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Finally a CDS for the Indian Armed Forces

Major General Alok Deb, SM, VSM, Retd is former Deputy Director General of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. He is Distinguished Fellow at The United Service Institution of India, New Delhi and Senior Visiting Fellow at Peninsula Foundation, Chennai. Click here for detailed profile
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  • August 19, 2019

    The Prime Minister’s announcement on Independence Day from the ramparts of the Red Fort that a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for the Indian armed forces would be announced soon, has given rise to elation within the uniformed fraternity. What model should be followed for institutionalising such an appointment and what it entails in terms of reorganisation and operational control has been a matter of heated debate, both within the armed forces and the civilian bureaucracy. Some seem to be hailing it as the panacea for all ills afflicting national security, while others are dismissive, predicting that the appointment will be more ceremonial than anything else.

    Given the different models being followed by countries such as the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) which have trodden this path earlier, as also the reorganisation (on for a couple of years now) in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the existing dispensation in the Pakistan armed forces, such discussions are understandable and, indeed, welcome.

    Jointness is a term that achieved a fresh lease of life after the Kargil War and the subsequent recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee. It has been the focus of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the last few years, based on the directions given by the Prime Minister with great clarity in his address at the Combined Commanders Conference held aboard INS Vikramaditya in December 2015.1 A further fillip to Jointness has been given by the word ‘Integration’. The implications of these two words differ as evinced by all that has been written on the subject in recent years, including the views of the Army and Navy and the perspective of the Air Force.

    Though India has an Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), what such integration might actually entail in terms of integrated headquarters (instead of joint), preparing for war in terms of common doctrines, force structures, policies and training objectives, amalgamating logistic resources and other assets and so on is yet to be fully accepted by all stakeholders, and thus not spelt out in detail. Obviously, the way forward is long and challenging.

    At the end of it all, what should finally come about is an India specific model born out of its own peculiarities, current state of individual services, and an overarching long-term perspective of just what the nation requires in the security sphere. While the scope of responsibility of the CDS (in addition to commanding various joint organisations) is being worked out in South Block, as an exercise, it would be instructive to see what changes could be implemented immediately within the current organisational structures through greater jointness, before getting into the gamut of full integration which should be the logical end state. More so, since (for now at least) the Indian armed forces have not been force fed, as their counterparts in the US were with the passage of the Goldwater Nichols Act in the last century.

    In the December 2015 speech referred to earlier, two observations made by the Prime Minister deserve greater attention today: “At a time when major powers are reducing their forces and rely more on technology, we are still constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces. Modernisation and expansion of forces at the same time is a difficult and unnecessary goal.”2

    Given the defence budgeting constraints, a fact accepted by realist defence planners, the necessity for a single point agency to prioritise our weapons procurements based on an accepted joint warfighting doctrine, predicated in turn on national security policy aims and proposed end states, becomes mandatory. A step towards this has been taken with the issue of a joint operational doctrine by HQ IDS in 2018. The CDS would have the authority to bring greater coherence to the doctrine and authorise corresponding amendments if warranted to the Long Term Integrated Procurement Plan (LTIPP), which would automatically acquire greater salience in future. As a corollary, the CDS would be actively involved in formalising newer and modern force structures in consultation with the three services. As the single point of advice to the Government, his recommendations would receive due consideration. He would also provide major inputs for the National Security Strategy and will be responsible for producing the National Military Strategy.

    The above are some of the major responsibilities that the CDS could discharge even today, without any other type of reorganisation, resulting in efficient budgeting and effective warfighting. Needless to say, whatever is proposed must have the appropriate governmental sanction failing which the purpose of setting up such an office would be defeated. There are other tasks which a CDS can perform with minimum restructuring. One is to manage integrated logistics, a concept whose time has come. Some initial steps have been taken in this direction in selected stations, but the matter remains in its infancy.

    Whether it is repairs and recovery, infrastructure development, victualling for all the three services, or procurement of rations, fuels, oils or lubricants, or management of military lands, much can be done by integrating all or some of these functions. Training is another area. While some level of joint training already exists in important staff courses conducted by the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) at Wellington, it is time to substantially enhance the joint syllabus in such courses. More importantly, while inter service organisations have enough officers from each service, the numbers from one service posted to the headquarters of the other services continue to be miniscule.

    As a worldwide phenomenon, militaries being hierarchical societies are known to be averse to major change. The Government has provided an opening to the Services to commence the process of change in a graduated manner. The level of success achieved depends on the sagacity of both the civil and the military brass. The opportunity must be grasped if India’s security aspirations are to be met in full in the near future. A successful beginning by a first time CDS will be a keynote for the same.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.