16 July 2019 11:49 PM

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LT GENERAL VIJAY OBEROI | 25 FEBRUARY, 2019

The Elusive Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)

Letter to the Prime Minister


Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

This appeal is probably an intrusion in your exceedingly busy schedule handling the multifarious matters of state, as also pursuing plans for fighting a major electoral battle in the very near future. However, the overall security situation within the country and in the region being what it is, your attention is being solicited on another major security issue, which unfortunately has been hanging fire for far too long and needs urgent resolution. This pertains to appointing a CDS at the earliest.

The saga of appointing a CDS has now endured for so long that it is on the verge of becoming a myth! This letter is both an appeal and a fervent request to sweep aside all the ‘ifs and buts’ that have bedeviled the creation and subsequent appointment of this long-standing demand of the bulk of the armed forces of the nation, as also of its security analysts and right-thinking persons.

Joint efforts in military operations are coming into increasingly sharper focus on account of technological advances and the changing nature of war. The battlefield of tomorrow is certain to be more complex than it is today. For success to be guaranteed, the entire edifice of the current decision-making process must be revamped.

We must seriously address joint warfare and eliminate inter-service bickering that continues to be the bane of our military. At the apex military level, our structures for the management of higher defence and methodologies for providing military advice on national security issues needs to be headed by a single person and not a committee.

Currently, the entire edifice of our higher defence is disjointed and works in a stand-alone mode. Within the Ministry of Defence (MoD), manned exclusively by civilian officials, there is neither integration, nor any methodology for analyzing issues jointly. The MoD asks service headquarters individually to submit their views on various issues. For joint issues, the Chief of Staff Committee (COSC) is asked for its views. The Committee comprising the three service chiefs, with the senior most as the Chairman cannot deliberate on issues objectively, as service biases are foremost in each members mind.

Thereafter, the bureaucracy in the Ministry deliberates on them and takes decisions, despite having little or no competence to analyze military matters. Issues having financial implications are then referred to Finance (Defence) and Ministry of Finance, for financial clearances. Finally, these are sent up to the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS).

In 2001, the Kargil Review Committee had made far-reaching recommendations, which were followed up by the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by then Deputy Prime Minister Shri LK Advani, directing the restructuring of the higher defence structure. While an integrated defence headquarters and two joint commands were formed, a key recommendation i.e. the establishment of the post of CDS continues to remain unimplemented. Resultantly, the integrated headquarters gets its directions from the ineffective COSC, an organization which has neither the teeth nor the inclination to take any strong and meaningful decisions, including in the realm of joint endeavours.

It is sad but true that for a military of our size, the extent of jointness is abysmally low. The little jointness which may exist, in the odd peripheral areas, does not give any satisfaction or joy. Most professional militaries, having adopted joint structures, have increased their war fighting capabilities. In this respect, the Indian military, unfortunately, continues to be an exception.

The structures we need to aim for must be integrated commands, both geographical and specified, under one commander. The appointing of a CDS and gradual addition of new joint commands are a must. Besides geographical theater commands, there are other areas like Special Forces, Space, Communications, Logistics and Training, which also must be restructured into joint commands

Countries having joint structures today had to contend with differing viewpoints of the heads of their army, navy, air force and in some cases marines, but final directions were given by the political leadership. While the Goldwater Nichols Act of USA is well known, other nations have also acted in a similar manner. It now devolves on you Sir and the CCS to order immediate appointment of a CDS. If left to the armed forces or the bureaucracy, the issue will continue to remain in limbo, for reasons like the motivated and self-serving advice to the political leadership to remain vary of the ‘man on horseback’; protection of turfs by the service Chiefs; reduction in power and pelf of the bureaucracy; and egos, both personal and institutional.

Restructuring for a joint milieu is especially important in view of the emerging military challenges around India’s land and ocean borders, which may call for India’s military response, if economic and diplomatic initiatives and military deterrence do not succeed.

Strategic analysts are unanimous in their view that military operations in coming years would be short and intense. Consequently, joint responses are a must so that the Indian Military is able to deliver the full might of its forces comprehensively, quickly and with full force. The military response must also be dove-tailed with diplomatic and other responses and must ensure that we concentrate militarily on one front, while other fronts are contained by other means.

While the three services themselves are credible within their independent spheres, the higher defence structure continues to be weak, mainly on account of lack of joint leadership. The days of war fighting with only coordination as in the past are long over. Robust joint structures are a must. Procrastination over evolving a truly joint structure, with a CDS leading the forces must end now. The nation must not become a prisoner of petty minds who are clinging desperately to their turfs.

The CDS would also render valid single-point military advice to the highest policy-making body of the nation, viz, the CCS, chaired by the Prime Minister. At present, there being no CDS, the CCS does not receive unadulterated single-point military advice. A CDS needs to be appointed immediately, so that further actions are taken to form Theatre Commands. We have prevaricated for a long time; we now need to appoint a CDS without any further delay. This must be followed by creating theatre and specifies commands and full integration of MoD.

In conclusion, let me add that the need for integrated defence planning and conduct of joint operations needs no further discussion or elaboration; the present COSC system is outdated and defunct and not conducive to giving comprehensive and concise military advice and options to the CCS.

The need is for a Joint Commander who can represent and render advice of a united, efficient and cost effective fighting machine. Whether he wears four or five stars (preferable) is a matter of detail, but he must be the senior-most leader representing a joint military. Militaries function best under one Military Leader, assisted by his own joint staff. There will always be nay-sayers, but they need to be ignored.

Policies of such great importance, relating to the security and indeed the very existence of our nation, must not be sacrificed on account of expediency, appeasement, sloth or indifference.

Sir, I respectfully request your most serious and urgent consideration of the foregoing and earnestly urge you to establish the post of CDS, to be tenured by a military officer whose advice to the CCS would be based after joint analysis with the three Service Chiefs.

(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)

(Cover Photo Representational image)

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