On September 15, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat formally outlined the structure of India’s theatre commands(TCs) – the existing 17 single-Service commands will be integrated into four geographical commands, each with elements from all three Services; with the Western TC responsible for Pakistan, the Northern TC for China, a navy-heavy Maritime TC for the Indian Ocean region, and the existing tri-service Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC)projecting power into the eastern Indian Ocean and beyond; in addition would be an Air Defence/Space Command. Gen Rawat added that once the theatre commands are functional, the theatre commanders will report to the CDS on operational matters, and the three Chiefs will be responsible only for raising, training and sustaining their respective Services.
The future responsibilities of the three Chiefs of the Indian Armed Forces broadly mirror the US military’s existing model of Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs) / Combatant Commands (COCOMs) which were established under the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defence Reorganization Act. Under this, (i) respective chiefs are responsible only for “organizing, training and equipping” personnel and do not have any operational control over their forces; (ii) the troops of each service are deployed in, and support the commander responsible for a specific function (Special Operations, Strategic, and Transportation) or of a COCOM; and (iii) the military chain of command runs from the US President through the Secretary of Defence directly to Combatant Commanders, bypassing the Service chiefs, although they have an advisory role to the President and the Secretary of Defence. However, what has not been given due attention is the structure that will exercise command over the TCs – in the US, the Joint Staff was reorganized after each war and every failure of the US military in a perpetual quest for sagacious higher military command structures for the GCCs/COCOMs – and that should hold lessons for us.
Evolution of US’s GCCs and Joint Staff
Till the middle of World War-I, war was a disaggregated affair – the navy fought at sea and the land forces fought on land even if transported to distant lands by ships. It is only with the advent of big battleships, destroyers, tanks, landing craft, aircraft, etc that war truly began entailing cross-domain contributions by each Service.