National Security Architecture Reforms & Theatre Commands : Discussions

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.

Can anyone explain about this theaterization? What will be its benefit? What will each theatre do?
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Sources in the defence and security establishment said that the maritime theatre command to look after India’s maritime and coastal interests will come up in Karnataka’s Karwar, which is close to Goa.

While the maritime command will be headed by a Naval officer, they said, the other two will see rotational appointments from the Army and the Air Force.
“When we talk about an NSS, I believe it consists of policy, processes and practices to succeed. In our country, probably all three are addressed. The only thing missing is a written policy. I don’t know why people insist on that,” General Chauhan said at the launch of the book ‘Crafting a New Art of War’ authored by Lieutenant Colonel Gautam Das (Retd).

“If there was no strategy behind it, how did we achieve our goal? Even the Balakot airstrike and the Uri strike, if there was no strategy, how did we do it? So, there is a strategy, but what is missing is probably a written document. And a written document actually doesn’t count,” General Chauhan said.

What a terrible and shallow take supposedly from the top hierarchy of the Indian army.

In a democracy, documents like national security strategy are required to articulate the collective vision of the state. As an institution, it will serve continuity. Today, it hinges on personalities (such as bureaucrats and generals). It fosters a strategic culture and provides a certain level of accountability.