Call of Duty: New Chief Of Defence Staff, Ten Things He Must Do

Lt Gen (Retd) Philip Campose reiterates the importance of the appointment of CDS and highlights what the new incumbent should do to ensure that the Indian armed forces are able to address their warfighting and modernisation needs while preparing for dealing with the security threats of the future which keeps evolving.

Finally, after a wait of almost 10 months, on 28th September 2022, the Govt announced the name of Lt Gen Anil Chauhan, who had retired from service on 31st May last year, as the new Chief of Defence Staff, or CDS. After the cancellation of his retirement order, Lt Gen Chauhan has been promoted to the rank of General, taking over his new appointment on 30th September, a job in which he has the presiding role in the four-member Chiefs of Staff Committee, where he will be the first among equals, among the Chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air force. There was a collective sigh of relief from the strategic community, many of whom had given up on the appointment, suspecting bureaucratic prevarication, as in the past.

The post of CDS was created on 1st January 2020, when the then Chief of Army Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, was elevated to this newly created appointment, on the day he would otherwise have retired from service. He had the onerous responsibility to optimise the functioning of the CDS in the various roles assigned to him. In a period of heightened military threats and continuing budget shortages, when its three wings, the Army, Navy and Airforce, prefer to function in individual silos, and mostly compete, rather than cooperate, with each other, the CDS was able to identify the shortcomings and lay out a roadmap for optimal functioning of the armed forces. Gen Rawat had set in motion a number of initiatives in the three years that he served as CDS, but passed away suddenly, on 8th December 2021, in a tragic helicopter accident, in which thirteen others, including his wife, also lost their lives.

Clearly, most of what he had started was yet to reach fruition. Since then, the post had been lying vacant, surprisingly, at a time when the Indian and Chinese Armies have been continuing eyeball-to-eyeball deployment across the Line of Actual Control or LAC in Eastern Ladakh, consequent to the unprovoked Chinese intrusions of May 2020, just five months into Gen Rawat’s tenure.

Who is the Chief of Defence Staff?
The CDS is the senior-most officer in the Indian military. He is formally the single point source of expert military advice to the Raksha Mantri and the government. He heads the Chiefs of Staff Committee which is responsible for formulating and implementing policies related to the Armed Forces. He is also head of the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the Ministry of Defence, a bureaucratic role at the Secretary level, which enables him to formally interface with the Govt on a number of responsibilities involving operational issues as well as terms and conditions of service of military personnel, including promotions of senior officers. Furthermore, he is Military Advisor to the Nuclear Command Authority. An important point to note is that all major militaries of the world have a CDS or equivalent post. Even our western adversary has a CDS.

Second, why is the post of CDS so important?
We need a CDS to optimise the functioning of our military at a time when the enemy, literally, is at our gates. The military is lagging behind in its modernisation plans, especially vis-à-vis our Northern neighbour, majorly due to a lack of budget resources, combined with a lack of capability to produce major military equipment within the country. In the absence of a CDS, the Army, Navy and Airforce tend to go their individual ways, resulting in non-optimisation of military resources and procurement plans.

Relatedly, the CDS is responsible for integrating the resources of the three Services, i.e. the Army, the Navy and the Airforce to meet operational and administrative ends, and in modernizing their equipment needs, through inter-se prioritization for capital procurement, in times of shrinking budgets and burgeoning revenue expenditure.

Ten important recommendations for the new CDS:

First, the new CDS, during his tenure, should concentrate on capability development and operational integration. The government should strengthen its hands by removing impediments which stall either process and by allotting more budget for capability development.

Second, the ‘catheterisation’ concept must be refined and implemented at the earliest. A military, short on operational resources, cannot afford not-to-be-integrated. Operational resources of the three Services will never be optimally utilised unless they are employed in an integrated manner, to achieve common aims and objectives. Recently, the Air Force Chief has expressed his reservations about the distribution of Air Force resources. These reservations are not new. In fact, it was just these reservations which were primarily used in the past to stall the appointment of the CDS. Theaterisation would only be the first step in the operational integration process. It needs to be implemented, sooner rather than later.

Third, integrated capability development, including defence manufacture in India and by Indian companies, would have to receive his utmost attention. As part of the process, he will have to periodically allocate or review inter-se priorities to procurement proposals as well as to proposals of the three Services for the development of technology to meet specific operational needs. Concurrently, he must review military preparedness on a regular basis with a view to ensuring that our long-drawn defence indigenisation process does not lead to gaps, howsoever temporary they may be. He must monitor the implementation of defence capability development plans in a time-bound manner.

Fourth, the CDS must focus on modernising the military. This does not imply just procuring modern equipment but also updating the structures and processes, both operational and administrative, in keeping with our operational environment as well as the best practices in other militaries. Drones, both for combat and reconnaissance, as well as anti-drone systems, must be an absolute priority. Modern artillery, rocket systems, anti-tank weapons and ‘future ready’ combat vehicles need to be developed or procured at the earliest. Stand-off weaponry, especially precision-guided weapons, must be procured or manufactured in adequate numbers.

Fifth, the CDS must oversee the induction of technology and automation in military practices and procedures to optimum levels. Sensor-shooter systems and networks must be implemented across multiple domains – land, sea, air and space – integrating the use of both manned and unmanned systems. Cyber warfare capabilities, both defensive and offensive, must be optimised. Employment of space-based resources, for improving battlefield awareness and for communication networks, including their protection, must be given due attention.

Sixth, he must gear himself at the earliest so that he can execute his duties as Military Advisor to the Nuclear Command Authority in a meaningful manner. A review of the nuclear doctrine should be recommended, keeping changes in our threat perception in view. A detailed study of the nuclear escalation ladder must be carried out.

Seventh, integration of logistics and training procedures, as per best practices, must be implemented with due efficiency and effectiveness, as the first steps, to set the integration ball rolling. The Integrated Training Command, Cyber Command, Logistics Command, Special Forces Command and Space Command must be established at the earliest. The National Defence University must be established at the earliest.

Eighth, a detailed study of the nature and character of future wars in our context must be done in the backdrop of, a) relevant lessons learnt from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, b) Chinese assertiveness on our borders and c) possible collusiveness between our adversaries. Recommendations thereto must be incorporated into our planning, procedures and equipping.

Ninth, the CDS must provide impetus and inputs for a National Security Strategy for the country as well as enunciate a National Defence Strategy for defending the country against external threats, and for protecting its territorial integrity on land air and sea.

Tenth, most importantly, the CDS must work assiduously at ensuring the highest levels of motivation of the force. This implies that he must ensure that the serving community as also the veteran community, and their dependent families, are well looked after – in terms of salaries, pensions and allowances as well as perks and privileges, in keeping with the sacrifices they make and the rules in vogue. No soldier, sailor or airman, serving or retired, or their families should need to knock on the doors of the tribunals or courts to seek their entitlements.