We have got it all wrong-India’s Chief of Defence Staff is a self-deceiving exercise
The Government release on the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) issued on 24 Dec 2019 says the CDS will be in the rank of a four-star General with salary and perquisites equivalent to a Service Chief. He will also head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), to be created within the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and function as its Secretary.
Apart from listing out the areas to be dealt with by the DMA headed by the CDS, the mandate of the DMA and the functions of the CDS as Permanent Chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee (COSC), all of which boils down as responsibilities to be shouldered by the CDS, the notification goes on the say “The CDS, apart from being the head of the DMA, will also be the Permanent Chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee. He will act as the Principal Military Adviser to Raksha Mantri on all tri-Services matters. The three Chiefs will continue to advise RM on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services. CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership.”
The responsibilities listed in the Release are more than 35 involving the Army, Navy, Airforce and their headquarters, the Territorial Army, works relating to the three services, procurement exclusive to the Services except capital acquisitions as per prevalent rules and procedures, jointness in procurement, training, and staffing for the Services, establishment of Joint/Theater Commands, promoting indigenous equipment by Services, tri services organisations, of which cyber and space will be a part and will be under the command of CDS etc. He will be a member of Defence Acquisition Council chaired by Raksha Mantri, Defence Planning Committee chaired by NSA and Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority. He is expected to bringing about jointness in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance, etc. of the three Services. He will bring about reforms in the functioning of three Services aimed at augmenting combat capabilities of the Armed Forces by reducing wasteful expenditure
In addition to the above, the Department of Defence has issued an Order transferring a laundry list of 419 works along with two Joint Secretaries, 13 Deputy Secretaries/Directors, 25 Under Secretaries and 22 Section Officers with supporting staff to the DMA.
An analysis of the Government Release and the Order raise the following questions:
• Were the Kargil Review Committee and the country demanding the establishment of CDS to perform and shoulder responsibilities listed in these two documents?
• One of the aims of establishing the CDS was to provide a single-point Military Advice to the Government besides take prompt decisions and actions in the midst of a war in a digitised environment, as, during Kargil war, the advice provided by the Army and the Air Chiefs to the Government were contradictory resulting in a delay of 13 days for the Government to take a call on the employment of Air Force causing considerable avoidable casualties to the ground forces. In this connection, the remarks of the thirty sixth report of the Standing Committee on Defence (2008-2009) (Fourteenth Lok Sabha), Ministry of Defence, Status of Implementation of Unified Command for armed Forces is relevant. Why have we violated the Parliament’s directions?
“6. In the light of the fact that the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) has no command and control authority over the Services other than his own, the Committee have expressed their surprise whether such a system will prove efficacious enough to ensure quick response and coordinated action in emergent situations. Considering the fact that the key to success in modern day warfare operations is the ability of the different wings of the Armed Forces to integrate their efforts under a single command without any loss of time, the Committee have opined that the creation of an additional post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to act as Chairman of the COSC is essential to ensure optimum level of jointness among the different wings of the Armed Forces and to provide single-point military advice to the Government. The Committee, have also recommended that till such time the post of CDS is created, the Government may take steps to give appropriate authority to the Chairman COSC in the present set up to command and control the resources of the Defence Services whenever the situation so demands.”
• Parliamentary Standing Committee in their report has expressed their doubt that since the Chairman COSC has no command and control authority over the Services other than his own, ifthe present system will prove efficacious enough to ensure quick response and coordinated action in emergent situations. In fact, they have suggested an interim measure to be adopted till such time the CDS is created. When the system of Chairman of the COSC has failed, why bring in that even after creating the CDS?
• Since the CDS is not to exercise military command and the Service Chiefs have been mandated to advice the RM “on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services” only, who out of the four is expected to advice the RM during operations involving more than one Service? To be able to provide realistic assessment and suggest appropriate action not just the Chiefs but their operational staff too will have to be in the full know how of the operational situation. That implies the operational staff of all the services being in the operational loop. Is that possible?
• If the CDS is to provide advice in war situations, what practical advice relating to the course of action to be adopted based on the existing ground situation can he suggest to the Government in the midst of the war in a digitised battlefield,if as per the Government Release the “CDS is not to exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership”. In war situations under these directions, the CDS will be clueless on the actual military situation on ground, enemy’s potentials and thus will be unable to give any meaningful advice. At best he can seek information from the Service Chiefs in the midst of the operations, paraphrase them and render them as his own advice to the Government. What if the advice of the Service Chiefs opining on their respective Service is contradictory to one another? Do we want this? For the uninitiated it may be stated that during the course of the war vital decisions on areas such as timing and stage forwarding of reserves, launching counter penetration / counter attack actions, trans-theater move of forces and their employment, the need, aim and the timings for launch of counter thrust etc. which have serious implications affecting the success or failure of operations will have to be taken at short notice and acted upon.
• The Government Release says “CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership.” What does this mean? Are we trying to say that in war situations our military commanders act in the interest of the Service rather than the country?
• If we go as visualised, the political leadershipwill be burdened with advice from five sources, namely, the three Service Chiefs, the National Security Advisor (NSA) and the bureaucracy. Do we still want a repeat of Kargil?
• In a war situation shouldn’t the highest political authority, which in India’s case is the Prime Minister receive Military advice directly from the military commander in charge of operations rather than from the Raksha Mantri who would have received Military advice from five different sources as stated above and is possibly confused?
• The Release says the first CDS within three years of his assuming office will bring about jointness in operation, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance, etc. of the three Services. An impossible task. Three years is too short a period. Obviously, the authors of the document are unaware as to what all such a direction involves. In my perception based on Chinese and US experience, it may take anything from 15 to 20 years for the changes to be effected.
• CDS who has no stakes in the military operations has been tasked to establish Joint/Theater Commands. In an operational situation, from whom is the Theater Commander expected to take orders or seek advice from? Army Chief, Navy Chief or Air Chief or from the non-operational CDS? Military operations cannot be piloted under such ambiguous command and control set up.
What have we created in the name of CDS?
We have not created the CDS to prepare India’s Defence Forces to fight an integrated Joint Operations in a digitised environment. Instead, what we have done is to position yet another senior officer of the rank of General, coined an organisation called DMA under him and dumped on him responsibilities other than those which he needs to attend to, to prepare the Defence Services for a future war. Since he has been kept at the level of a General like in the case of other Service Chiefs with no authority to exercise military command over them, it will be left to the discretion of Service Chiefs to implement orders issued by the CDS pertaining to integration or training to be imparted to their personnel or on other matters connected to war fighting.
There has been a growing demand for inducting Defence Services officers in the MOD at the decision-making level so as to ensure better synergy and understanding between the Civil and the Defence Services. Instead, we have managed to create a separate Department within the MOD to be headed by the CDS as its Secretary. The Service Headquarters continues to work as ‘attached offices’ under the MOD. The spirit of the Kargil Committee’s Report does not seem to have been understood.
What is Required?
Under the present structures the views of individual Service Chiefs will have to be heard and given due consideration in an operation where more than one service is involved. This requires time and meeting of the three Chiefs with no clarity on who will be in charge of conducting the operations. Such consultations might have been possible when the operations were slow moving with very limited information available about the enemy. But in an informationised digital environment where speed of decision and actions are vital to pre-empt enemy actions to gain the initiative, operational priorities and actions cannot be left to the choice of individual Service Chiefs or decided by voting. Joint operations under the present system can only go through if there is consensus amongst the three Chiefs. This needs to Change.
The answer lies in appointing Theater Commanders who will be responsible for conducting operations in their respective Theaters. Command and Control of forces will be linear and the present vertical chain will have to go. CDS will then be responsible to lay down the operation’s objectives based on the Political directives issued to him and after due consideration of the overall situation in all the Theaters. Trans-theater movement of troops and resources will be decided by him in consultation with the Theater Commanders and the Government and its implementation coordinated.
It may be of interest to all that in US and in China, military operations are conducted by the Theater Commanders equivalent in their respective theaters with CDS equivalent coordinating the actions of theaters. Service heads have nothing to do with operations. If we adopt the system suggested, we will not be doing anything different from what the major military powers of the world haveimplemented.
The Digitised Environment and its effect on Military Operations
In a digitised battlefield system consisting of net-worked command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) and counter C4ISR capabilities, a network interlinks weapon systems, aerial platforms, surveillance, and communications systems, allowing the exchange of vast amounts of real-time information of the enemy and the capability to communicate that information to all forces in near real time. The system provides the capability to employ weapon systems mounted in various platforms of different Services with minimum delay.
Under such conditions, military operations on a broad front will unfold in the format of simultaneous operations on land, maritime, airspace, electromagnetic, space and cyber battle space dimensions, as considered necessary, probably timed appropriately. Such operations will incorporate various entities of war fighting such as missiles, armament support, and the three Services besides various battlefield systems which embraces intelligence, reconnaissance, communications, Electronic Warfare (EW), cyber, space etc. Trans-regional mobility will be an essential part of the strategy to meet the requirement of resources in such fast-moving battle conditions.
After the operations have commenced, targets that come up while the operations are in progress will have to be dealt with instantaneously by allocating resources which are most appropriate considering the target and its location irrespective of which service owns them. Networked weapon systems allow employment of weapons at the press of a button. The massing of fire power at the point of decision instead of forces, from widely separated weapon platforms and assets of all the fighting forces will be the norm of the future. In nutshell, operations in the said environment will be fast moving requiring the resources of all the Services including the non-contact war tools such as Electronic Counter Measures (ECM), Cyber and Space, to be employed in an integrated manner.
The Role of CDS
The CDS will be responsible to translate the political aim of the Government issued in the form of directives to the military, spell out military tasks to the Theaters, evolve broader strategy for the operations in consultation with Theater Commanders and decide on operational priorities and allocate resources. Based on information that unfolds during the operations, the CDS in consultation with the Theater Commanders will be responsible for making changes to operational plans and effecting such changes. He should have the authority to decide on switching of forces from one theater to the other based on priorities and the prevailing operational situation. Other than operations and operational logistics, all other issues including Human Resources Development (HRD), must be handled by the Service Chiefs and the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The CDS will be responsible for structuring Headquarters of the CDS, Theater Commands and all other subordinate static Headquarters such as Area Headquarters all of which will be tri-service organisations. The Static Headquarters will cater for the needs of all the Services. Barring the headquarters of the three Services, training establishments of individual Services such as Regimental Centers and Record Officesall other establishments will betri-service so as to avoid each Service having its own establishments. The present logistic organisations and chains will have to be replaced by a Logistic Corps capable of handling logistic requirements of all the Services. This will need time. Training of officers at all levels to handle the new war methodology will have to be undertaken and to that end concerned training establishments will have to be restructured and their training syllabus modified. Priorities for procurement od equipment to meet the needs of the Services will be decided by the CDS based on larger military strategy.
The present system of each Service having its own logistic arrangements and chain will need change. There is a need for a Logistic Corps to replace the present system with independent status like the other Services to manage logistics both in peace as well as in operational areas. It will be an integrated Service, trained to meet the logistic requirements of all the Services. While procurement and movement of commodities including creating and stocking maintenance areas as required between places of procurement or storage to the theater will be the responsibility of the Logistic Corps, their movement beyond the theater’s logistic establishment to forward troops will be that of the Theater Commanders with manpower and transport being provided by the Logistic Corps.
Change in Logistic set up will result in huge saving in manpower.
The two documents structuring the CDS has probably been created by the bureaucracy without any practical knowledge of war fighting or understanding of future war. The consideration has probably been to ensure no loss of turf to the Service Chiefs, status, clout, authority, power and order of precedence to the bureaucracy and to keep the services happy by creating one more senior officer besides generating a number of chain vacancies all around. The need to structure compact organisations that will reduce manpower and at the same time bring in integration and efficiency amongst services has been given a go by forgetting that reduction in manpower is not achieved by cutting one man here and one there but by thoughtful restructuring.
The CDS is a vital appointment in the military structure to prosecute war. Parochialism or keeping people pleased cannot be a consideration while formulating policies affecting National interests. The entire issue needs to be handled professionally based on professional considerations alone.
Press Information Bureau, Government of India, ‘Cabinet approves creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff in the rank of four-star General’,Release ID: 1597425, posted on December 24, 2019, available at https://pib.gov.in/PressReleseDetail.aspx?PRID=1597425 accessed on January 21, 2020.
 ‘Allocation of work and Staff between Department of Defence and newly created Department of Military Affairs’, Department of Defence, Ministry of Defence, January 09, 2020, accessed on January 21, 2020.
‘OP SAFED SAGAR – UNDERSTANDING AIR OPERATIONS IN KARGIL’, Indian Air Force, available athttp://indianairforce.nic.in/content/op-safed-sagar accessed on January 28, 2020
Thirty Sixth Report of the Standing Committee on Defence (2008-2009) (Fourteenth Lok Sabha), Ministry of Defence, Status of Implementation of Unified Command for Armed Forces, available at https://idsa.in/system/files/Standing%20Committee%20on%20Defence%2036th%20Report%202008%202009.pdf accessed on January 27, 2020.
 From Surprise to Reckoning, The Kargil Committee report, December 15, 1999, para 14.19 and 14.20 available at https://www.scribd.com/doc/152396717/Kargil-Review-Committee-Report-1999 accessed on January 28, 2020.