Independence Day 2019 dawned with an ominous forecast from the meteorological department. It was to be a rainy morning with overcast skies and the likelihood of thunderstorms. But the weather does not deter a nation out to celebrate its 72nd Independence Day. The children, in their bright tricolour ensembles, were enough to lift the spirits of even an otherwise gloomy outlook. Independence Day is an occasion for India to look forward to, an occasion when the Prime Minister addresses the nation and announces his agenda for the growth and progress of the country. While a lot of the list invariably encompasses the items of a manifesto that propelled the party to power, there are always some surprises and 15 August 2019 was no exception. The announcement that the government had decided to create the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) allowed a huge sigh “PheeewW” followed by a huge cheer “YaaaY” from the military fraternity. A long awaited (almost a lost cause) announcement, it uplifted the spirit of the Armed Forces possibly more than any new acquisition could. Proposed by the Group of Ministers on National Security (GoM) in 2001, it has taken almost two decades for the appointment to fructify. Will it take another two decades before one can say, “The Buck Stops Here”?
It did not take long for the armed forces and the defence analysts to absorb the enormity of the charge entrusted to them through this one single avatar. The armed forces, especially the Army has been pushing the necessity for the integration of the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence, with the CDS as the apex of the structure. In espousing the leading theory that the CDS will be the military’s ‘Single Point Advisor’ to the government, the armed forces and veteran ‘defence analysts’ have touched just the portion of the iceberg that is above the surface of the water. The remainder 90%, as we know, is underwater. Notably there has been no show of enthusiasm from that ‘bloc’ called bureaucrats.
The Vivekananda International Foundation ostensibly carried out a study and discussion with participation by some eminent senior veterans and bureaucrats with a view to elicit a holistic view of the tasks that could be envisioned for the CDS. This was to provide a comprehensive perspective of retired professionals who would have a broader outlook with no prejudice of the uniform or that of an appointment. The macro look covers a vast array, from selection, relationship with the bureaucracy and polity, operational and administrative control of organisations, lateral interaction with the DRDO and sitting in on the Nuclear Command Authority, as also the interface between the CDS/NSCS/DPC and many more, in fact.
The canvas is so vast that even though the incumbent will have almost 40 years of service, the job is going to be more than a handful to grasp. While HQ IDS, which is the CDS’ secretariat, already manages some of the tasks, these would fall into his stride. It is the areas beyond what HQ IDS oversees that would need to be especially addressed. Given the spectrum it would be suitable for the CDS to take charge of his assets in a phased manner so that the transition to an integrated force is seamless. Integration of the services the world over has had to be ‘thrust down’ because of the innate turf wars which always exist. Having introduced the appointment of the CDS, it is but necessary that he be supported by such authority to bring about integration of the forces and the dynamics associated with such a move.
It is thus necessary for the CDS to be absorbed at the highest echelons of the government which will allow him the ‘top down’ manoeuvring to affect the integration process. Accordingly, the CDS’ inclusion in the CCS, the DPC, Strategic Policy Group, the Political Council, Nuclear Command Authority, Control of DRDO, appropriate position in the Warrant of Precedence, member in the Defence Acquisition Council, Chairman of the COSC, Operational Control of the tri-service Commands like ANC/Cyber/Space/Special Forces (as some of them develop), etc must form Phase 1 of his active anointment and initiation.
Phase 2 should be solely the priority and prerogative of the CDS to integrate the Ministry of Defence with the Services. This would include the infusion of uniformed military officers and PBORs into the MoD and vice-versa in the Service HQs. Phase 3 should encapsulate control of HQ IDS and its various functions in the ‘Joint’/‘Integrated’ domain, which would formalise his rightful position at the head of his secretariat.
Phase 4 should give the CDS the opportunity to increase the integration amongst the three services to provide the dynamism and synergy in operations. While the loosely used and much talked about Theatre Command could come into being, its relevance in our context and structure should be keenly studied before ‘hand-cuffing’ dynamic elements which will deny their flexibility and application. The new incumbent, in consultation with the government, the MoD and the Service HQ must lay down and prioritise his time frame for the phases. This would provide a systematic and structured approach to an imminently important assignment and appointment. We wish him all success.
An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinctionHe has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.