India’s First Four-Star General - A long pending military reform becomes a reality
With General Bipin Rawat named as the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a long pending higher level military reform has become a reality. The CDS will act as the principal military adviser to the defence minister on all matters pertaining to the three services.
- Sanjeev Sirohi
It is most heartening and most refreshing to see that the Union Cabinet on December 24 has now finally cleared the road for India’s first four-star general by approving the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who will act as the principal military adviser to the defence minister on all matters pertaining to the three services. The Cabinet also decided to create a new department of military affairs (DMA) to be headed by the CDS as its Secretary who is likely to have financial powers. The demand for India having a CDS has been a long pending one to unleash a series of higher level military reforms and therefore it is most refreshing to note that finally we see the long cherished idea translating into reality!
To put things in perspective, the CDS will also be the administrative head of the three services – Army, Air Force, Navy – but their command will be with the service chiefs. The CDS will, however, head the newly created agencies for cyber and space. The tri-service agency of special forces could also come under the CDS, but their deployment will hinge on ground commanders. The CDS will be the crucial military adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority which handles India’s nuclear arsenal.
Needless to say, the headquarters of the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), having representatives from the three services, will come under the CDS. The Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff, or CISC, will also come under the CDS and will be renamed as the deputy CDS. It is no secret that outgoing Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat, who is set to superannuate on December 31, is among the contenders for the new post. But the name is yet to be formally declared and so we have to keep our fingers crossed on this!
As it turns out, a government statement said that, “The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved to create the post of CDS in the rank of a four-star General with salary and perquisites equivalent to a Service Chief.” The CDS will head all tri-services institutions such as the National Defence Academy in Pune, College of Defence Management in Secunderabad and the National Defence College in Delhi. He will also be the permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) and will be supported by the IDS staff in this second role as well.
It must also be added, however, in the same vein that the CDS will not have any operational role and military command but will ensure coordination in joint operations. The CDS will not hold any government office after retiring from the post. This is to ensure neutrality and total commitment for the job of CDS for which he has been appointed! Very rightly so!
We also need to pay attention here to another vital change that the three services, IDS, the Territorial Army, works pertaining to the Army, Air Force and Navy, services-related procurements, except capital acquisition, will come under DMA i.e. the department of military affairs. Officials have also said that works relating to the services will include restructuring matters as well. The Department of Defence, however, will deal with larger issues pertaining to the nation’s defence.
What’s more, DMA will promote joint procurement, training and staffing. It will have an appropriate mix of civilians and military officers. It will also facilitate the restructuring of military commands for the best utilization of resources, including through the establishment of joint or theatre commands. It will certainly promote the use of indigenous equipment which is the crying need of the hour also so that our over reliance on foreign countries is minimized to the maximum possible level!
To say the least, in his role as the permanent Chairman of COSC, the CDS will be senior to the three service chiefs and will head the committee dealing with matters of jointness. The permanent chairman of COSC is a new structure, wherein from now on only the CDS will head it. In this existing structure of COSC, the senior-most chief – currently of the Army, General Bipin Rawat – becomes the chairman.
It must also be borne in mind that the head of the Andaman and Nicobar Command which is the only tri-services theatre command who reports to the COSC chairman will now report to the CDS. It cannot be missed out that a Defence Ministry statement reads that, “The CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three service chiefs.” The CDS will be a member of the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister and the Defence Planning Committee headed by the National Security Adviser (NSA). In the strategic domain, the CDS would function as the “Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority” chaired by the Prime Minister.
It may be recalled here that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day address in 2019 had announced the appointment of a CDS. It was hailed by a large section of ex servicemen and leaders from parties across the spectrum! Very rightly so!
As anticipated, the Implementation Committee was constituted to determine and finalise the “exact responsibilities, an enabling framework” for this new post. Centre has clarified to Parliament that the CDS would come in the ambit of ‘Right to Information Act’, in accordance with the provisions of the RTI Act, 2005. This is most welcome!
We also need to bear in mind that the broad mandate of the CDS certainly includes bringing about jointness in “operations, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance of the three Services, within three years of the first CDS assuming office. A government statement added that, “He will act as the Principal Military Adviser to Defence Minister on all tri-Services matters. However, the three Chiefs will continue to advise the Minister on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services”. It was also added that the CDS would not exercise any military command, including over the Service Chiefs. This is to ensure that the Service Chiefs are able to function independently without any much interference from the CDS!
As is quite ostensible, a major job ahead for the CDS is to ensure that synergy is brought about and procurements, training and logistics are optimised. An official source said quite explicitly about this that, “Facilitate restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands.”
Truth be told, optimizing procurements and training will be a major area of responsibility of the CDS. Apart from implementing the long-term capital acquisition plans, the functions of the CDS include to assign “Inter-Services prioritisation to capital acquisition proposals based on the anticipated budget.”
Broadly speaking, the recently created specialized tri-Service divisions, special operations, cyber and space will come under the ambit of the CDS. The government recently has named two star officers from the Services, who will now oversee the setting up of the organisations. It is certainly a good step in the right direction!
It merits no reiteration that the major issue of the single point military adviser and creation of theatre commands have been on the agenda of the government in the previous term as well. This was emphasized by PM Narendra Modi’s discussion with the Combined Commanders’ Conference at Dehradun in 2017. It must be pointed out here that with the impending appointment, the recently held Army Commanders Conference discussed the “requirement of a Joint Services Act.” This must be done at the earliest now!
Having said this, it would be in the fitness of things to now mention what Anit Mukherjee who is an expert in defence reforms has to say on this which has been mentioned in December 8, 2019 issue of Business Standard newspaper that, “While we shall shortly have a CDS – and this was such a necessary step and we should commend the political leadership for this – however, it is important to see how much they empower this office. To be truly effective, the CDS must not be just a glorified version of the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), Currently, the lack of jointness is among the biggest weakness in the Indian military – and has been problematic in all our past wars, including the 1999 Kargil war. Unfortunately, however, such historical case studies are generally not taught in our military academies. But besides effectiveness, jointness can also potentially save fiscal resources, an aspect that the services are reluctant to talk about. All this apart, it is important to keep in mind that appointing a CDS will not overnight lead to more jointness. Instead, what is required is for civilians (working with the CDS) to bring about an attitudinal shift within the services towards jointness. The best way to bring about such a shift is through professional military education (PME). In the US, this was done with the help of what is known as the Ike Skelton Committee Report, which was published in 1989. We need a similar approach in the Indian military.”
While underscoring that a lot more remains to be done, Anit Mukherjee further rightly pointed out that, “Additionally, currently officers sent to joint organizations like the Andaman and Nicobar Command or the IDS are almost treated as organisational outcastes. Just to illustrate, one should ask the question of how many army chiefs and army commanders (and their air force and naval counterparts) have served in a joint organisation over the last 20 years? I suspect the navy would have some but the other two services, I am willing to imagine, would have very little. I think it is to address issues like that the CDS in his first three months, in consultations with the civilian leadership, has to come up with action-oriented reform roadmap. In sum, therefore while the CDS is a welcome development but we still have a long way to go.”
By all accounts, it has to be acknowledged that the appointment of a CDS was one of the most landmark recommendations that was made by the K Subrahmanyam-led Kargil Review Committee (KRC) report that was constituted in the immediate aftermath of the 1999 Kargil war on July 29, 1999 to examine in minute detail the lapses that allowed Pakistani soldiers to occupy strategic heights, the initial sluggish and niggardly Indian response and suggest durable measures to strengthen national security.
What followed next was that the KRC report was tabled in Parliament on February 23, 2000. It proposed comprehensive reforms in India’s national security apparatus and one of the most vital recommendations was the appointment of a CDS for improving the cross-service synergy.
Next we saw that on February 26, 2001, a Group of Ministers (GoM) under the then Union Home Minister LK Advani submitted its report to then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It must be mentioned here that the GoM was set up in April 2000 to review the national security system and it recommended that a CDS be appointed. On May 11, 2001 we saw that the Cabinet Committee on Security decided that the recommendation pertaining to the appointment of a CDS be taken up after holding talks with different political parties.
Going forward, in May 2012, the Naresh Chandra Task Force on national security recommended the appointment of a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee for improving tri-services synergy. It was then in December 2016 that the Lt Gen (Retd) DB Shekatkar Committee recommended the appointment of a CDS. It was then on August 15 that PM Narendra Modi announced the creation of a CDS for effective coordination and effective communication between the three forces. Finally, on December 24, Centre cleared the appointment of a CDS and announced that a four-star officer will head department of military affairs in the defence ministry.
Be it noted, Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (retd) who recommended the creation of CDS in his report which he had submitted very rightly articulated that, “It’s better late than never. The world has changed and so have war-fighting scenarios and challenges. The CDS is absolutely required for greater connectivity and synergy among the three services. Had we had a CDS during the Kargil war, we could have utilized our resources, including the air force, much better. And the outcome of the war would have been different. We would have punished Pakistan.”
It is the biggest national tragedy that it has taken nearly 20 years for CDS to come into effect after it was first recommended! Thanks to the bureaucratic and political interference! But better late than never!
It cannot be overemphasized that there was a dire need of CDS as the cross-service cooperation was very weak with each service working in its own silos as rightly pointed out by Rahul Singh in Hindustan Times dated December 25, 2019. He rightly sums up the dire need of CDS by stating that, “The efforts for jointmanship in the military were proceeding slowly, resulting in duplication of efforts, wastage of resources and delay in decision making. The appointment of a CDS will address the fragmented approach of the forces and bring about synergy at a time when the nature of warfare is evolving swiftly.” It is most delighting to see that CDS has finally been given a thumbs up!
It must be noted that over 70 countries like the US, UK, France, Germany and even Sri Lanka have CDS-like posts to ensure better integration in military planning and operations and now India too joins this elite club which certainly must be applauded, appreciated and admired! Most importantly, without wasting any time CDS must be swung into action to do all those things for which it had been constituted! This will clear the decks for deeper operational reforms among all the three forces which is the crying need of the hour also!
It will also serve to bridge the long festering civil-military divide which is now urgently needed also! To ensure that the CDS does not boss over the three service chiefs, the government made it amply clear that, “CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three service chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership.” One only hopes that the CDS is not rendered into a toothless tiger in the whole process! Bureaucrats and politicians should not be allowed to easily override what CDS recommends because if they whimsically trample upon what CDS suggests then the whole exercise of appointing CDS would be nothing but an “exercise in futility”! Let’s hope so fervently! No doubt, a good beginning has certainly been made now and we must be optimist that it will suit best in our national interests in the longer run!
(The author is a practising Advocate)