The Indian military’s gradual transition to Integrated Theatre Command (ITC) signifies New Delhi’s assertive ambitions. India strives to bolster its regional influence, and rapidly expand its military prowess which can compromise the delicate balance of power in the region. Considering intensifying power politics in South Asia, such transformations in military structure can have direct ramifications on security dynamics of Pakistan. Moreover, the heightened security sensitivity of the region is pronounced by territorial disputes between three nuclear armed neighbours.

In 2018, former Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawant acknowledged the complex strategic challenge as two-front war dilemma. This recognition underlined India’s perception of China-Pakistan dual front conundrum as a collaborative threat involving coordinated military actions from both northern and western borders.

New Delhi’s threat perception recognizes potential strategic actions by China, like seizing opportunities during Indo-Pak arms engagement, or vice versa. Pakistan’s increasing reliance on Chinese arms, including advanced military hardware such as modern main battle tanks (MBTs), fighter jets and submarines, besides deepening geopolitical connections through initiatives like CPEC, is also viewed as a threat by New Delhi. There is deepening believe within Indian leadership that a two frontal threat can materialize at short notice, therefore armed forces should be organized to specifically deal with two different types of threats at the same time.

China and Pakistan have a vibrant collaboration in defense sector. Since 2015, China has accounted for approximately 75 percent of Pakistani total arms imports. Moreover, China has helped Pakistan develop its defence industry which is now producing modern military equipment for Pakistan armed forces apart from exports to friendly countries. Heavy military hardware of Chinese origin, including Haider (VT-4) and Al-Khalid main battle tanks are produced indigenously at Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT). Similarly, Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) is jointly producing JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft in-collaboration with China. JF-17 currently constitutes the backbone of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and has been successfully exported to friendly countries.

In naval domain, China has been a reliable and sustained source for modernizing Pakistan Navy (PN). PN is currently aiming to achieve strength of 50 warships in near future. In past, PN has acquired four F-22P Zulfiquar class frigates and Z-9C ASW helicopters from China. Recently, Pakistan has commissioned four Type-54 A/P frigates from China, and is in process of developing eight Hangoor class submarines. Similarly, PN has also purchased CH-4B unmanned serial systems from China. The induction of these assets has helped Pakistan to strengthen its naval capabilities and safeguard its sea frontiers. In sum, Pak-China deep co-operation in defense is perceived as a major threat by India.

India’s impetus behind the theaterization of commands primarily originates from lessons gained during the Kargil war (1999) and Operation Parakaram (2001-2002). These events profoundly influenced India’s decision to pursue a limited-war strategy, the Cold Start Doctrine. This strategy aimed to deploy integrated battle groups along India’s western border to quickly achieve limited spatial gains against Pakistan. India’s illicit annexation of Kashmir after abolishment of Article 370 and 35A revived frictions against China resulting in China-India military crisis. However, the China-India military stand-off in Ladakh (2020-21) has complicated India’s strategic calculation, and has compelled India to actively work on military threaterization to counter threat of two-front war.

The Indo-U.S. strategic partnership, under the cover of foundational agreements like COMCASA, LEMOA, and BECA, and even Quad, has significantly enhanced its military capabilities and aspirations for regional dominance. Such agreements are enhancing India’s military capabilities and also enabling the understanding and know-how Indian military leadership regarding crafting and implementing newer concepts – like theaterization.

India is reorganizing and reshaping its force employment strategy in accordance with Sino-Pak threat environments. The multifaceted strategy of theaterize commands, reflects an offensive posture on the western front against Pakistan and defensive posture for northern region against China. The establishment of theatre commands is being hailed as the most crucial military reform India has witnessed to date as it aims to enhance joint military efforts, streamline decision-making processes, and overall strengthen its capabilities. The concept entails the principles of ‘Unity of Command’ and ‘Synergy of Efforts.’ It seeks to integrate the capabilities of the army, air force and navy for the optimal utilization of resources during wars and operations.

New Delhi’s decision to institute integrated theatre commands includes establishment of the Port Blair-based Andaman and Nicobar Command and Strategic Forces Command within next three-year. Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) Gen Anil Chauhan proposed a broad structure, fusing 17 single-service operational and functional commands into three theatre commands. India plans to setup two land based Theatre Commands with geographic nomenclature and one Maritime Theatre Command.

These theatre commands will defend India’s western front (headquartered in Jaipur) against Pakistan, its eastern front (headquartered in Lucknow) against China, and oversee maritime activities in the Indian Ocean (headquartered in Karwar). Theatre commanders, equivalent to the Chiefs of Army, Navy and Air force, will report to Department of Military Affairs (DMA) led by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who is a principal military advisor and exercise direct command and control over operations.

Additionally, the Theatre Commands will be supported by other functional commands or agencies such as Air Defence, Space, Cyber and Special Forces. However, its formal orientation in Indian Military is facing challenges mainly due to the lack of clarity regarding its overall structure, and the operational command and control hierarchy.

Amidst mounting internal and external security challenges, Pakistan confronts political and economic instability. Although New Delhi now views China as primary threat, but in practice Pakistan is still a major variable in New Delhi’s strategic calculations. Prior to India-China standoff in Ladakh, India had 12 x divisions facing China on the Ladakh front and 25 divisions facing Pakistan along Western front. However, the ratio has changed to 16 and 21 respectively after mobilization of 4 x divisions from Pakistan border to Ladakh border with China. Such variations in deployments indicate the limitations of Indian military as far as simultaneous countering of two-front war is concerned.

Drawing from the strategic insights of “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, in the interconnected nature of military dynamics, fortifying one flank may expose vulnerabilities in another. India seems to be potentially over-extending its military reach in light of the two-front war dilemma. The dispersion of forces by India gives rise to concerns regarding potential communication gap and limitations in resources. Sustaining commands to counter the heterogeneous military formations along the northern and western borders makes it challenging for India, particularly in the context of aligning with the ever-changing nature of threats in the foreseeable future.

Additionally, a critical concern is the country’s ammunition stockpile, which falls short of the requirements for sustained conflict. Former Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s acknowledgment in late 2019 revealed that India’s ammunition reserves were geared for only a 10-day war, insufficient for the demands of a conflict against China, which would necessitate ammunition reserves for 30 days of intense warfare.

India’s inclination towards theaterization has the potential to destabilize the security balance in South Asia. While theaterization may strengthen India’s defense capabilities, it simultaneously aggravates existing geopolitical frictions in the region particularly with Pakistan. It will intensify Pakistan security dilemma, and triggers arms race which can compromise regional stability and escalate into advertent or inadvertent conflict.


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