New Delhi, August 13
A few options have emerged on the structure and operational control of the forthcoming theatre commands of the Indian armed forces — all linked to defining the hierarchy, rank and status of the theatre commanders.
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The options entail a “shakeup” of the existing military structures. The Department of Military Affairs under Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan and the three service chiefs have deliberated the matter and are expected to send a report to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh by the end of this month.
The minister is expected to initiate wider consultations, including on maintaining civilian control over the military, a norm in a democracy.
A challenge is to define the roles of the CDS and the three service chiefs in the functioning of the theatre commands. The CDS does not have an operational role, as per the December 2019 notification. The question remains whether the CDS will get an operational role or will he continue in his present role as ‘Principal Military Adviser’ to the government. The existing proposal includes having the three theatre commanders in four-star rank, the same as the CDS and three service chiefs. In such a scenario, whom will the theatre commander report to? Will the CDS be the reporting authority? This will require an amendment to existing rules.
Or will the government allow an expansion at the very top of the military hierarchy and appoint a Vice Chief of Defence Staff (VCDS) who will be in-charge of operations, implying creation of one more four-star post.
This will require realignment of the existing service headquarter verticals, where Lieutenant General-rank ‘principal staff officers’ are under the three service chiefs.
Some part of these verticals will have to go to the proposed VCDS, who in turn, may have at least two deputies — one each for operations and administration.
The next question being debated is if the theatre commanders are asked to report to the VCDS for operations, who will the VCDS report too? Can a higher defence committee for strategic and political guidance to the military leadership be formed with the National Security Adviser, CDS, three service chiefs, the Defence Secretary advising the Defence Minister and Cabinet.
Fears are a higher defence committee may end up adding another layer to decision making, besides diluting the role of the CDS or the proposed VCDS.
The Government of India (Allocation of Business Rules), 1961, assigns the subject of “Defence of India and every part thereof, including defence policy and preparation for defence and acts as may be conducive in times of war to its prosecution”, to the Department of Defence headed by the Defence Secretary. This was not changed in the December 2019 notification, when the post of CDS was created.
Crucially, what will the three service chiefs do? The options include their role being shifted to raising, training and sustaining the respective forces. Such a role, so far, is handled by three-star officers having the rank of Director General. Will it be killing the institution of chiefs or diluting the role?
Among the many unanswered questions in these options is the creation of four additional four-star rank posts.
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