National Agenda: A relook at the Chief of Defence Staff
It will require political will to compel the services to be truly joint in their planning and conduct of future wars. This will demand some radical changes at the higher operational levels and the Chairman with the powers vested in him by the government c
Kargil Review Committee
In 1999, the Kargil Review Committee, headed by the late K. Subrahmanyam, had been asked to “review the events leading up to the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil District of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir; and, to recommend such measures as are considered necessary to safeguard national security against such armed intrusions.” Though it had been given a very narrow and limited charter, the committee looked holistically at the threats and challenges and examined the loopholes in the management of national security. The committee was of the view that the “political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo.’’ It made farreaching recommendations on the development of India’s nuclear deterrence, higher defence organisations, intelligence reforms, border management, the defence budget, the use of air power, counter- insurgency operations, integrated manpower policy, defence research and development, and media relations. The committee’s report was tabled in Parliament on February 23, 2000.
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) appointed a Group of Ministers (GoM) to study the Kargil Review Committee report and recommend measures for implementation. A comprehensive systemic overhaul of the country’s security and intelligence apparatus in keeping with the technological revolution and the need for integrated management structures was unfolded by the GoM, in a report submitted by them to The Prime Minister on February 26, 2001. The GoM, under the Chairmanship of L.K. Advani, also included the Defence Minister, External Affairs Minister and Finance Minister. The GoM held 27 meetings in all. In order to facilitate its work, it had set up four Task Forces one each on Intelligence Apparatus, Internal Security, Border Manage-
ment and Management of Defence. These Task Forces were multidisciplinary in character and were made up of acknowledged experts.
Arun Singh Committee
The permanent Chairman COSC by virtue of his appointment will have no allegiance to any service and must be given the status to implement the political directions in this regard. Therefore he will have to be the first among the “equals”.
The Arun Singh Committee on Defence Management, recommended the creation of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) post since the existing system of Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) had not been able to deliver on important issues. The committee recommended that the CDS should be created for carrying out four main functions: Providing single-point military advice Administer strategic forces. Ensuring jointness in the armed forces. Enhance planning process through interservice coordination and prioritising. The CCS considered the GoM report on May 11, 2001, and accepted all recommendations contained in the GoM report except that of the creation of a CDS. It seems that there was opposition to creation of the CDS both from within the armed forces as well as by the politico-bureaucratic combine. While some in the military felt their identity might get swamped, bureaucratic resistance stemmed from the feeling that the CDS may become more powerful than the Cabinet Secretary. The political hierarchy, meanwhile, felt apprehensive about too much power vested in one person. As a result, while a majority of the recommendations were implemented, including the creation of a full-fledged office of the integrated defence staff comprising almost 200 officers, its head, the CDS, has not been put in place till date. Lack of political consensus on the issue has been cited as the reason for non-implementation.
Naresh Chandra Committee
Naresh Chandra Committee, a 14-member task force on national security, was set up by the UPA Government on June 21, 2012, to suggest ways to revamp of defence management in the country. The reasons can be attributed to the large number of legal complaints in the various courts against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on pay and allowances discrepancies, defence procurement scams and the threat perception from our adversaries China and Pakistan. The main objective behind the constitution of the committee was to contemporise the Kargil Review Committee’s Report, which was tabled in the Parliament on February 23, 2000. Besides, the task force was also asked to examine the state of country’s border management. The Committee submitted its report to the government on August 8, 2012. The 14-member Naresh Chandra Task Force on national security, in its report recommended a permanent Chairman of the COSC to exercise “administrative control” over the nuclear arsenal, head a separate joint special forces command, prioritise modernisation of the armed forces and prepare annual defence operational status reports.
Permanent Chairman of COSC
Currently the COSC is a forum for service chiefs to discuss matters having a bearing on the activities of services and to advise the ministry. Its members include Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), and Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (CISC) who is a non-voting member. The position of chairman devolves on the longest serving Chief of Staff and rotates amongst the chiefs of the three services. However, it has no powers to take any strategic or administrative decision.
The permanent Chairman of COSC, a four-star general like the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs who currently constitute the panel, was to also be an “invitee” to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and the National Security Council (NSC) as well as advise the Defence Minister on all matters concerning two or more Services.
Just as the the politico-bureaucratic combine had scuttled the recommendation for a CDS after the 1999 Kargil conflict, the Defence Ministry has expressed major reservations against the fresh proposal for a permanent COSC Chairman as recommended by the Committee. Sources said the MoD, in its comments to the NSC Secretariat under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), virtually rejected the creation of a permanent Chairman COSC post as well as some other “critical reforms” desperately needed to reform the country’s higher defence management that were suggested by the Naresh Chandra Task Force. The fear that a permanent Chairman of COSC or a CDS will erode the supremacy of the civil over the military is unfounded. He will not be a Supreme Commander. He will only be an Inter-Service professional coordinator, with individual Service Chiefs. But MoD’s reservations may well have pushed the proposals into the cold storage.
The Way Ahead
The new government should accord priority to creating a permanent Chairman of the COSC. Modern warfare demands true operational integration of the three services to win wars in the future and this is not going to come about through the type of “jointmanship” being practised at present. It will require political will to compel the services to be truly joint in their planning and conduct of future wars. This will demand some radical changes at the higher operational levels and the Chairman with the powers vested in him by the government could set the ball rolling. This will not only ensure operational efficiency but will also be cost-effective.
The permanent Chairman of COSC by virtue of his appointment will have no allegiance to any service and must be given the status to implement the political directions in this regard. Therefore he will have to be the first among the “equals”.
With finite capital budgets it is imperative that the capital budget be prioritised to acquire capabilities for the armed forces and not merely add new weapon systems to the inventory of each service. By a thorough professional audit we will avoid duplication in acquiring capabilities.
Some of the roles that may be given to the permanent Chairman of COSC are as under: Exercise administrative control over the nuclear arsenal. Head a separate joint Special Forces Command. Ensure jointness in the armed forces. Exercise administrative control over all joint services commands such as the Andaman and Nicobar Command; Strategic Forces Command; Cyber Command (when created); Aerospace Command (when created). Prioritise allocation of capital budgets for acquiring vital capabilities for the armed forces. Prepare annual defence operational status reports. Will be an “invitee” to the Cabinet Committee on Security and the National Security Council as well as advise the Defence Minister on all matters concerning two or more services.
Indian Army soldiers with the 99th Mountain Brigade’s
2nd Battalion, 5th Gurkha Rifles, during an exercise