National Security Architecture Reforms & Theatre Commands : Discussions

There are three Service think tanks, the Centre for Land Warfare Studies of Army, the National Maritime Foundation of Navy and the Centre for Air Power Studies of IAF. There is also the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies which functions under the Integrated Defence Staff.


Developing Andaman and Nicobar Islands: A dilemma for Delhi​

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI) are in the news. With the union government proposing a slew of infrastructure projects to boost business and tourism on the islands, conservation groups are on the warpath. Environmentalists contend that construction activity on ecologically sensitive islands could lead to a large-scale loss of biodiversity, which could hurt local communities and the islands’ indigenous people.

The ecological perspective stands in opposition to the mainstream view, which emphasises the development of the islands. The ANI is an oceanic outpost for continental India. With a critical vantage location overlooking the ten-degree and six-degree channels (through which a vast majority of cargo and container traffic in the eastern Indian Ocean transits), the islands give India a unique surveillance and maritime interdiction capability. The ANI is a vital ‘staging post’ for maritime operations, and a hub for logistics, providing operational turnaround for Indian warships and aircraft deployed in the Andaman Sea.

India’s diplomatic community opposed the militarisation plan, arguing that turning the islands into a strategic-military garrison would weaponise the littorals, an outcome unlikely to sit well with India’s maritime neighbors.

When India first began developing the ANI in the 1980s, the defence and foreign policy establishments were not entirely in agreement. India’s diplomatic community opposed the militarisation plan, arguing that turning the islands into a strategic-military garrison would weaponise the littorals, an outcome unlikely to sit well with India’s maritime neighbors. Indonesia and Malaysia were apprehensive that India would use its military facilities on the Andamans to dominate its region, and project power east of Malacca. But New Delhi was clear that developing the islands was a necessity that could not be overlooked. Asia’s leaders knew that India’s intentions were good because it was willing to keep its security presence on the strategic islands to a minimum.

Today, arguably, there is more empathy for Indian compulsions to develop the ANI. With China expanding its footprint in India’s backyard, regional states realise New Delhi has little option but to consolidate strategically on the islands. In the aftermath of the June 2020 standoff with China in Ladakh, the Indian military has been under growing pressure to forestall Chinese adventurism in the Indian Ocean. Indeed, with China moving to expand its presence in India’s neighborhood, including at Maldives (Feydhoo Finolhu), Pakistan (Gwadar), Sri Lanka (Hambantota), and Bangladesh (at Cox Bazaar where China is said to be constructing a submarine base), the stakes for India in the eastern Indian Ocean have never been higher.

New Delhi also needs to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The manner of China’s development of infrastructure projects in the Bay of Bengal suggests that it seeks both economic leverage and strategic prowess in South Asia. By some accounts, China is looking for military access to Chinese-built facilities in the Bay of Bengal. Beijing, reportedly, is on a drive to create ‘dual-use’ facilities that have both commercial and military applications.

The other way for India to counter China is to develop its island territories in the eastern Indian Ocean and offer military facilities therein for logistics support to navies from friendly Quad countries.

One way for India to counter China’s forays in the Bay of Bengal would be to expand Indian military presence in the littorals. The process is already underway, but it is unlikely to thwart Chinese plans in the neighbourhood; simply because the People’s Liberation Army Navy is a far more capable force than many in India imagine. The other way for India to counter China is to develop its island territories in the eastern Indian Ocean and offer military facilities therein for logistics support to navies from friendly Quad countries. That would be a clear signal of Indian intent to China. Either way, developing the ANI is a dire imperative for India.

That being said, New Delhi cannot afford to ignore the ecological implications of infrastructure development on the islands, in particular, the proposal for a container terminal at Campbell Bay on the Great Nicobar Island. The project entails the mass culling of forests and could take a toll on the region’s delicate ecological balance. New hotels, resorts, and a transshipment port could upend decades of conservation efforts. The need of the hour is to balance competing requirements: enable development on the islands, while avoiding large-scale environmental damage. As ‘high-wire’ acts go, this is going to be a hard walk for Indian decision-makers.

We need a comprehensive National Defence White Paper in parliament. And we need to keep updating it every 5 years too.

Otherwise we will keep chasing targets set in 1990s.
He may have made his views known to the government which is why he was possibly looked over for the post of CDS unless you're suggesting he should've gone public with his views during his tenure as CoAS.

Theatre commands only after defence strategy and higher body: Gen Naravane​

In significant remarks on future integration of the capabilities of the Indian armed forces, former Army chief General M M Naravane said Thursday that unless a national security strategy is in place, talk of theaterisation is “actually putting the cart before the horse”.

Army chief General Manoj Pande said that as part of restructuring and “right-sizing” the force, some legacy units may be done away with or scaled down.

Speaking at the 4th General K V Krishna Rao Memorial Lecture in New Delhi, General Naravane said, “Theaterisation is not an end, it is only a means to an end and that end has to be specified first in the form of a national defence strategy and that defence strategy has in turn to flow out of a national security strategy. Britain had a national security strategy that they should be able to tackle two navies at one time, not unlike a two-front war theory. Unless there is a national security strategy in place, to just keep talking about theaterisation is actually putting the cart before the horse.”

Drawing on his deductions in a lecture on ‘Theaterisation in the backdrop of Malayan Campaign and fall of Singapore’ during the Second World War, Naravane said once the national security strategy is in place, a higher defence organisation is required to act as an interface between the government – which has made the policy – and the commanders on the ground.

“This higher defence organisation has to reflect… the whole nation. It is nations which fight a war. It has to have representatives of all the ministries,” he said.

“Once decisions are arrived at, the armed forces are trained to do their job and all the other coordination must be carried out by this organisation. This organisation is required because within the strategy laid down, there may be other diplomatic or political considerations, which would limit the freedom of action which is given to the theatre command,” he said.

The former Army chief said that only once these two – the national security and defence strategy and a higher defence organisation – are in place, “can we start thinking about theatre commands.”

"The charter of these, the role they have to play… This has to come from the top. We cannot on our own say we will fight a two-front war. Has anybody said that? Or Is it just our own creation? What is the charter? Is the charter only defence of the borders and territorial waters? Or do we have to go deeper into an area of influence… area of interest? This has to come from the top. We cannot arrogate to ourselves these responsibilities. Once that is laid down, it will make our job of theaterisation much easier,” Naravane said.

In his keynote address, Army chief General Manoj Pande said, “As far as restructuring and reshaping the organisation is concerned, I think it is more to right size rather than reduce the size of our organisation. It also has to do with improving or getting the ‘tooth to tail’ ratio right and this requires that the number of legacy organisations (units, establishments) which we found of little or less relevance in today’s environment… we are either planning to completely do away with them or maybe rationalise the numbers or combine some of these organisations.”

The Army chief said, “In terms of focusing on only our core functions, certain non-core activities…is something which again we are looking at undertaking outsourcing in a big way.”

Hailing the Agnipath scheme as a unique and path-breaking reform, he said the Army had taken a number of steps in terms of recruitment, training and streamlining.

“What is heartening to see is the enthusiasm among young men who are reporting at the centres. We have upgraded training infrastructure, brought in more simulators, paid more attention to infusion of technology to make it more effective… Commanders at all levels have taken full and complete ownership of the (Agnipath) scheme and we are now focusing on correct implementation,” he said.

“‘Indigenise to modernise’ should be our mantra as we move forward,” he said.

General Pande highlighted four key aspects of transformation in the Indian Army: Human resource management; modernisation and infusion of technology; rebalancing, force restructuring and optimisation; jointness and better integration.

We need a comprehensive National Defence White Paper in parliament. And we need to keep updating it every 5 years too.

Otherwise we will keep chasing targets set in 1990s.
This should've been the hot topic of discussion in 2012 so that by 2017-18 we got down to it . Truly the decade between 2004-14 was the lost decade & we're still vaccilating instead of moving ahead systematically & fast . All this dilly dallying will come to haunt us in the years to come .

Armed Forces give shape to contours of theatre plans​

The Armed Forces are drawing up the final contours of theaterisation plans which seek to integrate the Army, Navy, and Indian Air Force and their resources into specific theatre commands, two top government officials familiar with the matter have told The Indian Express.

While the initial plan was to create four theatre commands — an air defence command, a maritime theatre command and two land-based theatre commands (one each for the western and the eastern sectors) – the services decided to take a fresh relook on the proposed reform after the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan asked them to do so, considering the IAF’s objections to the previous plan.

One of the top proposals being considered is to create joint theatre commands based on India’s adversaries in the neighbourhood to begin with, as against the four defined theatre commands planned earlier.

This involves initially carving out an integrated theatre command to take care of the northern and eastern borders with China, another for the western borders with Pakistan and a third maritime command to tackle threats in the maritime domain, from the 17 service-specific military commands operating under the three services at present. Visakhapatnam, Jaipur and Lucknow are among the possible locations being discussed for their headquarters.

Also under discussion is the creation of a joint training command. Three joint logistics nodes had already been operationalised until 2021. India has two joint services commands at present – the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC).

An official said efforts are on to ensure that the process of creating the theatre commands does not have a long “settling period” given that there’s alway the possibility of a conflict on the horizon.

The previous plan had envisaged keeping out the Army’s Northern Command and the IAF’s Air Officer Commanding Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh from the theatre commands and these were to operate independently.

The IAF had raised objections to the previous theaterisation plans – these were spearheaded by the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat – and stated that it would divide their fighting assets.

Over the last two years, multiple studies were carried out by top officers of the three services to examine the theaterisation process, but the plans lost pace after General Rawat was killed in a helicopter crash in December 2021.

Meanwhile, the services continued their deliberations on the proposed reform with a few table-top exercises held to examine employment of theatres in different operational scenarios.

The plans picked up pace again after the current CDS, General Anil Chauhan, took over in September last year.

According to officials, the services were asked to individually study and check the feasibility of adopting a new and separate approach to the Indian military’s theaterisation plans. In the last three months, multiple meetings have taken place within the three services – and between the three service chiefs and General Chauhan on the theaterisation plans.

Bracing for the future​

Threats emanating from China, Pakistan and via the sea routes are being factored in the plans for theatre commands which will integrate resources of the Army, Navy, IAF. The previous plan did not go down well with the IAF which said it would divide fighting assets.

Officials privy to the latest developments said the plan is expected to be finalised shortly, which would be discussed, examined and accordingly fine-tuned further in consultation with the CDS.

They emphasised that the existing plan is still fluid and may undergo additional changes with more internal deliberations, and inputs from the government.

Last year, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari had said that the IAF is not opposed to the theaterisation process if the doctrinal aspects of the force is not compromised by the creation of the new structures.

He had also said that while the theatre commands should be future-ready to deal with the emerging forms of warfare in the space and cyber domains, they should not increase the decision-making chains from the existing levels.

Last month, former Army chief General M M Naravane (retd) said that unless a national security strategy is in place, talk of theaterisation is “actually putting the cart before the horse”.

Army chief General Manoj Pande told the media last week that there is a need to get the right tri-service structures in place and the services are in the process of deliberations on issues related to theatre commands.

Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control and Discipline) Bill, 2023 introduced in Lok Sabha today amid din​

The Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control and Discipline) Bill, 2023 was introduced in Lok Sabha today amid din. The Bill seeks to empower the Commander-in-Chief or the Officer-in Command of Inter-Services Organisations in respect of service personnel for the maintenance of discipline and proper discharge of their duties. Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt introduced the Bill.
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Military theatre commanders to hold four-star rank at par with service chiefs

The Defence Ministry is putting the finishing touches to a plan that will add momentum to its effort to create theatre commands or so-called jointsmanship of the three services, with four-star rank theatre commanders being at the heart of this radical idea, HT learns.

That would put the theatre commanders — there are expected to be three, two land theatres and one maritime one — at the same rank as the three chiefs of services, with the Chief of Defence Staff coming on top of all six.

While the government is tight-lipped about the military theatre commands, it is understood that the commands will be adversary specific with one maritime theatre command to handle the Indo-Pacific. Importantly, the government has decided to ensure that other verticals such as Cyber, Space, Intelligence, Missile, Drone, National Defence University and logistics command are created so that there is no loss of jobs at the three-star (Lt General), two star (Major General) or one star (Brigadier) level after the theatre commands are created.

After detailed deliberations led by CDS General Anil Chauhan, the three services are believed to be on board with the theatre commands plan .

And even as the General Chauhan visits commands and other formations all over the country to explain the need for theatre command to the senior officers, the military reforms are rapidly taking final shape with national security planners putting the finishing touches to the plan that will revolutionize military affairs in India.

It was earlier envisaged that the military theatre commanders would be of three-star rank — that is at the level of Lt Generals, Vice Admirals and Air Marshals — the new plan is that they should be of equal rank as that of the three chiefs or else they will not be able to operationally perform in a hierarchy conscious military where seniority rules the day. “How will the army, navy and air force chiefs listen to the theatre commanders in times of war if they are of a lower rank? Since the theatre commanders are operationally responsible, they have to hold the same ranks as the tri-service chiefs,” said a senior official, one of the few familiar with the plan who asked not to be named

India’s plan for theatre commands is in line with similar hierarchies in the US or China with theatre commanders holding four-star rank. In India, the theatre commanders will report to the CDS who is also the Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC).

The creation of the new military verticals is key to the plan as this will ensure there are no redundancies at the three star, two star or one star or even at the battalion commander level; the new verticals will be utilized for rank appointments which are rationalized during creation of theatre commands. For instance, the revival of the National Defence University is on the anvil as it will be tasked to prepare for doctrines, concepts, theories needed under the new theatre commands. The Intelligence command will ensure that real time information is available to the theatre commands on their demands as well as the service headquarters in Delhi.

HT learns that while the plan is nearing finalization, there could be more changes before the military-civilian bureaucracy and the political leadership give a final go ahead. But with officers now being posted in the army, navy, or air force as per the jointsmanship plan and the creation of a single act to ensure discipline and deployment of the forces without any silos, the big structure of military theatres may start becoming visible before the end of 2023.
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