Prime Minister Narendra Modi after commissioning aircraft carrier INS Vikrant

The Combined Commanders’ Conference in Karwar this March will take decisive steps towards creation of much awaited military theatre commands with three services conveying their views over the proposal in writing

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be briefed about the steps taken towards creation of military theatre commands by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Anil Chauhan at the Combined Commanders’ Conference (CCC) at Karwar naval base in Karnataka in March 2023. Hosted by the Indian Navy, only officers of the rank of commanders-in-chief participate in the CCC, where operational matters are discussed.

It is understood that Gen Chauhan will brief the PM on the forward movement recorded toward establishing theatre command for tr-service synergy but also the differing view, if any, of the individual services in completion of the process. The second CDS has already had detailed discussions with the three service chiefs over the entire process and initial theatre commands are expected to be announced this year.

While the three service chiefs are in agreement over theatre commands, the entrenched interests are still trying to protect individual turfs to ensure maximum key positions for their respective services in the proposed process as well as cornering hardware platforms.

Another key issue that is expected to come up in the CCC is assessment and requirement for armed drones for the Indian military. While the Indian Navy has taken two MQ-9B sea guardian drones on lease, the military is currently doing a qualitative assessment on the number of armed drones required as the platform is prohibitively expensive and has little use in contested airspace like over the Line of Control with Pakistan and over the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

Although the three services with the Indian Navy as the lead player had recommended 10 armed drones each for the three services, this number will be trimmed down to 12 to 14 according to operational requirements. Stand-off weapons like missile firing drones with top notch surveillance and hunting capabilities are deemed as a necessity by the armed forces for winning future wars.

The on-going situation on the LAC with the PLA amassing extra reserves in the eastern sector and not interested in de-escalation in the western sector in East Ladakh will come up for review at the conference. This apart, the posture of the Chinese Navy in the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean in particular will also come up for discussion with the PLA sending its strategic surveillance ships to recce and map the Indian Ocean region.

The military posture of Pakistan on its east and western borders will also be discussed as part of operational review with Rawalpindi still allowing infiltration of armed Islamic jihadists into Jammu and Kashmir.

But the key take-away from, Af-Pak region is the rise of radicalization in Pakistan with the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan and the tussle between the two over Durand Line as international border between the two countries. Afghanistan under Taliban does not recognize the Durand Line as the border as it divides the ethnic Pashtun community and is willing to fight for it.

However, the key outcome expected out of the combined commanders conference is to set the ball rolling for Indian military theatre commands, a proposal that has been hanging fire since Gen Bipin Rawat became India’s first CDS in January 2020. Given that the three services have expressed their views in writing to the CDS over theatre commands in the past three years, the stage is set for the Modi government to announce this major military reform this year.