Bipin Rawat as 1st CDS: Good Move, But Govt Must Give Higher Rank
Image featuring Bipin Rawat (the new CDS) and the symbols for the three Services used for representational purposes.
Image featuring Bipin Rawat (the new CDS) and the symbols for the three Services used for representational purposes.(Photo: Shruti Mathur / The Quint)

Bipin Rawat as 1st CDS: Good Move, But Govt Must Give Higher Rank

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  • The Indian Armed Forces too, in pursuance of their joint objectives, have long felt the need for such an appointment (of CDS), with supporting headquarters and mechanisms in place for better integration of the nation’s military security efforts.
  • Interestingly, as head of the DMA, the CDS will have financial powers of a Secretary, but hopefully should have the status equivalence of the Cabinet Secretary.
  • With a full department under the CDS within the MoD, the departure from the usual will be the movement of files signed by him directly to the Raksha Mantri and not through any other secretary-level appointment.
  • From first reports and discussions since 15 August 2019, it appears clear that the CDS will not exercise command over the three individual services, but yet will be the ‘first in the armed forces’ pecking order; a ‘first among equals’ is the term usually used for such an arrangement.
  • The idealistic perception about the CDS system remains one in which the three services merge their regional or field commands into joint theatres, with the theatre commanders reporting directly to the CDS and through him to the Raksha Mantri.
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The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) model, with a senior officer acting as the virtual head of all the armed forces of a country, has been adopted by various nations around the globe ever since the realisation dawned that warfare could no longer be pursued by a single service alone.

The Indian Armed Forces too, in pursuance of their joint objectives, have long felt the need for such an appointment, with supporting headquarters and mechanisms in place for better integration of the nation’s military security efforts. Interservice differences of perception — about the appointment and narrow loyalties — had delayed its arrival. It comes almost 18 years after the Kargil Review Committee, and subsequently the Group of Ministers’ recommendation to the government in 2001.

Also Read : Army Chief May Be 1st CDS — But Institutional Framework Is Needed

What Awaits New CDS Bipin Rawat?

The government has now named General Bipin Rawat as the first CDS of India. This was expected, and while the General receives compliments and congratulations from all quarters for his sidestepping into the all-important new appointment, it is clear that major challenges await him. His currency with the emerging transformation in India’s efforts in the domain of the higher direction of war will be a clear advantage, having personally instituted many of the structural and organisational changes in the Army. At the same time, he will have to tread a careful path with the other two Services and win their confidence, being fully aware that inter-Service rivalry for the piece of the cake of resources has been a major limiting factor in joint cooperation, the bedrock of modern war-fighting.

Demand for a 5-Star Status for CDS Isn’t Without Rationale

It needs to be mentioned that it will be one of the most challenging times for the three Services as they transit beyond the first ad hoc joint structure that was set up in the form of the HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) in 2001. With the announced creation of a Department of Military Affairs (DMA), the HQ IDS will probably form the core of this department as an existing part of the Ministry of Defence. The CDS, as a four-star officer, will also be a member of the Defence Acquisition Council and the recently constituted Defence Planning Group. Interestingly, as head of the DMA, the CDS will have financial powers of a Secretary, but hopefully should have the status equivalence of the Cabinet Secretary; it can’t be anything less since the service chiefs also enjoy that status.

Apprehension in the services is already afoot that effectively all three Service Chiefs may see the downgrading of their status to that of a Secretary.

Service Chiefs currently enjoy higher status and pay, even as their files move through the Defence Secretary. With a full department under the CDS within the MoD, the departure from the usual will be the movement of files signed by him directly to the Raksha Mantri and not through any other secretary-level appointment, a practice also followed by the Ministry of External Affairs with all its secretaries reporting directly to the External Affairs Minister, and the Foreign Secretary acting as the coordinator. With all these responsibilities, the CDS’s physical seniority needs to be higher than the three Service Chiefs. This is the domain which appears lacking in the decision to appoint a CDS.

The demand for a five-star status for the CDS is not without rationale.

Also Read : India to Get First Chief of Defence Staff, To Be a 4-Star General

How Exactly Will Indian CDS Function?

There will be many a discussion which will follow on how exactly the Indian CDS will function, what responsibilities he will bear, and what his hierarchical position will be. From first reports and discussions since the announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 August 2019, it appears clear that the CDS, besides being of four-star rank, will not exercise command over the three individual services, but yet will be the ‘first in the armed forces’ pecking order; a ‘first among equals’ is the term usually used for such an arrangement.

The idealistic perception about the CDS system remains one in which the three services merge their regional or field commands into joint theatres, with the theatre commanders reporting directly to the CDS and through him to the Raksha Mantri (RM) — the Service Chiefs bearing no operational responsibility but remaining responsible for recruitment, training, logistics and equipping of their three component services.

This would be almost akin to the US model where the theatre commanders report directly to the President through the Defense Secretary.

Also Read : India to Soon Have Chief of Defence Staff, PM Announces on I-Day

Looking at the US Model

The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US is the principal military adviser to the President of the United States, National Security Council and Secretary of Defense. He is thus the chief strategist but with no command over the service chiefs. The command channel flows from the President of the United States to the Defence Secretary and directly to the combatant commands or theatres.

It’s a complicated model suited to the US’ worldwide security interests and need not be immediately apt for our environment which has its unique dynamics.

We may eventually move towards such an arrangement but need not parachute into it now. A five-star officer as CDS would be advantageous in this respect.

Strategic Forces Command Will Remain Challenging for CDS

The CDS in the Indian context will necessarily be an evolving concept, as it should be, with experimentation in various fields of command, control and responsibility. From what the deliberations thus far reveal, emerging domains of warfare and specialist entities will not be saddled on the three Service Chiefs who will continue to command their forces as hitherto fore. The three new agencies involving Special Forces, Cyber and Space will come under the CDS as will the Andaman & Nicobar Command, the only functional Joint Command in India involving the three components in their classic warfighting role. It is the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) with its strategic nuclear assets which will remain the challenge.

Its very nature demands different handling and a more layered command and control.

It is to be seen how the CDS will be incorporated in the command hierarchy overseeing strategic nuclear assets, although on the face of it, the SFC will remain under his command, and he will be the nuclear affairs adviser to the PM.

Also Read : CDS or NSA: A bone of contention in India's strategic affairs

Fulfilling the Demand for ‘Single Point Advice’ to Political Leadership

With all three Service Chiefs being special invitees to the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) — which is the highest body overseeing national security — the CDS will also be added to the list. The CDS is supposed to fulfill the long-standing demand of ‘single point advice’ to the political leadership. Without command authority over the three components this aspect may remain unfulfilled and collective advice from four points may become the order of the day thus leading to non-fulfillment of the core need.

With joint aspects of force structuring, planning, training, doctrine and procurement as his chief domains the CDS will also have to exercise his prerogative in the prioritisation in the allocation of financial resources. This is likely to be one of the most significant challenges. With the procurement pie being limited in size, each service will lobby for more, and the CDS will need to rise above any narrow loyalty.

Again, a five-star officer with clear authority would have been far more advantageous in meeting this challenge.

Need for a Joint Standing Committee

Interestingly, with the creation of a Department of Military Affairs within or under the MoD, it is to be seen what the manning pattern of this department is going to be. Is this the first step towards the introduction of uniformed officers within the MoD — the creation of the so-called integrated MoD. If the HQ IDS itself is going to form the core of the new department, the assumption above should be right.

Finally, many a hiccup should be expected when such a landmark decision is under implementation, and nothing should be strait jacketed. It would be best to have a Joint Standing Committee which should continuously study international models and extract lessons from these for possible incorporation in our system.

(The writer, a former GOC of the Army’s 15 Corps, is now the Chancellor of Kashmir University. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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