Army, navy and IAF get 6 months to respond to theatre command final proposal
The department of military affairs (DMA) has given the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force service headquarters six months till mid-2022 to respond to its final military theatre commands proposal before commencing the raising of much required rationalised structures for countering adversaries. China has already integrated theatre commands with mixed element brigades and is now helping Pakistan to also reform its warfighting systems with theatre commands.
According to officials in the know of the developments, the DMA under Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat has sent the final structure to the three-service headquarters for giving their considered view in writing to the defence ministry in the next 180 days. It is understood that once the army, navy and the air force come back to DMA with their suggestions or objections before the process of raising theatre commands begins with senior military commanders indicating that the new commands will be functioning by end-2022.
While the army and the navy are all for theatre commands, the air force is trying to reconcile with the division of its air assets among respective theatre commands. Fuelling discontent and new hurdles against the theatre commands is the fact that the service chiefs will no longer be numero uno of the respective military branches but will only be responsible for training and prioritisation of hardware purchases as part of the committee headed by the permanent chief of staff or the CDS in this case. It is this resistance to change or reform by the three services and the pressure from the retired ex-servicemen lobby that has led to the defence ministry consulting all and sundry for military theatre commands.
Fact is that while the entire 3488 of Line of Actual Control is handled by the Western Theatre Command of the PLA including elements of the air force, armour, artillery and rocket regiments, it is faced with three—northern, central and eastern command—of the Indian Army along with similar three commands of the Indian Air Force. While the PLA theatre commander directly reports to the Central Military Commission (CMC) under President Xi Jinping, the Indian Army and Indian Air Force report to their respective chiefs like in World War II and who in turn report to the defence minister with a dotted line to the Prime Minister of India.
Even the Indian Navy is divided into western and eastern commands, whose commanders report to Chief of Naval Staff, while the Andamans and Nicobar Commander, the key to any sea battle in future, reports to the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff or CISC. Simply put, all the services operate within their own silos and rarely are on the same wavelength on crucial issues facing the security of the nation. But for record’s sake, all the services have been talking about joint manship or battle synergy since the 1999 Kargil war.
While India, often described as raucous and chaotic democracy, takes its own time to reform and rationalise the Indian military amidst continuous state, by-elections, and general elections, it is faced with as authoritarian Communist China ruled by a dictator for life and a quasi-democracy in Pakistan where the army is forever in power and rules the roost. Indian military must reform or else it will be surprised again by the PLA like it was in May 2020 on the banks of the Pangong Tso.