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Create Theater Commands, Usher in Military Reforms Quickly

As Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar begins his first official visit to China on Monday, his focus will be on keeping the military to military cooperation between India and China on an even keel and find new ways to take defence cooperation to the next stage between the two neighbours.
One of the ways to enhance defence ties is to perhaps increase cooperation in professional military education by offering more vacancies to each other’s officers in higher defence institutions like the National Defence College (NDC) and the College of Defence Management (CDM) in India and the National Defence University (NDU) in China. India with its extensive experience in UN Peacekeeping operations could also offer inputs to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) which has now started participating frequently in peacekeeping tasks internationally.
But Parrikar, a keen observer and a fast learner may want to try and understand the recently unveiled major transformation and reforms in the PLA unleashed by President Xi Jinping. One of the main objectives of the reforms is to equip the PLA for ‘Theatre battles’ to replace the old military regions with Theatre Commands. Simultaneously, a joint operational command system has been established and military-civilian integration has been promoted.
The Indian Defence Minister having worked hard for putting in place a pathbreaking procedure for defence acquisitions must now focus his energy in initiating major structural reforms in the way the Indian military functions. Rooted in 19th century traditions, equipped with mid-20th century weaponry with aspirations of a 21st century force, the Indian military is currently crying for drastic changes. Parrikar must therefore begin consultations to usher in Indian Defence Reforms 2.0.
The current NDA government has the political heft to complete the half-hearted reforms that were sought to be implemented in 2001-02 as a follow up to the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee (KRC).
The CDS, recommended by the KRC formed by the previous NDA government at the turn of the century, is long overdue. But successive governments since then have either lacked the political courage to ram through the change or have been too timid to overcome the opposition from the civil bureaucracy and resistance by the largely conservative military leadership in ushering in far-reaching changes.
The result: creation of a mishmash called the Headquarter IDS (Integrated Defence Staff) and an alphabet soup called the CISC, which is short for Chief of Integrated Staff to the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee! Under this system, the senior most amongst the three service chiefs chairs the committee by rotation. All decisions are supposed to be taken by consensus in this committee with contentious issues generally kept on the back burner or left to the Defence Minister to resolve!
More than a decade after the KRC report, UPA II appointed a high-powered Naresh Chandra Task Force. It submitted a detailed report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2013. It was this task force that recommended Appointment of a Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) because it could not reach a consensus on. CDS, apparently because the Indian Air Force (IAF) was opposed to it.
Over the past decade, the IDS has evolved in a barely workable tri-services structure with over 300 officers drawn from the three services trying to function as a cohesive unit tasked with evolving “jointness.” On ground however, jointness or inter-operability has remained at best on paper.
The solution, lies in divesting the three Chiefs of operational command of forces and let them be Chiefs of respective Staff – ‘resource providers to joint operational/ strategic commands’ – content with recruiting, training of personnel; holding and maintaining equipment; executing related administrative functions, appointing a CDS and creating theatre commands under which operations can be handled after complete integration of the three services and merger of existing commands wherever necessary.
There is a case for creating theatre commands by drastically reorganising the current structures and giving lead role to each of the service headquarters according to the tasks they are expected to undertake.
One possibility is to create theatre commands on the following lines:
North-East Command to be based in Shillong; Northern Command in Udhampur; North-West in Chandigarh; Eastern Command in Kolkata; Western Command in Jaipur; South-East Command in Visakhapatnam; South-west Command in Mumbai; Andaman Nicobar Command in Port Blair; Logistics Command in Lucknow; Training Command in Shimla; Maintenance Command in Nagpur; Proposed Cyber Command in Pune; Proposed Space Command in Bangalore and Proposed Special Forces Command in Delhi.
Once the geographical locations are finalised, integration of the three services as required can begin and the lead service can be decided.
For instance, the North-east, North, West, Special Ops, Training and Logistics Commands can be headed by the Army; the North-west, Eastern, Space and Maintenance Command can be given to Air Force while the Navy can take charge of South-East, South West, ANC and Cyber Commands.
This reorganisation will reduce the current strength of commands across three services and also not require creation of any new assets or infrastructure. In fact, theatre commands will also avoid duplication in acquisitions and procurements.
The Theatre Commanders can be four star officers to be assisted by a three star. So for instance in the North-east Command, while the four star can be an Army officer, his deputy needs to be an Air Force officer; Similarly, the North-west Command should be headed by an Air Force officer to be assisted by a three-star army officer. In South-west, South-east and ANC, Navy can take the lead to be assisted by Army or Air Force officers.
The Chiefs of all the three services can be four and half star officer while the CDS can be a five-star, single point military adviser.
Appointment of CDS is however the prerogative of the apex political authority, namely the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). It can choose from panel of names forwarded by the three Services. There should be no rotation to appease services. Choice of apex political authority has to be final.
The changes will not be easy to bring in. In fact, at first glance they may seem totally impractical but change is never painless. In the US and the UK, reforms were driven by a top down approach, changes were forced by a political decision. And so it is currently in China. The military has a tendency to build empires and protect its own turf. Unless ordered politically, they resist change.
The current government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the political clout to reform India’s moribund military. It must seize the moment and drive the much needed military reorganisation and reforms through before it’s too late.

Source: Defense News

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