Challenges for Theatre Commands

The Indian Army has regimental affiliations and is bound by their legacy.


Re-organising and re-structuring has been the hallmark for combat forces to keep the cutting edge honed and sharp. This challenge is to be seen at the macro level as there is a need to provide a cohesive and decisive combat force to be able to deliver its political and military objectives.

The Chief of Defence Staff/Department of Military Affairs (CDS/DMA) have been struggling to meet the deadlines and the lack of consensus has been aired by the Chief of Air Staff and the gaff by the CDS in an answer to a question the Indian Air Force is a ‘supporting arm’.

A series of articles by the Veteran officers in support of the Air Chief was published in the print media, how much that will impact the setting up of the Theatre Commands, only time will tell.

In the meantime to have a meaningful force structuring of the Theatre Commands it is to be ascertained if the Political Leadership by the advice of the CDS/DMA has been able to formalise the Political and Military aims under different contingencies.

Assuming that this would have been done with a given Terms of Reference, this is a step in the right direction and the Services will have to give up turf wars and find ways to formulate Standard Operating Procedures. This would include continuous intelligence assessments and building the intelligence picture and its dissemination to the field formations and troops tasked.

The rules of engagement have to be clear and there is no “looking over the shoulder” as in the past operations of OP PAWAN and OP VIJAY restrictions imposed led to the high number of casualties. To add insult to injury OP PAWAN remains a taboo, notwithstanding the fact that the Indian Braveheart fights for “Naam, Namak aur Nishaan”.

The setting up of the Air Defence Command and the Maritime Command is expected to be set up by a timeline in 2022; it will set into motion a battle procedure for deriving the synergies desired.

As the Theatre Commands have to be tailor-made to the Indian Context, a revisit to the drawing boards can be expected to ensure that all issues of friction are resolved.

Some questions remain to be answered and are being flagged as there are no easy answers:

• Which appointment will formulate plans to have a synergised operational plan?
• Will the procurement process be revisited and issues raised by the Chief of Army Staff of T1 and L1 be incorporated?
• Who would be responsible for the Theatre Command Acquisitions?
• Who would be responsible for equipping the force with the wherewithal to be self-contained in all respects?
• Does the Service HQ budget be now broken down in Theatre Command budgets?
• Will All Ranks who are part of a Theatre Command be rotated within the commands or are likely to be rotated in other commands, therefore, requiring re-orientation and training to be “merged” with the existing force structure?
• Will the role of Army Training Command and its equivalents be restricted to service-related training issues or would they enunciate Training Doctrines for each command now with a new perspective?
• With this restructuring being undertaken it is yet to be seen what would be the implications for the current Army Commanders and their equivalents in the Air Force and Navy?
• Are the Theatre Commanders going to be at a stature higher to the Army Commanders and does he report to a Service Chief or the CDS?
• The Indian Army remains committed to counter-terror operations in Kashmir and North East, with all ranks being posted to Rashtriya Rifles and Assam Rifles, will this continue hitherto fore?

The Service culture is very different between the units within the Indian Army, the necessity to be exposed to the Navy and Air Force way of functioning is very different. The Indian Army has regimental affiliations and is bound by their legacy. The legacy issues may not be that much in the Indian Air Force or the Indian Navy. Finding the right mix will remain a challenge.

The Army Act, Air Force Act and the Navy Act govern the Service Personnel; these laws would need to be attuned to the new requirements; as a discipline will remain the bedrock for these new Theatre Commands.

The successful launch of the Theatre Commands will need to go into the minutest requirements as well as detailing the fine print. The various Orders and Instructions which govern the day to day functioning of the three Service HQs would perhaps for the first time be merged to give a level playing field to those who would now function and deliver when the time comes.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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