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Integrated Theatre Commands

2023 AUG 18

Mains   > Security   >   Border area management   >   Security forces


  • Recently, the Rajya Sabha passed the Inter-Services Organisation (Command, Control & Discipline) Bill – 2023 that empowers the commander-in-chief and the officer-in-command of inter-services organisations with disciplinary and administrative powers over personnel from the other services serving in them.
  •  The bill had already been passed by the Lok Sabha.


  • Currently, the Armed Forces personnel are governed in accordance with the provisions contained in their specific Service Acts - Army Act 1950, Navy Act 1957 and Air Force Act 1950.
  • While service personnel serving in or attached to an Inter-Services Organisation will continue to be governed by their respective Service Acts, the Inter-Services Organisation (Command, Control & Discipline) Bill – 2023, when enacted, will empower heads of Inter-Services Organisations to exercise all the disciplinary and administrative powers as per the existing service acts and related rules and regulations, irrespective of the service they belong to.
  • More importantly, the Bill would also pave the way for much greater integration and jointness amongst the three Services and the bill also empowers the central government to constitute an Inter-Services Organisation, thus paving the way for the creation of integrated theatre commands.

Salient Features of the Inter-Services Organisation (Command, Control & Discipline) Bill – 2023

  • Inter-services Organisation:
    • Existing Inter-services Organisations will be deemed to have been constituted under the Bill.  These include the Andaman and Nicobar Command, the Defence Space Agency, and the National Defence Academy
    • The central government may constitute an Inter-services Organisation which has personnel belonging to at least two of the three services: the army, the navy, and the air force.  These may be placed under the command of an Officer-in-Command.  These organisations may also include a Joint Services Command, which may be placed under the command of a Commander-in-Chief.
  • Control of Inter-services Organisations: 
    • Presently, the Commander-in-Chief or Officer-in-Command of Inter-services Organisations are not empowered to exercise disciplinary or administrative powers over the personnel belonging to other services.  The Bill empowers the Commander-in-Chief or the Officer-in-Command of an Inter-services Organisation to exercise command and control over the personnel serving in or attached to it.  He would be responsible for maintaining discipline and ensuring proper discharge of duties by the service personnel.
    • The superintendence of an Inter-services Organisation will be vested in the central government.  The government may also issue directions to such organisations on grounds of national security, general administration, or public interest.
  • Other forces under central government:
    • The central government may notify any force raised and maintained in India to which the Bill will apply.  This would be in addition to army, navy, and air force personnel.
  • Commander-in-Chief:
    • The officers eligible to be appointed as the Commander-in-Chief or Officer-in-Command are: (i) a General Officer of the regular Army (above the rank of Brigadier), (ii) a Flag Officer of the Navy (rank of Admiral of the Fleet, Admiral, Vice-Admiral, or Rear-Admiral), or (iii) an Air Officer of the Air Force (above the rank of group captain).
  • Commanding Officer:
    • The Bill provides for a Commanding Officer who will be in command of a unit, ship, or establishment.  
    • The officer will also perform duties assigned by the Commander-in-Chief or Officer-in-Command of the Inter-services Organisation.  The Commanding Officer will be empowered to initiate all disciplinary or administrative actions over the personnel appointed, deputed, posted, or attached to that Inter-services Organisation.


  • In the simplest words, it is a unified command under which all the resources of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are pooled, depending on the threat perception.
  • The commands could be geographical — like looking at a border with a particular country — or thematic, like a command for all maritime threats.
  •  Several nations in the world have theatre commands, including the United States and China.
  • The idea of creating an integrated tri-Services command in India is not new — it had been recommended at various levels after the Kargil conflict.
  • The Kargil Review Committee and the then Group of Ministers besides the Naresh Chandra Committee had called for structural changes in higher defence management.
  • It was the Shekatkar committee, headed by Lt Gen. (retd) D.B. Shekatkar, which had recommended the creation of the post of CDS and theatre commands.
  • Until this committee, every other panel had only spoken about the need for unified planning.


  • As of now, the three forces have 17 commands between them.
  • The Army has seven commands: Northern, Eastern, Southern, Western, Central, Southwestern and Army Training Command (ARTRAC).
  • The Air Force has seven as well: Western, Eastern, Southern, Southwestern, Central, Training, and Maintenance commands.
  • The Navy has three: Western, Eastern and Southern, of which Southern is largely about training.
  • Even if these commands operate in the same region, they are not co-located, and their areas of operational responsibility are not necessarily the same.
  • There are two existing tri-Service commands as well — the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), which is headed by rotation by officers from the three Services, and the Strategic Force Command, which is responsible for India’s nuclear assets.


  • Early reports in 2021 suggested that the military aimed to bring together and reorganise India’s 17 single commands into 4 or 5 theatre commands.
  • These commands were believed to include the Northern Land Theatre, which would look after Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and the Central sector, the Western Land Theatre, which would focus on Pakistan, the Eastern Land Theatre, the Maritime Theatre Command and the Air Defence Command.
  • However, in 2023, with the guidance of CDS Anil Chauhan, the plan seems to have been reworked with a proposal for three integrated theatre commands instead.
  • These commands, reports suggest, will be under senior 3-star officers of either Lt General, Air Marshal, or Vice Admiral rank. This plan is deemed to have almost gained consensus within the military.
  • The three proposed theatre commands are supposed to look after the northern front with China, the western borders with Pakistan, and also include a maritime command towards Southern India.
  • Significantly, the idea of the Air Defence Command (ADC) from the earlier iteration has been dropped.
  • From the onset, the Air Force resisted the idea of an ADC. The Air Force’s asset shortages— in terms of both personnel and limited squadron strength would have pushed the decision-makers to abandon the idea.
  • Operational control over all of those assets, regardless of the force, will lie with the commander of that theatre.


  • Challenges involved in modern warfare:
    • Considering the new challenges involved in modern warfare, which is more technology- and network-centric, integrated theatre command will aid better coordination among the defense forces and bring about better jointness and integration within the military.
    • The other aim is to have a unified approach to fighting future wars. Sources said China’s theaterization move has had an effect too.
  • Improve logistics management and optimum utilisation of resources:
    • Theatre commands could improve logistics management in the forces. A framework to collectively cater to the requirements of the three services could prove more beneficial than individual plans.
    • This will also prevent resources from being allocated for duplicate purchases for the three services.
    • Also, the forces will be able to pool their resources efficiently, resulting in the optimum utilisation of platforms, weapon systems, and assets.
  • Avoid communication hindrances.
    • At present, India’s multiple military commands are all located in different geographical areas. This causes communication hindrances during joint operations and exercises as multiple levels of clearance across hierarchies and geographies are needed to corroborate plans and strategies.
    • With a unified command structure, these communication processes could be simpler and more efficient.
  • More efficient planning:
    • Having a unified command structure with representatives from all three services will also lead to more efficient planning for both peacetime and wartime strategies.


  • Limited air assets:
    • One of the apprehensions related to theater command is the Air Force's concern that, at the present moment, the concept may prove unviable due to its limited air assets.
    • Air Force assets are too limited for allocation to the three land-based theaters and the maritime theater.
    • It would be akin to sharing poverty and spreading resources so thin as to make air operations suboptimal.
    • For instance, the IAF currently possesses just 31 fighter squadrons, despite being authorized for 42.
  • National Security Strategy (NSS):
    • Many retired military personnel have criticized the establishment of theatre commands without a cogent National Security Strategy (NSS), stating that the theatre commands will lack a clear blueprint and strategic goal to work toward in the absence of an NSS.
  • Intra-service rivalry
    • One of the concerns is about the possible impact of intra-service rivalry in the integrated theatre commands, with preconceived prejudices that each of the three forces harbour about the others surfacing adversely.
  • Massive funding:
    • Creating infrastructure for the integrated theatre commands will necessitate massive funding, which will add further financial burden to the Ministry of Defence.
  • Service culture:
    • The service culture is very different between the different forces. Also, the Indian Army has regimental affiliations and is bound by their legacy. The legacy issues may not be that great in the Indian Air Force or the Indian Navy. Finding the right mix will remain a challenge.
  • Institutional inertia:
    • Institutional inertia and parochial interests among the armed forces that value the status quo will have to be overcome as a precursor to implementing the transition.
  • Officers dispossessed of their elevated statuses:
    • Each of the 17 existing commands is headed by a secretary-level, three-star service officer.
    • But with these numbers reducing to four, after the ITCs are established, one of the immediate challenges would be to accommodate and placate 13 three-star officers, who would be dispossessed of their elevated statuses. 


  • The restructuring of the Indian armed forces into theatre commands is a huge exercise. The most important point is to build consensus before embarking on such a major restructuring. It must not be built on convenience or ease of implementation. It must have a strong foundation of operational integration and synergy. Clarity on the underlying operational philosophy and decision making processes is essential for the success of this military transformation.


Q. “A host of complex issues threaten the formation of the military's integrated theater commands”. Discuss.