Chief of Defence Staff's Second Coming
The CDS is, in some way, the permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat died in an air accident in the Nilgiri Hills, and it took the Indian government more than eight months to find his replacement. Gen Rawat did lose his way it seemed on more than one occasion. Be that as it may, what needs to draw our attention is the incongruity in the range and extent of tasking of the CDS.
The CDS is secretary Department of Military Affairs in the ministry of defence and also in some way the permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee. Besides his other functions he is tasked to form Integrated Theater Commands ( ITCs. )
Their number, composition and areas of responsibility would depend on the extent of frontages, type of terrain, state of infrastructure and the overall war plan. Beside much else it relates to, where all the enemy is likely to launch its main offensive, as well as his subsidiary thrusts and how best to counter these.
Then own objectives in enemy territory, which needs to be captured to bring the enemy down on its knees, as also where own diversionary or subsidiary thrusts and holding operations need be staged. Finally, he is tasked with creating strategic reserves.
These issues get all the more complicated in a two front war. The so-called additional half front, is unnecessarily exaggerated and should be taken care of, by a disproportionately large body of central and state police.
All these have a direct bearing on the overall war plan. If the overall planning and conduct of war does not fall within the CDS's range of functions then a serious flaw emerges in this whole set up and in organising ITCs.
The concept of CDS for the Indian Army had met with opposition from the politico-bureaucratic combine from the time of Independence. Now when the Prime minister finally announced the creation of the post of CDS, the next best for the politico-bureaucratic combine was to muddle the issue. This was cleverly done by making him secretary in the MoD and denying him any operational role.
In the prevailing situation, the Indian Air Force continues to be wary of the concept of ITCs. This is partly due to misapprehension that it would be overwhelmed by the Army, a larger force, and that the Army would not know the best way to employ air power, and its tasking in a war situation may be more inclined towards ground support missions.
These views got further reinforced when late Gen Rawat most inappropriately, equated the Air Force with the Artillery. What is being missed out is that, if in an ITC there are both Air Force and Army elements. In that case the theatre commander could be an Air Force officer or one from the Army, depending on the officer's suitability for the job.
In any case there would be suitable and appropriate staff from both the services as part of an ITC. As is the case with the Andaman and Nicobar Integrated Theatre Command, where the commander can be from the Navy or the Army.
On the other hand, even when Gen Rawat showed preference for submarines vis-à-vis aircraft carriers against the prevalent view of Navy's top brass, the Indian Navy's views on ITC concept in the Indian setting remain nuanced.
Gen Rawat seriously erred in his thinking on the number of theatre commands required. He went more by what China has in Tibet. Being on a plateau China has built excellent defence infrastructure such as roads, railways, storage facilities, airfields etc. Thus China could do with one command in Tibet opposite India.
While on the India side the terrain consists of high mountains and deep valleys with poor road communications. Then there are Bhutan and Nepal, which disrupts continuity in the border with Tibet adding to the complexity of border management. In addition to Tibet, is the long border with Burma and also with Bangladesh.
Perhaps Gen Rawat was tasked to cut down the requirement of ITCs to the bare minimum. Whereas ITCs for the land border will have to be a minimum of five: Eastern, Central, Northern, Western and Southern. For the last of these the theatre commander could be from the IAF.
Considering the extent of the Indian Ocean and the country's coastline, which divides itself into two distinct and separate parts and emerging developments in the Indian Ocean Region, India will require three maritime ITCs, two on the seafront and the third for A&N Islands, as against only one considered by Gen Rawat.
China is also in the process of building, right up to the LAC, at innumerable places, settlements in the form of villages. These villages, all along the border, will result in their cattle spilling over onto Indian grazing grounds, besides issues of smuggling and intelligence gathering could also emerge. In addition the process of 'salam-slicing' is likely to increase. At the same time China continues to claim Arunachal Pradesh.
Before undertaking formation of ITCs, CDS should strive to get all the three services on the same page. This involves a series of inter-service discussions on the subject of ITCs and connected issues, as well as creation of an abundance of mutual trust, understanding and camaraderie.
Further the government must spell out that the CDS can be from any of three services depending on suitability. In any case in the present setup, chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee is the senior of the three and can be from any service.
The IAF's contention that the total number of fighter squadrons are inadequate, to be distributed amongst various theatre commands, is not tenable. As of now the assets stand distributed amongst various air commands.
And since resources can be shifted as required from one air command to another, the same way resources will be shifted, for specific tasks or for longer duration by the CDS, instead of Air HQ, based on operational requirement. Additionally, the CDS ought to make every effort to bring the IAF to the required fighter squadron strength.
Equally, there is the need to recast the entire defence set-up. In this all the three operations directorates of the three services must be amalgamated into one under the CDS. They should, besides some other functions, be the overall operational commander.
The Integrated Defence HQ should be recast as the Department of Military Affairs of the MoD with Director General Quality Assurance part of it. A three star officer from any of the three services could head it.
Some of these issues may have to be finally resolved through an Act of Parliament. Nuclear Command, Air Defence Command, Cyber Command, Drone Command, and at some point a Space Command will come into play and distribution of their resources amongst ITCs where required. Their own command structure will need to be laid down.
The sooner India's military adjusts to the demand of 'jointness' and 'integration', the better positioned it will be to face future security challenges to the country. For far too long the issue of adopting the CDS system in its full play has been hanging fire.
Arun Singh as chairman of a Committee, formed soon after Kargil operations, wrote to me, asking for a presentation on the, 'future shape of Indian military.' In this presentation I had recommended the adoption of the CDS system in its full spectrum, and to start with, form two ITCs, one for A&N Islands and second, in place of the Northern Command.
To remove any misconception on the part of the IAF, the first theatre commander of the Northern Theatre Command could be an air force officer. In addition I had recommended raising a mountain corps for the Tibet border. These recommendations form part of the Arun Singh Committee Report.
However, only A and N ITC were created and nothing more. The Subramanyam Committee also constituted after Kargil operations did not take up the issue of CDS as such. Maybe this was left to the Arun Singh Committee to consider.
There is no way the Indian military can meet emerging security challenges without completely integrating the full potential of all of its components. How will this framework work where the CDS is a Secretary in the Ministry of Defence and tasked to create ITCs with no operational control and the Defence Secretary continues to be responsible for the defence of India?
Who will work out the overall war plan, and ensure its implementation by tasking various ITCs with a common centralised aim? What we seem to be adopting is neither here nor there, but is in fact a hotchpotch, as of present, where each service seems to fight its own battle.
Finally, non-adoption of the CDS system in its full play. A CDS with full control over operations of ITCs will prove to be India's nemesis in the next war, as and when it is thrust upon the country.
Technology, be it cyber, space, artificial intelligence, drones etc, is making deep inroads into warfare and will play a pivotal role in times to come. Therefore modernisation of defence forces cannot be put on the back burner any longer. It is not possible to develop state of the art technologies, and modernisation of defence forces, enhancing their war fighting capabilities on a shoestring budget.
Efforts are also afoot to brainwash the political class that the only threat to the country is internal, with the obvious aim to increase the strength of CPOs. If in some parts of the country insurgency has continued to prevail, it is due to poor governance and our inability to bring about development in these states.
Instead of focusing on counter insurgency operations we should strive to develop these states, build infrastructure, arrange good education for the youth and create jobs and provide good, friendly and helpful administration.
The political class is being made to believe that there will be no war. This takes one's mind back to the 1950s when intelligence czar B. N. Mullick and our ambassador in China, K.M. Panikkar was out to convince Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that China will not attack India, and Chini-Hindi bhai bhai was in full play.
Then 1962 happened leaving the country shocked, and so PM Nehru traumatised that he never fully recovered. Are we trying to relive the 1950s? It has never been easy to decipher the Dragon.
There is the saying, "policies can change in a matter of days while building military capabilities takes years." Those playing the 'no war' tune, do not seem to hear the Dragon knocking at the country's door.