The Maritime Command : Do Not Bite More than what you can chew
Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Veteran Special Forces
The creation of a HQ Maritime Combatant Theatre is in the Offing. This is going to be an integrated Tri Services Formation on the lines of United States Indo Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), a Unified Combatant Theatre of the USA Armed Forces responsible for the Indo Pacific Region.
INDOPACOM is the oldest and largest of the unified combatant Theatre. Its Commander is a Four Star Officer and is the seniormost U.S. military officer in the Pacific, He is responsible for military operations in an area which encompasses more than 260,000,000 sq km.
Starting from the waters off the West Coast of the USA to the East coast of India, and from the Arctic to the Antarctic. The U.S. command is also responsible for protecting against an invasion of USA from side of the state of Hawaii.
The subordinate commands under this theatre includes U.S. Army Pacific, Marine Forces Pacific, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Forces Japan, U.S. Forces Korea, Special Operations Command Korea, and Special Operations Command Pacific.
USINDOPACOM also has two direct reporting units (DRUs)—U.S. Pacific Command Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC) and the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DMHA), as well as a Standing Joint Task Force, Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF-W).
Now it seems that the proposal going to be mooted soon by the Chief Of Defence Staff to the Cabinet Committee Security is thinking equally big.
The Indian Maritime Theatre Command (MTC) will have an enormous responsibilities of not only the country’s 7,516-km-long coastline, over 2305143sq km of EEZ, numerous islands but also distant maritime interests astride the world’s most important ocean, stretching as far as the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa on the West to the southern shores of the Indonesian archipelago in the East and then towards Vietnam touching the Nautuna Sea. This is an area nearly as big as that of the INDOPACOM.
As per the proposal drafted by the Vice Chief of Naval Staff, the Theatre HQ is likely to be located in Karwar, Karnataka.
The new integrated Formation will be subsuming all operational aspects of the existing Western, Eastern and Southern Naval Commands, A& N command and will have assets from both IAF Southern Command and Army Southern Command.
All the operational assets of Indian Coast Guard too will be under this Theatre. So rightfully a Theatre Commander should be a Four Star Admiral.
After the creation of the Theatre, the Maritime Theatre Commander-in-Chief will report through HQ IDS to the Chief of Staff Committee headed by the CDS.
The Navy chief will then have no operational role and be primarily responsible for Raising, Training, Equipping and Maintaining the Naval assets.
The three Naval C-in-Cs will report to the CNS for all these administrative functions but report to the Maritime Theatre Commander for operations.
All the above is quite fine theoretically. However till now our Commands and Static Formations have been following the Geographical and State political map of India. There is a big reason for this. The military cannot operate in a vacuum.
It has to work in conjunction with the existing political, bureaucratic, Social and Economic set up. Our Army tinkered with this by placing for eg the fighting formation located in Jhansi area under a higher formation 21 Corps located in Bhopal, which in turn is under HQ Southern Command in Pune.
Apart from this it even placed the Static Station HQ at Jhansi and Babina under Bhopal Sub Area which in turn is under 21 Corps. This has created all sorts of administrative problems as Jhansi – Babina area is in Uttar Pradesh whose Govt deals with Central Command.
Similarly HQ 21 Corps is in Madhya Pradesh. Therefore Southern Command finds its very difficult to deal with far off State Govts on matters of land, Aid to Civil Authorities and numerous other State subjects.
Certain sources in the Government said that the study proposes a model that does not require the creation of additional posts or flag ranks or even office space. It will use existing manpower and resources.
How this will transform on the ground ? So someone wants to reduce India’s 17 single-service C- In -C Commands ( there are two tri services Commands also in addition ) and have only five C-in -Cs joint commands of 3 Star rank.
Where will the other 12 Officers of Pay grade 17 will be adjusted? Which world are the defence services living in ? Vice chief of naval staff Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar, will soon be handing over the draft plan to chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat. Hope they understand the implication of all this.
Instead of the above gigantic and unweilding Maritime Theatre facing the task of combating two major adversaries China and Pakistan and in addition ensuring that all trade and commerce within the Indian Ocean Region is done peacefully, we need to have two theatres for this task …..The Peninsula Theatre and the South Western Theatre (Arabian Sea Theatre).
This must be done in a phased manner after careful study. It is imperative that the Peninsular Theatre be established in the first phase itself.
The Southern Theatre headed by a four star Admiral should have the following as subordinate single service components under it on the lines of INDOPACOM:-
(a) Southern Naval Command as existing.
(b) South Eastern Naval Command to be created by removing NOIC Orissa and NOIC Bengal from existing Eastern Naval Command. A separate two star Flag Officer Bengal & Orissa to come up and to function under Naval HQ directly (to be placed under Eastern Theatre once it us raised).
(c) Southern Air Command as existing
(d) Andaman and Nicobar Command as existing
(e) A new South Peninsular Army Command comprising existing ATTK& K Area, an Amphibious Division, an airborne brigade group, an infantry brigade group, and an Engineer Brigade
(f) HQ Coast Guard Eastern Region, HQ Coast Guard Andaman& Nicobar Region and all the Coast Guard stations in Karnataka and Kerala.
The IAF has already commenced strengthening its forgotten Southern Air Command. An indigenous Integrated Air Command And Control System( IACCS) made by Bharat Electronics now Covers The Deccan Peninsula.
The node located at Bengaluru became functional few months back and has started exercising air defence control over the entire Indian peninsula.
This IACCS aims towards facilitating centralised command and control by automated integration of all air defence resources. This system enables faster decision making, while operating in an integrated environment both during peace and hostilities.
The Air Force Station (AFS) Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu is also getting upgraded to a full fledged base with 47 Wing for the resurrected 222 Squadron with its Sukhoi-30 MKI fighters.
This will be the second frontline fighter squadron of the Indian Air Force to be based in South India and will have the most potent platform capable of long reach and multi-role capabilities.
The move gives a major fillip to Indian Air Force strike power within the Indian Ocean region (IOR) and also provide full air cover to the Indian Navy.
The Air Force Base with 43 Wing at Sulur near Coimbatore is already home to No 45 Squadron Flying Daggers, operating the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas.
Both these Wings need to be fully upgraded to protect various strategic and economic assets in the southern peninsula and sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean region.
Once enough fighter Squadrons are available then both 43 and 47 Wings will also need augmentation in squadron numbers.
Apart from the above, IAF will be required to develop a few more bases for the Southern Theatre Command.
Existing Air Force Stations at Belgaum, Madurai and Thiruvanthanapuram also be upgraded to full Wing Status. In addition new bases need to come up near Kozhikode, Tiruneveli, Kakinada and Vijaywada in the foreseeable future.
When the Chinese President had come to India in 2019 for talks, it was held in Mahabalipuram. It was a deliberate choice as the place was symbolic of the great Cholas who had ruled the waves of the entire Hind Mahasagar and right into the Pacific for Centuries. Total peace had prevailed in the entire region where every one had traded peacefully including the Hans of China.
Since this Theatre will be Indian Ocean Centric to face off mainly with the future intrusion of the Chinese Navy, it needs no emphasis that the Navy has to be beefed up fully. Building a worthy Navy takes a lot of time apart from heavy expenditure.
The would be South Eastern Naval Command will be getting a brand new Air Craft Carrier by end 2021. However to form a Carrier Battle Group and have two flotillas, the Eastern Fleet will require additional four Destroyers, five Frigates and two Corvettes. Presently it has four Destroyers, three Frigates and around 10 corvettes.
Similarly a Submarine Flotilla with ideally 12 conventional Submarines with AIP, Six SSGNs and three SSBNs will be essential to nullify the Chinese threat. In this connection, Project VARSHA is moving ahead with full speed.
Kakinada and Chennai need to be developed as full operational bases. Kakinada will also be the ideal site for locating the tri Service Amphibious Training School.
The surveillance including anti submarine cover has already increased with the P8I Long Range Strategic Maritime Surveillance squadron which by this year will have full strength with 12 aircrafts. The Short Range Maritime Surveillance is also in place with the Dornier Squadron.
What is now left in this area is the Medium Range Maritime Surveillance squadron. Along with the Maritime Aerial Surveillance, it is necessary to set up a HQ Coastal Surveillance and Missile Defence too at both Vizag and Kochi.
The Southern Naval Command which presently plays the role of a training Command too needs a build up. Initial build up should be by establishing required operating bases in Tuticorin and Mangalore and Malpe.
The second Amphibious Squadron comprising 8 x LCUs and a few LSTs may be located at Tuticorin along with the Mine Sweeper Squadron, once we start building them in Garden Reach and Goa respectively. In time we will also have the third Fleet for this Naval Command too along with all other Command assets.
In the end we come to the required Army assets in this proposed Southern Theatre Command. This will be the existing Andhra Telangana Tamil Nadu Karnatka & Kerala Area with its existing Sub Areas and the infantry division located at Secunderabad as an Air transportable Division.
It will also need raising of an Amphibious Division for obvious reasons along with an Engineer Brigade and an airborne brigade as a quick response force for out of area contingencies.
In the next phase the South Western Theatre may be raised and in time will come the Eastern Theatre, the North Western Theatre and the Central Theatre after detailed study.
Incidently the Naval Top Brass -CNS, VCNS and C in C East , West and South, all will retire in 2021 one after the other.