From the time Prime Minister Modi made the historic announcement from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15, 2019 regarding creation of Chief of Defence Staff, there is virtual Twitter war between the serving/retired service officers and the association of bureaucratic corps. It reflects the ill will and the gap in perception between these two important pillars of our democracy. Nearly all military reforms worldwide have been top down and seldom by consensus. Therefore, in operationalisation of this integration the Raksha Mantri will have to walk a tight rope. Obtaining fresh inputs, from either Armed Forces HQ and the Bureaucracy, will be an exercise in futility. This has been going on for seven decades. Some of country’s respected bureaucrats with very global perspective have headed these committees and come to conclusion that CDS is a necessity. Now it is question of penning down the details.
Our forces are India's pride. To further sharpen coordination between the forces... India will have a Chief of Defence Staff. This is going to make the forces even more effective
— PM Modi said in his I-Day speech
Post-Kargil war Subrahmanyam Committee made several recommendations which have been repeated by all subsequent committees, Naresh Chandra Committee being the last one. Two recommendations are very pertinent, that in a war, assuming that war fighting capability exist, intelligence and operations form the foundation for decision making and outcome of war. The Committee identified several lacunae in the systems as they existed. Of these, capacity building by each service being based on their individual threat assessment and ineffective intelligence sharing between civil and military for military operations. Disjointed capacity building was resulting in budgetary allocations often leading to duplication of assets. In a way, each service was fighting its own war and preparing accordingly. If at all there was any semblance of jointness, it was due to bonhomie amongst the three service Chiefs and not institutionalised. Formation of Integrated Defence Head Quarters, headed by Chief of Defence Staff, was recommended. Also, mechanism of intelligence sharing was envisaged.
Later, the recommendations were implemented but only partially. The structure of the Integrated Defence Staff HQ was put in place but wasn’t enabled by appointing Chief of Defence Staff. When one reads the Tweets over last few days it is obvious that the bureaucracy did generate unfounded scare in the minds of political masters that appointing a CDS could provide opportunity for military coup in future. Also, governments often being coalition of many parties, decision making was an Achilles’ heel. As a result HQ IDS was headed by a Lt. General (Commander in Chief) equivalent Officer, initial nomenclature Vice Chief of Defence Staff, renamed Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC). This too was to ensure that word CDS did not feature in the designation. CISC was Member of COSC but a non voting member, in that he was free to express joint solutions but it wasn’t binding on the service Chiefs to accept. Instead of appointing CDS, the Government settled for Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, which was really a round robin, senior-most serving Chief becoming Chairman of the committee making their tenures dependent on their date of retirement. For example, Admiral Sunil Lanba retired on 31 May, 2019 and he handed over the reigns of COSC Chairman to Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa, the Air Chief, who retires on 30 September (4 months tenure). As on date it means that later General Bipin Rawat will have a 3 month tenure as Chairman COSC (retires 31 December) unless he is chosen by the government to be the CDS. It was obvious that on matters of jointness (procurement, operational doctrines and actual operational planning) each Chairman COSC looked at joint solutions through the prism of his own service. The only true purple (Integrated Service HQ) was CISC who had a minority voice.
As if this was not enough to marginalise any big jointness, CDS was to be an important link in the Nuclear Command Authority (Strategic Force Command being Joint Service Command). In the absence of CDS, frequently changing Chairman COSC was performing this task which was neither desirable nor a good practice.
Having said that, the CISC and HQ IDS succeeded in keeping close eye on the geopolitical dynamism in the Indian Ocean Region. A net assessment process was put in place which collated Intelligence, diplomatic inputs, think tankers, academician, service headquarters inputs etc to project threat assessment at national level. Two front War and RM’s Op Directive resulted from these assessments which had consent of three service headquarters. HQ IDS also succeeded, largely, in eliminating duplicity of procurement by devising processes of joint bidding, joint QRs and joint procurements. Another milestone which is worth a mention was the approval of LTIPP (Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan) by the Defence Acquisition Council in April 2012 (for 15 year period 2012-2027), subject to amendments based on geopolitical environment. Had this document been approved by the then CCS, there would have been financial commitment by the Government to acquire those capabilities. Since it wasn’t so, many strategists called the LTIPP a wish list. The absence of a CDS was severely felt. There was streamlining of jointness in training, Intelligence, some aspects of operations, ie, space, cyber, HADR crisis management and pursuing issues with MoD which had tri-service implications. Number of joint operational doctrines were put in place. This HQ also acted as the office of the Raksha Mantri for Defence Acquisition matters. The statements of case of each procurement proposal of service headquarters are vetted by the specialists appointed to HQ IDS. In the Services Categorisation And Procurement Committees, SCAP for short, (Headed by three star Officer of HQ IDS), consisting of all stakeholders from service HQ and various departments of the MoD (Executive, Acquisition, Finance, DRDO, Defence Production etc), collegiate decisions were being taken after due diligence. This process is being followed scrupulously to date.
Will CDS address all issues pertinent to jointness? Success of this appointment would largely depend upon:-
- Charter of the duties.
- Equation with the bureaucracy.
- Permanent inclusion in the CCS and equation with the NSA
- Appointment of specialist service officers in the MoD in tandem with career bureaucrats for professional and specialist inputs.
- Appointment of Career diplomats with CDS headquarters for environment scan and Defence Cooperation issues, act as interface with MEA. (Presently provision exists but except for once no diplomat has been appointed). Diplomats are a vital link in overall strategic posture of a country.
- Defence budget allocation to CDS based on his threat assessment (in consultation with Service Chiefs to generate consensus), prioritisation of asset creation in short, medium and long term and sub allocation to individual services.
- Act as nodal agency and interface between MoD and Private Sector for ‘Make in India’ projects which is essential for creation of jobs apart from developing indigenous defence industry.
- Promulgation of structures for joint planning but execution by respective services. Appointment of joint staff in Command Headquarters. This would be necessary for whole of government approach in any crisis situation.
- Appointment of service officers in Joint service operational commands or HQ IDS be made compulsory career milestone for two and three star promotions.
- Cyber, Space and Special Forces Command be established under the CDS to fight future wars. This be in addition to existing Tri Service commands at Andaman & Nicobar and Strategic Force Command.
In the ultimate analysis various organs of state must act in unison if our country has to find its rightful place in the comity of nations. History is great teacher. We were occupied by foreign powers and ruled because India was a divided house. After the Maurya and Gupta dynasty, when India saw its pinnacle, possibly we have an opportunity in Modi era wherein the government has returned to power with massive mandate, taken a bold decision to appoint a CDS, we must not allow it to slip for petty reasons.
(The writer is former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff,& Commander in Chief, Western Naval Command Chairman, Board of Trustees India Foundation & Member The Sunday Guardian Foundation)