Theater command system under CDS faces teething problems

Armed forces hesitant to share their resources for the programme.

February 06, 2020 02:29 am | Updated 02:29 am IST - NEW DELHI

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat at the induction ceremony of the first Sukhoi-30MKI fighter aircraft squadron at the Thanjavur airbase in Tamil Nadu on Monday.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat at the induction ceremony of the first Sukhoi-30MKI fighter aircraft squadron at the Thanjavur airbase in Tamil Nadu on Monday.

The much needed integration of the armed forces under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to fight modern wars efficiently, is facing teething problems, especially under a budding theater command system.

During a media conference on Tuesday, General Bipin Rawat, India’s first CDS, declared that the formation of theater commands, for joint operations by pooling assets of individual service arms, would be completed in the next three years.

The Air Defence Command, with hubs in Mumbai, Guwahati and Port Blair, combining aviation hardware drawn from the three services—Army, Navy and the Air Force--would be first to kick off.

“A study team is preparing the road map for creation of an Air Defence Command,” the Rajya Sabha was told on February 3 in response to a question.

Two theater commands—the Northern Theater Command and the Eastern Theater Command --are expected to be formed facing China. Another two tri-service commands, including the western theater command, could be deployed along the border with Pakistan. Analysts say that the chances of a two-front war with China and Pakistan are remote, but Indian military planners are looking at all possible contingencies.

Gen. Rawat revealed that a Peninsula Command would be formed to counter threats along the maritime borders. The Navy would have a larger role to cover the broader Indian Ocean Region (IOR) domain, starting from East Africa, the Malacca Straits and Australia.

The tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command has already been in place since 2001, with primary focus on the IOR. The Strategic Forces Command, another tri-service institution, is in operational command of nuclear weapons.

With a massive restructuring of the armed forces taking place, the process of the formation of theater commands is facing initial hiccups. “There is a major issue of command and control, which is yet to be resolved. Unlike the United States where the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the operational fount, the CDS does not head operations, which are being handled by separately by the three service chiefs and their branches. This can lead to practical issues of coordination during hostilities” a former aviator, who did not wish to be named, said.

China has also adopted a theater command system since 2016, steered by its Central Military Commission.

The Indian Air Force (IAF), apprehending that its limited number of planes, helicopters and other assets could be locked into theater commands, is engaged in internal discussions over the impending military reforms. “ We are all for jointness under the theater command system, but it should not compromise the IAF’s overall responsibility of safeguarding Indian skies,” a former senior air force official said.

He pointed out that the IAF has the unique advantage of swiftly rotating from one combat theater to another, allowing fuller utilisation of limited assets. “If assets get locked into dedicated theater command without the force becoming bigger, this can compromise operations,” he said.

During his press conference, General Rawat made it plain that the IAF should stagger its expensive big ticket purchases of fighters and other assets. He also stressed that better “management” of available resources should be the focus, rather than expectations of larger military budgets. The former army chief has repeatedly spotlighted the importance of breaking silos and sharing assets available with the three services, especially to streamline logistics.

Focusing on cost-cutting, General Rawat proposed slashing bloated pension funds by increasing retirement age of soldiers to 58, by moving them into roles, where peak physical fitness may not be required.

But the proposal has been met with some scepticism in influential quarters. “Discussions required. Soldiers' retirement age should be increased. But lesson learnt in Kargil war, physical fitness cannot be comprised either. Important in mountains...” Tweeted former Army Chief, Ved Malik.

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