New Delhi.