Quick Take

India really needed a Chief of Defence Staff

| Updated on January 03, 2020 Published on January 03, 2020

Newly-appointed Chief of the Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat

Bipin Rawat and his newly created department will be responsible for integration of the three forces at an operational level

It’s a defence reform everyone knew was needed but no government was willing to push through in the face of bureaucratic and military resistance. Now, the BJP government’s gone the distance by naming India’s first-ever Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and putting him in charge of a newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) that will be a mix of military personnel and bureaucrats.

General (Gen) Bipin Rawat has got a three-year term and, as he has already spent three years as army chief, he will have a uniquely long tenure at the top of the military forces. In his history-making appointment, he will have a chance to bring in sweeping changes at a time when India’s armed forces are at a crossroads.

India is the fourth-largest global military spender, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. But it’s unable to earmark enough cash to upgrade equipment because wages and other daily expenses eat up a big chunk of the budget. Gen Rawat’s tough task will be how to get more bang for the buck.

Already, the armed forces consume 16 per cent of the government’s annual budget and the sharp economic slowdown means more cash is unlikely to be immediately available. At his first meeting on Thursday, Gen Rawat ordered that initial steps be taken toward creating an air-defence command and common logistics support in stations where more than one service is present.

Inevitably, there will be considerable wrangling over the CDS’s powers in the coming months but his twin responsibilities give him a strong chance to make his presence felt. He’s first amongst equals as permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and will act as “principal military advisor” to the defence minister on tri-services issues. However, the other chiefs will also report directly to the defence minister on matters relating to their services.

The CDS is a four-star general, just like the other chiefs, and his pay and perquisites remain unchanged.

The CDS is also a key player in the nuclear strategic forces. However, the government said the CDS “will not exercise any military command, including over the three service chiefs.”

It’s in running the DMA that General Rawat will have the most substantive influence in defence matters.

Crucially, the CDS will oversee promotions, postings and foreign assignments. Over the longer haul, the CDS will also be responsible for integrating the three forces at an operational level for “optimal utilisation of resources.” This could be the hardest part of his assignment as there’ll be deep resistance, particularly from the Air Force. Currently, the three services have 17 commands. It’s long been held modern warfare requires the three services to function in an integrated fashion. One possibility is that the forces might be reorganised into four commands, with the Navy only part of two. Inevitably, the reorganisation could result in considerable friction, and it will need all the CDS’s skills to push it through. It would be unfortunate if the CDS reforms get bogged down by high-level infighting.

Published on January 03, 2020
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