Govt creates tri-service chief, yet to announce first appointment - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 24 December 2019

Govt creates tri-service chief, yet to announce first appointment

CDS will be first amongst equals with service chiefs, to assist in shift to tri-service theatre commands

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Dec 19

More than 18 years after a Group of Ministers (GoM) recommended in 2001 that the government must appoint a tri-service commander to streamline higher management of defence, it was announced on Tuesday: “Government has approved to create the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in the rank of a four star general with salary and perquisites equivalent to a service chief.”

The government has not announced the appointment of any individual as CDS. Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, who is tipped to be the first CDS, superannuates from service on December 31, having completed three years as chief of army staff (COAS).

On August 15, in his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that “…after formation of this post (CDS), all the three forces will get effective leadership at the top level.”

However, the CDS that emerges from Tuesday’s detailed press note is not in command, or even in charge, of the three services – the army, navy and air force.

“CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three service chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership,” says the press statement.

Nor is the CDS the “single point advisor” to the government on military matters that the GoM envisioned in 2001. “He (CDS) will act as the Principal Military Adviser to Raksha Mantri (RM) on all tri-services matters. The three chiefs will continue to advise RM on matters exclusively concerning their respective services,” says the release.

The announcement places the CDS in a new branch in the ministry of defence (MoD). It states he will “head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), to be created within the MoD and function as its Secretary.” 

Appointing the CDS to a “secretary” post is being seen as a creative bypass to the contentious question of the CDS’s precedence and seniority. The three service chiefs are currently senior to the defence secretary. Designating the CDS a “secretary”, on par with the defence secretary, amounts to a downgrade.

“The CDS, apart from being the head of the DMA, will also be the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee” (PCCSC), stated the release, indicating that the government had adopted the recommendations of the Naresh Chandra Task Force that visualised the tri-service chief as only the first amongst equals (with the three service chiefs), rather than being a tri-service commander.

“CDS will be member of Defence Acquisition Council chaired by RM and Defence Planning Committee, chaired by National Security Advisor. [He will also] function as the Military Adviser to the Nuclear Command Authority,” stated the notification.

However, the most far-reaching and consequential job allocated to the CDS will be the restructuring of 17 single-service military commands, which currently operate independently, into tri-service commands that include all the army, navy and air force components needed for combat operations.

“[CDS will facilitate] restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands,” said the government release.

It remains unclear whether the tri-service combatant commanders, when they are functional, would report to the CDS or whether, as in the US, they would report, through the defence minister to the head of government.

For now, the CDS will only command the new cyber and space commands. “Tri-service agencies/organisations/commands related to cyber and space will be under the command of the CDS,” says the notification.

Intruigingly, there is no mention of who will oversee the existing, tri-service Andaman & Nicober Command (ANC).

Suggesting a large role for the CDS in force structuring and procurement planning, he is required to “Implement five-year defence capital acquisition plan (DCAP), and two-year roll-on Annual Acquisition Plans (AAP), as a follow up of Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP).”

Giving him the role of arbiter between the army, navy and air force in the annual tussle for budget allocations, the CDS is required to “Assign inter-services prioritisation to capital acquisition proposals based on the anticipated budget.”

In addition, the DMA is mandated to promote “jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the Services through joint planning and integration of their requirements [and] promoting use of indigenous equipment by the services.”

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