Theaterisation plans being refined through wider talks before seeking nod from CCS
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 long-awaited military reform to optimally use the resources of the armed forces, senior officials familiar with the developments said on Thursday.
Different aspects related to theaterisation were discussed and examined in detail by top government officials who reviewed a draft cabinet note on new joint structures at a meeting held in South Block earlier this month, said one of the officials cited above.
The key points discussed included the executing authority for theatre commands, the geographies they will control, command and control structures, budgeting, extending the service of senior three-star officers who will take over as theatre commanders and placing some paramilitary forces under the commands, said a second official. Some of these issues involve the finance and home ministries.
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.
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.
“Processes have to be followed before the proposal is sent to the CCS for approval. We have to have more discussions to iron out the details of the theaterisation plan. All stakeholders have to be in agreement on what is the best way to address the country’s security requirements. But there will be no inordinate delay,” said the first official.
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.
“Some paramilitary forces, which come under the home ministry, may be subsumed into the theatre commands. The coast guard will also come under the Maritime Theatre Command. These issues are being discussed,” said the second official.
Experts said building consensus among stakeholders was crucial to take the theaterisation plan forward. It is crucial to address the concerns of all stakeholders, including the services and other ministries involved, before the cabinet note is sent for the approval of the CCS, said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).
“A final decision will be taken after due deliberations to streamline all aspects related to theatre commands. I hope theaterisation is accorded top priority and the necessary approvals come as early as possible so that the armed forces are future-ready and capable of meeting emerging challenges,” Bhatia added.
The government expects General Bipin Rawat, who took charge as India’s first chief of defence staff (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 jointness is the setting up of integrated theatre commands.
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, as previously reported by HT.
Rawat wears three hats — he is the permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (COSC), heads the department of military affairs (DMA), and is the single-point military adviser to the defence minister.
CDS will have operational control over all the integrated commands when they are fully functional --- this will be in his role as CDS, and not as permanent chairman, COSC. This will require some restructuring in 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 CDS to focus on the theatre commands, senior officials earlier said.