India’s military leadership will have to “more than match the political vision” that has mandated the creation of theatre commands to address future security threats, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat said on Thursday, while highlighting the need to stay prepared to counter threats from China and Pakistan, even as he stressed that the former seeks to “establish dominance” in the country’s neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean Region.
Rawat said “service parochialism” will have to make way for “a combined services outlook” to take theaterisation forward, calling for the military’s transformation to “outthink and outfight” India’s adversaries.
“It will not be easy and the transition to theatre commands will indeed be a challenging process. There is a need to create and propagate the narrative of strategic advantages that accrue at the national and armed forces levels (with theaterisation),” CDS said on the eve of a top commanders’ conference to be addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 6.
Theaterisation refers to placing specific units of the army, the navy and the air force under a theatre commander. Such commands are led by an officer from any of the three services, depending on the roles assigned to them.
The military is putting finishing touches to its theaterisation plan for the most advantageous utilisation of its resources to fight future wars, with the Air Defence Command and the Maritime Theatre Command set to be launched by May.
Rawat said integrating operating concepts seeks to create the conditions to “outthink, outfight and outpace” India’s adversaries. He was speaking at a virtual event – Transformation: Imperatives for the Indian Armed Forces – organised by the Secunderabad-based College of Defence Management.
“Such seminars are expected to generate ideas about evolving joint structures that will address voids at the strategic and operational levels that single-service commands at present fail to address,” Rawat said. He said the military currently has 17 single-service commands, none co-located with each other and with each of the three services discharging their operational and strategic roles in isolation.
The points raised by CDS are extremely relevant, said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
“We cannot continue with 17 individual commands while paying lip-service to integration and joint war fighting. The three services will have to look beyond their stovepipes and work with CDS to find the best model and optimum command and control arrangement for integrated commands that is suitable for India,” Hooda added.
Apart from the Air Defence and Maritime Theatre Commands, India is expected to have three other integrated commands to secure its western, northern and eastern fronts – these will be rolled out by December 2022. In addition, a logistics command is in the works to avoid duplication of efforts and resources.
CDS’s mandate includes bringing about jointness in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services and repairs and maintenance of the three services.
“Theatre commands will optimise resource utilisation and lead to savings that can be used for force modernisation,” Rawat said. The military is expected to make a presentation to the PM on the situation along the borders and progress made towards the creation of theatre commands at the Combined Commanders’ Conference being held at Kevadia in Gujarat on March 5-6.
Rawat said the Indian armed forces face greater challenges than any other military in the world and India urgently needs to bring about structural reforms in higher defence and operational organisations.
“Some important steps that we need to take include defining the national security strategy, higher defence strategic guidance, and structural reforms in higher defence and operational organisations.”
Rawat also spoke about remodelling organisational structures to fight future battles.
“The organisational structure for conventional wars or limited conflicts under nuclear overhang already exists. But it needs to be re-modelled, re-equipped and re-oriented to conduct joint battles in digitised battle space to have necessary flexibility for other types of operations,” he said.
CDS said the main dimensions of the military’s transformation relate to doctrine, force structure, technology, sustenance and readiness. Referring to the border standoff in eastern Ladakh, he said, “We stood up to our belligerent neighbour on the northern borders and thwarted its nefarious design. Now, more than ever, military transformation is vital to us.”