It is now over six months that General Bipin Rawat, the country's first Chief of Defence Staff, died in a tragic crash and his replacement is still awaited. The government has worked out some sort of parameters for the next CDS: perhaps these parameters qualify the one already in its mind. Be that as it may. What is of import is the range of functions of the CDS.

In its present format, the CDS has no operational role and is positioned as a secretary in the Department of Military Affairs, Ministry of Defence, with a staff essentially of civil servants. A CDS as another secretary in the MoD lowers the status of the four star generals (the three service chiefs).

He or she will be principal adviser to the defence minister – the service chiefs too will render advice to the defence minister relating to their respective service. He is to promote inter-service 'jointness' and deal with procurement – except capital acquisitions. And will 'administer' tri-service assets such as cyber weapons, missile agencies, space command etc. He will be an adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority, though is not a member of the National Security Committee. He is required to organise integrated theater commands, while he himself has no operational role…

In the absence of a CDS in its full spectrum, 'jointness' in military operations, which is essential to attaining overall success in operations, will remain a distant dream. A CDS taken as a single point of advice, to the government, would serve no useful purpose, because it is just one issue and which in any case used to come from the chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (under the earlier arrangement) or the national security adviser or the defence secretary, who in any case is responsible for the defence of India!

Unfortunately the core and kernel of the CDS system, in its full spectrum, has been escaping the Indian political class. The principle of war, called unity of command, is alien to Indian thinking and setting. Under the present system each chief (army, air force and navy) fights their own respective battles with marginal coordination. In the field of military operations (war at the higher end) there has to be just one commander. This in military parlance is called unity of command.

One need quote General Albert von Wellenstien, "Never will I accept a divided command—no not even were God Himself to be my colleague in office. I Command alone or not at all." This is the very essence of unity of command. The conduct of war is akin to conduct of an orchestra, where there is just one conductor, who enmeshes the play of various musical instruments to create the required music.

The other task assigned to the CDS is to create Integrated Theater Commands (ITCs). With no overall operational command and control over conduct of operations, in constituting ITCs, General Rawat tried to copy the Chinese PLA on one hand and on the other bring about a reduction in the number of commands in India, perhaps with the added aim of financial saving and reduction of higher ranks in the military.

It is both possible and convenient for the PLA to have a single command on the Tibet Plateau due to the nature of terrain, and excellent road and rail communications, both lateral and to various points on the LAC with India. But on the Indian side, the terrain along the 35,000 km LAC consists of high mountains and deep valleys, with poor communications, both laterally and up to various vulnerable points along. In addition there is Bhutan and Nepal along the border, adding to the complexity. There is also the long border with Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The other important border is one with Pakistan which extends from the endpoint of the LAC in Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir and thereafter stretching all the way to the Arabian Sea. Considering the nature of threats and extent of land borders of the country, the number of theatre commands as recommended by the CDS is ridiculously inadequate. The existing army's commands adequately meet the requirement and need to be converted into ITCs. In the case of the Indian Navy, three ITCs (one for the Arabian Sea, second for the Bay of Bengal and third for the A&N Islands) are required.

In working out the areas of responsibility and composition of ITCs a range of factors come into play. For one, evaluation and analysis of the overall war plans of the enemy (both in the North and West) and how best to contain them, and then our own war plan: sectors (ITCs) where our forces would be on the defensive, where offensive defence operations would be conducted, and where an all out offensive would be launched: the objectives therein to bring the enemy down on its knees. Finally, the terrain over which operations are to be launched is another factor to be considered. Detailed examination of these factors would lead to the composition of various ITCs.

How can a CDS with no operational command and control role work out the detailed composition of ITCs, their number and areas of responsibilities!

Much fog persists in the politico-bureaucratic combine in India which comes up with such proposals, where a CDS with no operational role is still called upon to lay down the framework for operations (war) in determining the number and composition of ITCs.

If we were to examine the causes of our 18 major defeats, from Alexander to the Battle of Plassey, a fuzzy ponderous and pedestrian system of higher defence management, as articulated by Jadunath Sarkar, runs like a warp thread in the management and conduct of battles by Indians. We seem to persist in this practice.

The CDS can be from any service, similar to the present system in the case of the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and so also the ITC commanders of specific ITCs. 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 nation.

The CDS must have full operational control over all the theater commands and could be from any service with three chiefs of staff, one from each of the three services. The existing Integrated Defence Services HQ should form part of CDS HQ.

The Department of Military Affairs should be headed by a service officer with staff essentially of the defence services and have under it the DRDO, OFB, Defence PSUs and DGQA.

For all these changes, the government must act on the lines the United States government did in bringing about a CDS system in their defence forces (the Goldwater–Nicholas Act ) and thus pass it as an Act of Parliament.

Lt General Harwant Singh is retired from the Indian Army.