Expectations from the CDS must be realistic | The Financial Express

Expectations from the CDS must be realistic

Being the military’s voice in the national security setup he is expected to cut through the ‘civilian’ layer in the defence ministry and magically transform the three services into a composite force capable of meeting the challenges of the modern warfare, no more predicated on conventional weapon systems.

Expectations from the CDS must be realistic
General Anil Chauhan has all the qualifications for the job. His career includes serving as army commander of the Eastern Command, director-general of military operations and military adviser to the National Security Council Secretariat (PIB)

By Amit Cowshish

Appointment of General Anil Chauhan as India’s second Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) on September 30 has revived the conversation on what is expected of the incumbent of this exalted post. There was inexplicable lull in this conversation during the equally inexplicable hiatus of more than nine months following the death of his predecessor General Bipin Rawat in a tragic chopper crash.

The revived expectations go much beyond the CDS presiding over the humdrum of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA),established in January 2020 in a bid to ‘integrate’ the armed forces with the Ministry of Defence as its ex-officio secretary.How far this integration has been achieved remains a matter of speculation but that’s another story for another time.

As was to be expected, there has been a spate of advice to General Chauhan, mostly from the military veterans, on what his priorities should be and what he ought to do. While conceding in their writings that he will face some formidable difficulties in doing what he must, they unmistakably tend to view his appointment as the panacea for all ills that beset the armed forces; the fact is, it isn’t.

In a broad sense, being the military’s voice in the national security setup he is expected to cut through the ‘civilian’ layer in the defence ministry and magically transform the three services into a composite force capable of meeting the challenges of the modern warfare, no more predicated on conventional weapon systems. The many-splendored ‘technology’ is the new name of the game.

Among other things, measuring up to these expectations would require him to push for articulation of the national security strategy, realistic defence planning, restructuring of the armed forces into theatre commands, wading into contentious issues like staffing and human resource management, overseeing implementation of many an ill-conceived decision, and formulation of joint policies, doctrine, and strategies.

The CDS is also expected to promote the use of indigenous equipment by the armed forces to push the country towards self-reliance in defence production, oversee procurement of military materiel from the revenue budget, and play a critical role in prioritising acquisition of major equipment, weapon systems, platforms, and other force multipliers, without being given the responsibility of actual procurement of the prioritised items.

This is too wide a charter for the CDS, or for that matter anyone else, to handle. The routine work of a department is so demanding and stressful for the person heading it that it becomes difficult to spend enough time for informed brainstorming before making policy decisions. The task is made more difficult by the civilian and military bureaucracy’s self-righteousness which prevents objectivity in decision making and, more importantly, by the tendency to reflect on issues within its own small echo chamber.

No wonder then that policies and assorted decisions are often announced without thinking through their implementability and evaluating their consequences.This is best illustrated by the Agnipath scheme introduced by the government in June this year to recruit soldiers into the armed forces for an initial four-year tour of duty.

Also Read: Challenges for the new CDS

The furore it created across some states in the country, besides the reverberations in a neighbouring country, is too fresh in everyone’s mind to bear recalling. Though it has died down with lakhs of youngsters lining up for recruitment -given the circumstances, they would for any job that is on offer- the concerns flagged by a cross-section of defence analysts -mostly the military veterans- remain unanswered.

Enumerating the past faux pas will serve no purpose, but it is important that these are avoided while taking decisions on contentious issues like creation of theatre commands which seems to be high on the government’s agenda. It will be unwise to push through this ‘reform’ -or any other reform – without giving adequate thought to the command and control structure of the composite theatres, the role of the service chiefs in the new structure, and the financial implications of this momentous restructuring, just to mention a few issues at random.

These concerns are genuine. The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been steadfastly expressing its reservations for more than two decades. These were reiterated by Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari on Tuesday at a press conference ahead of the Air Force Day on October 8. The IAF, he said, was not opposed to the tri-services theaterisation plan, but also asserted that ‘the doctrinal aspects of the force should not be compromised by the proposed structures’. This is as good an indication as any of the difficulties that lie ahead for the CDS to accomplish just one of many tasks assigned to him.

For sure, it is not necessary to build a consensus on every reform that the government wants to carry out, but it would do no harm if the differences of opinion are minimised before any step is taken. The stifling atmosphere in which such discussions often take place in the MoD and the Service Headquarters (SHQs) is not conducive to resolution of issues based on broad consensus.

There are several defence think tanks in the country, including four linked to the services and the joint staff, and one which is fully funded by the Ministry of Defence. They can play a significant role in reaching out to a cross section of serving and retired military personnel, civilians, and other analysts to elicit their views and present alternative models forcarving out theatre commands which are implementable and reflect the widest possible consensus on every aspect of theatre commands.

Such out of box thinking is required for every other thorny issue that the CDS will be called upon to handle whether in relation to managing the fall out of the measures taken previously without thinking through the consequences or the ‘reforms’ that are lined up for future.

Also Read: Lt Gen Anil Chauhan appointed as new CDS

Meanwhile, the responsibility to promote the use of indigenous equipment, oversee revenue procurements, and prioritisation of capital acquisitions sit oddly with other responsibilities like theaterisation. As it is, most of the onerous responsibilities have already been transferred from the Department of Defence to the DMA, except the administrative control over the capital acquisition structures in the MoD. It will not be surprising if this responsibility too is transferred to the DMA soon. There is a need to rethink this part of the CDS’s charter of duties for three reasons.

First, the prime responsibility of the CDS, or the service chiefs, is to ensure that the armed forces are equipped with the capabilities that they need to discharge the responsibilities cast upon them, and not to promote ‘self-reliance; that’s what the Department of Defence Production is meant for. Second, prioritisation of capital acquisitions is possible only if financially viabledefence plans, including capability development plans, are in place. And third, actual acquisition of equipment, weapon systems, assorted platforms, and the ‘revenue’ items like ammunition is too complex a task to be tagged with other responsibilities of the CDS.

The South Block mandarins will do well to delve into their own cupboards to retrieve well documented reports on why it is necessary to set up bespoke mini organisations within the MoD to handle these specialised jobs. To put it laconically, there is a need for a 24×7 ‘Planning Board’ to prepare composite defence plans, a ‘Defence Capability Acquisition Organisation’, and a logistics command.But, to contextualise an old saying, the MoD seems to be in a hurry to do something new everyday while forgetting five other things it had done in the past which could have produced the same results that the new thing is meant for.

The author is Former Financial Advisor (Acquisition), Ministry of Defence. 

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).

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