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PoliticsIndiaIntegrated theatre command that Rajnath Singh wishes to expedite explained

Integrated theatre command that Rajnath Singh wishes to expedite explained

A joint or integrated theatre command of tri-services will be set up to enhance coordination among armed forces, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced today during a programme organised by the Jammu Kashmir People's Forum in Jammu to pay tributes to the martyrs of the Indian Armed Forces. "Keeping in view (joint operations as seen in Operation Vijay in Kargil), we have decided to set up joint theatre commands (in the country)," Singh said.

It has been known since the tenure of CDS (late) Bipin Rawat that India would begin the initial roll-out of this long-awaited plan, with one maritime theatre command, one air defence command and the two land-based western and eastern theatre commands likely to be launched by May this year, though the commands would take two years to be fully operational. The plan has the full backing of the government.

In June 2021, the government formed an eight-member panel to fine-tune the plan for a joint theatre command and bring all stakeholders on board, especially the Indian Air Force, for a speedy roll-out of the new joint structures.

The Indian military’s theatre model, a long-awaited reform, will have inbuilt flexibility to fall back on the current command and control structures to deal with any contingency during the transition phase, an official said. 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-theatre status quo if a crisis unfolds when the restructuring is underway.

Singh, paying homage to martyrs,  said the country cannot forget their supreme sacrifice to safeguard the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty. "It is the duty of the society and the people to give their utmost respect to the martyrs and their families," he said. "Whatever support you can offer, do to for their families. It is the responsibility of each citizen," the minister said.

The defence minister said India was moving quickly from being the world's largest importer of defence equipment to an exporter. "India was the world's largest importer (of defence products). Today, India is not the world's largest importer but is among the top 25 nations engaged in defence exports," he pointed out.

Singh said the country had started defence exports worth Rs 13,000 crore and it had fixed a target to increase it to Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 crore by 2025-26.

What is integrated theatre command? 

According to the 2017 Joint Doctrine publication of the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff, "Jointness implies or denotes possessing an optimised capability to engage in Joint War-Fighting […] Joint operations as well as single-Service operations are sub-sets of the larger whole of 'conceptual Jointness'. Cooperative centralised planning enables the appropriate concentration of forces […]. With Jointness, a high level of cross-domain synergy is attained. Integration: Integration in contemporary military matters is in reference to the integration of 'processes' across all operational domains of land, air, maritime, cyberspace and aerospace, towards optimisation of costs and enhancing readiness. Integration is embodied across all functions; Operations, Intelligence, Technology Management, Perspective Plans, Logistics, and Human Resources Development (HRD).[…] Beyond the Armed Forces, it also requires collaboration with the Diplomatic, Economic and Information instruments of the National Power, at all levels – strategic, operational and tactical.

According to the former Chief of India's Army Staff Deepak Kapoor, who recommended theatre commands as early as the 1980s, "integration is a step ahead of jointness in ensuring a synergised approach to operations". While in joint command, the parent service remains part of the decision-making process, in integrated commands, resources from the three services are already placed under one commander. In the case of an integrated command, the commander must be able to fully understand the workings of all the services under his command.

When did the idea of an integrated theatre command germinate?

The integrated theatre command of the Indian armed forces is an idea to establish varying degrees of synergy and cross-service cooperation between the country's military wings. Two years after Independence, the union government set up a joint educational framework starting with the first tri-service academy in the world, the National Defence Academy. Over the years, this joint educational framework has been expanded to bring from the different services together at different stages of their careers.

By 1954, the Joint Services Wing would go on to become the National Defence Academy, the first tri-service academy in the world. The Defence Services Staff College was converted into a fully integrated institution by 1950. In 1960 the National Defence College was commissioned and in 1970 the College of Defence Management. This joint educational framework that brought together at different stages of their careers has been beneficial in increasing inter-service camaraderie.

What are India's integrated theatre commands? How many of them are operational?

India currently has two fully functioning unified commands — the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) set up in 2001 and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) set up in 2003. While the ANC is an integrated theatre command SFC is an integrated functional command (or specified combatant command). There are currently 17 single service commands — 7 of the Army, 7 of the Air Force and 3 of the Navy. Each of these commands is located at a separate base.

As of 2020, the Air Defence Command was the first command being undertaken. Integrated commands set up as specialised service providers were formed: the Defence Cyber Agency, the Defence Space Agency and the Armed Forces Special Operations Division are agencies of Integrated Defense Staff. The Defence Cyber Agency could go on to form the information warfare command. Other proposed commands include the logistics command and the training and doctrinal command. The Integrated Defence Staff and the Defence Planning Committee are integral parts of the unifying process.

Name Type Year Status
Andaman and Nicobar Command Unified Theatre Command 2001 Operational
Strategic Forces Command Integrated Functional Command 2003 Operational
Defence Cyber Agency Integrated Functional Agency(Part of Integrated Defence Staff) 2019 Operational
Defence Space Agency Integrated Functional Agency(Part of Integrated Defence Staff) 2019 Operational
Special Operations Division Integrated Functional Unit(Part of Integrated Defence Staff) 2019 Operational
Air Defence Command Unified Theatre Command Announced
Maritime Theatre Command Joint Announced
Logistics Command Joint Announced
Training Command Joint Announced

What is new in the newly proposed integration?

Jointness or integration is achieved through tri-service organisations such as the Integrated Defence Staff. But India only has a service-specific commands system. Joint and integrated commands, also known as unified commands; and further divided into theatre or functional commands, have been set up and more are proposed. The only fully functional theatre command is the Andaman and Nicobar Command set up in 2001 while the Strategic Forces Command, set up in 2003, is an integrated functional command or specified combatant command.

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Recently constructed integrated functional commands under the Integrated Defence Staff include the Defence Cyber Agency, Defence Space Agency and the Special Operations Division. The Air Defence Command is the first integrated command being undertaken.

The creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in January 2020 was seen as a major push for indigenous joint warfare and a process of building a joint theatre of the Indian armed forces.

The recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee promoted increasing jointness and integration. Subsequent committees such as the Shekatkar Committee in 2016 included the creation of three integrated theatre commands.

In February 2020, CDS (late) Rawat said two to five theatre commands may be set up. The completion of the creation of theatre commands, both integrated and joint commands, will take a number of years. The Indian Air Force (IAF) opposed the formation of unified theatre commands, citing a limitation of resources.

What are the issues in achieving this integration?

There is significant support as well as significant opposition to some of the attempts at jointness and integration, such as the process to turn all the services into a unified theatre, at the highest levels of government and the public.

In his book, "My Years with the IAF", Air Chief Marshal (Retd) PC Lal wrote, "The Bangladesh war demonstrated that the three services working closely together were strong and decisive in their actions. Inter-Services cooperation was indeed the most important lesson of that war." However, then-Air Marshal Vinod Patney pointed out that one of India's first experiences with jointness did not work out so well. He wrote that India had attempted to try out a theatre commander during the initial stages of the Indian intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War with the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force. However, after helicopters were sent on missions without proper advice resulting in avoidable loss of life and machinery, air and naval assets were once again positioned under respective air and naval commanders. Under this structure, the operations continued till the end of the peacekeeping operations in 1990.

Following the Kargil War in 1999, the Kargil Review Committee was set up to review where India went wrong during the limited war with Pakistan and suggest changes to the security apparatus accordingly. Subsequently, a group of ministers was formed and in turn four task forces. Among the numerous recommendations suggested were "integration of the services both with each other and with the Ministry of Defence, the creation of a chief of defence staff and joint operational commands".

A Manohar Parrikar-led Ministry of Defence appointed a committee of experts, chaired by Lt General (retd) DB Shekatkar, submitted its report in December 2016. Among the recommendations of the Shekatkar Committee was the creation of three integrated theatre commands.

Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy (Retd), the former Chief of Air Staff, wrote an article in The Indian Express titled, "Why theatre commands is an unnecessary idea" where he conveys that the idea of dividing India into "Theatre command(s) may seemingly have some operational advantage" but "the permanency of dividing our own territory into Operational Theatres as a defence measure seems preposterous. And to state that such a division is required to defend our country more effectively sounds alarming."

Air Marshal Narayan Menon said that integrated theatre commands worked for the United States, Russia and China because militarily they are countries which are self-sufficient while "India is in a completely different and subordinate class" in terms of military expenditure and "shortages in personnel, equipment and firepower" in all three of the services. 

Maj Gen (Retd) SB Asthana notes that the idea of Integrated Theatre Commands in India "seems to be driven more by economic considerations and less by operational inadequacies".

Group Captain (Retd) Anant Bewoor opposes turning the forces into a unified theatre in India, stating that countries with integrated theatre commands such as the US, Russia and China had different international expeditionary goals as compared to India. India neither has the forces for integrated commands nor the geographical and strategic need nor the international expeditionary ambitions. He also points out that Pakistan, which does not have integrated theatre commands, cause so much damage to India nevertheless.

Air Commodore (Retd) Jasjit Singh commented that theatre commands were generally used for foreign operations, and India has no need for such a force. Air Commodore Singh also argued that the specialisation that the current framework allows may be lost with unified commands and that if the services couldn't work together now, under the theatre process the situation may be worse.

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Have other countries faced similar issues in integrating their armies, navies and air forces?

Yes. One of the earliest forms of integration was that of infantry and cavalry. In the United States, during the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863, joint operations were seen in the actions of General Ulysses S Grant and Admiral David D Porter, who went on to leverage the combined power of the army and navy. The United Kingdom was the first country to have a Chiefs of Staff Committee in 1923. During the Second World War, General Douglas MacArthur and General Dwight D Eisenhower were assigned roles where they commanded vast tri-service military operations. Despite the victory in the war, major structural flaws were observed resulting in the creation of the chairman, and joint chiefs of staff as the principal military adviser in the US. In the UK, by the 1960s, the three military headquarters were integrated into the Ministry of Defence and the post of chief of defence staff as the principal military adviser was created. 

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Over the years, in both the US and the UK, changes towards greater integration have been seen, for example, the passage of the Goldwater–Nichols Act in 1986. France, Germany and have also shifted to a more integrated defence management system. In Russia, the creation of strategic commands was laid down in 2010 and soon after China followed with the 2015 People's Republic of China military reform and the creation of five theatre commands.

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Surajit Dasgupta
Surajit Dasguptahttp://''
Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sirf News Surajit Dasgupta has been a science correspondent in The Statesman, senior editor in The Pioneer, special correspondent in Money Life, the first national affairs editor of Swarajya, executive editor of Hindusthan Samachar and desk head of MyNation

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