CDS and DMA, a clever masterstroke

The Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a four-star General sans operational control of Services but is the military adviser to the President, not Secretary of Defence. Here, the need for the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) being a ‘single-point military adviser’ to the Union Cabinet or the Cabinet Committee on Security has been killed. With no operational powers, who will listen to the CDS?

CDS and DMA, a clever masterstroke

Ineffective CDS? The bureaucracy has won, as always.

Lt Gen PC Katoch (Retd)

Lt Gen PC Katoch (Retd)
Distinguished fellow, United Service Institution of India

The government has approved the appointment of the CDS in four-star rank with twin hats: Secretary to a new Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the MoD and Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC CoSC). The DMA, having a mix of military and civilians, will deal with the three Services and HQ-Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), Territorial Army, works relating to Services and procurements, except capital acquisitions. The DMA will promote inter-service jointness in planning, integrated requirements, restructuring of military commands and indigenous equipment.

The CDS will be the Principal Military Adviser to the defence minister but the Service Chiefs will continue to advise the minister on Services. The CDS will not exercise any military command. The PC CoSC will administer tri-Service agencies with cyber and space commands under him; be a member of the Defence Acquisition Council and the Defence Planning Committee; function as military adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority; usher inter-service jointness in operation, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance within three years of the first CDS assuming office; ensure optimisation of infrastructure; implement the five-year defence capital acquisition plan and two-year roll-on annual acquisition plans, and assign inter-Services prioritisation to capital acquisition proposals based on an anticipated budget.

Almost two decades after the Kargil Review Committee and follow-up Group of Ministers headed by the then Deputy PM recommended the early establishment of the CDS, PM Narendra Modi had announced on August 15, 2019, that India would soon have a CDS, the format of which has just been issued. The composition of the DMA has not been announced and will take time to fructify. However, what is being trumpeted as a masterstroke appears to be a clever one, retaining the clout of a little diluted bureaucracy, if at all.

The HQ IDS was established in 2004, aimed at being ‘part’ of the MoD. The DG DIA in HQ IDS deals directly with the defence minister. Logically, the HQ IDS should have been merged into the MoD with officers of the HQ IDS placed on deputation. Some could have even been absorbed on a permanent deputation. Creating the DMA and retaining the HQ IDS separately is hardly in sync with the government’s aim of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’.

The Service Chiefs continuing to advise the defence minister on respective Services blows the cover of the CDS being the Principal Military Adviser to the minister. The Chairman, US JCS, is a four-star general sans operational control of Services but is the military adviser to the President, not Secretary of Defence. Here, the need for the CDS being a ‘single-point military adviser’ to the Union Cabinet/Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has been killed. The roots for this were sown by the bureaucracy in the CCS note approving the establishment of the HQ IDS, which read, “As and when a CDS is appointed, he will have equal voting rights as the Service Chiefs and in case of two Service Chiefs disagreeing, MoD (read bureaucracy) will arbitrate”. With no operational powers, who will listen to the CDS, with Service Chiefs rallying round their turfs and the bureaucracy adept in ‘divide and rule’?

The PIB release does not say that the DMA will replace the Department of Defence. Therefore, the DMA will function parallel to the Department of Defence (DoD) headed by the Defence Secretary, Department of Defence Production (DoPD), Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) and Department of Defence R&D. Here too, the CDS will be one secretary among equals, with the DoD, DoPD and DESW headed by bureaucrats. This further downgrades the four-star rank in protocol, though the CDS will draw higher pay. Till now, Service Chiefs were ranked alongside the Cabinet Secretary, which was higher than the secretaries in the MoD, including Defence Secretary.

Cases sent directly to the defence minister will invariably be marked by him to the Defence Secretary for examination and comments before taking any decision. So, the statement of a Union minister regarding powers of the CDS as secretary is irrelevant, especially with the minister having nothing to do with defence. The role of planning, coordination and advice and making projections for centralised procurement is already being done by the HQ IDS, with the CISC functioning as secretary to the CoSC. Without operational powers and command over only tri-service organisations like cyber and space, the first CDS is to bring jointness in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance within three years of assuming office, which the MoD manned by bureaucrats has done little about in the past 72 years.

The HQ IDS, from its inception, had a slot for a joint secretary from the IFS and IAS, but the latter remained vacant due to bureaucratic ego. What civilians will be part of the DMA, including the constantly upgraded AFHQ cadre is yet to be seen. The DGQA and DG AFMS were to be under the HQ IDS but were never permitted for ‘well-known reasons’ and will likely continue under the DoD under Defence Secretary. The DoPD will similarly continue to oversee the governmental defence-industrial complex with patchy successes and unable to meet military requirements, provisioning bulk substandard products at inflated prices — their corporatisation at a snail’s pace, if at all. The DESW will continue dragging widows and disabled soldiers to court for disability pension.

The CDS is to work on ‘anticipated’ budget. He cannot make projections based on operational requirements to the Cabinet/Parliament/CCS. The FM will continue to arbitrarily cap the defence budget. Defence Finance will continue working with the Defence Secretary, as will national intelligence agencies and Defence Estates that was indicted by CAG as the most corrupt part of the MoD, recommending its disbandment.

The forces will have an additional four-star rank. The media blitz hails the move a masterstroke. Establishing the CDS is an excellent step, but the manner in which it is being implemented is a clever masterstroke by the bureaucracy-centric deep state. The CDS will remain ineffective. The bureaucracy has won as always and this will not change without political understanding of the intricacies and the will to change, one of the ironies being the belief there is going to be no war, so ‘chalta hai’ is good enough.


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