Deliberations amongst all the three services and other stakeholders over the proposed military theatre commands met in New Delhi on Tuesday (June 22, 2021) in an effort to resolve all issues before the file goes to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
Who were part of the extensive discussions?
Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat, service chiefs/vice chiefs, also representatives of three other ministries including Defence, Home, and Finance. And other senior officials.
Reports indicate that Indian Air Force (IAF) is not on board yet.
Story so far …
Though extensive studies have been carried out, there is still some time before the integrated Tri-Service Commands can be rolled out. “There are concerns associated with many aspects of the proposed Theatre commands, including sharing of the assets, jointness and interoperability, explained a senior officer on condition of anonymity.”
While the Army and Navy are fully onboard with the plans that have been approved at the highest levels, reports indicate that the IAF is opposed to the concept.
According to Milind Kulshreshtha, Strategic Analyst and C4I expert, “The Theatre Commands shall have verticals like Maritime Command, Air Defence Command etc. to imbibe the Joint Warfare concepts of each of the land, air and marine domains. Although vertically separated in specialization, these Theatre Commands are required to be seamlessly integrated through concepts like the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO). A MDO solution cultivates ‘interoperability’ and ensures an effective response against fast moving real-time targets in a multi-tiered defence structure.”
As has been reported by Financial Express Online, India has been studying various western and Chinese war models of war fighting, since the time India’s first ever Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat came in office. He set out his priorities for execution of synergy amongst the three services by 2020. Soon after taking over he had sought a proposal for an Air Defence Command by the end of 2020. He had also announced that the Indian military will complete the theatrisation process by 2023. China already has an established Theatre Level Commands.
Why is this being done?
The idea is to rationalize war fighting resources, and efficiency of executions and to face threat in a two front war. This means that the proposed Theatre Commands are going to be highly dependent on the interoperability amongst various units of the three services, which is not available yet.
Integration with the IAF – what is needed
For inclusive operations with the assets of IAF under a single Theatre Command, there is a need for the Army to introspect their warfare Doctrines and Concepts.
There needs to be digital integration of the tank units with the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets which during war will be flying in an Air Support Role.
For an effective exploitation of the Air assets, the Indian Army has to include defensive and offensive tactics of the IAF in its own Real-time operation schemes.
Each Theatre Command is expected to highlight more of their inter-service interoperability shortcomings.
This means the joint operations between the Army and the IAF is more than a hierarchal organisation for communicating orders in modern interoperable warfare.
To address certain concerns like the inclusion of paramilitary forces which are reporting to the Ministry of Home Affairs, a special committee was set up which had the Vice-Chiefs of the three services, the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff, the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee. Also there are representatives from other related ministries.
What are the new challenges?
The big question that has emerged before the proposal goes to Cabinet Committee on Security for approval after several rounds of meetings between the services – should the Theatre commands be country based (adversaries like Pakistan and China) or challenges.
Financial Express Online had reported earlier that the office of the CDS is keen to set up – Maritime Theatre Command and Air Defence Command soon.
Sources indicate that the Theatre Command concept could be announced earlier than the targeted timeline of 2022.
The US which was the first country in the world to roll out the Theatre Commands took nine years. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one senior officer explained, “There seems to be a rush to set up the Theatre Commands and their structure. Whereas a lot more needs to be clarified and studied before this concept fructifies.”
In India, all the stakeholders are not on the same page, and several rounds of discussions are going on in an effort to get everyone on board and there is a need for a unified warfare strategy with the integrated assets and the forces.
The involvement of the Finance ministry in the discussions is important as there is the issue of integration of structures as well as setting up the different theatres. These have financial ramifications too.
Who reports to whom?
Another major issue that is being discussed is the question of who the commanders of different theatres report to?
As has been reported earlier there are expected to be five Theatres to be formed — Maritime Theatre Command, Air Defence Command, Eastern Land Theatre, Northern Land Theatre (Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Central sector) and Pakistan Centric Western Land Theatre.
Milind Kulshreshtha, Strategic Analyst and C4I expert says, “The Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) is a well-established paradigm to achieve a layered engagement philosophy based on specialized abilities of the Army, Navy and Air Force. MDO is evolved keeping in mind the present and future capabilities of known adversaries. The concept aligns the resources to achieve a multi-domain superiority, with constant improvements happening through military exercises. Initially, a detailed study of all aspects of the war fighting methods is carried out to leverage the advantages of individual service arm when fielded in the Joint Force command.”
“Even before the Theatre Commands are considered, other core technologies for Joint operations like the Data Fusion for Common Operational Picture (COP) etc. too require highlighting. As per the well anticipated military ethos, once the Theatre Command is launched, it shall become a race against time for each service arm to operationalize these networks. Hence, a well-thought-out technology framework for common network protocols, Tactical Data Link, interoperability etc. may be considered as a common start point. Once the commonality of the equipment like Digital Communication network, Data fusion equipment, radars and various other underlying technologies are comprehensively defined, the Defence Budget could be earmarked to centrally procure such equipment for interoperability and benefit of economies of scale,” Mr Kulshreshtha explains.
In his view, “The modern Communication Networks over land, air and sea are already highly reliant on satellite constellation diversity and digital automation. Indian Navy is primarily focused towards establishing an assured communication network for the maritime war fighters. This shall be not only contemporary in technology but also future enabled to meet the information exchange demands of stringent high data rates (like the future AI enabled systems). Further, such technologies are expected to be interoperable not only with the Joint Commands, but also with the multinational Task Forces at sea.”
Meanwhile, “a separate sub-set organization for Space and Cyberspace may be considered within the realm of each Theatre command. However, these technology verticals could be centrally controlled since they have the potential to evolve into a full-fledged Space Command and Cyber warfare Commands in the near future,” Mr Kulshreshtha concludes.