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Insights into Editorial: The roadmap to military reform

Insights into Editorial: The roadmap to military reform


Context of restructuring Defence organisation:

A recent historical overview would indicate just how confused things are, which doesn’t augur well for a ‘leading power’.

The initial flavour of the debate in the decades following the Group of Ministers’ report, the Kargil Review Committee report, and the Naresh Chandra Committee report focussed on a restructuring of higher defence organisation as the first step.

This was intended to improve synergy among different tools of statecraft (bureaucracy, military, research and development, intelligence, internal security mechanisms, and more).

When very little traction was seen in converting this into structural changes within the Ministry of Defence, and sharing of expertise, the debate shifted to the second tier of reform in the operational realm. This has unfortunately pitted the three services against one another in a series of turf wars that have ranged from control over space to control over cyber and special forces.


Need for a theatre command:

  • Major military powers like the US and China operates via theatre commands. China restructured its military in 2015 to come up with six theatre commands, whereas America’s theatres – the Unified Combatant Commands – are global in scope
  • India has 19 commands (14 geographic commands, 3 functional and 2joints). Indian armed forces will face in fighting jointly can be gauged from the astonishing fact that of the 17 single service commands, no two are headquartered in the same location
  • Theatre commands are seen as better for pooling resources and improving efficiency.
    • Air force doesn’t have enough resources — fighter squadrons, mid-air refuelers and AWACS — to allocate them dedicatedly to different theatre commanders.
  • In the heat of the battle, differences between the two services will inevitably crop up and that can very seriously affect our effectiveness. Hence, a theatre command with one commander is the need of the hour.



  • Critiques argue that India’s existing separate “Command Headquarters” for the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force stand operationally time-tested by India’s wars with China and Pakistan. There is no need for theatre command
  • Each command has specific strength according to their geographical need.
    • The Northern Command has a vast mountainous terrain of the Kashmir region and the glacial and high-altitude mountains of the Ladakh region. Theatre command may lead to compromise in specific strength
  • Theatre Military Commands would need dedicated allocation of combat assets to each Theatre Military Command. This may create a tussle over scare resources
  • During the recent Air Force wargame Exercise Gaganshakti showcased that its assets can shift from one theatre to the other within no time and putting them under a dedicated theatre would not be of much use in country with limited resources


The creation of large Naval and Army aviation arms demonstrates the IAF’s understanding that there is a need to complement its dwindling resources with air arms that could act as tactical responders at best till the IAF brings its cutting-edge skills into the area to act as a decisive sword-arm.


Apprehensions over reserves

  • With such a deep understanding of joint operations, it is impossible to imagine that the reservations expressed by the IAF leadership in supporting the creation of integrated theatre commands in isolation is tantamount to stonewalling.
  • Dissection of the recently conducted exercise, Gaganshakti, would provide a quantitative analysis of this assertion.


  • The main apprehensions of the IAF leadership not only revolve around how best to exploit its dwindling offensive resources if they are hived off to multiple theatre commands, but also how the limited availability of enabling equipment and platforms (AWACS, refuelers, electronic warfare platforms and more) could seriously jeopardise operations even in a single-adversary limited conflict.
  • This conflict could involve up to three of the proposed theatre commands, including the Indian Navy.

India’s armed forces have little experience in training, staffing and exercising Joint Task Forces based on at least a division-sized land component.

Creation of three division-sized task forces for operations in varied terrain, including out-of-area contingency operations, could be mulled over. These would be commanded by an Army, Navy and Air Force three-star officer, respectively, reporting to the Chairman of the Chief of Staffs Committee. This could offer real lessons in integration.


DB Shekatkar Recommendations:

A Committee of Experts (CoE) was constituted by Ministry of Defence under the chairmanship DB Shekatkar to recommend measures to enhance combat capability and rebalance defence expenditure of the armed forces.  The Report was taken up by the Ministry of Defence to frame key action points and roadmap for implementation. 

  • Optimization of Signals Establishments to include Radio Monitoring Companies, Corps Air Support Signal Regiments, Air Formation Signal Regiments, Composite Signal Regiments and merger of Corps Operating and Engineering Signal Regiments.
  • Restructuring of repair echelons in the Army to include Base Workshops, Advance Base Workshops and Static / Station Workshops in the field Army.
  • Redeployment of Ordnance echelons to include Vehicle Depots, Ordnance Depots and Central Ordnance Depots apart from streamlining inventory control mechanisms.
  • Better utilization of Supply and Transportation echelons and Animal Transport Units.
  • Closure of Military Farms and Army Postal Establishments in peace locations.
  • Enhancement in standards for recruitment of clerical staff and drivers in the Army.
  • Improving the efficiency of the National Cadet Corps.


The solution for reform:

Along with these turf wars has been an out-of-the-box proposition that a bottom-up approach may be the answer to India’s quest for integration.

Historical evidence of military reform (in Prussia, the U.S., the U.K., France and now China) shows that successful reform has always been driven by either a multipronged and simultaneous approach at all levels, or a sequential one beginning at the top. Any other approach that leaves the bottom and the top unattended is fraught with risk.


In the debate on reform in the Indian military, there is a need for clear policy-driven directives that meet India’s national security needs and challenges.

National security reforms and restructuring are bound to have far-reaching consequences and call for political sagacity, wisdom and vision.

Ideally speaking, a concurrent three-pronged approach to military reform would be ideal. Such an approach should respect the collective wisdom of past reports and take into account contemporary political and security considerations.