Organisational and Structural Changes in the Armed Forces

Sub Title : Suggesting a new structure and organisation at the top for effective transformation

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2023

Author : Lt Gen Arun Sahni, PVSM, UYSM, SM, VSM

Page No. : 28

Category : Military Affairs

: March 25, 2023

The Indian Armed Forces are no strangers to organisational and structural changes, as independent India, within the first three decades had to repeatedly contend with external aggression. The Armed Forces learnt from the good and bad experiences, carried out appropriate changes in organisation, tactics and capabilities resulting in an unprecedented and resounding military success in 1971, with the surrender of 93,000 soldiers of the Pakistan Armed Forces and the birth of a new Nation- Bangladesh.

It is pertinent to highlight that there is an endemic challenge of time and continuity for the apex level leadership of the Armed Forces, for executing timely restructuring. Strategic and visionary changes in any organisation have to be initiated from within. However, due to internal security and active borders, the Indian Armed Forces are employed for a major portion of their service in the tactical realm. The apex leadership thus does not get adequate time to contemplate, debate and execute meaningful changes in his tenure. In most cases, tactical excellence overcomes the operational strategic void, where it exists. But that is not the best practice for any organisation. Also, the current system of the GoI, has the Armed Forces responsible and accountable for the nation’s security, but the authority is vested with the non-uniformed bureaucracy. Thus, denying the Armed Forces the freedom to take timely action.


Major changes were once again initiated in the aftermath of the 1999 Kargil war. The report of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on reforming India’s National Security System, led to the raising of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), a tri service theatre command, in 2001. It was to safeguard India’s strategic interests in SE Asia and Strait of Malacca and counter any future threats from China. The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) was created in January 2003 for the management and administration of the country’s strategic nuclear arsenal, a key element of our Deterrence Strategy. To address the future security challenges, with the militarisation of the erstwhile global commons of Cyber and Space, the Indian Government, raised both integrated Defence Cyber and Space Agencies, on 28 Sep 2018. And the changing strategic landscape, led to the formation of the Armed Forces Special Operations Division, by amalgamating the ‘special forces’ of the three Services. The appointment of the CDS on 01 January  2020, last of the major recommendations of the GoM and reengineering of the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), set the stage for further integration and unity of Command in the Armed Forces. Post pandemic world, Chinese belligerence and India’s growth trajectory, has once again made it necessary for modulations and changes in the Indian Armed Forces, in harmony with India’s changed vision.

What has Changed?

At the macro level there are a few major changes. Firstly, the changing Geo strategic realities impacted by economics, hyper nationalism and polarisation. There has been a shift in the ‘economic centre of gravity’ from the Euro Atlantic to the Asia Pacific, making it the new frontier of power contestation. Increase in China’s assertiveness and domination of its extended neighborhood, including the Indo – Pacific region and South Asia and its race for technological parity with US, has fueled China-USA strategic competition. It has also led to formation of new groupings and global alignments. The Pandemic exposed nations to their vulnerabilities and dependencies for critically essential items, leading to diversification and protection of their respective supply chains and relook at in house manufacturing. China’s quest for pre-eminence and India’s pivotal geographic location in the Indian Ocean, coupled with India’s its economic vibrancy and potential, demographic dividend and well educated work force, has propelled India into centre stage, as a key player in the evolving global order. The Russian – Ukraine war has added further complexities to global geopolitics and geo-economics.

Secondly, threats have increased in scale, diversity and complexity. India, in addition, to the legacy threats of territorial and ideological differences, has to be prepared for a ‘two front’ conflict, due to Sino-Pakistan collusivity, the militarization of cyber and space, the emergence of ‘non-state ‘actors, disruptive technologies, climate change, scarcity of critical resources and ‘climate migrants’ due to global warming.

Lastly, the impact of technology that is changing the Character of War. It has led to the deployment of weapon platforms with greater lethality, longer ranges and pinpoint accuracy. New age disruptive platforms like Swarm drones, Loiter Munitions, Armed UAVs/RPAs, Robots and Autonomous weapon platforms have revolutionised warfighting. ISR has seen a quantum upgrade with high technology sensors and advanced surveillance devices, including space based assets. Increasing cyber connectivity and availability of new tools of ‘information warfare’ has weaponised Influence operations.

The Changes

A cumulative impact of technology, the emergence of new ‘domains of warfare’ and ‘influence operations’, has changed the shape of future conflicts to ‘multi-domain operations. Also, the pace of change has compressed the ‘tactical and strategic continuum’ and undoubtedly reduced the OODA Loop. In our context we are in an era of short intense conflict, It will be preceded by long periods of engagement by non-kinetic means requiring convergence and integration of capabilities across air, land, sea, space, cyber, and electromagnetic spectrum. Ongoing Russia
Ukraine war is an exception, due to a variety of reasons. In the case of India there is an asymmetry in military balance with its two adversaries which warrants smart capability and capacity building and requisite changes in organisational structures, for positive outcomes. In this fast paced multi domain operational environment, there is undoubtedly a need to ensure centralised planning and execution, with a ‘unity of command’ at the apex.

It is imperative that any future organization that synergizes the capabilities of the three services, with joint structures should appreciate ‘service specific’ organizational cultures, functioning methodology and manning requirements. It will also have to be conscious of the Service specific shortages of combat resources, before recommending their distribution.

The Army and Navy are structured with the decentralized distribution of combat resources at different hierarchical levels of Command, based on the task entrusted to different levels of command. Additional combat resources are released at inflexion points to either the subordinate commander or if there is change in the level of command. In the case of the Air Force, the speed of application of combat power and the vastness of the battlespace, result in centralized control of resources. These are tailored in different configurations for the execution of desired tasks, with the rapid capability to group and regroup. Air bases are also equipped with war waging and maintainability resources for specific types of aircraft, but this does not inhibit emergency deployments. The Airforce due to its unique capabilities can concurrently shape the battlespace on different fronts with limited resources, based on operational priorities. To summarize, the Army and Navy are Delegated Commands and Air Force is a Functional Command, demanding separate command and control set-up and methodology of allocation of combat resources. And this subtlety needs to be encapsulated in any joint organization.

It is pertinent to flag that the speed and fluidity of the future battlespace in the Indian context, requires a reconsideration for a separate air arm for the army. This would be for tactical employment, to exploit fleeting opportunities in the future battlefield, without going through the established process. This requirement was identified for the Navy, after major shortfalls in the 1971 war. It finally led to a separate air arm for the Indian Navy. Let us now look at the major organizational changes, discussed in subsequent paragraphs.


There are three distinct battle spaces based on our adversarial profile, at the macro level. The western adversary with whom we have an asymmetrical advantage, a northern adversary who has technological superiority with a well-established and robust military industrial complex and a maritime responsibility with its various intricacies. These land borders can be further segmented based on the terrain and altitudes, while the Indian Ocean with India’s peninsular profile and island territories, can also be addressed in specific profiles. However keeping the ‘span of control’ and diversity of the borders, it is recommended that there be three land-centric theatres – western, eastern and northern command in its present profile, one maritime command and the tri-service ANC be redesignated as a theatre. The Aerospace to be currently under a three star/ C-in-C with the capability to be upgraded to a theatre as India builds up its capabilities. In case of Cyber threats, it would be a natural evolution to upgrade the current Cyber Agency, to a Command. This force would be, formed by integrating resources currently carrying out ‘cyber defence’ and ‘cyber offensive’ functions, under different organisations.

Due to scarcity of resources the Air Force be employed as hitherto fore, with no change in the functional control and application. The coordination with the theatres can be refined and formalised to meet the changed dispensation. It is also important that the selected theatre commanders are familiar with the nuances of the varied external borders that are extending over rugged and inhospitable terrain, including at high altitudes with extreme climatic conditions. This demands a deep understanding and expertise – to ensure that tactical reversals do not create strategic losses.

The above theaterisation is predicated on setting up suitable structures for joint planning and control – coordination during execution. Towards this we need to create two structures at the military strategic and operational strategic levels, ie at the Apex level of the CDS and the latter for the Theatre Commander. Concurrently, there is a need to harmonize the HR policies of the three services, both for the officer’s promotion and discipline of all ranks. A bill to that effect has been presented by the MoD to the CCS. The joint Theatre Commanders should on appointment, get a fixed tenure of 2 years, as is the norm for selected Secretaries of the GoI, of specified departments. Towards achieving the above there is a need to reorient the operational planning and logistics directorates, of the three Services with the IDS. This would serve as the key staff for the CDS for planning joint operations, along with restructuring for other key staff functionaries within the IDS.

Therefore, a detailed mandate along with the ‘vision document’ should empower these ‘joint theatre commands’ with the resources, including those outside the MoD, to redress the operational shortcomings experienced in past conflicts. This implies that the border-guarding PMFs should be placed under the operational control of the Theatre commander. The structural organizational changes need to be tailored for ‘intense hybrid conflicts’, requiring near instantaneous decision making by the op-strat military leadership. These decisions should be contingent on real time ISR, acquired from multiple agencies and sensors and their input and representation should also be mandated. One way could be by building suitable intelligence capability within the theatre organization. Officers from relevant intelligence organizations could be posted to the planned Theatres and secure digital linkages established for real-time intelligence sharing, across organizational silos. The luxury of long-drawn-out discussions for placement of accretional elements under the command/control of the force commander, is a story of the past. This should then lead to a pilot project – tailored and tested over time, before restructuring the sharp end of the three services – its field formations.

Integrating Logistics and Optimising Training Facilities

While integration takes place of structures and processes there is a need to build up an enabling environment of jointness at the grassroots. Towards achieving this systematically, as a first step, there is a need to relook at integrating the logistics of the three Services, with officers commissioned directly into the Logistic Corps, from the Academy. This ‘Logistic service’ be created, by merging the ASC and AOC and their equivalent in the other two Services. Once this stabilises then EME should also be integrated into the This will lead to instituting common HR related policies of manning, promotion and discipline, in one of the verticals of the Armed Forces and set the stage
for similar changes, across the board in due course of time. This will start the process of harmonizing differing mindsets of the three Services and in evolving a common culture, in the three services.

Similarly, service specific training facilities can be selectively and gradually converted to joint establishments with common syllabi and instructors from the three services. The soldier’s recruitment and training at the Army centres, can be structured for imparting common soldierly skills- basic training to the soldiers, sailors and airmen. Subsequently, they can go for their service specific training at their respective establishments. This will also, cut out the duplicity and optimize the training Institutions, across arms and services.

Civil-Military Fusion

The importance of greater civil-military fusion needs no emphasis. It has to be achieved gradually by systematically developing a deeper understanding and mutual respect for each other. There have been ongoing initiatives like the ‘Army Management Study Board’, ‘Army Technology Board” and periodic outreach with PSUs and DRDO. But it is only recently that it has included private industry and increased engagement with academia. The Armed Forces to facilitate the laudatory initiative of ‘Make in India- Defence’, have put in place very responsive and effective organizations, under two-star General officers, like the Army Design Bureau (ADB) of the Army. It is now a ‘one stop’ for the MSMEs and larger OEMs, to clarify, assist and seek user support /guidance, for their development and testing of subsystems, systems or weapon platforms. This transparency is the first step in enhancing User – Industry trust. The setting up of incubators for startups with limited financial support for niche and disruptive technologies or to dovetail AI/ML for greater efficiency in current systems that are manpower intensive, is another positive step. User ‘Project Management Teams’ with the DPSUs/DRDO are another step for integrating development initiatives.
These baby steps need to be taken to a logical end, with tailor-made organizations, for achieving self-reliance or Atmanirbharta.

In conclusion may I state that victory in future combat will be contingent on responsive organisational structures, seamless integration of the services and palpable jointness amongst all ranks of the Armed Forces. It would require suitable processes being put in place, for the optimal functioning of these new organisations. In addition, capability development and capacity building will have to be responsive to the new age battlefield, which has transformed from large and exquisite platforms to small, smart and many, with an effective and innovative strategy for influence operations. The leadership will have to maintain higher levels of readiness and mental dexterity to meet unforeseen challenges. So if change is the new normal, then let us in uniform take the initiative to steer the change for optimisation, within the Armed Forces.