Tuesday, September 21, 2021
EditorialsEditorial: Stalemate must end

Editorial: Stalemate must end

Published: 6th Jul 2021 12:00 am | Updated: 5th Jul 2021 9:49 pm

Touted as the biggest military reform in independent India, the proposed creation of integrated theatre commands still eludes consensus. Despite the government’s full backing, the plan to replace 17 single-service commands with four theatre commands has hit an air pocket with the Indian Air Force (IAF) raising objections. The integrated military theatres, crucial to fighting future wars, seek to synergise the capabilities of the three services — Army, Air Force and Navy — and optimally utilise their resources for wars and operations. Specific theatre commands will be placed under the Theatre Commander. Such commands are expected to come under the operational control of an officer from any of the three services, depending on the function assigned. Soon after taking over as the first Chief of Defence Staff early last year, Gen Bipin Rawat had stated that the Indian armed forces would complete the theaterisation process by January 2021, but there is a stalemate even after protracted deliberations. The Indian military has 17 single-service commands across the country — the Army and Air Force have seven each, and the Navy has three commands. The Andaman and Nicobar command, based in Port Blair, is the sole tri-service command. Sharp differences have emerged — the Army and Navy are in favour of the theaterisation model but the Air Force has concerns over the division of its air assets and the nomenclature and leadership of the commands. There are also concerns about the reduction of the powers of the Chiefs of Staff.

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Essentially, the cause of the deadlock boils down to the turf issues. By terming the Air Force’s role as “supporting arm”, Gen Rawat has further fuelled its anxieties. After all, air power is the primary tool to achieve tactical gains in warfare. The inter-services competition, though desirable to a reasonable extent, should not be allowed to become the reason for hampering a key reform measure. There is a need for removing the impasse and adopting a more holistic approach, with the involvement of Parliament and relevant ministries. A public clash of ideas must be avoided at all costs. After the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the next logical move in military reforms would be to put in place integrated theatre commands to synergise the capabilities of the three services. Theaterisation involves putting a specific number of personnel from the three services under a common commander for a unified military approach through rationalisation of manpower and resources. As per plan, each of the theatre commands will have units of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force working as a single entity looking after security challenges in a specified geographical territory under an operational commander. At present, these forces have separate commands.

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