Theatre Commander under Chief of Defence Staff is not a good idea

Source: Indian Express

Relevance: Issues pertaining with reorganisation of operational assets of the three services into four theatre commands.

Synopsis: Forming a separate air defence command for the air defence of the entire nation seems an impractical idea considering our resource limitations.


The government is reportedly planning to re-organise the military into a theatre command under the chief of defence staff (CDS). The assets of the Air Force will be split into four and distributed among four operational theatres.

Naresh Chandra Committee

In 2012, the Naresh Chandra Committee suggested the creation of a CDS. It would take overall functions of the chairman, chiefs of committee as well as the responsibilities pertaining to centralized planning, induction, training, intelligence, and logistics.

Operations, according to the committee’s suggestion, would continue to be managed by the respective chiefs of staff. The CDS was to exercise operational control only of the Strategic Force Command and the Andaman Nicobar Command. The CDS secretariat would handle all responsibilities assigned to the CDS.

Sometime in 2016-17, this idea was modified to organise the operational assets of the three services into four theatre commands, all of which are now proposed to be brought under the CDS.

  1. Compromise mission effectiveness: Dilution of the combat assets of the Air Force might severely affect mission-effectiveness. The reorganisation project calls for careful study before it’s implemented.
  2. One should not expect the current level of efficiency to be maintained if the combat inventory of the Air Force is split into smaller units.
  3. Lack of in-depth understanding: A land theatre command, if given power over the air elements, may not have the confidence to launch an operation like Balakot mission. Because of the lack of in-depth understanding of the organizational complexity and the risks involved.
  4. Coping up with inc responsibility: It is extremely doubtful if the CDS can cope with the enhanced responsibilities that include operations. The idea was to reduce the responsibilities of the chiefs of staff by introducing the CDS who was to take only non-operational responsibilities.
  5. No evidence of advantages offered by theatre commands: There is no white paper on the advantages of the theatre commands or one listing the merits of the CDS being the operational head of the entire military operation. Joint planning is a must, but operations are best undertaken by individual services who know what other services are doing and when.
  6. Extensive training: The land theatre commander will now have to learn to utilise these assets on missions that are not in the “regular books” of land forces. This will now require extensive training, which AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control Systems) would need to participate in regularly. Will a theatre commander from the army be able to manage such tasks?
Why, a separate air defence command, is an impractical idea?

Forming a separate air defence command for the air defence of the entire nation seems an impractical idea considering our resource limitations.

  • The current arrangement of a decentralised air defence organisation managed by Air Force geographical commands has functioned faultlessly.
  • A majority of the combat element deployed for air defence can also perform offensive air defence (counter-air) missions. These could be switched to a striking role, or even a maritime role when required. The existing structures afford better flexibility.
Also Read: Four theatre commands likely to be raised by year end


We are trying to effect changes at a time the military is deployed actively. The Chinese have dug in hard, and we do not yet know their strategy and, importantly, the capability of their Air Force. Standard Air Force missions may not work. To divide the Air Force into four units at this moment is inadvisable. The Air Force is in the midst of absorbing new inductions and weapons. These are being deployed while training is in progress. In such a scenario, it is inadvisable to initiate organizational changes.

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