Cmde Ranjit B Rai

Media has reported that the Indian Armed Forces under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Anil Chauhan and the Chiefs of Staff, are in the final stages to prune the seventeen service commands into four or five theatre Commands called ‘theaterisation’. Large changes in personnel and Headquarters will have to be undertaken.

Major changes have taken place in the capabilities of India’s military deterrent and offensive posture under PM Narendra Modi’s stewardship in all three services with long range and precision strike capabilities. Former Army chief General MM Naravane has said that India’s military, for the first time, enjoys an advantage on the Sino-Indian border vis-à-vis China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and, “we should negotiate the (Sino-Indian) border with China from that position of advantage,” reports Business Standard.

India’s soft-spoken 27th Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Manoj Mukund Naravane called a scholar warrior, retired on 30th April 2022 after forty-two years of meritorious service. The General began his tenure in January 2020 with the greeting, “Sat Sri Akal”, and soon after retiring, he went to Amritsar with his wife and prayed at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, as he was commissioned into the Sikh Light Infantry (Sikh LI). Narvane wielded India’s stick with Air Force and Naval co-operation and steered the Indian Army’s operations in Ladakh to ward off the PLA’s pre-planned surreptitious ingress into Ladakh in 2020 to alter the Line of Actual Control (LAC). It is only some patrolling points that have been denied to the Indian Army to patrol, with buffer zones. These are under discussion between Army commanders and the political leadership in regular meetings. Prime Minister Narendra Modi confirmed no Indian territory was conceded.

Delivering the Gen K.V. Krishna Rao memorial lecture in New Delhi on 30th December, 2022 in the presence of his successor General Manoj Pandey, Narvane cautioned that without a National Security Strategy (NSS), it would be inadvisable to hurriedly create tri-service integrated theatre commands (ITCs). The idea of theaterisation gained traction when General Bipin Rawat, the 26th Chief of Army Staff was promoted as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) on 1st January, 2020 and was directed to reduce the seventeen military commands in to fewer joint integrated commands to create jointness. Rawat was also made the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and Secretary of the newly minted Department of Military Affairs (DMA) even though a Chief of Staff holds precedence equal to, but below the Cabinet Secretary and above a Defence Secretary.

At that time, the Indian Army was experimenting with Integrated Battle Groups (IBGs), which remains a work in progress. Sadly, Gen Rawat died in a helicopter crash on 8th December, 2021 and the post of CDS remained vacant till 30th September 2022 when Lt General Anil Chauhan, a veteran, was promoted to four stars and appointed as CDS. He is charged with completing the task of theaterisation.

General Narvane implied that unless an NSS was in place theaterisation was putting the cart before the horse. This has faced a lot of criticism. It is well accepted that a plan or set up without a strategy is an illusion and in fairness to Narvane, he explained, “Theaterisation is not an end, and it is only a means to an end. And that end must be specified first as a national defence strategy (NDS), which will flow out of the NSS.” In management schools, students are taught that any endeavour or a business’s end objective must be clearly stated at the very start, to chart the route.

In 2016, the Indian Navy felt the need to issue an unclassified Maritime Military Security Strategy and a Maritime Doctrine without waiting for an NSS. These documents enabled the Navy to make clear to all, what is expected of the Navy and to make the capability plan with appropriate acquisitions within the limited funds. These two documents have enabled the Chief of Naval Staff and four PSOs to issue war orders for Commanders-in-Chief to exercise their fleets, submarines and aircraft to be ready for a sudden war, exampled by Kargil in 1999 and the Ukraine Russia war last year. Narvane also recommended the establishment of a higher defence organisation (HDO) with ministerial representations, as the government ministries’ responsibilities are listed in India’s War Book, which is kept update. He said, “once these two pillars – NSS and HDO – are in place, then we can start thinking about theatre commands.”

When he was COAS, Narvane had told the Army that adherence to the Constitution which places some restrictions on men and women in uniform, must be followed. These include not making statements to the media or mixing with foreigners. The Directors of Intelligence of the three services have powers to permit exceptions if it is in the interest of the service and the nation. In service, Narvane may have expressed similar views on theaterisation in closed meetings, but he is now free to express his views in public and he packs experience. He was also the last Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.
In practice, in the absence of an NSS, it had become customary for the Indian military Chiefs to accept what the Prime Ministers state at Commander’s Conferences as India’s military strategy. In the past, Op Directives also used to be issued to the services for operational readiness and that practice could be revived. It will be desirable to issue classified Ops Directive to each newly minted integrated theatre command as an interim workable direction in lieu of a NSS.
The views are personal. Ranjit B Rai retired as DNI and DNO and is author of The Indian Navy@75…Reminiscing the Voyage (ISBN 9-789381-722336 Facet 2023). Selling on Amazon Rs 300/-.


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