For the past 75 years, the primary focus of India's armed forces, except for the Navy, has been on defending the nation's territory and airspace. However, the Navy has been relatively more inclined towards overseas operations. With the recent decision to establish operational theatres, the aim is to utilize military might for projecting national power beyond borders. It begs the question of how far and where India should project its power.
Ideally, a National Security Strategy or a comprehensive vision of India's position in the world should address this issue. Unfortunately, the National Security Council has not made any attempts to draft such a document to date. As a result, the Navy, which is typically engaged in overseas operations, took a bold step in 2004. Admiral Arun Prakash, an innovative and proactive chief, formulated the Indian Maritime Strategy, even in the absence of political guidance.
Throughout Indian history, the South East Asia Command, led by Admiral Mountbatten, was the only theatre formed. Under his leadership, the 14th Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Slim, successfully reclaimed Burma (Myanmar) during World War II.
In modern times, it falls on the Chief of Defence Staff and the integrated staff to define theatres of operation without any political guidance. The military staff possesses a wealth of trained and scholarly military strategists, making them capable of accomplishing this task with proficiency.
The concept of operational theatres, as well as the idea of a multi-disciplinary National Security Council, is primarily an American notion. The National Security Council provides intellectual guidance for the creation and implementation of theatres.
As a global superpower, the United States has divided the world into various commands, with India falling under the Pacific Command in Honolulu, and Pakistan under the Central Command. These commands represent the strategic interests of the United States on a global scale. However, the question arises as to where India's interests lie, and which areas should be designated as its operational theatres.
While India's interests in creating an operational theatre out of the Western and South Western Commands may be subject to speculation, it is possible to identify some inalienable interests. Pakistan, currently in a state of turmoil and decline, cannot be considered a theatre. However, Afghanistan is a natural candidate for inclusion, as are the Middle East countries.
Recent developments such as the Israeli-Sunni rapprochement and Iran's nuclear ambitions, backed by Moscow and Beijing, have become a significant source of concern for India. The Middle East is home to around four million Indian workers who remit between 20 and 30 billion dollars annually. Therefore, if India were to extend its theatre to the Middle East, it would have to include Israel and the Suez Canal, which is a strategic waterway.
It is imperative that India safeguards its trade and oil demands by protecting the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab-el-Mandap.
India's concerns in the Bab-el-Mandap region have been compounded by the aggressive Chinese presence in Djibouti. In light of these developments, expanding the western operational theatre to include these areas is a logical step. However, such a move may intimidate the policymakers in South Block. General Naravane has called for the government to formulate a National Security Strategy to articulate India's overseas interests.
Unfortunately, the civil bureaucracy and government think tanks have proven to be inadequate in drafting such a document. Given that the National Security Council Staff and the core of such organizations are primarily composed of serving or retired military officers, the Chief of Defence Staff and integrated staff could proceed with theaterisation planning without government guidance.
The proposed Western theatre would integrate all the forces currently deployed in the West and South West. It would comprise approximately four army corps, 10 to 12 squadrons of aircraft, and the Western Fleet, all of which would be headed by a four-star officer. This would reduce the number of single-service commands from the current 17, led by three-star officers, to four or five theatres under four four-star officers. The heads of each single service would remain in place for housekeeping duties.
This model could be replicated for other theatres, resulting in seven or eight four-star officers in the new setup. The ultimate authority would be a five-star Chief of Defence Staff tasked with drafting India's military grand strategy, superseding the current three single-service strategies. This approach would unify India's military forces under a coherent and effective command structure.
By creating operational theatres, India could more effectively respond to threats and allocate resources accordingly. For example, the proposed Western theatre would encompass forces currently deployed in the West and South West, and include approximately four army corps, 10 to 12 squadrons of aircraft, and the Western Fleet. This theatre would be headed by a four-star officer and would address threats emanating from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, including the protection of vital trade routes such as the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab-el-Mandap.
With a unified military strategy in place, India would be better equipped to address challenges and counter threats, and match its growing economic and diplomatic status with a defense policy to match. This would also help to eliminate inconsistencies and doubts that currently exist, and allow for a more effective response to emerging threats.
About The Author
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst, and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Private Limited which is a Subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia.
(Views expressed are the author's own & do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)
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