With the appointment of General Bipin Rawat as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the question now is what should be the role of the CDS? Apart from now being the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, he could certainly help in streamlining our defence acquisition processes and facilitate the inter-service sharing of equipment. Perhaps as a first step, he could synergise the war-fighting doctrines of our three services, which are currently tailored to meet their own specific requirements. And to achieve this we should go in for theatre commands. Among the models being suggested, here is one, that I had first written about in the early 1990s in ‘Generals and Governments in India and Pakistan’, (published by Har Anand publishers) and more recently in my essay in OPEN magazine (on 23 August 2019).
“While our armed forces have been greatly influenced by the British tradition, and though they often quote the American model now—with theatre commands the world over—perhaps, the Chinese model is a better option for India to adopt. In 2016, President Xi Jingping appointed China’s first chief of joint staff and divided China’s armed forces into theatre commands for managing its military operational needs. China’s Western Command in Chengdu is now focused on India and parts of Central Asia with adequate land and air resources to fight a war in the high Himalayas. India, on the other hand, has a fragmented approach to dealing with the Chinese, with multiple commands of the army (in J&K, Lucknow, and Calcutta), the air force (in Shillong, and in J&K), and the navy (in Vizag) as also a tri-services command, both looking at Chinese moves in the Bay of Bengal and beyond, all prepared to battle the Chinese threat! In fact, in all, India has 17 military commands and each of them has operational roles that overlap over that of their sister service and a massive logistics tail. our defence acquisition processes and facilitate the inter-service sharing of equipment. Perhaps as a first step, he could synergise the war-fighting doctrines of our three services, which are currently tailored to meet their own specific requirements. And to achieve this we should go in for theatre commands. Among the models being suggested, here is one, that I had first written about in the early 1990s in ‘Generals and Governments in India and Pakistan’, (published by Har Anand publishers) and more recently in my essay in OPEN magazine (on 23 August, 2019).
“Instead, what India therefore needs are theatre commands that cover all our threats and use our limited resources to the optimum. I had proposed the idea of theatre commands about 25 years ago and these could be as follows. A theatre commands each to address the threat from China that would start from India’s north-east on the Indo-Myanmar border and go along Sino Indian boundary to LAC in Aksai Chin. The other would focus on Pakistan, starting from Siachen Glacier, and go along the LOC and Indo-Pak Border right up to the Rann of Kutch. Both these should be headed always by army officers with adequate components of air-force in particular and some elements of the Navy since their primary threats would be on land. And then a peninsular command, which would run from the coasts of Gujarat, right along the Indian coastline, until Bengal and Bangladesh to be headed by a naval officer since their primary role would be to guard against maritime threats and manage out of area operations. This theatre would have the necessary army and air resources to meet all the contingencies of this theatre.
“Accordingly, we could have an air defence and missile forces command—as has just been suggested by the CDS—that could be used in addition to the above- outlined theatre commands, to provide air defence and missile firepower as force multipliers, to any threats/operations India’s armed forces might have to respond to. And then there is the issue of nuclear weapons. Though the decision to use them will continue to rest with the PM and his CCS through the defence minister, the CDS could manage their deployment along with the service chiefs, theatre commanders, and our scientific community. Here, the CDS could play a very important role in coordinating between the civilian leadership and the military headquarters, and not be a further delaying mechanism, as the critics of CDS have stated. The CDS should be the link between the CCS and the defence minister, to coordinate their operational engagements, without interfering in their operational roles.
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