CDS says new reforms face hurdles but services in agreement on theaterisation

Jun 22, 2021 10:13 PM IST

Gen Rawat said the processes for the creation of theatre commands were progressing in line with the prescribed timelines.

As the government sharpens its focus on laying the groundwork for theatre commands in the backdrop of purported internal resistance, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat on Tuesday said new reforms face some hurdles but the three services were in agreement on taking theaterisation forward. His remarks came during an interview to a news channel.

File photo: Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat. (ANI )
File photo: Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat. (ANI )

“These hurdles are also necessary as they make us realise that more discussions are required (to iron out the details of the plan). We are taking the theaterisation plan forward with more discussions,” Rawat told India Today TV.

He said the processes for the creation of theatre commands were progressing in line with the prescribed timelines for bringing about jointness among the three services.

The government expects Rawat, who took charge as India’s first CDS on January 1, 2020, to bring about jointness among the three services in a three-year time frame (by January 2023). One of the means to achieve this is through the setting up of integrated theatre commands for the best use of military resources to fight future battles.

The CDS’s comments came a day after HT reported that while the army and the navy are in favour of theatre commands, the air force has issues over the division of its air assets, the nomenclature of commands, the leadership of theatre commands and dilution of powers of chiefs.

Rawat said the armed forces - after several rounds of discussions - have done a lot of work on what kind of joint structures should be set up. “If we operate together and utilise the strengths of the three services, the synergised effort will not be the sum of three; but 1+1+1 (the three services) will equal 111,” he said, emphasising the need for integration.

Experts highlighted the need for all stakeholders to cooperate to take the theaterisation forward.

“There was no consensus on the appointment of the CDS for 20 years. Ultimately, the government had to decide. Similarly, when it comes to theaterisation, it is for India’s defence and security. No service should feel that they will have an upper hand or become subordinate to another service. We should all be mature enough to take India’s long-term interests into account,” said Lieutenant General DB Shekatkar (retd).

Several military reforms are being implemented by the government to make the armed forces more effective on the recommendations of the Shekatkar committee report. The committee is among the several panels that recommended the appointment of CDS and the creation of theatre commands.

On Tuesday, Rawat held a meeting with the vice chiefs of the three services and senior officials from the defence, finance and home ministries to discuss all aspects related to setting up theatre commands before the proposal is sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for approval, officials familiar with the developments said.

A lack of consensus on the military’s theaterisation model emerged earlier this month during a key meeting of top government officials who reviewed a draft cabinet note on the new joint structures.

This led to the government setting up an expert committee last week to carry out consultations on the long-awaited military reform, as reported by HT on June 18. The panel has members of the armed forces, defence ministry and other ministries involved in the planning and implementation aspects of theaterisation.

“More discussions will take place to give a push to reach an agreement on the theaterisation plan,” said one of the officials cited above.

Theaterisation refers to placing specific units of the army, the navy and the air force under a theatre commander. Such commands are to be led by an officer from any of the three services, depending on the roles assigned to them.

The key points discussed during the meeting in South Block in early June included the executing authority for theatre commands, the geographies they will control, command and control structures, budgeting and placing some paramilitary forces under the commands. Some of these issues involve the finance and home ministries.

HT reported in February that India was set to begin a formal roll-out of its long-awaited theaterisation plan, with the Air Defence Command and the Maritime Theatre Command likely to be launched by May. Deliberations on the proposal are likely to take more time as all stakeholders have to be brought on board and the previous timelines may have to be revised, as previously reported by HT.

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. In addition, a logistics command is in the works to avoid duplication of efforts and resources.

The operational control of all the theatre commands will eventually come under CDS, with the service chiefs being responsible for raising, training and sustaining their forces.

Rawat wears three hats — he is the permanent chairman of chiefs of staff committee (COSC), heads the department of military affairs (DMA), and is also the single-point military adviser to the defence minister.

The CDS will have operational control over all the integrated commands when they are fully functional - this will be in his role as the CDS, and not as permanent chairman, COSC. This will require some restructuring in the DMA.

The restructuring could involve the chief of integrated defence staff to COSC, or CISC, being appointed as the secretary of DMA in due course to allow the CDS to focus on the theatre commands, senior officials earlier said.

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