India makes major step toward theater command reform

China Military Online
Li Jiayao
2021-01-11 17:20:25

By Fang Xiaozhi

The website of The Diplomat published an article titled “India's New Maritime Theater Command: A Quantum Leap” recently. The article said that India would establish a maritime theater command, and the maritime theater command will be the first new "geographical" theater command to be created, as part of the biggest-ever military restructuring plan since India's independence in 1947.

The chaos of internal management, the severe inner conflicts and waste of resources among various services have seriously affected the overall operational planning and efficiency, and seriously hampered the operational capability of the armed forces. To this end, the Indian government and the military have reached a consensus to accelerate the joint system reform. One of the important measures is to reorganize the military and establish a theater command system to achieve efficient command, quick mobilization and resources saving in wartime.

The establishment of the maritime theater command by India this time is an important step made toward the reform of the theater system. India wants to conform to the basic operational form of future wars through coordinated operations of various services. According to reports, the maritime theater command will be based at Karwar on the west coast of India. It will exercise full operational control over extant western and eastern naval fleets, maritime strike fighter jets and transport aircraft from both the air force and the navy, and two amphibious infantry brigades and other assets under the Andaman and Nicobar Joint Command. It can concentrate all naval and air forces on the west coast of India at one time, thereby effectively defending the island territories in the maritime direction of India and keeping the sea passages unobstructed and not affected by external pressure.

According to India's vision, its armed forces will be reorganized based on five theater commands. In addition to the maritime theater command, there have also been a northern command, a western command, a peninsula command, and an air defense command. These theater commands will have their own combat areas and establish a seamless command structure for synchronized operations to facilitate the mobilization of the troops. According to senior officials familiar with the situation, all five theater commands will be led by a lieutenant general or equivalent. The chiefs of staff of the army, air force, and navy will no longer be responsible for combat functions. Instead, they will mobilize resources for theater commanders just like in the US military, so that the rights and responsibilities of all parties are more clear-cut.

If the reform is completed in 2022 as expected, India will form the capability for coordinated operations of the navy, army and air force for the first time and take an important tentative step towards establishing a modern defense system by then.

From the perspective of strategic objectives, India hopes that through the reform of the theater system, it can play an important role in the coordination of various services, multiply its military efficiency and power while expanding its jurisdiction, have more agile reaction speed during wartime, efficiently mobilize and commanded, and save a lot of resources. Under the guidance of this strategic goal, India will continue to seamlessly integrate forces at all levels of the three services in the future and propose new joint theories and strategies accordingly to help it improve its joint combat capabilities and enhance its position and influence in the Indian Ocean region.

However, judging from the prospects, various Indian military services have been constraining each other for a long time and often cause discord due to the unfair allocation of resources. The interests of all parties in the armed forces will be deeply involved in the military reform of the theater system. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause a severe financial situation, and it will be difficult for the Indian army to obtain the necessary budget in the foreseeable future. All of these will inevitably pose a great constraint on its "drastic" theater system reform. It remains to be seen if India can complete its military reform smoothly.

(The author is a researcher at the Center for Asia-Pacific Development Studies of Nanjing University. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of

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