Back to the drawing board on role of Chief of Defence Staff

Centre reassesses concept of Chief of Defence Staff post, Military Affairs Department

May 15, 2022 04:45 am | Updated 11:56 am IST - NEW DELHI

Gen. Bipin Rawat, who served as the 26th Army Chief, took over as the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff on January 1, 2020.

Gen. Bipin Rawat, who served as the 26th Army Chief, took over as the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff on January 1, 2020. | Photo Credit: PTI

The government is reassessing the concept of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) to fix overlaps in the system and streamline the process due to which there has been a delay in the appointment of a new CDS, according to official sources.

“On higher military reforms, based on the experience so far, somewhere the government realised that appointment of CDS in itself wasn’t enough. There are lot of issues related to equivalence of status, responsibilities and so on. This made the government pause, look back and reassess the entire reform process,” one official said on condition of anonymity. “There is dichotomy at various ends that needs to be streamlined… various options are being looked at. Currently downside of appointing a CDS is more than not having one,” the official stated.

In December 2019, the government approved the creation of the post of CDS who would also function as the Principal Military Adviser to Defence Minister and Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC). In addition, the DMA was created as the fifth department in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) with the CDS functioning as its Secretary.

The creation of DMA was unexpected, and it took time to settle down, the official said elaborating that initially and till now there are legacy issues of work distribution between DMA and the Department of Defence (DoD), headed by the Defence Secretary. “Coordination mechanisms are not standardised and accepted by both sides,” the official stated adding, Gen Bipin Rawat by his experience gave a direction to the process.

Gen. Rawat who served as the 26th Chief of Army Staff took over as the country’s first CDS on January 1, 2020. He, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 12 others were killed as the Indian Air Force (IAF) Mi-17V5 helicopter, which was en route from Sulur to the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, crashed in the Nilgris in Tamil Nadu on December 08, 2021. The post of CDS has been lying vacant since.

The broad mandate given to the CDS includes bringing about jointness in “operations, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance of the three Services, within three years of the first CDS assuming office.”

The gazette as well as the responsibilities are “ambitious”, two official sources noted. One of them stated that to finish the process of theatrisation in three years which were “overambitious”, lot of things were fast-tracked. “So, it did not get the support it needed from the Services and MoD.”

While additional studies are under way by the Services on the creation of integrated theatre commands, the theatrisation process has more or less stalled, the official said, adding that due to which there is a rethink on the need, modalities and timelines of the process and how to go about it.

On the dichotomy in responsibilities, officials said that currently the CDS does not have operational role but as the Chairman CoSC, the theatre commanders to be appointed in future are to report to him.

While several options are being looked at, one of the options would be to have a CDS with operational power who will after due legislative changes have theatre commanders report to him while the Service Chiefs will look after the raise, train and sustain functions of respective Services, the first official source stated.

In this direction, the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee would function as the Secretary DMA, which will also clear equivalence issues, two official sources stated. The government is reassessing the entire process, one of them added.

In March, Lt. Gen. Vinod G. Khandare (Retd.) was appointed as advisor in DoD working closely with the Defence Secretary. He retired from the Army during January 2018 as the head of the Defence Intelligence Agency and after that served as the Military Advisor in the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) till October 2021.

As the adviser, Lt. Gen. Khandare is in effect fulfilling the role of single point military adviser to Defence Minister, one of the sources observed. The seniormost Service Chief has been officiating as the Charman CoSC, currently the Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal V. R. Chaudhari.

The mandate of the DMA includes promoting jointness in procurement, training and staffing for the Services; facilitation of restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands and promoting use of indigenous equipment by the Services. The armed forces which were under the DoD were moved under the DMA after it was created.

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