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What are the five integrated theatre commands as India gears up for its biggest military restructuring since 1947, and other key questions answered

BECA is by far the most important strategic intelligence sharing accord between India and the US, signalling to Beijing that it has crossed the line

October 28, 2020 / 02:27 PM IST

There is a systemic military recast on the cards for the first time in India since 1947. For better coordination of the armed services, the Indian military is setting up five integrated theatre commands by 2022 with well-defined areas of operation.

With the appointment of the Gen Bipin Rawat as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) on December 30, 2019, the first step towards this transformation was taken, which many consider long overdue. Gen Rawat is working on redesigning existing military commands into theatre commands and establishing new joint commands that will combine the resources and assets of the three defence forces, based on threats at India’s borders.

What are the five integrated theatre commands?

As per the proposals, the Northern Command’s range will begin from the Karakoram Pass in Ladakh and continue up to the last outpost, Kibithu, in Arunachal Pradesh, with the military mandate of guarding the 3,488 km of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

The Western Command will be entrusted from Indira Col on Saltoro Ridge in the Siachen Glacier region to the tip of Gujarat. The Western and Eastern Command of the Indian Navy will be merged into the Peninsular Command, the fourth will be a full-fledged Air Defence Command and the fifth, a Maritime Command. The Air Defence Command will spearhead the country’s aerial attack and be responsible for defending Indian airspace through multi-role fighters with all anti-aircraft missiles under its control while India’s Maritime Command could include what is currently the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Islands Command. It will be tasked to protect the Indian Ocean and India’s island territories as well as keep the sea lanes free and open from any outside pressure.

What is the current command structure?

There is a total of 17 commands today. In case of war, each Service Chief is expected to control the operations of his Service. To carry out his directions, he has functional commands headed by three-star rank Army Commanders (or equivalent in the Navy and Air Force). Thus, the Army has seven commands - Northern, Eastern, Southern, Western, Central, Southwestern and Army Training Command; the Indian Air Force too has seven commands - Western, Eastern, Southern, Southwestern, Central, Training and Maintenance while the Navy has three commands, Western, Eastern and Southern.


Besides these, there are two tri-Service Commands [Strategic Forces Command] and the Andaman and Nicobar Command, which is rotated among the three services.

How is the current synergy?

None of these 17 commands is co-located at the same station! Each one is at a different station—as if a conscious effort has been made to stay away from each other and not tread on each other’s toes!

Why is CDS the key?

Most professional militaries, with CDS or equivalents, have added muscle to their warfighting capabilities. With twin threats of China in the North and Pakistan to its West, India has no choice but to reshape its military options. The need for an integrated military force to counter this threat is now a sin qua non.

Is military integration a new concept?

Given India’s military history, in the decades preceding the 1999 Kargil conflict, joint service endeavours were largely a cosmetic exercise. Kargil heightened the appreciation that modern wars cannot be fought with outdated structures, where the army, navy and the air force conducted operations independently. A modern military requires huge synergy - vast technological changes, an altering battlefield milieu, appearance of new threats and challenges, cyber and hybrid wars and, last but not the least, nuclear warfare.

What is the history of the Indian Army?

The Indian military is one of the institutions that free India inherited from the British at the time of independence. Thus, in customs, traditions and culture, it has, by and large, followed the ethos of the British military. Even post-Independence, the Indian military has been influenced more by British practices than other militaries of the world. The organisational structure, at both the lower and higher levels, is based on the British model. Obviously, change is needed.

Notes former Army Chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor, in an in-depth article written for Centre of Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS): ``Conceptually, jointness implies synergised use of the resources of the three Services in a seamless manner to achieve the best results in the least possible time, thus, avoiding duplication and making optimum use of the available resources. In absolute terms, the validity of jointness as a concept in modern day warfare is indisputable.”

What is the BECA pact between India and the US?

The long-awaited Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement or BECA, which gives India access to classified geo-spatial data as well as critical information having significant military applications from the US, was signed on October 27, 2020, as External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held the third edition of the 2+2 talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary, Mark Esper, in New Delhi.

BECA is the fourth and final `foundational’ understanding the US has with India. It will allow India to gain access to precision data and topographical images - on a real time basis, from US military satellites. The signing of the long-negotiated defence pact comes in the backdrop of India's tense border standoff with China in eastern Ladakh.

Under the agreement, the sensitive satellite and sensor data provided by the US will also allow India to keep a close watch on the movements of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean.

The in-person talks were held at a time of the Trump administration's growing friction with Beijing over a host of issues, including trade tariff and Chinese military's offensive manoeuvres in the South China Sea.

Veteran diplomat, G Parthasarathy, told this writer: ``This is real time intelligence sharing and India was postponing it for some time now, but Beijing has invited it upon itself. US has the best satellite and human intelligence in the world. This is a clear signal to China that it has crossed the line.”

What are the three foundational agreements with the US preceding BECA?

BECA is considered the last of the foundational agreements between India and the US. The two sides have been sharing real-time intelligence under the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (Comcasa) signed in 2018. They have also signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002 and the Logistics Exchange memorandum of Agreement (Lemoa) in 2016. But clearly, BECA is the real thing.

(Ranjit Bhushan is a senior journalist based in Delhi)
Ranjit Bhushan
first published: Oct 28, 2020 02:27 pm
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