News analysis: Tri-service military chief requires structural reform - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 2 December 2013

News analysis: Tri-service military chief requires structural reform

A permanent Chairman COSC will require organisational restructuring to be effective

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Dec 13

The government’s readiness to appoint a four-star general as India’s first tri-service military chief, reported in this paper on Monday (“Government poised to appoint tri-service chief”, Dec 2), will be widely welcomed. For decades, India’s strategic community has urged the creation of a single-point military advisor to the government, who would also oversee matters that relate to all three services.

Yet, it would be insufficient to merely appoint army chief, General Bikram Singh, as the first permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (Chairman COSC), and bump up Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Anil Chait as army chief. If these appointments are not accompanied by structural reform, they might seem no more than cynical ploys with an eye on the coming elections.

It must be remembered that the Naresh Chandra Task Force (NCTF) last year recommended the appointment of a permanent Chairman COSC as a “half-way house”. This was after the ministry of defence (MoD) had shrunk from appointing an empowered five-star officer as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), which the Kargil Review Committee had recommended in 1999 and a Group of Ministers (GoM) subsequently endorsed in 2001. An earlier compromise involved the setting up of an Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), commanded by a three-star officer, which has not succeeded in taking on many functions from an army, navy and air force that guard their turf zealously. Without structural empowerment of the new Chairman COSC, he might turn out to be no more than an IDS chief with one additional star.

“The approach recommended by the Naresh Chandra Task Force is to create an organisation around an appointment rather than create an organisation and then consider appointments best suited for the system,” says Rajneesh Singh of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

The first structural issue that must be addressed, say analysts like Dr Anit Mukherjee, is the absence of integration between the MoD and the three service headquarters. Instead of manning MoD departments with a mix of bureaucrats and military personnel who function jointly, there is a bizarre two-stage system in which the military proposes and the MoD rejects. Army, navy and air force headquarters, which are categorised as “attached offices” to the MoD, submit proposals and recommendations to the MoD for sanction. The MoD, with every crucial decision-making position manned by non-specialised civilians, seldom accepts these proposals. Usually these are sent back with queries, with this back and forth delaying action endlessly.

The mere appointment of a permanent Chairman COSC will do little to resolve this issue. The new appointment must be charged with ensuring substantive integration between the MoD and the three services, in coordination with the defence secretary. The COSC headquarters must have an even mix of military officers and bureaucrats, with cross-posting being extended to the MoD and the service headquarters.

A second identified problem is the unhealthy concentration of power within the three military headquarters. The service chiefs function as chiefs of staff and also commanders-in-chief, managing the gamut of operations, policy planning, human resources, training and equipping. With operations understandably enjoying precedence, there is little emphasis on long range force structuring, equipment planning and human resource development.

One solution is to charge theatre commanders with responsibility for operations, while army, navy and air force headquarters could handle policy planning, force structuring and administration. The COSC’s integrated headquarters could handle inter-service coordination, with the Chairman COSC the government’s go-to person for military matters.

Creating the structures for this separation must be a specified task of the new Chairman COSC. One option is the creation of US-style integrated theatre commands, with regional commanders allocated army, navy and air force units for their operational tasks. For example, the currently separate southern commands of the army, navy and air force could be integrated into a single tri-service command that could optimally harness the combat power of all three services.

Modern western militaries follow one of two distinct models. The US, with its global responsibilities, has independent theatre commands, such as the Pacific Command, Central Command, etc. Each of these are equipped with land, air and sea units, bureaucrats and political departments needed for independent campaigns. The theatre commander, a four-star general or admiral, reports directly to the US president, through the secretary for defense. In Washington, there is a centralized Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), headed by a five-star chairman. The army, navy, air force and marine corps chiefs plan, train and develop human resources, leaving the theatre commanders free to handle operations independently.

The smaller British, French, Canadian and Australian militaries place their army, navy, air force and marine units directly under their respective four-star service chiefs. These service chiefs answer to a five-star Chief of Defence Staff, who could be from any service. The CDS reports to the minister in charge of defence. 


  1. Let the 'things' move for the better. There are always 'if and buts' in best solutions too.

  2. Sir, no NATO military has five-star joint chiefs. They are all four-star officers. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the US is also a four-star officer.

  3. Col Shukla, the US CJCS is a 4 star officer, not a 5 star officer. V/R Caltag

  4. I have my own thoughts on how best to integrate all the capabilities of our defense forces(Army, Navy, Airforce) into a mean, agile, powerful single entity which can overcome all the issue arising out of inter-services competition, lack of synergy & time to respond in an integrated way.

    If one looks at the way a typical defense force is structured ( applicable to most nations), the three primary arms – Airforce, Army & Navy were formed primarily on the basis on the theatre ( air, land or sea) each one was responsible for to operate in & fulfill mission objectives of a war. But what is interesting is to note that there are quite a lot of capabilities which are required by all three arms. For example the capabilities such as Air Defense( SAM, Anti Aircraft Guns), Airborne Military Cargo Transport, Air borne Ground attack Support, Aerial Surveillance, Airborne Command & Control, Search & rescue, Cybersecurity are required by all three arms. So instead of having the present three arms, why can’t a defense force be structured on the basis of capabilities?Let us call them as “Capability Groups”? Let us say the “Air Defense” capability group will take care of the air defense needs of army bases, forward deployments in a theatre , air force bases and naval bases. Another example could be “Airborne Command & Control” capability group extending its assets to network the assets operating in the air, on the ground and at sea. A “Search & Rescue” capability group executing to rescue pilots who ejected on the ground (peacetime or wartime) or at sea (peacetime or wartime) or rescue commando behind enemy lines or evacuate medically injured soldiers.

    In a war, the various required capability groups would use its own need specific assets to undertake missions and aim at mission success together. One may argue that this proposal would replace the existing three arms by much bigger number of capability groups who in turn will have competition among themselves. But that won’t be the case, the reason being the existing three arms are parallel to each other as an organization which bring their own capabilities/fighting machines/technology to war and then there are lots of areas where there are overlaps of responsibility/capabilities that one tries to outdo other. On the other hand the Capability Groups are purely complimentary to each other. The “Air Defense” capability group alone cannot fight a war and win. The “Airborne Military Cargo Transport” capability group alone cannot perform unless the “ Air Dominance” capability group has clear air dominance in coordination with “Airborne Command & Control” and so & so forth. The Capability Groups will be very highly dependent on each other if they all to fight a war and win it for country. Each by itself is hardly useful in most cases of a war. The level of dependency will be much higher among the capability groups than is the dependency of existing three arms on each other.

    The Capability Groups will have their chiefs and will report into something similar to COSC. I am thinking more on these lines…..

  5. Before Any thing like to go off topic to talk about our deteriorating standards of uniform and turnout in the Indian army.

    Our senior generals must check their dietary habits and restart their Physcial fitness regime.

    Because frankly their turnout and their physcial appearance is simply appalling.

    1. Lt Gen Anil Chait badly needs a haircut. Unless he is planning to star in a b grade movie.

    2. Look at the belt worn by COAS. Originally to be worn under the third button or ON the 4th button of his Coat. It now is almost dangling to his crotch. LT Gen Anil Chait is no better. The reason for this is that both of them have bellies of an obese diabetic grandmother.

    3. Instead of poorly dying his hair black like a paranoid housewife, if the COAS just lets it grey, it will be much better.

    4. No wonder IAS babus have a poor opinion of senior officers. Familiarity breeds contempt.

    5. Those who are going to give me the 'general fights with his mind not with his body' argument can can it. as,a healthy mind resides in a healthy body. Also, generals around the world eg: Gen Petraus, Gen Kayani, ACM AY Tipnis, Stanley McChrystal, Gen VK Singh and FM SHFJ Maneckshaw were all physically fit enough to fit in their uniform smartly and not be a source of embarrassment and a poor example to their subordinates.

    I hope they see the above and starting shaving the post pregnancy lard off of them.


  6. Anon 1:16,


    Your comments are pretty good, funny but quite relevant.

    Will someone pass it along plz???

  7. "If these appointments are not accompanied by structural reform, they might seem no more than cynical ploys with an eye on the coming elections."

    With all due respect, only you Ajai-ji, vote based on the govt stance on CDS :)

  8. methinks this proposal about Joint COS may be an "inside" indication that the present Government will not be coming back and whosoever comes in next will be so busy fighting fires that the proposal will die a natural death.
    Or else the Bureaucracy would not have allowed it to come thus far- meagre enough that it is.

    The steady crumbling of the armed forces ethos is worrisome and is another "unseen" consequence of the prolonged bun fight for supremacy of the babus over the Military. It is difficult to believe that in the 50s the Military were paid more than the Babus.


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