From the time Prime Minister Modi announced on 15 August 2019, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, his government’s intention of creating the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), there is a virtual ongoing Twitter War between the serving and retired service personnel on the one side and the association of bureaucratic corps on the other. It
reflects the ill will and the gap in perception between these two important pillars of our democracy.
It must be appreciated that nearly all military reforms have been top-down and have seldom been achieved by consensus. Therefore, in the operationalisation of this integration, India’s Defence Minister will have to walk a tight rope. Obtaining fresh inputs from either of the two pillars—Armed Forces HQ and the bureaucracy—will be an exercise in futility.
This has been discussed in various forums and in various committees for the last seven decades, with some of the country’s respected bureaucrats with a very global perspective having headed these committees. They all have come to the conclusion that CDS is a necessity. Now it is a question of pinning down the details.
Post the Kargil War, the K.Subrahmanyan Committee made several recommendations which have been repeated by all subsequent committees, the Naresh Chandra Committee being the last one. The recommendations made were very pertinent and need to be implemented in letter and spirit. It is a well-known fact that sans warfighting capability, a nation cannot defend itself.
Once the capability is created, intelligence and operations form the foundation for decision making and its outcome. The committees formed over the years have identified several lacunae in the systems and these need to be rectified.
One of the issues highlighted in the reports was that the capacity building of each service was based entirely on the threat assessment of individual services and was not a joint inter-service effort. Also, the mechanism of intelligence sharing between civil and military did not exist for effective military operations.
Disjointed preparation for warfighting was resulting in budgetary allocation, which frequently led to duplication of assets. In a way, each service was fighting its own war and preparing accordingly. If at all there was any semblance of jointness, it was due to bonhomie amongst the three Service Chiefs and not due to any institutionalised system. Formation of an Integrated Defence Head Quarters, headed by Chief of Defence Staff, was recommended and the mechanism of intelligence sharing was also envisaged.
Later, the recommendations were implemented but only partially. The structure of the Integrated Defence Staff HQ was put in place but wasn’t enabled by appointing Chief of Defence Staff. When one reads the tweets over the last few days, it is obvious that the bureaucracy tried to generate an unfounded scare in the minds of the political authority, that appointing a CDS could provide the military with an opportunity to stage a coup, some time in the future.
In addition, as governments in India were more often than not a coalition of many parties, decision making at the apex political level was an Achilles’ heel. As a result, when HQ IDS was created, it was headed by a Lt General (Commander in Chief) equivalent officer, with the nomenclature Vice Chief of Defence Staff. This was later changed to Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chiefs of Staff Committee(CISC). This too was simply to ensure that the word ‘CDS’ did not feature in the designation.
CISC is a member of Chief of Staff’s Committee (COSC) but is a non-voting member. The CISC is free to express joint solutions but the same is not binding on the Service Chiefs to accept. Instead of appointing a CDS, the Government settled for appointing ‘Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee’ in lieu, which was really a round-robin, with the senior-most serving Chief becoming Chairman of the committee thereby making their tenures dependent on their date of retirement.
For example, Admiral Sunil Lanba retired on 31 May 2019 and handed over the reins of COSC Chairman to Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa. The Air Chief is scheduled to retire on 30 September, which gives him a tenure of just four months. General Bipin Rawat will thereafter assume the appointment, and as he retires on 31 December, it means that he will have a tenure of just three months as Chairman COSC unless he is chosen by the government to be the CDS.
It is thus obvious, that on matters of jointness (procurement, operational doctrines and actual operational planning), each Chairman COSC looked at joint solutions through the prism of his own service. The only true purple (Integrated Service HQ) was CISC who had a minority voice.
As if this was not enough to marginalise any big jointness, CDS also became an important member of the Nuclear Command Authority. In the absence of a CDS, frequently changing Chairman COSC was performing this task which was neither desirable nor good practice.
Having said that, the CISC and HQ IDS have succeeded in keeping a close eye on the geopolitical dynamism of the Indian Ocean Region. A net assessment process has been put in place which factors inputs from Service HQ, intelligence sources, the diplomatic community, think tanks, academicians, etc, in formalising threat assessment. This has resulted in formulating scenarios for a two-front war and in the issuance of the Raksha Mantri’s Operational Directive.
HQIDS has also largely succeeded in the elimination of duplicity of procurement, joint bidding, joint qualitative requirements (as far as possible) and joint procurements. Another progress point which is worth a mention was the approval of LTIPP (Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan), by the Defence Acquisition Council in April 2012, for 15 year period 2012-2027, subject to amendments based on the geopolitical environment.
Had the LTIPP been approved by the then CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security), there would have been a financial commitment by the Government to develop those capabilities. In the absence of such approval, many strategists call the LTIPP a wish list. Here, the absence of a CDS was severely felt. The HQ IDS has however made progress in streamlining of jointness in training, intelligence, some aspects of operations, ie, space, cyber, HADR crisis management and pursuing issues with MoD which had tri-service implications.
A number of joint operational doctrines are in place and the HQ also acts as the office of the Raksha Mantri on matters pertaining to defence acquisition. The statements of the case of each procurement proposal of service headquarters are vetted by the specialists appointed to the HQ IDS. In the Services Categorisation And Procurement Committees (Headed by three-star Officer of HQ IDS), consisting of all stakeholders from service HQ and various departments of the MoD (Executive, Acquisition, Finance, DRDO, Defence Production etc), collegiate decisions are taken after due diligence. This process is being followed scrupulously to date.
- Will CDS address all issues pertinent to jointness? The success of this appointment would depend upon the following:
- Charter of duties.
- Equation with the bureaucracy.
- Permanent inclusion in the CCS.
- Placement of specialist service officers in the MoD in tandem with career bureaucrats for professional vetting.
- Appointment of career diplomats with CDS headquarters for environment scan and defence cooperation issues, act as an interface with MEA(Presently provision exists but except for one there has been no diplomat appointed).
- Defence budget allocation to CDS based on threat assessment (in consultation with Service Chiefs) of prioritisation of asset creation in short, medium and long term).
- Act as nodal agency and interface between MoD and private sector for ‘Make in India’ to succeed and create jobs apart from developing indigenous defence industry.
- Activation and structures for joint planning, but the execution by respective services. Appointment of joint staff in Command Headquarters.
- Joint service operational command or planning HQ appointment be made career milestone for two and three-star promotions.
- Cyber, Space and Special Forces Command be established under the CDS to fight future wars. This is in addition to existingTri-Service commands at Andaman Nicobar and Strategic Forces Command.
In the ultimate analysis, various organs of state must act in unison if our country has to find its rightful place in the comity of nations. History is a great teacher; we were occupied by foreign powers and ruled because India was a divided house. After the Maurya and Gupta dynasty, when India saw its pinnacle, possibly we have an opportunity in the Modi era wherein the government has returned to power with a massive mandate. We must not allow the opportunity to slip for petty reasons.
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM and Bar is the former Commander in ChiefWestern Naval Command & former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. He is presently Chairman, Board of Trustees, India Foundation and Member, The Sunday Guardian Foundation.