This is the fifth article on threatrisation. 

Previous articles can be accessed by clicking on the following titles 


Jointmanship – Pluck The Low Hanging Fruits

Some Ideas From The Nichols-Goldwater Act

Theatrisation – Are We Ready ?

Prickles of Theatrisation of Commands

Shapes of Theatres








The webinar on ‘Theatrisation of the Armed Forces – The Way Forward’ as part of The CASA Forum, threw up very interesting thoughts. The distinguished panel was pretty clear with their concept of theatrisation.  The issues which came up need serious deliberation. I gave it a thought and am penning down major issues as I have perceived them. The webinar and views of the panel are available in the link above. You may consider this article as a consolidation of all the views which were expressed and duly modified with my own view thrown in.  


The main issue is that Theatristaion is an irreversible phenomenon whose time has come. However, we have to get the edifice right. If that does not happen, we will be better off without theatristaion. The next issue which came out loud and clear is that we are not discussing / debating this enough. There is a major requirement to think this through. While full confidence was expressed in the present leadership of the Armed Forces to do the right thing, they might be hamstrung due to the day-to-day pressures of running and looking after their organizations. Hence, there is good possibility that our structures might evolve on a wrong footing and grow accordingly. We need to get that right. 


Indian Armed Forces are capable enough to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation even without getting theatrised. That is a proven historical fact and does not change. However, theatrisation must improve the capability of the Armed Forces to deter our adversaries and defend the nation better at least cost – operationally and financially.  Theatrisation must also enable India’s rise as a power of consequence consistent with its growth, interests and aspirations. India is destined for a global role and its place in the comity of nations. That role will not be fulfilled unless we have a fully ‘integrated’ and ‘joint’ military. Any form of theatrisation must address these two factors. 


Theatrisation of the Armed Forces is a national imperative. Hence political guidance and direction has to be hands-on. The guidance will be derived from a dynamic national strategy. In turn, this is dependent on a host of internal and external factors – constitutional, political, geopolitical and economic factors. Political guidance has to be indicated to the Armed Forces – formally or informally. The Political, Bureaucratic and Military hierarchies’ have to be pull their weight together. It reinforces the point I have oft made – necessity of a Politico- Military Fusion for a ‘Future Ready’ India. Are we ready for the challenges ahead?  Theatrisation is a national reform with huge structural, financial and operational changes. Unless the bureaucracy is well informed and positively intentioned, the change will not be synchronous to emerging strategic or operational requirements. Procrastination and decision delays will not do. Mindsets at all levels need to change. The change in mindset in PLA is being driven ruthlessly by Xi Jinping in China by direct orders from the CMC. To get an idea of theartrisation in China, please read the White Paper on Defense -2019. In USA the change was driven by enacting theatrisation into law by the Nichols Goldwater Act. We are far behind the curve. Our concept and drive for theatrisation is inherent in the DMA and CDS combine. Clear cut authority or responsibility has not been vested in any appointment including the CDS who is only a recommending authority. We might be moving too fast without a clear idea where we are going.     


The expertise required for theatrisation, is available only within the Armed Forces fraternity – serving or retired. While the political and bureaucratic class can support theatrisation, the change will have to be driven by the Armed Forces leadership. Hence, a clear headed and determined military leadership will be the order of the day. Wisdom, clarity of thought, team spirit and cooperation are required between the CDS, the three Service Chiefs and their Principal Staff officers. They must give up the individual good for their services for the sake of the common good. Most of them did that, when they front rolled together as a team, in their teens, in NDA. The onus of leading the change wrests within the uniform. Lack of purpose or clarity within the Services will translate to political and bureaucratic delays or dilution of the outcomes if not abandonment of the whole exercise. Very luckily for us, the currently evolving global and national geostrategic environment provides us with a model, leeway and a driver to shape things properly. At the cost of repetition – Politico- Bureaucratic – Military equations need to be put in place. There is haziness on this front. Our military leadership needs to cut through the haze. 


 A seeming dichotomy of threatrisation is that Armies and Air Forces operate across land borders whereas Navies operate in open seas in an international borderless environment. Hence there would be a disconnect between the maritime and continental orientations of each Service. Can the twain meet? That is a question which often comes up and came up during the webinar also.  Theatrisation is precisely meant to overcome this contradiction. Theatres must necessarily be transnationally oriented beyond borders and seas in a seamless fashion. They provide the links between the continental and maritime strategies of a nation. Examine the Africa and Indo-Pacific commands of USA. Both have a mixture of the continental and maritime domains. Very clearly, all of us have to think differently to get suitable answers in our environment. 


Theatre Commands must be based on geography rather on tasks / domains. Task based commands can be part of a theatre and not vice versa. An air defense command has to function in a theatre. The maritime domain cannot be a theatre. This major dichotomy needs a revisit. In my opinion we need a theatre to our West to handle all Pakistan related issues and beyond including a maritime element in North Arabian Sea. Similarly, we need a theatre to the North to handle all China related issues which includes North Bay of Bengal. After all, China is showing Interest to reach the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar. We also need a peninsular theatre to look after the vast expanse of the IOR and Island territories besides peninsular India. I think we are going fundamentally wrong in our initial formulation by announcing a  maritime theatre command and air defence command. Further, there is already talk of having theatres which will be a combination of existing commands with fronts being split up. Strictly speaking , India as it exists today is one theatre. That has come out very clearly in the webinar. However ‘Future Ready’ India will have to have three orientations based on challenges from Pakistan, China and IOR. Theatrisation must cater for this fundamentality without being split or diluted.   


The next question which merits deliberation is that what will be the equations between the Political hierarchy, national security apparatus, CDS, Service Chiefs and Theatre Commanders? Will a new Higher Defence Organisation evolve or will it be business as usual? At the military level, what will be the equation between the CDS, Service Chiefs and Theatre Commanders? If the Theatre Commanders are merely interposed as additional layers between the Service Chiefs and the existing operational commanders then this whole exercise will be in futility. Presently there is no clarity on the change in the organizational structure though it has been announced that the initial theatres will be instituted by June.  The command and control aspects of theatrisation remain hazy. It appears from public pronouncements that IAF is being converted into a theatre through the proposed Air Defence Command. 


Success of theatrisation is dependent on the level of integration and jointness which can be instituted. ‘Integration’ and ‘Jointness’ are two different aspects which need to be understood. Integration is necessary between the Services and the Ministry of Defence. This has been a long pending deficiency of our system. A certain amount of ‘Integration’ has also to be carried out with the External Affairs and Home Ministries also.  Otherwise the entire concept of theaterisation will remain undermined and prone to subversion. On the other hand ‘Jointness’ is an Interservice phenomenon.  Jointness should enable the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force to fight as a whole. It is not to duplicate, replace or replicate one by the other.


‘Theatrisation’ and ‘Jointness’ are a chicken and egg story. Which comes first?  While that debate may continue, a certain amount of jointness is mandatory to affect theatrisation. Have we achieved it?  Have we sown the seeds for the future through better training?  Hence training at the DSSC,  respective war colleges and the NDC need a serious relook. The DSSC and war colleges contribute to  Jointness and inculcating understanding of Integration. On the other hand National Defence college must be with base of Integration.  Presently it is not so. Unless we improve the level of integration and jointness by a notch, theatrisation will come unstuck. The ‘Integration’ and ‘Jointness’ base on which theatrisation is to be built is a bit weak at present and there is no visibility in strengthening it.


The decision on theatrisation has been taken. We should leave all our doubts behind and put our heart and soul into making it a success. The question henceforth should be,  how to make it happen rather than why do we need it. The shape and level of theatrisation will be subject to financial constraints.  Currently, we will be able to theatrise only to a certain extent.  However that should not deter us.  We need to make adequate structures even if they are presently skeletal, so that they can be filled up in the future, as and when finances are made available, and capabilities are put in place. It is an evolutionary process. One must also remember that change is a ‘constant’ in life.  We should adapt to this change.  Our higher defence organization must evolve accordingly.  We have to put in a lot of thought into this exercise since  transition management will be a challenge. Lastly theatrisation should enable us to defend India optimally at least cost in the short run. In the long run theatrisation should enable India rise as a power off reckoning.


I would like to add that the webinar on ‘Theatrisation of Armed Forces – The Way Forward’ has thrown up a lot of questions for which there are no clear cut answers either with the establishment or outside.  It is therefore necessary that these issues be debated at length in public forums without diluting the security aspects.  We must get more clarity on issues to evolve into a reasonably good system in future. To this end, The Casa Forum will shortly have another webinar with another set of wise people to take this agenda forward. We hope there is more public participation in this discussion.             


  1. Well analyzed and put across. The success of theaterisation is predicated on one the mind sets of the three services and availability of resources to make the theatre commands sustainable and effective. Rightly said that change is a constant and everyone in the decision making channel has to accept thus and work to resolve the challenges and make the process a success. Without adequate resources the whole concept and effort of creating theatre commands would only be an great paper exercise which would have neither any strategic effect nor any impact on what already exists Lastly totally agree that there has to be a certain lateral jointness with MHA in General and MEA in particular so that it is a national level strategy rather than compartmentalized approach to decide what the impact the nation wants to create with the theatre commands in the region or globally if that is the objective.

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