The tragic and untimely death of the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat in a helicopter crash has created a vacuum at the highest levels of India’s military hierarchy. The ambitious reform of the armed forces into integrated theatre commands, for which Gen. Rawat had set ambitious targets, also remains incomplete.
Gen. Rawat took over as the 27th Army Chief on December 31, 2016 and as the first CDS on January 1, 2020 . As he stepped down as the Army chief after three years of tenure and before he turned 62, his tenure as CDS was till March 2023. The age limit for the CDS’s post is 65 years with no fixed tenure defined.
After Gen. Rawat, the senior-most officer in the military is Army chief General M.M. Naravane, who has tenure till April 2022. He took over as the 28th Army chief from Gen. Rawat on December 31, 2019 and is distinctly senior to the other two Service chiefs. The Navy and Air Force have just seen a change at the top with Admiral R. Hari Kumar taking over as Chief of Naval Staff on November 30 and V.R. Chaudhari taking over as the Air Chief Marshal on September 30.
The CDS wears several hats, which include Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the Defence Ministry, permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, and the Principal Advisor to the Defence Minister.
After the appointment of the CDS, the armed forces were brought under the ambit of the DMA, which also deals with works relating to the three Services, and with procurement exclusive to the Services, except capital acquisitions which remains with the Department of Defence. The broad mandate of 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”.
Gen. Rawat was working towards bringing evolving consensus between the three Services on integrated theatre commands , which would be the biggest reorganisation of the Indian armed forces since Independence.
While Gen. Rawat had set out an ambitious plan for the roll out of the theatre commands, the process was delayed due to differences among the Services and objections on some aspects from the Indian Air Force. Detailed studies have already been carried out, and table top wargaming executed in the recent past to fine tune the modalities. Additional studies were recently ordered by Gen. Rawat in this direction.
The task now falls on the next CDS to build consensus and take the reorganisation process forward.
Speaking at an event last year, Gen. Naravane, while commenting that the next logical step in military reforms after the “momentous” step of appointment of the CDS, would be to set up integrated theatre commands, had added that, at the same time, the process to set up the theatre commands needed to be “deliberate, thoughtful and well-considered, and its fruition will take a number of years”.