By Air Cmde TK Chatterjee (Retd)
The government of India has finally announced the appointment of the new Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). That it took almost a year to make this announcement had led the rumor mills churning out various hypotheses, some of which were quite stark and surprising…that the experiment with the CDS had not gone well and the government is planning to scrap the post of the CDS!
It is true that the experiment with the first CDS of the country did not go well. To observers with experience in military affairs, it seemed that too many changes were being attempted in too short a time in a huge monolithic organization like the Indian armed forces that has hundreds of years of history and an incredible amount of inertia due to its huge mass. Changes were being attempted in the basic organization structure, perks, privileges, and pensionary benefits right up to the way the next external aggression against our country will be fought. Like one cannot change the laws of nature to please one’s God, one cannot change the attitude and basic character of a huge fighting machine to please one’s government.
The new CDS takes over a quite unenviable position in the country. He will face many challenges. The first of which is to be aware that observers will analyse his decisions and quotes to decide whether he is the representative of the forces who deal with the government or is he the representative of the government who deals with the forces. Unfortunately, his predecessor left an impression that he was the latter and therefore missed out on the goodwill of an entire generation of servicemen.
The next is the theaterisation of India to fight future wars. There have been opinions both for and against such a move, perhaps the strongest opposition came from the IAF. For the Navy, theaterisation has practically no effect since no one can assume command of the seas except them. But for the IAF, it was a different ball game. To most observers it appeared as an attempt by the office of the CDS to subordinate IAF to theatre commanders and obliterate its individual identity as a service, in toto. It was an attempt to use Air Force assets as ‘extended artillery’ and a ‘supporting arm’ to achieve the theatre commander’s objectives. This will never go down well with any airmen, anywhere in the world, now or in the future.
It is possible to write volumes with endless historical perspectives and lengthy quotes from military scholars, to prove that incredibly expensive Air Force assets like multirole fighters, tactical and strategic lift capabilities, its attack and support helicopter fleet, armed and unarmed UAVs, AWACS and its elaborate network of sensors, SAMs and interceptors can be much better utilized to achieve a national cause under a unified command than frittering away in small packets in a geographic area like the size of India, that does not, in the first place, merit theaterisation. The IAF in its present role and capacity has proved its mettle in war and peace and to tamper with it, with schoolboyish justifications, is just not wise.
Integration of the services exists right now, where it is needed. Like our Strategic Forces, ANC Command, Cyber Command, Special Operations, or the Space Force which will happen in the near future. Also, there are many low hanging fruits of integration that can be easily exploited, like the small arms for all three services, common user transports, PPEs etc. Let these be exploited first before going for the big guns.
The new CDS steps into the murky politico-military waters of the country and has a great task ahead of him. He must walk the tightrope between the government, its bureaucrats, its economics, its R & D, its military industrial complex,the three services and the future of the fighting potential of the country. How he deals with them, and the initiatives of his predecessor will be interesting to watch. The nation, its soldiers of past and present, look up to him and expect a reasonable response from the highest-ranking officer of the Indian armed forces.
Godspeed, happy landings.
(Disclaimer: The author is Retired pilot of the Indian Air Force. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).