The CDS system would also be able to evolve a mechanism to acquire the right weapons and equipment for integrated and complementary deployment and performance of all the three services. Given the Indian setting of turf wars, the induced fear of military take-over and bureaucratic machinations, the adoption of the CDS system will continue to delude us. In the event of a full scale war, we may, therefore, pay a heavy price for our failure to fully integrate forces and bring about ‘Unity of Command’ in the concerned theatre.
Speaking at the ‘India Today Conclave’ Raksha Mantri (RM) Manohar Parrikar made some valid observations. One of these was the need for good relations with the country’s neighbours. What he failed to emphasize is that good relations, for their long term sustenance, must flow out of a position of strength. He also pointed out that, “There is no integration mechanism that exists between the three services and there is a lot of infighting amongst them. I will recommend a mechanism for the creation of the post of Chief of Defense Staff (CDS.) Force integration and overlap will also save us money.” He further stated that he proposed to take up this issue soon. His observation of infighting amongst the services is indeed a serious indictment and projects a poor image of the armed forces in India and their leadership.
In reviving the proposal for a CDS, the RM did not make clear as to what sort of CDS arrangement he had in mind. Is it just a fourth, four-star General in the Chiefs of Staff Committee, who acts as Permanent Chairman of this Committee as against the present rotational system? According to Parrikar, Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, (PCCSC) would be expected to co-ordinate the functioning of three service chiefs and be the single point of advice to the government. In lighter vein one could point out to Parrikar that he already had a single point of advice in his Defense Secretary. After all, he is the one who is responsible for the defense of India!
If Pakistan initiates conflict, it has the advantage but only in a short war…
In India, the concept of a CDS has acquired more than one connotation and the proposal has had a torturous and somewhat convoluted track record. The proposal for adopting the CDS system was earlier fielded by the first Governor General of India in 1947. Lord Louis Mountbatten, had first-hand experience of unified command as the Supreme Allied Commander (unified command, consisting of the Army, Navy and Air Force) of South East Asia during the Second World War. This proposal was cold shouldered by Pandit Nehru. In response to a letter from the Director Military Operations, Mountbatten wrote, “But there was another reason. Although Prime Minister Nehru agreed with me in principle, he said it would give the Indian politicians the impression of perpetuating the idea of the great Commander-in-Chief of India. Lord Ismay and I worked hand in hand on these proposals, but I thought it would come better from him than the constitutional Governor General, as I then had become. He also tried to negotiate a CDS, but met with the same opposition from Nehru and for the same reason.”
Mountbatten continues, “The last time Nehru stayed with me here, in the Broadlands, before the Chinese invasion on the North East Frontier, I urged him to appoint General Thimayya to the CDS post right away as I could see trouble brewing up… I warned him that if a war came, the Indian Army (IA) would suffer a quick defeat. He (Nehru) said there was no question of there being a war as India wishes to be at peace with everybody. To this I replied that it took two sides to decide whether there would be a war or not and that if China or Pakistan were to invade, there would be a war on your hands. This (CDS system) he was unwilling to adopt as Krishna Menon too was against it.”
This deep-rooted suspicion, bordering on abhorrence of the military by these two (Nehru and Menon) blurred their vision of national security imperatives and the geo-strategic realities of the region. Nehru was living in a make-believe world. The only time Nehru faced real crises, an acid test of leadership, he simply collapsed. The Nehruvian legacy has persisted to this day, both in the political class and the bureaucracy. Though now and then attempts have been made to pull the CDS concept out of cold storage but what has come out of these exposures is merely side tracking the central issue of the CDS system. There have been half baked attempts to resolve the national security paradigm but in reality been a parablepsis of a solution to the emerging security demands. Nehru, on his part, learnt his lesson as the Chinese left him a shattered man.
We, on the other hand, have learnt nothing from the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962, where, for no explicable reason, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had opted to stay out of the war, when China had limited air capability ex Tibet. There was no central authority in India that could fashion together India’s full combat capabilities. Consequent to the Rann of Kutch incident, the Indian Army (IA) was mobilised in May-June 1965. When the war started in September of that year, the Indian Navy’s (IN) only aircraft carrier was in the dry docks, undergoing repairs while the IAF made it known that IA need expect little help from the IAF during the first week or so of the war, as it would be fully committed to winning the air battle.
The three services have often worked at cross purposes…
When the IAF did come to the Army’s aid in the Akhnoor sector, it struck down own troops. The then Chief of the Air Staff claimed that the IA did not inform him of its offensive in the Punjab sector. Such was the level of co-operation or mutual understanding between the IAF and the IA during this War!
General Harbaksh in his book, “War Dispatches” records Air Vice Marshal Sondhi’s assessment of the IAF’s performance, “…the manner and circumstances in which the IAF went into action in 1965 in the Chamb sector are illustrative of the political hesitation that delayed the decision on the employment of the IAF…until it was all but too late…This also exemplified the IAF’s own half hearted participation before the desperate reaction of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) which led to an air war…but the IAF missed a rare opportunity to demonstrate more fully to the IA that it exists otherwise than being a fighting service for its own good.”
In 1971, from the morning of December 01, the Indian Army was placed on highest state of alert on the Western front. However, on December 03, when the PAF struck at the forward IAF bases including Agra, it met with no challenge. All the PAF planes returned home safely. In Kargil, the IAF took over a week to decide to join the war along with the IA, with much acrimony within the Chiefs of Staff Committee. The use of Stinger missiles by Pakistani troops in Kargil forced the IAF aircraft to operate at heights of around 45,000 feet – at which they had not trained for in the use of aircraft weapons though the IAF had been deployed in the high mountains for decades. It also came to light that IAF did not have a suitable aircraft to provide close support to the Army. With this as the background experience, some still continue to claim that the existing system has worked well for us!
Even with these sad experiences of discord between the services, leave alone any synergising of combat capabilities, we remain oblivious to the compelling need of meshing together the fighting potential of various components of our armed forces under a single Commander, in line with the essential Principle of War called ‘Unity of Command’.
Germany’s spectacular victories and rapid advances into Europe and later into Russia during the Second World War were the result of close integration of mechanised forces and the Luftwaffe. Ashley J Tellis in his book titled “Stability in South East Asia” purported to be Rand report prepared for the US Army writes, “If Pakistan initiates conflict, it has the advantage but only in a short war. If India initiates conflict, it can surmount numerical but not operational deficiencies. It goes on to record, “The IAF does not contribute operationally. The Indian Navy is irrelevant except as a risk fleet but China’s forays into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has brought into focus the relevance and importance of the Indian Navy and the imperatives of having a strong navy.”
Due to lack of integration and ‘jointmanship’, defense services in India have never been able to deliver their full worth…
How the Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee will deliver on imperatives of integrating various components of the three of two services, as applicable and weld together, synergise and optimise their individual potential into one whole, in a theatre of operation, to maximise the chances of a positive outcome in the battle is anybody’s guess. Such an ethereal and unstructured arrangement working against turf battles with no play in theatres of operations is up for speculation. Obviously, under such an arrangement, there would be little or no change to the existing arrangement at the operational end i.e. in various commands.
Our long experience is that the three services have often (more so, the Army and Air Force) been working at cross purposes in matters of Integration and Unity of Command. This is something which is inbuilt into the existing arrangement and will remain so unless the RM plans to pitch for a complete switch over to the CDS system per se, under which various components from two or all the three services, are fully integrated in a theatre and function under a single Commander, in line with the principle of Unity of Command.
Over the years, there has been much opposition from various quarters against the adoption of the CDS system as such – often frightening the political executive with the mirage of a military take-over of the country. Both Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh often expressed the view that India’s security parameters run from Suez to South China Sea. However one defense secretary, who was known to be brighter of the lot, espoused the view that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or CDS was needed by only those countries which have global interests, whereas Indian military’s role is to defend country’s borders and shores. So much for our defense secretaries! A Defense Secretary, who was known to be brighter of the lot, espoused the view that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or CDS was needed by only those countries which have global interests, whereas Indian military’s role is to defend country’s borders and shores. So much for the wisdom of our Defense Secretaries!
In India, the concept of a CDS has acquired more than one connotation…
However, the Kargil War did shake us out of this world of make-believe. The government formed Kargil Review Committee headed by K. Subrahmanyam. This committee was tasked to look into the issue of national security. This Committee pitched for the post of a CDS, integrating the three services with the Ministry of Defense and making the three Service Chiefs part of the government and not mere commanders of the service to which they belong. These recommendations were taken up and fully endorsed by the Group of Ministers, headed by Shri L.K Advani. The proposal for a CDS was dropped by the PM due to strong opposition from the IAF. Surely, the IAF cannot hold national security to ransom!
The second committee that took up these issues was the Arun Singh Committee. From the presentation made to this Committee on the ‘future shape of the army,’ two points needs restating. One was the raising of a Mountain Corps for the Himalayan border and the second, the adoption of the CDS system in its full spectrum. The Arun Singh Committee included both these recommendations in its report. Also projected in this presentation was the proposal to have three ‘theatre commands’ one for Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the second, Jammu and Kashmir area and the third – a Strategic Air Command (with nuclear command as its adjunct). To allay the IAF’s apprehensions of being overwhelmed by the numerically superior Indian Army, it was recommended that the first Commander of Jammu and Kashmir theatre be from the Air Force.
Earlier, after the 1971 War, Indira Gandhi wanted to adopt the CDS system and appoint Sam Manekshaw as the CDS. There were serious objections from the then Chief of the Air Staff and the Defense Secretary B.K Lal and the proposal was dropped. Unfortunately, the core and kernel of the CDS system, in its full spectrum, has been escaping the IAF and some of the India’s defense fraternity.
Over the years, there has been much opposition from various quarters against the adoption of the CDS system as such…
Whenever a compelling proposal comes up, the method adopted by the bureaucracy is to seek the appointment of yet another committee or a task force. Keeping in line with this ploy the Naresh Chandra task force was formed. It observed that CDS in its full play would not pass muster and instead post of a Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee be created with two years fixed tenure who would then be single point of advice to the government as also promote inter-service co-operation and co-ordination. This recommendation overlooked the most essential, perhaps inescapable requirement of theatre commands and malady of turf battles. Thus, the CDS system as such stood sabotaged.
Under the CDS system, the single point of advice to the government is just one part. The more important is the integration and synergising of various components of the three services, as applicable, into ‘Integrated Theatre Commands’ under a single Commander for maximising their fighting potential. That is what the CDS system in its full play implies. It may well be to remember that ‘Unity of Command’ is an important Principle of War.
Under the CDS system, responsibility of the three Service Chiefs spans only staff functions while the conduct of operations devolves on the theatre commanders. The overall strategy and control of operations would rest with the CDS within the framework of national policy. The CDS is required to be well read, firmly believe in ‘jointmanship’ and understand the sensitivities of the other two services with previous exposure to foreign defense forces. The CDS should have quality of mind, breath of vision, be technology savvy and have the ability to interact with political executives at the appropriate level. At the same time the political executive must have adequate grasp of national security, in broader terms, encompassing geo-political and geo-strategic realities of the region, have understanding of India’s military history, the fundamentals of military power, its symbiotic relationship with economic, cultural, technological and foreign policy imperatives.
During the wars India has fought since Independence, the full potential of various components of the three services could not be brought into play in an integrated form. The three services have often worked at cross purposes. Partly due to lack of integration and ‘jointmanship’, defense services in India have never been able to deliver their full worth. The next war, as and when it is thrust upon this country, will outstrip, both in scale and intensity, all our past experiences and if the existing systems continue to prevail, we better be prepared for the worst.
The CDS system would also be able to evolve a mechanism to acquire the right weapons and equipment for integrated and complementary deployment and performance of all the three services. Given the Indian setting of turf wars, the induced fear of military take-over and bureaucratic machinations, the adoption of the CDS system will continue to delude us. In the event of a full scale war, India may, therefore, pay a heavy price for failure to fully integrate her forces and bring about ‘Unity of Command’ in the concerned theatre.
During the Second World War, in Operation Overlord, the US government wanted to keep Strategic Bomber Command outside the control of General D Eisenhower, the Commander of Operation Overlord. However, when Eisenhower told the President of the United States of America, that he would have to find someone else to command Operation Overlord, the President was forced to relent. It would be appropriate to end this piece by quoting Albert von Wellenstein on the conduct of battle, “Never will I accept a divided command – no, not even were God Himself to be my colleague in office. I must command alone or not at all.”