New Delhi: The Maritime Theatre Command — comprising all the naval assets — will come up soon after the unified Air Defence Command is set up.

An ongoing study on the maritime command is currently at an advanced stage, top defence sources said.

The Air Defence Command, responsible for guarding the Indian airspace from hostile air elements, was initially reported to be set up by October. A new date, however, is yet to be formally announced. The study on the Maritime Theatre Command has been under way for the last several months.

A senior defence source said that the command is more likely to be headquartered at Karwar in Karnataka. Hyderabad is also under consideration, though, it is learnt.

It will likely be headed by an Indian Navy officer of vice-admiral or admiral rank. 

According to defence officials, the Maritime Theatre Command will comprise both the Eastern and Western Naval Commands, with the Andaman and Nicobar Command subsumed into the Eastern Naval Command.

The Andaman and Nicobar Command, set up in October 2001, and the Strategic Forces Command, set up in 2003, are the only two unified tri-services commands.

“It (maritime command) will also have shore-based maritime strike elements of the IAF and some amphibious elements of the Army,” a senior defence official said.

Amphibious elements of Army include infantry, mechanised as well as armoured regiments, which are presently capable of executing amphibious operations.

Maritime strike aircraft with the IAF includes certain squadrons of Sukhoi-30 and Jaguar fighters, and their primary role is to strike enemy naval facilities on shore, naval vessels and installations in harbour and carry out anti-shipping strikes against enemy naval assets when in vicinity of India’s naval forces.

A senior Navy officer said the maritime command will reduce the inter-service mobilisation time for operational events and increase cohesion in joint training.

“Tri-services coordination will increase within the components placed in the theatre commands.”

The officer added, “Subsuming the Andaman and Nicobar Command into the Eastern Naval Command will provide greater force levels in the Bay of Bengal, while also increasing resources available at the islands to address any threat from the east.” 

At present, the Indian Navy is divided into two operational fleets, with the western fleet addressing the western theatre and eastern fleet addressing the threats in the east and a training command in the south. 

The new theatre command aims to bring them all under one theatre command, which will address all threats emanating in the maritime domain. 

‘Squadron of Fighter-Bombers, Carrier Task Group’

Former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd)remarked  that the Chiefs of Staff Committee currently has plans for a number of ‘out of area contingencies’, which require elements of all three services to form a task force for joint expeditionary operations in India’s maritime neighbourhood. 

“In the past, we have undertaken such operations in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Mauritius. In future, we may require such task forces for defence of our own islands or rendering assistance under ‘Mission SAGAR’,” he said.

“Given our current organisation, the task force would need contributions from any of the 17 commands scattered all over India. Once we constitute one or more maritime commands, all these elements will be brought under a single theatre commander,” he added. 

Talking about the possible composition of the command, he said there should be an Independent Infantry Brigade from the Army with elements of armour, artillery and supporting arms, which would be trained and dedicated to the amphibious role. 

“From the IAF, (there should be) a squadron of fighter-bombers dedicated to maritime strike and some transport aircraft. From the Navy, a carrier task group, along with submarines and support vessels, (should be part of the command).” 

In May, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had said the Maritime Theatre Command is the next thing being looked at after the Air Defence Command and could come up by early next year.

“Today, the ships are operational under different commanders, but it is being seen if the command and control of the ships can be exercised by one entity as the maritime commander,” he had said.

Multiple Theatre Commands In The Offing

Apart from the Air Defence Command and the Maritime Theatre Command, multiple theatre commands would be set up, including at the northern and western borders, although the exact number would be based on emerging threat assessments. 

There are also plans to set up joint commands for logistics and training of the military.

A theatre command will have specific units of personnel from the three services — Army, Navy and Air Force — under a common commander so they fight as a cohesive unit. Both the US and China follow a theatre command doctrine.