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Posted at: Aug 18, 2019, 7:19 AM; last updated: Aug 18, 2019, 7:19 AM (IST)

Only a strong CDS will be able to break shackles

Lt Gen DS Hooda (Retd)
Lt Gen DS Hooda (Retd)
As long as service chiefs retain complete authority over operational and administrative aspects, they will continue to compete for influence, resources. Without integration, synergised operational planning will remain a mirage.
Only a strong CDS will be able to break shackles
Way Foward: The appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff must be a part of a comprehensive plan for overhauling the higher defence management system, including the restructuring of the military into theatre commands. PTI

Lt Gen DS Hooda (Retd)

Following the submission of the Kargil Review Committee report, a Group of Ministers (GoM) was constituted to review the national security system of India comprehensively. The GoM report was an extremely meticulous document in which our weaknesses were honestly identified, and detailed recommendations made for strengthening the national security architecture. While looking at the higher defence management, the GoM had observed that the “COSC (Chiefs of Staff Committee) has not been effective in fulfilling its mandate”. To overcome this weakness, it was recommended that a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) be appointed to serve as the “principal military adviser” to the political leadership.

There are many reasons as to why the CDS has not been appointed till now, but it would serve little purpose to debate these reasons with the Prime Minister clearly announcing his intention to create this post. The media is abuzz with speculations on the frontrunner for the CDS, but again this is hardly a crucial aspect of the Prime Minister’s announcement. The real key lies in the role and responsibility entrusted to the CDS, and whether this is only the first step in the revamping of our higher defence management.

There are two viewpoints on the role of the CDS. The first sees him as facilitating the planning and budgeting process by prioritising the acquisitions of the three services. In times of stressed budgets, this is an essential requirement. He will also promote jointness by laying down the joint warfighting doctrine and cutting down duplicate structures and organisations that perform a similar task for different services. Logistics and training are two such areas where restructuring is possible.

In terms of direct command, the CDS will be responsible for tri-service commands like the Strategic Forces, Andaman and Nicobar Command, and the newly raised Cyber, Space and Special Forces agencies. This model is a significant improvement over the current system, where the three services pay only lip service to jointness and work to promote their own interests. The Chairman COSC is a rotational appointment with incumbents often holding the post for only a few months. The CDS will bring in the much-desired stability and authority when dealing with the three service chiefs.

However, in my view, this model does not go far enough to achieve true integration in the military. As long as the service chiefs retain complete authority over both the operational and administrative aspects of their force, they will continue to compete for influence and resources, and resist any integration that could dilute their authority. We have already seen great resistance from the Air Force on the setting up of integrated theatre commands. Without integration, synergised operational planning will remain a mirage.

The appointment of the CDS must be a part of a comprehensive plan for overhauling the higher defence management system, including the restructuring of the military into theatre commands. It is incomprehensible that India has seven Army and Air Force commands along its northern border facing a single western theatre command of China. In a warlike situation, synergising of operations will become extremely difficult.

After the raising of theatre commands, these should be placed under the CDS, who will then assume operational responsibility. It is only then that the CDS will be in a position to give well-informed advice to the political leadership. In this model, the service chiefs will only be responsible for the training and administration of their respective forces. It could be argued that this will create a very powerful post that could be viewed with suspicion by the political class. Similar views have been expressed in the past, but the Indian military has a stellar record of remaining apolitical and unfounded fears should not come in the way of essential reforms. 

It is only a strong CDS that will be able to break the shackles of existing practices that have hobbled true integration and kept us tied to World War II era structures.

There is unanimous acceptance that the character of war is changing, but we are still tied to service-specific equipment like tanks, aircraft and ships as the primary weapons of war. Information, cyber, space, psychometrics and artificial intelligence, areas that transcend service boundaries, have received little attention and require urgent focus. 

The Prime Minister has taken a decisive step, and it is hoped that it is the part of a larger process to transform the military into an efficient force capable of meeting all of India’s future security challenges.

— The writer is former GOC-in-C, Northern Command    


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