Musical staff

Second Coming of the Chief of the Defense Staff

It is now more than six months since General Bipin Rawat, the country’s first army chief of staff, died in a tragic accident and his replacement is still awaited. The government has drawn up a kind of parameters for the next CDS: these parameters perhaps qualify the one it already has in mind. Whatever. What is important is the range of functions of the CDS.

In its current form, the CDS has no operational role and is positioned as a secretariat to the Directorate of Military Affairs of the Ministry of Defence, with a workforce mainly of civil servants. A CDS as another MoD secretary lowers the status of four-star generals (the three heads of service).

He or she will be the principal adviser to the Minister of Defense – the Service Heads will also render advice to the Minister of Defense regarding their respective service. It must promote inter-departmental “jointness” and take care of purchases – with the exception of capital acquisitions. And will “administer” the assets of the three services such as cyber weapons, missile agencies, space command, etc. He will be an adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority, although he is not a member of the National Security Committee. He is called upon to organize integrated theater commands, while he himself has no operational role…

Without a full-range CDS, “cohesion” in military operations, which is essential to achieving overall operational success, will remain a distant dream. A CDS considered as a single point of advice, to the government, would be useless, because it is only a question and which, in any case, came from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (in under the previous arrangement) or the national security adviser or the defense secretary, who is responsible for the defense of India anyway!

Unfortunately, the heart and core of the CDS system, in its full spectrum, has eluded India’s political class. The principle of war, called unity of command, is foreign to Indian thought and context. In the current system, each leader (army, air force and navy) fights their own respective battles with marginal coordination. In the field of military operations (war at the highest level), there must be only one commander. In military parlance, this is called unity of command.

General Albert von Wellenstien must be quoted, “Never will I accept a divided command – not even God himself was not my colleague in power. I command alone or not at all.” This is the very essence of unity of command. Conducting war is akin to conducting an orchestra, where there is only one conductor, who interlocks the playing of various musical instruments to create the required music.

The other task assigned to CDS is to create Integrated Theater Commands (ITC). In the absence of overall operational command and control over the conduct of operations, by setting up ITCs, General Rawat tried to copy the Chinese PLA on the one hand and on the other hand to reduce the number of commands in India , perhaps for the further purpose of economy and reduction of higher ranks in the army.

It is both possible and practical for the PLA to have a single command on the Tibetan Plateau due to the nature of the terrain and excellent road and rail communications, both lateral and to various points in 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 to various vulnerable points along. Additionally, there is Bhutan and Nepal along the border, which adds to the complexity. There is also the long border with Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The other important border is that with Pakistan which stretches from the tip of the LAC in Ladakh to Jammu and Kashmir and then extends to the Arabian Sea. Given the nature of the threats and the vast land borders of the country, the number of theater commands recommended by the CDS is ridiculously insufficient. Existing army commands adequately meet the requirement and should be converted to ITC. In the case of the Indian Navy, three ITCs (one for the Arabian Sea, a second for the Bay of Bengal and a third for the A&N Islands) are required.

When developing the areas of responsibility and the composition of the CITs, a series of factors come into play. On the one hand, the assessment and analysis of the overall war plans of the enemy (both in the North and ‘in the West) and the best way to contain them, then our own plan of war: the sectors (ITC) where our forces would be on the defensive, where offensive defense operations would be carried out, and where a general offensive would be launched : the objectives there being to bring the enemy to their knees. Finally, the terrain on which operations are to be launched is another factor to consider. Detailed examination of these factors would lead to the composition of various ITCs.

How can a CDS without an operational command role work out the detailed composition of the CITs, their number and their areas of responsibility!

Much fog persists in the politico-bureaucratic mix in India which makes such proposals, where a CDS without an operational role is still called upon to set the framework for (war) operations to determine the number and composition of the CITs.

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 superior defense management, as articulated by Jadunath Sarkar, operates like a chain thread in the management and conduct of battles by the Indians. We seem to persist in this practice.

The CDS can come from any service, similar to the current system in the case of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and therefore also from ITC commanders of specific ITCs. The sooner the Indian army adapts to the demand for “interdependence” and “integration”, the better it will be able to meet the nation’s future security challenges.

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

The Department of Military Affairs should be headed by a duty officer with predominantly Defense Service personnel and have under his direction the DRDO, OFB, Defense PSUs and DGQA.

For all these changes, the government must act in the direction of the United States government by implementing a CDS system in their defense forces (the Goldwater-Nicholas Act) and thus pass it as an act of lying.

Lieutenant General Harwant Singh is retired from the Indian Army.