India must work with the US to create a suitable format for its new Theatre Commands: Ex-Army chief

Strategic planners in India need to work out a suitable format before implementing the Theatre Command structure, which integrates all services in an area under a unified command, said former army chief General Shankar Roychowdhury.

India also needs to build up its strength vis-a-vis China and not be “over-influenced” by the 1962 border war with the neighbouring country, the former army chief stated.

“We need to work out a suitable format for the Theatre Command structure through discussions within the three services… there is a need for clarity about the structure,” General Roychowdhury told PTI.

“For instance, the theatre command structure for peninsular India and northern India where you do not have sea have to be different,” said the former cavalry officer, who currently heads a strategic think tank, Research Centre for Eastern and North-eastern Studies.

India wants to implement a theatre command structure to bring about better synergy between the three services — army, navy and air force — where there would be four to five unified commands instead of some 17 different ones.

China, considered as India”s single-most important security threat by many defence analysts, has a theatre command system, and its western command with headquarters at Chengdu integrating the army, air and nuclear forces is the one which India faces on its northern borders.

General Roychowdhury, who served as chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee in the late 1990s, pointed out that while many countries, including the US and China, have implemented the Theatre Command concept, “user-reports at ground level have not always been favourable”.

He said there is a need to study the systems and decide what would suit Indian conditions.

Military analysts have agreed with Roychowdhury”s assertion that Theatre Command concept cannot be template-based and the structure needs to be tailored to suit the terrain, threats and possible operations by the adversary.

“Hence, each theatre would probably have a different structure in terms of order of battle, assets and command and control,” said Major General Biswajit Chakravarty (retd), who was earlier posted at the Integrated Defence Staff headquarters.

The current chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat has held a number of marathon meetings with the three services on implementing Theatre Commands. However, objections from the Indian air force have held up the implementation of the concept up until now.

India currently has two joint services commands — the Andaman & Nicobar Command and the strategic forces command which controls the country’s nuclear weapon systems including missiles.

General Roychowdhury said there is a need to build up India”s military strength not only to face up to possible threats from terror groups but also China. “We have to try and achieve the level China has achieved,” he said.

Speaking of the 1962 border war with China where Indian troops had faced severe reverses in the northeast and Ladakh-Aksai Chin, the former Army chief said India should not allow its strategic thinking to be “over-influenced by our showing in 1962”.

Indian troops withdrew from positions held by them south of Namka Chu river including Tawang after several skirmishes, while pitched battles in Ladakh-Aksai Chin sector saw many pickets being overwhelmed after a fight till the bitter end. As the winter set-in, Chinese troops withdrew from areas they had entered fearing that the snowfall would cut them off from supplies.

He pointed out that Indian forces were in a far better place in terms of equipment, morale and logistics and advised that the country needs to “speak from a position of restrained strength” while dealing with its neighbours including China.