Indian defence forces will have a tri- service chief or a chief of defence staff (CDS) for the first time. This is a major defence reform that took place after it was hanging fire since the 1999 Kargil conflict, to provide “single-point military advice” to the government and inject some much-needed synergy in planning, procurements, training and logistics among the Army, Navy and Indian Air Force.
“To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision from the Red Fort: India will have a CDS. This is going to make the armed forces even more effective,” PM Narendra Modi said in his Independence Day speech on Thursday.
TOI was the first to report on June 21 that the appointment of a tri-service chief was among the top priorities of the Modi 2.0 government in the defence arena.
PM Modi’s announcement of the chief of defence staff post in his Independence Day speech on Thursday led to intense speculation in strategic and military circles, with the majority view being that Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat will be the frontrunner for the job.
Sources said a top-level “implementation committee” will work out the modalities and the role of the CDS by November. IAF chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa will retire on September 30. Gen Rawat’s tenure is till December 31.
The three services, which have to truly integrate to face the challenges of technology-driven futuristic wars, will get effective leadership at the highest level with the CDS post, the PM said in his speech.
In effect, the CDS will rank higher than the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs, even if he is a four-star general like them, and eventually pave the way for unified theatre commands instead of the present single-service ones, sources said.
Sources said the CDS will handle all tri-service issues and push for “greater jointness” among the Army, Navy and IAF, which often pull in different directions without any inter-service prioritisation, to systematically build the country’s military capabilities within budgetary constraints.
“Though a four-star general like the three chiefs, the CDS will be ‘first among equals’ in the hierarchy. But the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs will have operational command of their forces. A five-star CDS is not envisaged as of now but let us see how the exact structures pan out,” the source said.
A prominent section of the defence establishment believes that India needs a five-star CDS — with overall operational control as well — to crack the whip in the rank-conscious environs of the over-15-lakh-strong armed forces.
But others contend that an all-powerful “general no. 1” is unlikely given the long-standing politico-bureaucratic concern over such a post, with some sections in the past even erroneously stressing that it could set the stage for a possible military coup.
Successive governments have used the ruse of the “need to consult various political parties” to keep the CDS post in cold storage ever since it was strongly recommended by both the Kargil Review Committee in 1999 as well as the L K Advani-led group of ministers’ report in 2001.
The intense rivalry and turf wars among the Army, Navy and IAF also put paid to all such plans. In 2012, the Naresh Chandra Taskforce pitched for a permanent chairman of the chief of staff committee (PC-CoSC) — a diluted version of the CDS — with a fixed two-year tenure. The CoSC currently comprises the three service chiefs, with the most senior among them acting as its ex-officio chairman till he retires.
As reported by TOI earlier, the three service chiefs had last year agreed to the proposal for a PC-CoSC, who would focus on “capacity and capability development” in the armed forces.
With the CDS post now on the anvil, the country’s defence establishment will also need to focus on setting up unified or theatre commands — with all military assets in a region under a single operational commander — for a greater offensive punch from limited resources in the years ahead.
At present, India has 17 single-service commands and only two tri-service commands in the form of the Andaman and Nicobar Command, a theatre or regional command, and the Strategic Forces Command, which handles nuclear weapons. Apart from being much more cost-effective, theatre commands are required for the conduct of synergised land-air-sea operations with unity of command in modern-day warfare.