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Reforming the Military | Deccan Herald

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In a surprise announcement from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared the government’s intention to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). A committee headed by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, who also heads the Defence Planning Committee (DPC), has been appointed to work out the modalities and draw up a charter of responsibilities for the CDS. When the first CDS finally takes over, hopefully later this year, a long-pending need in the management of higher defence will at last be fulfilled.

The creation of the post of CDS was among the major recommendations of the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by former deputy PM L K Advani that analysed the report of the Kargil Review Committee. Several analysts have termed the non-appointment of the CDS for so long an incomprehensible omission, for which three reasons are generally cited. First, political consensus on the establishment of the post of CDS was lacking. Second, the civilian bureaucracy has never been in favour of the concept of CDS. And, third, there has been some opposition to the idea even within certain sections of the armed forces.

As Defence minister, the late Manohar Parrikar had said in 2016 that he would ‘soon’ recommend the creation of the post of CDS, which he considered “a must”, to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). He had also said that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was engaged in working out a mechanism for the post.

It is well known that the operational plans of the armed forces are single-Service plans that lack the synergy that comes from integrated planning. In 1962, the Indian Air Force (IAF) was not given any strike role to play during the war with China when it could have made a huge contribution to the war effort. In 1965, the Indian Navy (IN) was not even informed about the plans to launch a three-pronged attack across the international boundary (IB) into Pakistan.

It is repeated ad nauseum that the 1971 war was a well-coordinated tri-Service effort that led to a grand victory. The rather limited coordination that was actually achieved during the war with Pakistan in 1971 was mainly due to the personalities of the three Chiefs in position of authority and not due to any institutionalised arrangements. During the 1971 war, Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw was able to carry his navy and air force colleagues with him due to the personal rapport that he had established with them. Yet, there were several glitches in the planning and conduct of the land and air campaigns and it cannot be stated that India fought a coordinated “air-land” war.

The Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was undoubtedly a disaster from the joint planning point of view. The Kargil conflict of 1999 is the only real example of a coordinated effort. Even here, there were initial hiccups and it took the IAF several weeks to begin bombing the Pakistani intruders’ sangars (ad hoc bunkers) on the Indian side of the LoC after the army had made such a request. It is often asked whether the appointment of a CDS will have any impact on nuclear command and control. India’s prevailing security environment is marked by regional instability with a nuclear overhang. More than ever before, it is now necessary for the national security decision-makers to be given “single-point military advice” that takes into account the operational strengths and weaknesses and the inter-dependence of each of the armed forces on the other to meet complex emerging challenges in a nuclear environment. Such advice can come only from a CDS. Besides advice to the CCS, the CDS will streamline the operational readiness and employment of India’s nuclear forces. While India’s nuclear doctrine and policy are guided by the National Security Council and the CCS, their execution is entrusted to the Services, and here a joint approach is mandatory. The Strategic Forces Command (SFC), constituted for the planning, coordination and control of India’s nuclear weapons, will function directly under the CDS even while functional control over the nuclear warheads and the delivery systems comprising the ‘triad’ remains with the civilian political leadership.

The CDS will have several other important responsibilities. Policy planning for the optimum exploitation of aerospace, information warfare, cybersecurity and issues like the management of the electromagnetic spectrum, including frequency management, electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), electromagnetic interference (EMI), electronic emission policy (EEP) and the offensive employment of non-communications devices such as radars for electronic warfare, will all be legitimately the domain of the CDS and HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS).

As and when the tri-Service Aerospace and Cyber Command and Special Forces Command are raised to meet emerging challenges in these fields and to better manage all available resources, they will function directly under the CDS. A tri-Service Logistics and Maintenance Command has also been long overdue.

The CDS will also have some training and administrative responsibilities. On the non-operational side, training institutions such as the National Defence College, the College of Defence Management and the National Defence Academy and organisations like the Armed Forces Medical Services, Canteen Stores Department and a host of others will be placed under the direct command of the CDS for better synergy in their functioning and optimum exploitation of their potential.

While the CDS will be the planner-in-chief, the three Chiefs will oversee the development and acquisition of weapons and equipment for their Service, plan recruitment, guide and coordinate training at specialised training establishments and control administrative matters such as management of the annual budget, pay and allowances, maintenance support and medical services, etc.

After gaining some experience with the CDS, it will be time to graduate to integrated theatre commands to optimise the planning and execution of joint operations. However, the first requirement is to formulate a comprehensive national security strategy, the first draft of which has reportedly been drawn up by the DPC.

(The writer is former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi)


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