The Armed Forces are finalizing preparations to merge the Army, Navy, and Indian Air Force with their respective resources into particular theater commands, according to two senior government officials acquainted with the topic.
While the initial plan was to establish four theater commands—aan air defense command, a maritime theater command, and two land-based theater commands (one each for the western and eastern sectors)—the services have decided to reevaluate the proposed reform in light of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) objections to the previous proposal.
One of the most prominent options under consideration is to construct combined theater commands based on India’s neighbors instead of the four designated theater commands originally envisioned.
This entails creating an integrated theater command for the northern and eastern borders with China, another for the western borders with Pakistan, and a third maritime command to address threats in the maritime domain, out of the 17 service-specific military commands that are currently operating under the three services. Visakhapatnam, Jaipur, and Lucknow are suggested as potential locations for their headquarters.
Also under consideration is the establishment of a unified training command. Prior to 2021, three collaborative logistics nodes were already functioning. India has two combined service commands: Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and Strategic Forces Command (SFC).
Given that there is always the chance of a conflict on the horizon, efforts are being made to guarantee that the process of establishing theater commands does not need a lengthy “settling period.”
The earlier plan called for the Army’s Northern Command and the IAF’s Air Officer Commanding Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh to operate independently from the theater commands.
General Bipin Rawat, the nation’s first Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), spearheaded the prior theaterization proposals, to which the Indian Air Force (IAF) objected and said that it would divide their fighting assets.
Multiple studies on the theaterization process were conducted by senior commanders of the three services over the past two years, but the plans stalled after General Rawat was killed in a helicopter crash in December 2021.
In the meantime, the services continued their thoughts on the proposed reform by examining the usage of theaters in various operational scenarios in a series of tabletop exercises.
After the current CDS, General Anil Chauhan, took office in September last year, the plans gained momentum.
According to officials, the services have been tasked with evaluating the viability of adopting a fresh and distinct approach to the theaterization plans of the Indian military. Multiple talks on the theaterization plans have taken place inside the three services and between the three service chiefs and General Chauhan during the past three months.
Anticipating the future
Threats arising from China, Pakistan, and maritime routes are considered in plans for theater commands that will integrate Army, Navy, and IAF capabilities. The IAF did not approve of the prior plan, which called for the division of fighting assets.
According to officials with knowledge of the most recent developments, the plan is likely to be finalized shortly, after which it will be reviewed, analyzed, and further refined in collaboration with the CDS.
They emphasized that the current proposal is still malleable and may undergo future modifications as a result of additional internal deliberations and government involvement.
IAF head Air Chief Marshal V. R. Chaudhari stated a year ago that the IAF is not averse to the theaterization process so long as the doctrinal aspects of the force are not compromised by the development of new structures.
He had also stated that while theater commanders should be prepared for the evolving forms of warfare in the cyber and space domains, they should not increase the number of layers in their decision-making chains.
General M. M. Naravane (ret.), former Army chief, stated this month that unless a national security policy is in place, talk of theater is “putting the cart before the horse.”
Army Head General Manoj Pande stated to the media last week that there is a need to implement proper tri-service arrangements and that the services are currently discussing matters pertaining to theater commands.