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THEATERISATION: ARE WE READY?

Before going ahead with the proposed move of creating theatre commands to increase ‘jointness’ between the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, we need to resolve certain fundamental issues pertaining to the chain of command, communications, operational guidance and training of officers.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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The COAS says that the process of theaterisation will be “deliberate, thoughtful and well considered” and I agree with him. It needs to be that way. I also agree with Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia, Ex-DGMO, who in his article says that theaterisation must transform us into a regional power. Recent media reports mention that India is to get five theatre commands by 2022, and there is lot of commotion about it. However, if you give a syndicate in the Junior Command course a couple of hours, they will probably spend an hour in general discussion, half an hour trying to understand what theaterisation is all about, discuss possible outlines for fifteen minutes and mark the map in the last fifteen minutes. Believe me, that syndicate won’t be far from what the media has reported. If the number of syndicates is increased, one will get very imaginative and original ideas. In my view, the number and extent of the theatres is really secondary. We need to look at the primary issues first.

The chain of command relationship between the Theatre Commander, Chiefs of Services, the CDS, the RM and the PM is of fundamental and prime importance. This relationship of operational responsibility must be clear before we embark upon this adventure. Let us examine other parallel models to draw some lessons.

The USA has six global-scale theatres which they call unified combatant commands. A theatre commander is responsible for one section of the globe. Resources are placed at his disposal to execute military operations in the best interests of the USA in that region. The forces are allocated by the political authority and can only be transferred out or reinforced by that authority. The chain of command to a unified combatant command runs from the President to the Secretary of Defense and from the Secretary of Defense to the Theatre Commander of the combatant command. The Theatre Commander has a direct one-to-one relationship with the political leadership – Secretary of Defence and C in C aka the President of USA, from whom he gets his operational directive, guidance and resources. The Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and Service Chiefs support the Theatre Commander. They assist the Secretary of Defense and the President in their command duties, provide a communication link and may be given the responsibility for overseeing the activities of the combatant commands sans any command authority. The command authority is with the political leadership along with the command responsibility. Mutatis mutandis if the theatre commander of a combatant command at any time considers forces assigned to him are insufficient or his authority, direction, or control is insufficient, he takes recourse to the Secretary of Defense.

In the Chinese Model, five joint theatres were established. As it stands, the theatres are within China. I suppose that the extra regional responsibility radiates outwards from each command in the region. This is the model typical of a regional power. The theatre commander is responsible to the Central Military Commission which is headed by Xi Jinping. In essence, the chain of command is direct – between the theatre and the Chairman of the Military Commission nee Head of the State. It is a one-to-one relationship. In the present conditions, the relationship is very tight, with Xi Jinping being hands-on in all military affairs. That has been amply revealed in the current Sino-Indian standoff in eastern Ladakh. Similar to the US system, resources allocated to each theatre enable it to carry out assigned tasks.

The CDS has been tasked to ‘facilitate restructuring of Military Commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands’. That process has commenced. However, in our case, the question which begs an answer is: who is the Theatre Commander responsible to? Is it the President of India who is the C in C but a titular head? Is it the CCS? Is it the PM? Is it the CDS? Is it the NSA? Is it the COSC? This issue needs clarity. We also need to be clear that the Chiefs of Services and CDS will have no operational role once Joint / theatre commands are instituted. After all, there can be only one sword in a scabbard. These functionaries will only support the theatres. If the Theatre Commander is subordinated to the COSC or any other functionary, it is only a relegated layering of the command structure, adding fat and confusion to it. If we adopt the US model, we are looking at a chain of command running down from the PM to the Theatre Commander through the RM. If we adopt the Chinese model, it has to be the PM through the CCS, who has to be in direct chain of command and responsibility with all others in supportive roles. Both the models have many downstream effects. Organisational behavioural changes will have to be brought in. If this relationship and command structure is not clarified, we will be better off being where we are. The adjunct aspect is that though the theatres can be demarcated within our boundaries, the responsibility will have to radiate outwards to encompass the region. For instance, the theatre facing China would be responsible for China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh for military operations. Similar outbound responsibility will have to be assigned to other theatres. It is a radical shift from the defence of our borders to being a regional power. We must get it right.

A major pre-requisite of theaterisation would be the operational guidance to the Theatre Commander. It will have to be given by the political authority and not the bureaucracy as it has been loosely happening. The operational guidance will have to be based on national interests and threat perception, as defined by the political leadership and not as (mis)translated by bureaucracy. To that extent, theaterisation will also force the political leadership to be hands-on with the Armed Forces and not keep them at arm’s length. Hence, many misplaced perceptions will automatically correct themselves and sharpen to lead to a realistic relationship between ends, ways and means. The issue which needs to be recognised is that individual service perceptions which run riot today will and must be curbed. The threat definition will be a synthesised one based on ground realities, adversary capabilities and geopolitical situation including alignments. Luckily for us, we are in a situation where the threat from our adversaries is at a peak. We can realistically define what we need to guard against and what we need to project to be a regional power. Also, the political awareness of this problem is acute and current. It needs to be kept that way. This will also inform us the joint capabilities we need to develop in the future. This critical and valuable input must be captured for implementation.

An important part of any command is communications. Communications follow the chain of command. Command is exercised through communications. Hence, prior to establishment of theatre commands, a system of integrated joint communications must be put in place. At present, the communications between the services are only linked. In most cases, they are tenuous. They need to be integrated to allow a ceaseless and seamless flow of information and data. This will imply that headquarters have to be integrated and restructured so that they can work together. One has to understand that despite ushering in jointness and integrated commands, pure Army, Navy, and Air Force formations and units will also continue as before. They have to be brought on a common grid to function as one entity. Till the time a clear road map for integrated communications does not start rolling out, integrated commands will remain a far-off dream. Thus, this is a high-priority area.

In the US system, the Theatre Commander must have served in at least one joint duty assignment as a general or flag officer. This places high value on training and staffing from the grass roots level. Even as per the original mandate given to the CDS, training and staffing is high on priority along with procurement. Jointness in procurement commenced when the IDS was established and is streamlined to a large extent. Hence, joint training and staffing needs greater focus from now. For a system which has a number of joint service training institutes like NDA, DSSC, CDM, NDC and so on, the Indian Armed Forces have not been able to achieve jointness to the required degree. For example, despite being trained on the same campus, officers in DSSC go through largely segregated service-specific training and are also largely posted within their respective organizations after the course. Presently, the DSSC is like three courses, one each for the Army, Navy and Air Force, with a degree of joint training. It should be one course with a degree of service-specific training. In fact, in my opinion, jointness needs to be brought about much earlier at the Junior Command level. The Higher Command courses have to be integrated. Unless inter service and joint staffing is the norm, and people go up the ladder after mandatory staff appointments in inter service organizations, we will not produce Theatre Commanders of value. If we do not get our training and staffing issue right, we will end up with senior officers who cannot command troops and staff who cannot serve them. A major aspect linked to training is personnel and HR functions. The best and most capable people have to go up the ladder. The emphasis on quality leadership must be high. The services are bedevilled by a quota system of leadership, colour consciousness of the uniform, lanyard and regimental affiliations and outdated priorities of loyalty. The present system of promotion to the higher ranks ensures that while the best might not have a reasonable chance to reach the top, the worst have a more than fair chance to reach the apex. This needs a major relook professionally.

The CDS was mandated to bring about jointness in operation, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance, etc. of the three services, within three years of the first CDS assuming office. In effect, this is the precursor to theaterisation. If headway is not made on ground and if the issues highlighted above are not thought through for implementation, the establishment of Theatre Commands will be a disaster. We also need to be cognisant of the fact that at present there are a lot of moving parts in our system: a raging virus, the eastern Ladakh standoff in a long haul mode with China making insidious moves through our neighbours, Pakistan desperately trying to revive the J&K problem in collusion with China, and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and the economy still on shaky ground. We are trying to establish joint commands under these conditions. We will be successful only if all three Service Chiefs and the CDS pull together. We do not need emotionally contentious issues related to pay, pensions, and terms of service to distract us from the main tasks. The nation can pay a little more in the short run for long term security. We also do not need competing requirements or theories of desired operational capabilities coming up through the margins. One of the first principles of jointness is to speak in one tone.

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www.gunnersshot.com.

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Defence

‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’

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The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.

Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.

On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”

He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”

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Defence

SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI

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The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.

Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.

Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.

Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.

Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.

During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.

To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.

Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.

With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.

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IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT

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An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.

The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.

The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.

More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.

During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.

Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the

IAF, he said. 

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ARMY ORGANISES EXHIBITION IN JAIPUR TO COMMEMORATE INDIA’S VICTORY IN 1971 WAR

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JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.

Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.  

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BRO makes history, appoints woman Army officer in-charge of road construction unit

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The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has appointed a woman Army officer for the first as the Officer Commanding of its 75 road construction company (RCC) in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The three platoon commanders under Major Aaina, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K became the first women RCC. The appointments were made on August 30.

BRO on Sunday recalled the list of women officers who were assigned higher leadership roles in the organisation in the current year.

According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, BRO has inducted a large number of women into its workforce over the years, right from officers to the level of commercial pilot license holders. “In this regard, a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) officer EE (Civ) Vaishali S Hiwase took over the reins of 83 Road Construction Company on April 28, employed on an important Indo-China road connecting Munisairi-Bughdiar-Milam, in an area full of adversity and challenges. The lady officer has taken control and is leading the charge with meticulous execution of her tasks,” the statement said.

“The BRO created history again on 30 August when Major Aaina of Project Shivalik took charged as Officer Commanding, 75 Road Construction Companies (RCC) at Pipalkoti in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. She is the first Indian Army Engineer Officer to command a road construction company. Not only this, all three platoon commanders under her, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K are lady officers and they have together created a first-ever women RCC. The Border Roads plans to make four such all women-led RCCs, two each in North Eastern and Western Sectors.”

As India celebrates 75 Years of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it also celebrates the ongoing efforts of our Nation towards women empowerment. Women today have started assuming their rightful, equal place as the frontrunners in nation-building and representatives of our strong national character, the statement read.

Over the last six decades, in a graduated and steady manner, the BRO has increased the number of women employed in various roles and duties of road construction. A consolidated effort is being made to empower them by giving them authority and responsibilities to undertake work independently. These women have become symbols of Nari Shakti in their respective areas.

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Defence

IN FIRST FOREIGN VISIT AFTER TAKING OVER AS CDS, GEN BIPIN RAWAT TO VISIT RUSSIA, US

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In his first visit abroad after taking over as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat will be visiting Russia and the US.

Rawat took over his new office as CDS on 31 December 2019, and since then has been declining foreign invitations for focusing on the new assignment of integrating the defence forces as a combined fighting force. “There is a conference of the CDS-rank officers of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement member countries. China and Pakistan are also part of this grouping,” senior defence officials said.

The CDS conference would be focusing on addressing the regional security issues and Afghanistan is also likely to come up for discussion, they said.

The CDS would also witness the activities of the respective armed forces taking part in the SCO peace mission drills being held in Russia. Indian Army and Air Force are also taking part in the exercise there.

The visit will take place in the coming week and soon after return from Russia, Rawat would be leaving for the US for meeting his counterpart and other American military leadership at the Pentagon.

The two countries have been coming closer militarily in the last few years and have been holding multiple military exercises and hardware cooperation.

The Indian military saw a major change in senior-level structures under the Narendra Modi government as the focus is now on the theatrisation of the fighting forces and bringing in more capabilities and jointness among the three services. 

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