Quest for true integration

Chief of defence staff

It goes without saying that one of the most significant decisions regarding the armed forces, in recent times, has been the long-awaited pronouncement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi creating the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The announcement on Independence Day is an adequate pointer to the significance of this vital office for the nation’s security.

Now that the government has accorded approval for the CDS to materialise, the critical work to apportion the roles and responsibilities, and structure a suitable edifice for this appointment is warranted. That there is a wide divergence in its conceptualisation among leading security analysts, the surprised Services themselves, and the reluctant bureaucracy, is hardly a secret.

As has been customary even when armed forces abroad were confronted with contentious issues, decisions have been, at times, forced upon them by the political leadership. The most quoted example is of the US Senate passing the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986 enforcing the CDS system over the views of not-so-eager armed forces of the USA.

The imperative of having a CDS achieving strategic fulfilment of the nation’s goals by contributing to the augmentation of comprehensive national power, synergising the combat potential of the three services, optimising their resources, ensuring economy of effort, expediting procurements of modern weapons, equipment and platforms, evolution of joint training concepts for operational effectiveness in all domains of warfare and to facing emerging threats in the realm of nuclear, space, cyber-space, asymmetric warfare etc, have been much-discussed over the past few decades.

It is now time for a frank and in-depth analysis of the edifice, resources and support systems required by the CDS to fulfil his designed roles and responsibilities. This must not be rushed into blindly. As the appointment gets formalised and in place, an evolutionary concept could, perhaps, be the best solution for the CDS’s role and structure.

Among the foremost points under discussion in the shaping, currently, is the status of the CDS. Should he be a four-star general and we follow a primus inter pares concept - that is the first among equals, or should he be a five-star officer?

In my opinion, he should be five-star and equivalent to a minister of state rank. We already have a National Security Adviser of cabinet rank, so why any hesitation to make the CDS a five-star officer to whom the three four-star Chiefs report? He must be given three years as the CDS. The government could do a deep selection to get the right man for the job overriding the principle of seniority if so required. He could be from any of the three services. 

Secondly, the concept of integrated theatre commands being introduced is being debated vigorously. For example, in the northern theatre facing China and Pakistan, the Indian Army and Indian Air Force will be jointly operating and, unquestionably, thus unity in command makes for optimal operational effectiveness.

Similarly, in theatres spanning the land, air and sea domains, all three Services will automatically be jointly operating. It is worth considering that today we have 17 different commands of the three Services who, though cooperate operationally, are neither co-located nor have any unity in command.

However, merely reducing these command headquarters of the three Services and integrating them without going into the nitty-gritty of specific operations, availability of resources, enemy deployments and targeting and the problems of interoperability will not be prudent. It requires far greater study so that operational effectiveness does not get diluted, especially during the transition to the integrated theatre command-period if this decision is taken.

Strategic Forces Command

The other model being suggested is that the operational commands remain with the respective Services, like it is now, and the CDS exercises operational control over the Strategic Forces Command, the Andaman and Nicobar Command, and whenever the Space, Cyberspace and Special Operations Commands get organised/upgraded from the current force levels. Naturally, the service chiefs would prefer the latter option — this requires far greater deliberation of the various pros and cons about the model to be adopted. 

However, one unanimously agreed amendment to the rules of business of the government is on the responsibility of the defence secretary. This revision should now read that “the defence of India will now rest with the Raksha Mantri and not the Defence Secretary”.

As the CDS gears up for providing “single-point advice” to the government on strategic matters after due consultations and incorporating the views with the other three Service Chiefs, he must be given adequate authority in the formulation of national security strategy as formalised by the National Security Council. In addition, he will have to play a stellar role in the formulation of the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan, Capital Acquisition Plan and the Technology Perspective Plans.

As the CDS evolves joint operations and joint training doctrines, he will also have to plan for out of area contingencies (OOAC), tri-Service logistic infrastructures including with friendly foreign armed forces assets, military diplomacy, intelligence sharing with friendly foreign intelligence agencies etc.

The government must establish the edifice of the CDS as soon as clarity in the designated roles, responsibilities and structure emerges. The concept of integrated theatre commands and their operationalisation requires deeper thought. Meanwhile, the government should allow the institution of CDS to quickly embark on his gigantic journey to bestow greater strength to the armed forces to confront all security challenges to the nation.

(The writer was the first chief, Defence Intelligence Agency and deputy chief, Integrated Defence Staff)

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