- It’s now over five months since the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat was killed in a chopper crash in the Nilgris in Tamil Nadu. The Government is yet to announce a successor to the country’s top military post.
- The Government is reassessing the concept of the post as well as the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and is looking to streamline the setup.
What is the role of the Chief of Defence Staff?
- The Government’s decision in 2019 to create the post of a CDS, a long-pending demand to bring in tri-service synergy and integration, is the biggest top-level military reform since independence.
- In 2019, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given approval to create the post of CDS in the rank of a four-star General with salary and perquisites equivalent to a Service Chief and then Army Chief Gen. Rawat was appointed to the post.
- The CDS is also the Principal Military Adviser to the Defence Minister and Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC).
- In addition, the Department of Military Affairs was created as the fifth department in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with the CDS functioning as its Secretary.
- The broad mandate of the CDS includes bringing about jointness in operations, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance of the three Services, within three years of the first CDS assuming office.
- He acts as the Principal Military Adviser to the Defence Minister on all tri-Services matters. However, the three Chiefs continue to advise the Defence Minister on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services.
- The CDS do not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs.
- The CDS is also meant to bring about synergy and optimise procurements, training and logistics and facilitate restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/ theatre commands.
- The specialised tri-service divisions — special operations, defence cyber and defence space — were also brought under the ambit of the CDS.
- Interestingly, while capital procurements are still with the Department of Defence (DoD), the prioritisation is with the CDS.
Why the rethink?
- With the experience of the last few years of having a CDS, there is a rethink that the appointment of a CDS in itself wasn’t enough and there are several issues with respect to roles and responsibilities, issues of equivalence among others.
- There is also dichotomy in the roles and responsibilities with the several hats worn by the CDS and also overlap in responsibilities between the DMA and DoD, officials stated while also adding that there is also a rethink on the ambitious timelines set for the creation of theatre commands and also the number of commands and their envisaged format.
What has been the progress on theatre commands?
- An ambitious agenda was set for the first CDS to reorganise the Indian armed forces into integrated theatre commands, which would be the biggest reorganisation of the military in 75 years and fundamentally change the way the three services operate together.
- Extensive studies were carried out by the Vice Chiefs of three Services on the theatre commands — land-based Western and Eastern theatre commands, maritime theatre command and an integrated air defence command. Gen. Rawat had stated that the Army’s Northern Command would be left out of the ambit for now and integrated at a later stage.
- However, differences continue to remain on certain aspects with the Air Force having some reservations with regard to the air defence command and the naming and rotation of the theatre commands among others. Additional studies were ordered, which are currently underway but the overall process has stalled in the absence of a CDS and continued differences.