After the Kargil Conflict (1999), several inherent weaknesses of the Indian Armed Forces came to the forefront. The Kargil Review Committee highlighted certain reforms and measures for better coordination and synergy between the Armed Forces. One such reform was the creation of a Tri-Service Command or the Integrated Theatre Command. In simple words, it is referred to as a unified command under which all the resources of the Army, Navy and Air Force are pooled based on the perception of threat. They enhance the jointness among forces and prevent the duplication of resources. They can be geographically based.
The Concept of Integrated Theatre Commands is used by the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China. India has only two Integrated theatre Commands called: Andaman and Nicobar Commands. The headquarters of this command is in Port Blair and it was commissioned in 2001. The aim of creating this command was to safeguard Indian Strategic interests in the Strait of Malacca and the Southeast Asian Region. The other is Strategic Forces Command which has operational control over Indian nuclear weapons.
A model for four to five integrated Service commands is under discussion and each command will be under a four-star general. A Commander will report to the Chiefs of Staff Committee led by the three service chiefs and is headed by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
The proposed commands include Maritime Theatre Command, which will cater to the maritime security needs of the country both on the Western and Eastern Coasts. It will be equipped with amphibious forces and aerial assets. The second is Air Defence Command which will place air defence assets all over the country. Fighter jets and surveillance aircraft will be attached to the ADC.
Three more land-based commands will be created for defending the border with the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (J&K) and the People’s Republic of China (LAC). This has been proposed as per the Shekatkar Committee. The Logistics Command and Training/Doctrine command are the 4th and 5th Command respectively.
The Indian Army and Indian Navy are ready and are on board, there are some resistance factors concerning the Air Force. They do not want to lose operation control of the Air Assets. It also fears that all of its assets might be divided within the Theatre. Building the infrastructure for the theatre commands will require massive money and funding.
For the Tri-Service commands to function properly, there must be a support mechanism. Evaluation of internal and external security is to be taken into account before the formation of the commands. The Parliament or the legislature needs to dedicate a “special standing committee” with enough and sufficient Military Advisers. The large hierarchical structures have to be transformed into smaller brigades.
Keeping in mind the shifting nature of threats, India can aim for four geographical theatres-North South Eastern and Western. Cyber Forces must be inculcated in the tri-service commands. Countries such as China, Russia, the United States and NATO European Members have taken into account cyber offensive and cyber defence departments.
India has the fourth largest military in the world and is known for tri-services internal rivalry. Each branch acts independently. So, the launch of theatre commands must not be rushed all of a sudden. The issues of involved stakeholders must be addressed first.