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‘Joint culture needed first’ — CDS Gen Chauhan outlines first steps on the road to theaterisation

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New Delhi: Noting that the armed forces are “status-posed” by nature, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan Tuesday underscored the importance of jointness and integration as the pre-requisites to the creation of functional Integrated Theatre Commands.

The CDS, who has been tasked with executing the biggest military reform India has ever seen — theaterisation — said that unless a joint culture prevailed among at least tri-service organisations, “even put into joint headquarters and establishments, they are unlikely to succeed”.

He said that a list, detailing what tri-service organisations are, will be out within a month.

“Joint Culture, though different from Service specific Culture, needs to respect the uniqueness of each service. We must be able to distill the best of each service, and incorporate the Highest Common Factor, rather than settle for the Least Common Denominator,” the CDS said, speaking at the 22nd Major General Samir Sinha Memorial Lecture, organised at United Service Institution of India in New Delhi.

“The CDS termed Jointness & Integration as pre-requisites to the creation of functional Integrated Theatre Commands, and explained the significance of such Commands,” a statement by the Defence Ministry read.

“The creation of such commands will separate the ‘operational’ functions from the Raise-Train-Sustain (RTS) and other administrative functions, and will allow greater focus of the operational commander to matters of security,” CDS Gen Chauhan said.

The CDS highlighted that the Theatre Commands will not be an end state, but the beginning of the next set of reforms. He explained that Integrated Theatre Commands will lead to many reforms like Single-to-Multi-Domain operations, fusing space and cyberspace into traditional domains, digitisation of battlefield information and visualisation, net-centric to data-centric, among others.

ThePrint reported earlier this month that while theaterisation is the ultimate goal, for which the government has fixed a time frame of one year from the swearing-in of the new central dispensation next month, it expects to roll out structured jointness initiatives by the end of 2024.

This implies that the CDS, as he outlined today, is working on ensuring joint initiatives and administrative changes first, rather than moving to appointing theatre commanders straight away. These would relate to joint administration of a defence zone, logistics and training.

Gen Chauhan said that his office, along with the Service chiefs, is now moving to Jointness 2.0.

Jointness 1.0 was just creating a bond between the three Services, creating an atmosphere of trust… Jointness 2.0 is developing a joint culture. The police service has its own culture. The Air Force has a culture, the Navy has its own culture, and the Army has its own culture. But there is no joint culture. So, unless we have a joint culture prevailing among at least tri-service organisations, even put into joint headquarters and establishments, they are unlikely to succeed,” he noted.

He outlined the “little steps” his office has taken to bring about jointmanship.

“The first is about, I think, painting a bigger picture. Organisations, especially those like the armed forces, are status-posed by nature. They resist change. When faced with the prospects of change, people consider what they will lose individually rather than thinking about what they will gain collectively… The second thing was about creating a vision… How we want to see ourselves in 2047, and what steps we will take to reach that particular vision,” the CDS said.

As first reported by ThePrint in July last year, the plan is to set up two integrated theatre commands to take on Pakistan and China, with the first to come up opposite western borders, as well as a maritime theatre command.

Incidentally, former CDS Late General Bipin Rawat had formulated a theaterisation plan, but could not move ahead due to lack of agreement on such a significant change.

While it was claimed in February 2020 that the theatre commands would be ready in three years, ThePrint had reported in 2021 that it could be delayed due to strong differences among the armed forces over the basic structure of the commands.

However, as reported in June last year, after months of dithering, and multiple plans and objections, the Army, Navy, and Indian Air Force (IAF) are “99 percent” on board the broad contours of the theatre commands being given shape by Gen Chauhan, with the focus being on creating a joint culture first.

(Edited by Mannat Chugh)


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