Does Higher Defence Organisation in India Require Major Surgery?
REAMBLE: Required changes in the Higher Defence Organisation in our country are a subject of near constant debate. Many and diverse views continue to be aired. A common denominator seems to be dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs. The need to improve on existing templates is a laudable thought but do we require major surgery? Also, must we be taken in by examples of systems that obtain in other countries or should we seek solutions that are more appropriate to our circumstances? Should we blindly ape what others do or use our genius to fashion systems that are more applicable to our needs? What are the changes that could be introduced to advantage? This article addresses these questions and more. The views expressed are personal and not parochial but they are, possibly naturally, based on the experiences of a lifetime of service in our air force.
Before any form of surgery to our defence organisation is countenanced, it behoves us to diagnose what ails the system. We have won all the wars we have fought, less the 1962 conflict, and that should by itself be sufficient to show that our organisation is not too bad, it works almost every time. If military organisation is established primarily to prepare the armed forces to win wars, our system has stood the test of time. In 1962, our problem was lack of intelligence, lack of adequate preparation and we were surprised by the Chinese attack. Possibly, we were also unsure as to how to wage that type of war. Be that as it may, the point must be made that, given the circumstances; no different higher defence organisation would have turned defeat into victory. Thus the results of the wars that we have fought do not make a case for a major change in our organisation.
Undoubtedly, there are ills in our system that should be addressed. Our procurement system is slow and laboured. Jointness amongst our services could be better. Also the relations and mutual confidence of the services on one hand and the Ministry of Defence on the other should improve. Regrettably, one possible cause for the state of affairs is inadequate understanding of the other(s) point of view and maybe even some suspicion of intentions. The solutions to bring about improvements stare us in the face. We need greater understanding and appreciation of differing viewpoints. We must not ever forget, even temporarily, that we are on the same side. To my mind, it is a mental challenge and not an organisational limitation. We can, by mere intent, make the system work much better. That is what we should do.
The ongoing debate on higher defence management largely deals with three issues, namely:
Need for the armed forces to become part of the government and active players in decision making. Also, for greater understanding to develop, armed forces officers should occupy berths in the civilian hierarchy and vice versa. This should be done at both middle and senior levels.
Need for a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or a Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee ( PCCOSC). What should be his duties and responsibilities?
Should we adopt the Theatre Command system?
The three issues require examination individually.
The proposals regarding cross postings appear attractive and have some merit. They will promote better understanding as long as there is a mutual desire to cooperate and personalities do not undermine the system. Also, we have to be selective in determining the berths that the deputationists could occupy. More importantly, it is not desirable for those posted from outside the system to be given decision making responsibilities. They would lack the basic knowledge and instinctive understanding of systems in vogue. The best we can hope for is that they would provide in house domain knowledge.
That will be of benefit unless the advice rendered is only subjective. That could happen. Again, the deputationists may find the work culture somewhat alien and will have to get used to a new work ethos on joining the new organisation and again when they revert back to their parent service. One other drawback is that as the deputationists will have to revert to their parent service, they may elect to air only parochial views. The proposal to introduce deputationists has its limitations but the advantage of ready availability of professional advice has considerable value and should be encouraged with the personnel warned of pitfalls and guided to overcome them. The great plus point of the proposal is that it can be readily implemented without introducing any major changes and the system can be easily modified or even abandoned at will. Another thought that could be considered is that where independent advice from more experienced officers is needed, it may be advisable to elicit the help of recently retired senior officers whose knowledge is still fresh and who may not always agree with the views of their parent service.
The other issue is the advisability of making service officers as part of government and giving them decision making responsibilities that are traditionally enjoyed by the civil servants. The thought process behind the proposal is that service officers with their professional knowledge will better understand the needs and thereby hasten the decision making process particularly in procurement of hardware. Here three issues merit examination. Firstly, supposed inefficiencies cannot be cured by mere change from civilian officers to service officers manning the berths in the Ministry of Defence. There is a system in vogue that is tried and tested and whilst improving on it must remain an ongoing process, major changes could be counterproductive. Secondly and more importantly, the essential requirement is training for the post and continuity in the post and not who mans it. It is recommended that a high percentage of civil servants in the Ministry of Defence should have had sufficient exposure to the armed forces either when they join, say by spending a year or two in armed force units, or whilst in service. That will foster greater understanding of service systems and requirements. Thirdly and most importantly, conscious efforts should be made to better understand the other side of the picture and that will foster the belief that all are on the same side and working in individual ways towards a common goal. The tendency that should be eschewed is the belief/conviction that appointment to a post makes for instant expertise. Seeking advice and understanding is neither demeaning nor a sin.
For better interaction of service and civil functionaries, major changes in organisation are unwarranted. Incremental improvements should be a continuous process. However, it must be emphasised that all should recognise that an organisation cannot function better than the capabilities of the people manning it.
For the rest of this article, the terms CDS and PCCOSC are used interchangeably and imply that both designations will carry similar responsibilities. The CDS will be supported by the existing Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) and the extant duties of IDS will devolve on the CDS. The writings on the duties of CDS refer broadly to the following responsibilities:
He will be the single point of contact for military advice or on military matters.
Administering the Strategic Force Command (SFC). Whenever other tri-service commands like Special Operations Command, Cyber Command or Space Command are set up, the Commanders of all these Commands will report to the CDS.
The CDS and his staff will ensure greater efficiency and effectiveness in the planning process. This should include both procurements and operational planning.
The CDS will help foster greater jointness amongst the services.
As per existing norms, the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) reports to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) and so do the Commander SFC and the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command. One difference is that unlike in the case of the proposed CDS, the Chairman COSC is not designated as the single point of contact on military matters. The Chairman is also a rotational appointment and rapid changes have occurred in the past, changes that are viewed by some as militating against the minimum desired tenure to permit continuity. However, it is argued that the system has been operating for many years and the very experienced Chairman COSC,
backed by so many three and two star officers and a considerable staff that comprise IDS, should not have any difficulty to undertake additional responsibilities. Hence, it is opined that the current system should be left unchanged for the moment. As and when new tri-service commands are established, the institution of a Permanent Chairman makes sense. He would now be required to oversee and control the functioning of the tri-service commands to meet the needs of all three services. Chairman COSC may find the workload of overseeing the work of three or four additional commands whilst retaining the responsibilities of his parent service as excessive. Should the task of PCCOSC also include the four responsibilities mentioned above? The paragraphs that follow address the question. On the face of it, seeking professional advice from only a single source on all military issues appears to give the source inherent super human powers of in depth understanding of all issues concerning the armed forces. This is beyond what can be expected of a mere mortal. The concept is flawed. We are in an age of specialisation and super specialisation and whilst generalists have their place, it will always be prudent to seek advice from the source best qualified to provide it. This is particularly so in case of operational plans and recommendations. The same holds true for procurement recommendations. Corporate decision making has many advantages. A single individual cannot be the person to be contacted in every case. If a system of single source of advice is adopted, the CDS would often have to seek professional guidance from others. His recommendations would be based on second hand information and if a discussion ensues or supplementary issues arise, the CDS will be hard pressed to make the best views available. It should also be recognised that, in the absence of adequate data, and that is often the case, one has to rely on intuition and intuition is a product of firsthand experience. There is no substitute for experience. Be that as it may, it is also more than likely that the views of the CDS would, maybe even unintentionally, be biased. We can and should do better. Each service has its core competencies and that fact should be accepted by all. Within each service there are sub specialisations and in each case, there will probably be more than one expert. Even the head of a particular service often seeks the views of more than one individual, discusses the pros and cons of differing thoughts before arriving at a plan or a recommended course of action. If this obtains in a single service environment, the situation is far more complex in inter-service considerations.
One more issue merits consideration. The CDS would be from one of the three services and it is inadvisable to make him responsible for the conduct of operations. That should remain in the realm of individual services. This cannot be over emphasised. The CDS would seek views from the heads of the three services and he would be more agreeable and amenable to advice from the heads of services that are not his parent service. However, differences of opinion could arise where his thinking is considerably different from the head of his parent service. An avoidable piquant situation could arise.
The concept of CDS providing a single point of advice should be considered as still born.
STRATEGIC FORCE COMMAND
The Strategic Force Command draws support from all three services. There is also a need for administrative control and administrative support to the Command. As it would be somewhat problematic for the Commander SFC to deal with all three heads of the services, his reporting to the Chairman COSC or CDS or PCCOSC stands to reason. However, it is a moot point as to whether any form of operational control should be exercised by Chairman COSC. In our system, for very good reasons, we have a clear separation between the control and conduct of conventional operations on one hand and the preparation and, God forbid, for a nuclear war on the other. It is imperative that the separation is maintained. The two are very distinct levels of conflict and must be dealt with separately. We must shun the thought that use of a nuclear weapon is a possible extension of conventional military conflict. In our scenario, the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter the use of such weapons against us. That must remain the cardinal principle. Again, for good reasons, the security attached to matters nuclear
must be of a decidedly higher order and we should do whatever is possible to ensure that the systems we adopt are such that no classified information is even inadvertently compromised. Hence, it is strongly recommended that the operational control of Commander SFC should be exercised by either the National Security Adviser or the Executive Council of the National Command Authority. In fact, it would be advisable if Commander SFC is invited to become part of the Executive Council.
EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS OF THE PLANNING PROCESS
IDS was intended to be the staff of the CDS. Even without the CDS, IDS reports to the Chairman COSC. It is nearly 16 years since IDS was created (October 2001). By now the teething problems should be over and the organisation well settled to oversee inter-service issues. Unfortunately, the organisation has morphed into an entity by itself instead of using the very great expertise posted to it to iron out inter service differences. The greatest contribution that IDS can make is to find solutions to vexing problems that will be acceptable to all. They must also help find common ground when there are serious differences of opinion. That has largely eluded us.
The Defence Intelligence Agency of the IDS has done good work in providing Joint Intelligence Assessments. It is now a respected organisation. The IDS has also been successful in finalising a Defence Space Vision. Many Joint Committees have been created for better functional efficiency. Some air defence issues have found solutions. A Joint Doctrine for the services has also been released. All these are not seriously contentious issues. For instance, the doctrine does not carry a high security grading and must be guarded in its approach. If a doctrine is defined as a set of beliefs, it has little value in formulating either procurement or operational plans. At best it can lay down broad concepts and basic principles on the conduct of operations. Is a doctrine always implementable? Possibly the answer is in the negative. No doctrine can cater to varied contingences and can never be a dictat on how to wage wars. Security considerations will prohibit that. Again, the release of a Joint Doctrine does not automatically imply that it is a stepping stone to the establishment of the CDS and/or of Theatre Commands. At best finalising a Joint Doctrine is a small step and, maybe, shows that on issues that do not pertain to procurement or operations, a unanimity of views of the three services can be obtained even if it is time consuming. That is inadequate.
The major task of IDS should be to fashion and control the procurement system and to formulate operational plans. Over the years, the IDS has worked hard to streamline the procurement process. It has introduced checks and procedures to ensure that the Defence Procurement Procedure is adhered to. On many occasions, it has made sure that a common approach and recommendations are presented to the Defence Acquisition Council. Some good work has also been done towards finding commonality in equipment purchases and in making a single approach to the vendors; independent approaches by different services for the same equipment as often happened in the past should not occur again. All this is to the good but is not sufficient.
The IDS does little to formulate the requirements for the services. The Long Term Perspective Plans of Army/Navy/Air Force are worked out by the individual service supposedly on the basis of Net Assessments prepared by the concerned Directorate in IDS and the plan forwarded to the IDS. The IDS merely collates the plans and produces a document titled the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP). It is intended to be a joint plan on the basis of which purchase proposals can be readied. As it is, the IDS does not examine if the proposals in the individual plans are indeed based on the net assessments. Again, in the integrated plan, there are no recommendations made on prioritisation of purchases. There is little application of mind. Different views are not sought and thereafter examined to arrive at concrete and studied recommendations that can be defended. There is little examination as to whether the purchases sought by different services are conducive to joint operational plans. In this way, the authority of the services is not undermined but the LTIPP can hardly be called a joint plan.
The major limitation in the system followed is that a joint procurement plan cannot be made based on individual appreciations of what the net assessment forecasts. The starting point has to be joint planning. A systematic approach towards this
end is needed. It is recommended that each service is tasked to work out, in cogent terms, its capabilities whilst operating on its own and in conjunction with the other service(s). This must be the first step. Thereafter joint planning should be carried out for the contingencies that flow out of the net assessment or any other contingency. Such joint planning should carry the commitment of each service that they will be able to effect what they say they can. That will make the planning more meaningful as there will be an inherent quasi guarantee of success. The implicit understanding should be that if it becomes necessary to put the plans into practice, no service will make excuses for performance that is short of what was projected earlier as capabilities. Accountability must be ensured. The planning will thus be more realistic. More importantly, it will be a joint plan and point the way towards training requirements. It is granted that this will be an involved process and a continuous process but the results will be worthwhile. The plans will automatically throw up immediate procurement needs and prioritisation of procurements in the years ahead. Most importantly, the operational plans and the subsequently arrived at procurement plans will have the concurrence of all three services. If we are to attenuate inter-service rivalry, the start should be with operational planning that is based on reality rather than imagined capabilities and requirements. Good jointness will be a byproduct that will strengthen with time. Joint formulation of strategy and tactics and the consequent operational planning cannot but foster better understanding and better jointness.
Some could argue that the procedure suggested is much too simplistic and warfare is far more complex. The author wholeheartedly agrees. For security reasons, details have been omitted. Also, as the system is fielded and begins to operate, improvements will suggest themselves. A planning system is an evolutionary process. But it bears mention that everyone accepts that joint planning is a pre-requisite for effective prosecution of a modern war and progressive modernisation is essential. The procedure outlined meets both requirements. A logical approach has been recommended - first plan and let the planning process decide on procurement priorities. It must be again emphasised that the planning process has to be complex and ongoing. It is not a one-time activity. Security considerations will arise but as the planning, by itself, is carried out jointly but the prosecution of plans devolved to individual services, the security issue can be contained. Again as there will probably be many plans and sub plans for each contingency, security is strengthened as the choice of plan to adopt will be taken at the last moment. A full time planning team is needed and the work of this team will be as important during peace as it will be during war.
The procedure outlined has not been attempted so far and it is likely that it will be met with strong resistance. Possibly, a Governmental push may be required. It has often been mooted that a Government push is needed to introduce changes in Higher Defence Organisation. The author argues that a push towards joint planning will work better. Not only planning for possible wars and how to prosecute them is the bread and butter of the armed forces but the plans generated and the manner in which the wars should be fought will automatically indicate the optimum organisation that will be most suitable. Such a study will be based on inputs that are more germane to the armed forces and are as realistic as possible, as opposed to expressions of imaginary needs and fears. Maybe no real changes will be required.
When the IDS was created 16 years ago, it was hoped that better inter-service cooperation will result. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Turf battles continue even within IDS. If 16 years of IDS existence and a manning level of some 300 officers drawn from all three services, headed by an officer of Vice Chief status who is supported by 5 officers of three star PSO status and another 24 two star officers have still left so many shortcomings as mentioned in the earlier paragraphs, possibly the problem is neither administrative nor organisational. Instilling of jointness may be the essential requirement.
Is it time to think de novo?
Editor’s Note: Keeping in view the length of the article, it has been divided into two parts. Part I appearing in this Edition deals with Civil/Military interaction and CDS/IDS and related issues. Part II dealing with the requirement of true ‘Jointness’ amongst the services would be dwelt upon further and the need for the ‘Theatre Command System’ will be discussed in the ‘August Edition’.