THE passage of the Inter-Services Organisation (Command, Control & Discipline) Bill, 2023 in Rajya Sabha, is a step closer towards realising the long-awaited reforms process that includes theaterisation of the Armed Forces in India.
As Mr. Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister, stated in Rajya Sabha, the Bill enables the Government to constitute the inter-services organisations (ISOs). This does not mean that only after the said Bill becoming an Act, such ISOs will come into existence. Already, there are inter-services organisations operating in the country. For example, the Andaman and Nicobar Command, the Defence Space Agency, and the National Defence Academy are such organisations. Each one of them ‘exists’, but the new law will provide for legal sanction for their ‘constitution’.
Apart from the technical aspect, the larger objective of the Bill is to prepare the Indian Armed Forces to respond in a better and more effective and organised manner to the the changing nature of warfare in the world. The boost to the ISO mechanism will ensure expediting the process of jointness among the forces, further improving the level of integration, and making inter-operability smoother. This is required given the emerging challenges wherein the warfare today has become hybrid, technology and network-centric as has been pointed out by the Defence Minister.
Prior to the passage of the Bill in the Parliament, the Standing Committee on Defence had given suggestion pertaining to Tri-Service/Theater Commands. Before this also, certain steps were taken. For instance, the Andaman and Nicobar Command was set up in 2001 as an integrated theater command for strategic reasons.
After years, in 2019, the Government set up a Department of Military Affairs, followed by appointment of General Bipin Rawat as country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) the next year. The CDS was entrusted with the task of formulation of integrated theater commands. General Bipin Rawat and his successor General Anil Chauhan have done a great job in steering this effort.
Theaterisation has long been in discussion. It is rooted in reorganisation of the Armed Forces into different theater commands. The thought has evolved on the principle of ‘One Border, One Force’. Thus, the Western border with Pakistan may be looked after by an integrated theater command, and the border with China by another command. For maritime border, there may be another integrated theater command.
Presently, three Armed Forces in the country have 17 commands including seven each of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force, and three of the Indian Navy. In integrated theater commands, assets of all three forces will operate under one commander.
Hence, the commander-in-chief or officer-in-command will require powers to be exercised on personnel from all three functional forces, under a legal framework provided by the Bill regarding the ISOs. Once theaterisation takes place, only a notification will have to be issued to make effective the ISO legal framework.
Communist China, with whom India shares a long and contested border, reorganised its seven military regions into five theater commands a few years ago. India also needed to evolve its response to such changes. The integration of forces with renewed vigour and future-readiness, will indeed be a confidence booster.
The passage of the Inter-Services Organisation (Command, Control & Discipline) Bill, 2023 is significant step in that direction. As soon as the Bill gets the President’s assent, announcement of integrated theater commands may not be far away in time.