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Theatre commands

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Various Security forces and agencies and their mandate


Source: ET

 Context: India is moving ahead to establish theatre commands, aiming to build integrated war-fighting machinery in a cost-effective manner.


What are Theatre Commands? 

A theatre command in the military refers to a specific geographical area where military operations are planned, coordinated, and executed under a single command. It is a way of organizing and managing military forces within a particular region or theatre of operations.

  • The idea behind the Theatre Command System is to enhance coordination and synergy among the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
  • Currently, almost all major countries like China, Russia, the US, the UK and France work on a theatre command concept.


Case of China:

  • China reorganised its 2.3-million People’s Liberation Army into five theatre commands in 2016 to enhance offensive capabilities and establish improved command-and-control structures.
  • Its Western Theater Command looks after the entire border with India.


Case of India: 

Why does India need theatre commands?

  • India currently has 19 military commands.
    • 17 of them are service-oriented – 7 each for the Army and the Air Force and the Navy has 3.
    • A Tri-Service Command – Andaman and Nicobar Command, and the Strategic Forces Command (SFC looks after the country’s nuclear stockpile).
  • The aim is to bring all the individual commands into four or five unified or theatre commands to streamline military operations and enhance coordination and efficiency in a rapidly evolving security landscape.
  • This will aid in better planning, military response and a unified approach to fighting future wars while also lowering costs.


Case study – Acquisition of Apache attack helicopters from the US:

  • While the Indian Air Force got 22 Apaches, the Army has also placed orders for six of these choppers.
  • The end result is a loss of at least Rs 2,500 crore and haphazard operational planning.


Steps taken towards theaterisation in India:

  • The Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control and Discipline) Bill 2023 includes a provision regarding a joint services command.
  • The cross-staffing initiatives are aimed at areas of commonality, such as equipment like UAVs and the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.
  • Steps are being taken to introduce “common annual confidential reports” for all two and three-star generals across the armed forces to synergise the appraisal system for tri-Service appointments.


Progress in India’s theatre commands plans:

  • A consensus has been reached among the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force regarding the plan.
  • The revised proposal entails the establishment of 3 integrated theatre commands, each led by a senior 3-star general (Lieutenant Generals, Air Marshals, or Vice Admirals).
  • These commands will be responsible for managing
    • The northern borders with China,
    • The western front with Pakistan, and
    • The maritime command in peninsular India.
  • The original proposal for an Air Defence Command (ADC) has been discarded since ‘air defence’ and ‘offensive air’ missions are interdependent and cannot be carried out in isolation during conflicts.
    • Therefore, air assets will not be owned by a theatre command but will shift from one to another based on the contingency faced.


Way ahead:

  • To get the most out of the theatre commands, a national security strategy and the right tri-service structures must be in place.
  • The theatre commands should be future-ready to deal with the emerging forms of warfare in the space and cyber domains and should not increase the decision-making chains.


Insta Links:

The Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control and Discipline) Bill 2023