The Debate On Theaterisation: An Earnest Appeal By Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh, 1st Course JSW (NDA)

"I am disappointed and even pained to see such divergence in the views of the Air force and Army officers as to how to fight a war jointly!"

The Debate On Theaterisation: An Earnest Appeal By Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh, 1st Course JSW (NDA)

Gen Naravane's comments are rather surprising. Did he tell this to late CDS ?!

NSS has hardly any bearing on Theater Commands. In any case, Gen Naravane must be well aware that a NSS will not see the light for decades.

Most likely the directive for Theater comds was most likely issued by MOD, to reduce number of commands and more importantly reduction in Senior Ranks and expenditure. It must have been music to the ears of senior bureaucrats in the MOD!

It was with great effort that the predecessor Chiefs got additional  Corps and Commands sanctioned. There were operational reasons, particularly span of command, logistics support and enemy deployment. Now those in chair want to drastically reduce them ! Hopefully, need for getting the same sanctioned has been studied.


No one seems to be talking about logistic chain. Terrain is another important factor to be considered. Let us not forget that in the East we have Myanmar and Bangladesh. Presently the relations are quite good with both but there is no guarantee that this will not change. This has implications on ambit of Eastern Theater/Command.

The main point of variance is between the Army and the Airforce. Army requires close air support from the moment hostilities start. First few days are crucial. For the IAF this is not a priority mission in the initial days of war atleast. They want to gain favourable air situation and preferably air superiority at the earliest instead, no doubt an important war strategy .

But since India is not likely to start  hostility and initiative will be with the enemy, he would concentrate superior forces and try his utmost to capture important ground features, places ,right in the begining as soon as possible. This does not seem to be the concern of IAF as is evident from comments of airfirce veteran officers on this group discussion and articles recently published by  senior IAF veterans.


The fighter aircraft being acquired by the IAF also indicate low priority for close support to the Army. These aircraft are too costly to attack tanks and troop concentrations.

Gaining air superiority involves repeated attacks on enemy air bases, fuel and ammunition dumps, radar stations, etc, requiring large number of sorties. We are likely to suffer aircraft losses also. One does not know if in the initial few days of war, own aircraft will provide air cover to own troops where the enemy has launched his offensive and enemy aircraft are attacking own troops, what to talk of attacking enemy's advancing columns.

At the same time, IAF says whatever is flying must be manned and controlled by them (armed helicopters and now UAVs). So what does the Army do as far as the close air support and protection from enemy air assets is concerned. If the troops on the ground under attack by superior forces are also attacked by enemy air and they do not see own aircraft it adversly affects their morale and enemy has considerable edge.

There are also some ground to ground missiles with the army and the air force.

Why this duplication?!

The airforce has tremendous range and reach as also flexibility. They can switch their assets from one theater to the other speedily. Will such switching be based on air requirements or ground situation will also be taken into account. WHO WILL


If there is no superior uniformed officer ,will the chiefs go to the NSA or Defence Secretary, etc. During 1965 War this is what happened. The three chiefs hardly ever went together to the RM! Or a committee will decide? Wars are not fought by COMMITTEES!!

So the two main issues are close air support to ground troops starting from the moment enemy launches his ground offensive and side by side protection from enemy aircraft attacking own troops on the ground. The air force wants autonomy in deploying and tasking its assets. Once the Army and the air brass come to some understanding on such issues greater clarity will emerge on Theater Comds.

The number of Commands should not be important issue nor we should pay any heed to the Chinese having One Theater Command along Tibet border with India. The topography, lines of communications, etc, are quite different on both sides.
We may even shed the term THEATER COMMAND and call the new organisation by some other name. However, co-locating Air and Army Commands is essential for coordination.

Though I retired 31 years ago, during my tenure in MO Dte, Brigade Major of a Bde in Rajauri Sector and Col GS Ops HQ 16 Corps, I had considerable exposure to working with Air force counterparts on close air support and transport support. In South Block things don't change much.

For the IAF officers who might comment, I was the Army representative in the Team which carried out the trials of AN 32 and recommended its induction in 1976 or so. Air Force officers of the 1st NDA (JSW) course starting with ACM NC Suri are my very dear friends. I am disappointed and even pained to see such divergence in the views of the Air force and Army officers as to how to fight a war jointly ! At this juncture when the CDS and the Chiefs are from the same/near by NDA courses, they must come to an understanding for the good of the country.

Col Chandok with the CDS and CAS at a function at Chandigarh on IAF Day 2022

During the IAF celebrations at Chandigarh, the Air Chief and the CDS were gracious to invite their Sqn Cdr at NDA, Col Chandok of Corps of Signals  to the celebrations and dinner. We have such comradarship ! The Army and the Air Force must understand the operational imperative of each other's service. We the survivors of 1st Course NDA look forward to early resolution.

The Author is a product of the 1st Course JSW/NDA, he served as SO-in-C & is now a renowned defence analyst, writer & strategic thinker.

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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1962 debacle was a result of clear cut political confusion which existed in India. What more, India’s Intelligence agency did not smell of Chinese intentions.

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"India ,so far, has been dithering and the reason could be only few, either we don't have the competence at the top to produce such a document or we don't have the will to do so deliberately and a third one is that we don't have neither the will nor the competence to produce it."Opines Col LJ Singh


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