New Delhi: The Indian Army’s Northern Command is the only single-service command that will stay outside the scope of the military’s theaterisation drive aimed at integrating the capabilities of the three services and optimally utilising their resources for future wars and operations, people aware of the matter said on Thursday. And a final call on the headquarters of the new Air Defence Command, one of the five new integrated commands being created , is yet to be taken, the people added.
The Udhampur-based Northern Command is responsible for guarding the country’s borders with Pakistan and China in the north, and is the nerve centre of counterterrorism operations in Jammu & Kashmir. “The Northern Command will stay intact. We can’t take things lightly in that sector. As far as theaterisation is concerned, we are fine-tuning issues like command and control structures, leadership roles, distribution of assets to keep forces operationally ready and cross-service staffing at different levels,” a top official , one of the people cited above, said on condition of anonymity.
The headquarters of the new theatre commands have been finalised, except for the Air Defence Command. The locations being considered for the headquarters of the Air Defence Command include Prayagraj, Jodhpur and Gandhinagar, HT learns.
The Western Theatre Command will be based at Jaipur, the Eastern Theatre Command at Lucknow, and the Maritime Theatre Command at Karwar in Karnataka. The logistics command is likely to be based in Nagpur, where the Indian Air Force’s Maintenance Command is currently located. The logistics command seeks to avoid duplication of efforts and resources.
Jaipur and Lucknow are the current headquarters of the army’s South Western and Central Commands. Though it does not house any of the Indian Navy’s existing commands, Karwar has adequate infrastructure to accommodate the Maritime Theatre Command.
The initial plan was to base the Air Defence Command at Prayagraj — the existing headquarters of IAF’s Central Air Command — but a final call has not been taken, said a second official.
“The Indian Air Force is keen to make it Jodhpur. Some have proposed Gandhinagar as an alternative as IAF’s South Western Air Command is based there. Creating new structures at existing command headquarters has advantages — operational, minimum disruption during transition phase, cost benefits and better logistics,” the second official added on condition of anonymity.
The armed forces currently have 17 single-service commands spread across the country. The Indian Army and the Indian Air Force have seven commands each, while the Indian Navy has three. Creating theatres would involve merging the existing commands (except the Northern Command).
“It appears that Northern Command will largely retain its current geographical area of responsibility. In case of Ladakh which has borders both with China and Pakistan, for operational and logistics reasons it is not possible to divide this sector between two commands,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
He said it was perhaps felt that it would be preferable not to make changes in the current command arrangement due to the ongoing counter terrorism operations in J&K. “However, operations would be better coordinated if the western borders are under one theatre,” Hooda added.
Theaterisation refers to merging specific commands of the army, navy and air force, and placing them under a theatre commander. Such theatre commands are to be led by an officer from any of the three services, depending on the roles assigned to them.
After they are initially rolled out, the Western and Eastern Theatres will be headed by army generals with senior three-star Air Component commanders under them, the Air Defence Command will be led by a top three-star IAF officer and the Maritime Theatre Command by a top Vice Admiral, officials said.
The theaterisation model will have the inbuilt flexibility to fall back on current command and control structures to eliminate the possibility of the country getting caught off guard by its adversaries during the crucial transition phase, HT reported on Thursday.
Stabilisation of theatre commands could take up to five years, and it is critical to ensure that there is a mechanism to swiftly return to the pre-theaterisation status quo if a crisis unfolds when the restructuring is underway, senior officials previously said.
The government expects chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat to bring about jointness among the three services by January 2023.
The defence ministry and the armed forces are refining the military’s theaterisation plans through internal consultations and detailed discussions with other ministries involved before seeking the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) to implement the military reform.
The government has formed an eight-member panel under Rawat to fine-tune the plans and bring all stakeholders on board, especially the IAF, for speedy roll-out of new joint structures.
The setting up of the committee to iron out details of the theaterisation plan turned the spotlight on the IAF’s traditional resistance to the setting up of integrated theatre commands. The panel was set up last month after some differences on the theaterisation model emerged during a key meeting of top government officials who reviewed a draft cabinet note on the new joint structures.
The issues under the panel’s consideration include the executing authority for theatre commands, the geographies they will control, command and control structures, budgeting, appointment of senior three-star officers who will take over as theatre commanders and placing some paramilitary forces under the commands.