The CDS will take charge of the military’s modernisation, ‘jointness’ and ‘integration’ effort, essential in today’s world of hybrid warfare or wars where the lines blur between war, politics, diplomacy and legalities
The Indian military architecture has a new dimension, albeit a painfully longstanding one, till Thursday morning that is. Announced from the Mughal era Red Fort in his own signature style during his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government has taken the crucial decision to set up the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
The implications of this move are immense.
For one, the CDS will take charge of the military’s modernization, ‘jointness’ and ‘integration’ effort that is essentially in the realm of lip-service now. But is most essential in today’s world of hybrid warfare or wars where the lines blur between war, politics, diplomacy, legalities, and even between the combatant and civilians. Such wars are a blend of the conventional with the psychological, are fought in cyber-world, on the economic front and in the media. It is widely-accepted that future wars will be hybrid in nature and scope.
He will also have to wisely supervise the planned ‘downsizing’ (right-sizing?) of the 15 lakh strong military and yet rationally pan out the present pyramid structure of the forces. It is often cited that the Indian armed forces suffer a deficit of about 9,000 officers. And significantly at the lower rungs which affects the operational effectiveness of the forces.
The CDS will be the pivotal link between the PM-led political executive and the military. Which means he will have the ears of the PM and detailed attention of the defence minister and the National Security Adviser (NSA). The present practice is that the defence minister is briefed by the army, navy and air force chiefs separately.
The Indian military architecture comprising different arms each with distinct operational and tactical priorities was at a distinct disadvantage because it had to endure a political executive that lacked a nitty-gritty understanding of the way armed forces function, and yet had the final say on all matters.
The move will also away with the excess bureaucratic control of the military. Babudom, but more its excesses, as most military officers would admit sotto voce, has been the bane of military administration in the country.
An important possibility of the setting up of the CDS is the formation of theatre commands or joint commands where all the various arms of the military participate in a single cohesive format during wars and conflicts. A single commander in a designated zone commands all the resources of all forces be it from the army, the navy or the air force stationed in that zone.
Powerful militaries like that of US or China are organised along theatre command lines. In fact, China has recently restructured its seven military regions into five geographical-operational theatre commands while the US’ six Unified Theater Commands control the global operations.
In contrast, India has 17 commands. The Indian Army has six operational commands—Eastern (headquartered at Kolkata), Western (Chandimandir), Northern (Udhampur), Southern (Pune), Central (Lucknow) and South-Western (Jaipur). These are besides the Shimla-based Army Training Command.
The Navy has three commands—Eastern (Vishakapatnam), Western (Mumbai), and Southern (Cochin), while the Air Force has five operational commands--Eastern (Shillong), Western (Delhi), Southern (Thiruvananthapuram), Central (Allahabad), and South-Western (Gandhinagar), besides the Training Command (Bengaluru) and the Maintenance Command (Nagpur).
The total of 17 commands also includes the tri-services command located at the Andaman and Nicobar islands and the SFC (Strategic Forces Command).But yet, obvious initial hiccups will have to be overcome. For instance, what kind of interface will the CDS have with the NSA? Or with the defence minister and the defence secretary? It is believed that the Army has been rooting for the CDS while the IAF and the Navy have had certain reservations about it possibly because of the belief that the Army—due to its overwhelming size and scale of operations—is likely dominate the other services.