A needless post

The proposal for creation of a permanent chairman, a four star general, chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, has many structural flaws.

Recently, the government announced a proposal to create a permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (CoSC). The CoSC is in its final stages after Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar expressed the need for an integration of three services and is working out a mechanism to create a position with a fixed tenure.

If anything, it reeks of callous political expediency than reason. It has to be dealt with care and caution for it involves the integrity of the armed forces and the honour of Indian Republic. The creation of CoSC, consisting of all chiefs, as is being claimed, is to resolve inter-service doctrinal, planning, procurement and operational issues, should not become an unruly firecracker in the country’s defence architecture.

The arguments presented in favour of the creation of a permanent chairman, a four star general, has many structural flaws. That the CoSC will systematically build the country’s military capabilities doesn’t hold water. Long term military capabilities need a vision, strategies, confluence of minds and not necessarily a new secretariat.  

Will the CoSC be invested with powers to decide the defence budget? The answer is a clear no. While there may be bickering between the three services as to who gets how much, the how much of it is decided by the government. Plus, the new secretariat will add to the depletion of funds from the defence budget unless a separate budget is earmarked for the office of CoSC.

While it is being rallied to be seen as providing a single-point military advice to the government, the CoSC, who is literally one of the chiefs, can never take the place of the rest of his colleagues in terms of information, strategy and sheer experience while dispensing advice to the government. Wisdom will not dawn on the CoSC by the virtue of his position and be suddenly endowed with powers of what is good and bad for the armed services.

Three minds are better than one. The position of a CoSC will be able to only reduce the civil-military divide unless it has been given a mandate by the government to do so. The integration, if at all, has to happen at the structural (Ministry of Defence-MoD) level. If the government is at all serious, it should make the bureaucracy accountable and deliver and not create another office.

The existing practice where Directors of Army, Navy and Air Force, Joint Secretary or even the Secretary in the defence ministry who have absolutely no exposure to military affairs, decide what the Indian services is entitled for, particularly importantly decide on procurements and coordination leading to frustration and cynicism from the armed forces.

There is a long laundry list where crucial decisions pertaining to procurements have not been implemented so far.

For example, the IAF urgently needs 200 intermediate jet trainers and a dozen AWACS including beefing up existing effective 25 operational fighter squadrons to 42, and replacement of 56 vintage AVROs, to name a few. It is already common knowledge that two submarines of the Indian Navy were destroyed resulting in the loss of precious lives due to faulty batteries which needed replacement.

In 1999, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had approved to build a fleet of 12 diesel electric submarines by 2012 and this project hasn’t seen the light of the day.  There’s also a dire need for SSBNs if the Indian Navy is to match up with China.

The present government should take it upon itself to clear all proposals post Kargil, from 1999. This way, the Indian military will be free of shortages in terms of its procurement lending strength and bolstering its morale, decisively altering the terms of engagement with our neighbours leave alone retrieving Aksai Chin and PoK.

American model

The American model is being thrown as an example- to create an integrated theatre commands, with regional commanders having their own army, navy and air force units for their operational tasks. The US has independent theatre commands and each one of them is equipped with land, air and sea units, bureaucrats and political departments responsible for independent campaigns. The theatre commander, a four-star general or admiral, reports directly to the US President, through the Defence Secretary.

But what’s good for America may not augur well for India. The comparisons, if any, are odious.  It all boils down to money and the rest follow. The military spending of the US is a whopping $600 billion as against India’s budget of $40 billion for the year 2015. Also, India’s strategy have to be drawn with its challenges in mind.  

The government needs to keep a check and de-authorise several ad-hoc organisations that have mushroomed within the Services whose operational expenses are drawn from the already allotted budget. An additional four star general is not going add any value or help in facilitating the already cleared projects and procurements since 1999. 

A five star general as CDS would make better sense as he will have adequate lien on the three services, but then does India need a single point military advise when we already have a National Security Adviser (NSA). What will be the chain of command between the NSA and CoSC? This will open up yet another channel of confrontation, one-upmanship and silly quarrel for relevance.

Lastly, if at all a CDS is appointed to test waters, it should be a retired service chief or a vice chief. Having completed services and officiated as chairman CoSC, he would have acquired insight into the genuine requirement of all three services. Moreover, he would also be in a position to give a stable, fixed two years tenure without prejudice to the chain of promotion of any of the service.

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