The High Seas Command
India Today|December 07, 2020
A joint study draws up the ambitious Maritime Theatre Command by restructuring existing military commands to straddle India’s entire maritime sphere. Will it take wings or meet the fate of its predecessor?
Sandeep Unnithan

From his headquarters near the picturesque Binaga Bay in Karwar, Karnataka, the commander-in-chief (C-in-C) of India’s first Maritime Theatre Command (MTC) will have an overview of his enormous responsibilities. His ships will not only patrol the country’s 7,516-km-long coastline but also its distant maritime interests astride the world’s most important ocean, stretching as far as the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa and to the southern shores of the Indonesian archipelago.

The creation of the post of maritime theatre commander and a new integrated command, subsuming all operational aspects of the four existing naval commands, are key recommendations of a recent Indian Navy study. The proposed MTC will also include Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets, helicopters and transport aircraft on the Indian peninsula, two Indian Army brigades, comprising around 10,000 soldiers, and, interestingly, all Coast Guard patrol vessels, helicopters and aircraft.

The study, part of a government mandate to reduce India’s 18 single-service commands into five joint commands, and prepared by vice chief of naval staff vice Admiral G. Ashok Kumar, will soon be handed over to chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat.

Government officials told India today that the study proposes a model that can be implemented in a short timeframe—nine months to a year—and does not require the creation of additional posts or flag ranks or even office space. It will use existing manpower and resources. It is the most complex of the two tri-services theatre commands to be created in the next two years, the other one being the Integrated Air Defence Command headed by the IAF.

Significantly, the MTC will be the first one that loosens a service chief ’s command over operations and assets. A parallel study for setting up the Air Defence Command is underway, but it’s not as radical because the IAF chief will hold on to his fighter, transport and combat fleets.

The MTC commander-in-chief will report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee headed by the CDS. The navy chief and his three C-in-Cs will shed their operational roles and be primarily responsible for ‘Raise, Train and Sustain’ functions— administration, acquisitions and training. The navy study, thus, paints a picture of the desired end state of independent India’s most significant military reform that kicked off this year with the appointment of the first CDS and the bifurcation of the military into theatres and service headquarters.

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