Cabinet OKs CDS

India’s first-ever chief of defence staff or tri-service chief will provide a “single-point military advice” to the government and inject synergy in planning, procurements and logistics in the armed forces apart from ensuring integration of land-air-sea operations through the setting up of theatre commands.

The CDS, a four-star general with the same pay as the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs—the three will retain full operational control—will be the “first among equals” as permanent chairman of chiefs of staff committee and head of a new department of military affairs in defence ministry. General Bipin Rawat is the front-runner for the post.

The cabinet’s approval of the post of CDS and its charter is a landmark reform, hanging fire since the 1999 Kargil conflict till PM Narendra Modi announced the decision in his August 15 speech this year.

The CDS will function as military adviser to the PM-led Nuclear Command Authority and defence minister, have direct command of tri-service organisations to handle new warfare domains of space and cyberspace. General Bipin Rawat is the front runner for the post after he completes his tenure as Army chief on December 31.

The charter of the CDS, if implemented properly, will prepare the 15-lakh strong armed forces for wars of the future. The CDS is mandated to ensure the Army, Navy and IAF, which often pull in different directions, truly integrate to slash wasteful expenditure amidst the severe fund crunch for military modernisation because of ballooning pay and pension bills. The armed forces, incidentally, have projected an additional requirement of Rs.80,000 crore for modernisation, plugging critical operational gaps and paying “committed liabilities” at the revised estimates stage in December-January in the ongoing fiscal.

Over 70 countries like the US, the UK, France and Germany, among others, have a CDS-like post for integration in military planning and operations. In the US, for instance, the chairman of joint chiefs of staff is the highest-ranking military officer and principal military advisor to the president. But chiefs of the combatant theatre commands, who handle different parts of the globe, also report directly to the political leadership. “The three chiefs will continue to advise the defence minister on matters concerning their respective services. The 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,” an official statement said.

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

This is needed because India currently has 17 single-Service commands (Army 7, IAF 7 and Navy 3), while there are only two tri-Service commands in the shape of the Andaman & Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command to handle nuclear weapons. Theatre commands, where all assets and manpower of the Army, Navy and IAF are placed under one operational commander, are cost-effective, save resources and prepare forces for integrated operations. The new department of military affairs, with the CDS functioning as its secretary, will include the armed forces and an “appropriate mix of military and civilian officers at every level” in a bid to also bridge the festering civil-military divide. The MoD already has four departments — defence, defence production, ex-servicemen welfare and DRDO — which are headed by secretary-rank officers.

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