South Asia and Beyond

More Brainstorming Needed On Theatre Commands, Military Brass Decides

 More Brainstorming Needed On Theatre Commands, Military Brass Decides

NEW DELHI: The top brass of the Indian military has decided to continue more discussions and conduct in-depth cross-services studies before finalising the number of theatre commands it needs to create for enhancing joint combat potential of the three armed forces, last week’s top-level meeting appears to have concluded.

Last Thursday, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat presided over the deliberations attended by all the three service chiefs—Adm. Karambir Singh, Gen. MM Naravane and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria—their respective vice-chiefs and several two star officers drawn from across the armed forces.

A threadbare discussion for over five hours considered several options and possible scenarios in which the armed forces might be called in to operate in the near future. After considering a make believe situation and the employment of forces in a joint environment, the discussion was enlarged to bigger questions: How many theatre commands does India need? What should their composition be? and how to evolve a timeline for the implementation of the plan? it is learnt. Although all three services reiterated their known positions, there was apparently broad agreement that many more brainstorming sessions were required before arriving at a definitive conclusion on the exact nature of joint or theatre commands that India needs.

This is a clear indication perhaps that some kind of course correction has been injected into the plan for carrying out the next stage of higher defence reforms.

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In January 2020, the government finally bit the bullet and appointed the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), as the principal adviser to the cabinet of military matters, 19 years after a Group of Ministers (GoM) had recommended such a measure. Gen. Rawat took charge on January 1, 2020. Additionally—much to the surprise of the strategic community—a Department of Military Affairs (DMA) was also created to look after all military affairs (the three services) in the Ministry of Defence (MoD). These were, indeed, pathbreaking decisions.

The next step, according to decision-makers, is to create synergy and foster jointness among the three forces by restructuring the decades-old system of planning, force equipping and force projection to make the Indian armed forces future ready. Decades of well-entrenched individual service mindsets at the highest level of the military leadership and lack of adequate knowledge about one another has meant that the task is easier imagined than implemented.

While the armed forces will continue to have detailed debates and deliberations on the creation of theatre commands, there is another school of thought that advocates formation of an independent oversight committee comprising a mix of knowledgeable civilians, former chiefs and bureaucrats to broaden the discussion and get more inputs. Whatever the shape of the discussions, the outcome will have to be oriented towards attaining maximum impact, national security planners have indicated.

Nitin A. Gokhale

Left to himself, Nitin A. Gokhale would rather watch films and sports matches but his day job as a media entrepreneur, communications specialist, analyst and author, leaves him little time to indulge in his primary interests. Gokhale in fact started his career in journalism in 1983 as a sports reporter. Since then he has, in the past 41 years, traversed the entire spectrum across print, broadcast and digital space. One of South Asia's leading strategic analysts, Gokhale has moved on from conventional media to become an independent media entrepreneur running three niche digital platforms—BharatShakti, StratNewsGlobal and Interstellar—besides undertaking consultancy and training workshops in communications for military institutions, corporates and individuals. Now better known for his conflict coverage and strategic analyses, Gokhale has lived and reported from India’s North-east for 23 years between 1983 and 2006, been on the ground at Kargil in the summer of 1999 and also brought us live coverage from Sri Lanka’s Eelam War IV between 2006-2009.    An alumni of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii, Gokhale now writes, lectures and analyses security and strategic matters in Indo-Pacific and travels regularly to US, Europe, Australia, South and South-East Asia to take part in various seminars and conferences. Gokhale is also a popular visiting faculty at India’s Defence Services Staff College, the three war colleges, India's National Defence College, College of Defence Management and the IB’s intelligence school.