What are integrated theatre commands?

Context

  • Recently, Chief of Defence Staff held a meeting in the backdrop of concerns about the proposed model of the integrated theatre commands — both within the Services and outside, as it involves paramilitary forces as well with the Vice Chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and representatives of the Ministries of Home and Finance, National Security Council, Integrated Defence Staff, and Department of Defence, among others.

What are integrated theatre commands?

  • In the simplest words, it is a unified command under which all the resources of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are pooled, depending on the threat perception. 
  • The commands could be geographical — like looking at a border with a particular country — or thematic, like a command for all maritime threats.
  • Several nations in the world have theatre commands, including the United States and China.

Is theatre commands a new idea?

  • The idea of creating an integrated tri-Services command in India is not new — it had been recommended at various levels after the Kargil conflict.

What is the proposal under discussion?

  • A model with four to five integrated tri-Services theatre commands is under discussion, with each command headed by a three-star officer.
  • This officer, the theatre commander, will report to the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), which, as the name suggests, includes the three Service chiefs, and is headed by the CDS as its permanent chairman.
  • This brings in a major change — the Service chiefs currently have all the operational control over their forces; operational powers will now move to the COSC.
  • Each of these commands will have the needed assets from all the three forces. Operational control over all of those assets, regardless of the force, will lie with the commander of that theatre.

The proposed commands are:

  • A Maritime Theatre Command, which will take care of all the maritime security needs of the country on both the eastern and the western seaboards, and will include air strike assets and amphibian forces of the Army.
  • An Air Defence Command, which will be mandated with air defence across the country and beyond. The fighter jets will have reconnaissance and surveillance assets as well.
  • Two or three land-based commands are proposed. If there are two commands, there will be one each for India’s borders with China and Pakistan.
    • Last year, Gen Rawat had stated that apart from these theatre commands, there will be two functional tri-Services commands as well.
    • There will be a Logistics Command, which will have the logistics of all the Services under one person; and there will be a Training and Doctrine Command, so that all Services work under a common doctrine and have some basic common training.

What will be the role of the Services, if not operational?

  • As of now, the Services have to speak to each other in times of need and urgency to request their assets to conduct a particular operation.
  • The proposal is to have a theatre commander who will have operational control of the assets under his command, thus enhancing jointness among the forces, and also reducing duplication of resources.
  • However, this would leave the Service chiefs with no direct control over their assets operationally. This does not mean their roles will be made redundant. Now the Services will have the core tasks to Raise, Train and Sustain their respective forces.
  • Also, as each chief will be a member of the COSC, and an expert of his/her domain, his or her inputs will be necessary for all operational decisions.

Is everybody happy with the proposed idea?

  • Sources within the Services and the Defence Ministry have mentioned that while the Army and the Navy are on board with the proposal, the Air Force has certain reservations.
  • One, the Air Force does not want the Air Force chief to lose operational control of Air assets, according to the sources.
  • Two, the Air Force is concerned that all of its assets might be divided within these integrated theatres.
  • To iron out all such differences and concerns, a committee of the Vice Chiefs of the three Services was set up last week, and the CDS had met them.
  • Sources in the Air Force said that all such concerns need to be addressed before such a significant transformation of the defence set-up takes place.

How many commands are there now; are any of them tri-Service commands?

  • As of now, the three forces have 17 commands between them.
  • The Army has seven commands: Northern, Eastern, Southern, Western, Central, Southwestern and Army Training Command (ARTRAC).

    integrated theatre commands
    Source: India Today

  • The Air Force has seven as well: Western, Eastern, Southern, Southwestern, Central, Training, and Maintenance commands.
  • The Navy has three: Western, Eastern and Southern, of which Southern is largely about training.
  • Even if these commands operate in the same region, they are not co-located, and their areas of operational responsibility are not necessarily the same.
  • There are two existing tri-Service commands as well — the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), which is headed by rotation by officers from the three Services, and the Strategic Force Command, which is responsible for India’s nuclear assets.

MERITS

  • Experts have highlighted the merits of this model to be viewed from an economic and strategic perspective. From an economic perspective, this model would reduce cost by cutting the duplication through optimum allocation and utilization of sources when out under one command.
  • Moreover, the ability to procure military systems and equipment in bulk for the three services together would also ensure cost reduction and strengthened leverage to the defense industry in India. With the strategic deployment of troops under one command, a reduction in the deployment of troops would also reduce the amount of defense budget allocated for salaries, allowances, and pensions, thus cutting through a number of additional costs single-handedly.
  • From a strategic perspective, synchronization between forces and synergy of capabilities would prepare them for modern and hybrid warfare, resulting in enhanced combat efficacy.
  • Moreover, these strategic commands would cater to modern and hybrid warfare, accommodating the cyber and space domains as well. Joint training and synchronization would result in enhanced command and communication within forces.
  • Air Defense Command is a classic instance of a combined strategic and economic perspective. Until now, forces which planned, trained, equipped, and utilized their air defense assets separately and on separate frequencies, could now synchronize these assets and use them collectively and cohesively for their responsibilities.
  • Moreover, the integration of medical services within three forces would elevate the medical arm of the unified command and result in better utilization of medical resources.

DEMERITS

  • Major counter-arguments towards this model involve the narrative that India unlike the US and China does not hold any global interests or presence.
  • Moreover, the Indian Armed Forces need not protect huge landmass or lanes of communication like the US, they argue that the current model is sufficient to protect our territory and lanes of communication and is feasible in transportation.
  • Some experts argue that this model would affect the independent service identity of forces and inter-service friction would be possible considering who will troops report to.
  • Moreover, since the role of Chief of Staff of three forces would be limited to only the deployment of resources to the commander, the utilization of resources would be left on the behest of the theatre commander only, thus resulting in disturbing the role of Chief of Staff. This role of mobilizing resources to the theatre commander and limiting the operational role of Chief of Staff is similar to the practice done in the US unified commands.
  • Moreover, a major challenge would be the domain of challenge of the theatre commander. Proponents of jointness in armed forces often highlight the thin line of the difference between jointness and integration.
  • The proponents of the former highlight how the limited domain of knowledge and expertise of a theatre commander could affect the functioning of command.

CONCLUSION

  • Even though both merits and demerits highlight logical arguments, the truth is this was a much-needed reform in Indian Armed Forces.
  • Thus this integration would lead to theaterisation which would further lead to modernization of forces. Until now, modernization was implemented from the equipment and weapons system per se but this restructuring into unified commands is the other side of modernization of forces.
  • Even though there is a line of difference between Jointmanship among armed forces and Integration of Armed Forces, cooperation is a prerequisite of armed forces.

Source: IE & DefenceArchieve


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