The CDS Debate: Confronting The Issues – I

In response to the post on the CDS Debate , Groupie Bhargava has raised some very interesting points in an email titled “The CDS  – To Be Or Not To Be”. It raises the very pertinent question of whether we need a CDS in the first place? Groupie has very forthright views on this aspect:

I distinctly recall the War of 1965. I was on deputation to Egypt as a test pilot but was on leave in India. I managed to offer my services as deemed fit by IAF and was sent to AF Kanpur to flight test stored aircraft. I also delivered some of them to replace our losses. Thus the events of 1965 were not just hearsay for me.

I remember that the Pak army had attacked Chhamb Jaurian sector in strength and we were in serious danger of losing all of J&K. According to the press, General JN Chaudhuri, the CoAS, went straight to PM Pt Lal Bahadur Shastri and explained the dire situation to him. The CoAS offered the only viable solution of opening another front across the international border. It is to the eternal credit of the PM to immediately agree and give him the go ahead. Not only the day was saved but eventually even Lahore was within our reach.

Now my reservation is this: Would a CDS from the Navy or Air Force have had the knowledge, foresight and courage to advise the PM in this manner. Frankly, I have very serious doubts about such a possibility. I believe the CDS from Navy or Air Force would have immediately called the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) and posed the problem to it. I wonder how long it would have taken to report an agreed view to the PM. Almost certainly there would have been some dissenting views or considerable hesitation as the Committee pondered the consequences of a blatant attack, no longer limited to so called “disputed territory”. Even the most sensible objections would never reach the political powers if the CDS ignored or suppressed them. With my uneducated but fertile imagination I can assume some scenarios with very dangerous consequences. Meanwhile the Pak forces would have moved fast to cut off J&K and happily declared it as a part of liberated Azad Kashmir.

I would greatly appreciate the views of those with much experience of higher management of our national defence. Their opinions and comments would be a valuable source of education for me, apart from clearing my apprehensions.” 

We would all appreciate the views of those who wish to share their experiences and opinions with us. Till then, since basically I really want to clear my own thinking on the subject, would like to offer my last demonitised ‘chavani’ worth. 

As I understand it, the CDS would be a single point advisor to the Government on all matters military. He would represent the three Services and it would be his responsibility to aim for a general consensus and if this were not possible, he would put forth his own views to the Government along with those of the services involved. He would also have an Integrated Services HQ, suitably staffed, to liaise with the respective Service HQ as also provide him with professional advice and options. I also presume and feel that the CDS should outrank the Service Chiefs. 

In my own mind the jury is still out on ‘Whether a CDS – Y or N?’ 

Air Chief Mshl AY Tipnis, in his report on Operation Safed Sagar has given a detailed chronological narrative of the time interval between the army requesting for air support, the discussions that took place between the Services and the Ministry and the final go ahead being received from the Government during the Kargil operations. Without going into other aspects of the debate I would just like to point out that the army, through HQ Northern Command, had approached AOC J&K for air support  a few days earlier. Army HQ, however, formally approached Air HQ for offensive air support on 14 May and by the time it materialised and received political go ahead it was 25 May! To cut a long story short, this by itself makes out a strong case for change in our system of higher defence management.

It is interesting to also note some other relevant facts which have a bearing on what Groupie Bhargava has mentioned:

Events that caused the long delay between request for air support and its materialising can briefly be described as differences of opinion between the two services and a cumbersome system. The army made a request for “Mi-25/35 helicopter gunships and armed Mi-17 helicopters to evict a few ‘intruders’ who had stepped across the Line of Control in the Kargil sector.” The air force felt that operationally helicopters would not be suitable for the task and that the choice of fire support and delivery should be left to the air force to determine. Besides Air HQ also felt that government approval was essential before committing air support. The army disagreed. Government approval, according to the army, was needed only for deploying fighters and the use of helicopters was a local in-house decision. Unable to reconcile the matter, it then went through a series of meetings and discussions – at the Chiefs of Staff Committee(COSC), then more meetings with the Defence Minister and the Principal Secretary to the PM at the Army Operations Room and finally two meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security before it was finally cleared. Time elapsed – 15 May to 25 May. In my opinion, it would be difficult to make out a stronger case for changing the system!

There have been suggestions that the present system of the COSC can be fine-tuned to meet our requirements.  The Chairman of the COSC is the longest-serving Chief from amongst the three. He is in effect wearing two caps and will almost certainly be swayed by divided loyalties. His primary job will always be that of the Chief and the Chairmanship of the COSC is in effect a part-time job for a very limited period. Since the Chairman is the longest-serving Chief, his turn comes probably towards the end of his tenure with just a few months left – hardly conducive for any meaningful contribution. Moreover, the Chairman is first amongst equals and really has no authority or even the requisite experience to really influence or objectively cast judgment on a dispute between the other two services. He has a small staff, working in isolation, that lacks all relevant information and expertise. It would, therefore, be necessary to have someone other than the Chief with the authority to influence policy matters and planning, and render advice to the government. That being so, there is a need for another officer with adequate responsibility and authority, then why not a CDS?

There would also be a need for adequate infrastructure. One proposal is to integrate all the three HQ and the Ministry into one integrated Hq. This in effect will increase co-ordination between the bureaucrats and the military with the Integrated HQ having representatives from all the branches of the military as also the bureaucracy, all working together in tandem. Seems like a pipe dream? It has been working in the UK and the US for quite sometime. As brought out by Mr VK Srivastava in his paper “Higher Defence Management of India: A case for the CDS” 

“The Director of International Organisations, an Army Brigader, reports to a civilian Under Secretary, who in turn reports to a civilian Deputy Secretary, who answers to the 4-star military VCDS”

Thus, as mentioned earlier, though the jury is still out in my mind, there is however a crying need for change. Perhaps the CDS is a viable option. Again I would reiterate my lack of experience and knowledge on the subject but, like Groupie Bhargava, also request inputs from those with far more experience and knowledge on the subject.

Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava has also brought out a few more reservations and set forth his views on aspects such as turf wars and the reservations of bureaucrats and the political class to the issue. These will be discussed subsequently.


4 Responses to The CDS Debate: Confronting The Issues – I

  1. Air Mshl A V Vaidya (Retd) says:

    Having read the comments, I am also tempted to submit some thoughts based on my experience acquired during my posting in HQ IDS as DCIDS (PP&FD – Perspective Planning & Force Development) for over two years and presentations heard given by various people as well as an excellent one given by students of CDM after an in-depth study of the subject.

    I don’t think there is any major dispute about whether we should have a CDS or not. Then why is this subject hanging fire? Well, three thoughts come to mind. Firstly and quite unfortunately, the three Chiefs don’t quite seem to earnestly want it for fear of losing their turf. They feel that their operational powers would be taken away and given to the CDS and that they will be left with functions like recruitment, manning and training and hence the attitude – “Not while I am Chief – perhaps after I retire”. Secondly, the Bureaucrats starting from Defence Secretary downwards also don’t want some Defence Officer sitting above them. And thirdly, some Politicians are scared that CDS might become too strong to handle – a ridiculous apprehension. So, all in all it is a non-starter if we want to work upwards starting from the level of Chiefs and Defence Secretary for an appointment of CDS. Well, then what? Well, then the only way left appears to be a top-down approach. Some strong Prime Minister along with an equally forceful Defence Minister has to force it down and ensure that a CDS is appointed. I think this is how CDS has been appointed in very many countries out of the 67 countries that have CDS.

    I feel the issue of CDS appointment is mainly stuck due to the protocol issue – where will the CDS stand? – ahead of Defence Secretary or in line with him. And then where will the Chiefs stand? The three Services want the CDS to be given more powers than the Def Sec but that perhaps is not acceptable to the bureaucrats and the Services don’t want the Chiefs to be pushed down in protocol.
    During the COSC meetings that I have attended, I noticed that the Chairman generally operated in a democratic style trying to arrive at a consensus. Being one of the three, he finds it very difficult to impose his decision because he has “no actual” power as Chairman to do so. Hence in some cases where a common consensus could not be reached, the matter had to be referred for decision to Defence Secretary making him de-facto CDS or more powerful than the Chairman COSC. I feel such a situation can be averted by the three Chiefs by really getting together, putting personal interests aside and presenting a strong joint front and demand for appointment of CDS with an additional star which will give him the desired extra Power for decision making – or am I asking too much!!

    I feel most of us agree on the issue that the present functioning of COSC system needs to be changed to keep pace with the changes in the art of warfare and that the present system is quite unsuitable. There is an urgent need to increase the integration of the three Services, ensure more synergy generation and cut down on the OODA cycle since no future war is likely to be fought by any one Service alone. In this aspect the present COSC system has not been very effective (amply proved in Kargil Ops) and therefore a change is definitely required. And such a change can only be brought about by appointment of a CDS with one extra star who can tell the Chiefs, “OK friends, I have heard you all, but this is what I want done”.

    I am tempted to express my thoughts on the recommendations made by the GoM after the Kargil fiasco. One important recommendation made by the GoM was creation of an organisation headed by CDS to ensure integration between the three Services to provide a single point military advice to the govt. As a result HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) was created on 01 Oct 2001 but given no operational powers. Without the operational powers and without the appointment of CDS, it was referred to as a headless wonder and a spoke in the wheel. Of late it is gaining some credibility but still not being taken seriously enough.

    The other important recommendation was integration of the MoD and the Service HQ. Today, in the MoD, we have IAS officers functioning at various levels who actually have no earlier exposure to and experience in handling Defence Services related issues prior to their posting in the MoD. They are inducted from various other ministries and get appointed in the Ministry of Defence at various levels like Joint Directors, Directors, Joint Secretaries, Secretary etc. Intention of the recommendation was to have some cross postings between the Service officers and MoD officers at various levels and avoid a situation wherein IAS officers were posted from some Department like Husbandry without any knowledge about functioning of Defence Forces. Here the MoD has frauded blatantly. In order to give an impression that Service HQs have been integrated, the service HQs have been re-designated as “Integrated HQs” of the MoD. In actual fact, no concrete steps have been taken to integrate MoD with Service HQ in true sense.

    Yet another big fraud is the formation of an integrated Command called ANC on trial basis. ANC infact is a motherless organisation. No one takes it seriously. All the out-dated equipment nearing life expiry like radars, ships weapons etc are sent there. It has no budget of its own. It has to go with a begging bowl to the three Services to include their demand in the yearly and the Five yearly procurement and allocation plan. This is really a shame and what is more shameful is that the three Services are participants in this fraud game. That’s it for the time being.

    Air Marshal AV Vaidya (Retd), Short name Doc Vaidya.

    • Dara says:

      Hi Doc,

      Thank you for this easy to understand and logical comment.

      Let me assure you, that you are the first doc whose writing I have been able to decipher. Maybe thats because you’re an hon doc! 😉

  2. om bansal says:

    no model of integration amongst various arms of armed forces is going to be perfect. the model system best suited for us has to be indigenous and evolved by us as many factors come into play eg , the way each service is organised, its history , experiences, culture, as also our political system, indian character of ego more important than the good of organisation.
    presently we have no system. COSC is clearly not a working model , at best it can decide minor administrative issues of marginal import. will CDS work, CDS as it exists in the US? i do not think so , as the US model has certain pre conditions , joint theater commands, who report directly to the president[minister in our case]. the chiefs of service look after providing trained manpower for assets under thearter commanders, who could be from any service. can we imagine any of our chiefs giving up any power, creation of joint commands from existing commands, say SWAC, WNC and SC under one in number theater commander, no way. so , we if we have to work within existing organisation structure, we have to devise a new beast to suit our requirements. a rotational CDS in place of CISC, with well defined role and charter , not to step on service chief, but be at their service to project a joint view to the minister and differences, if no view emerges for politician to resolve.budgeting , allocation of available resources would be most difficult, guns vs tanks vs aircraft? in war time this system will perhaps work , better than the non existent model we currently have. very big issue will be CDS relation ship/equivalence with babus.. 5 star or 4 star, if 5 star[which would not be acceptable] , then what about top babu, the cabinet secretary , will he be junior?, if 4 star , he will become first amongst equals, like a permanent chairman COSC, once again rotational with 2 or 3 years tenure or till age of 62 , whichever is earlier or perhaps fixed tenure of 2 years.this carrot will make the chiefs more compliant than they already are.
    the issue is complex and the most optimum answer is CDS, 4 star, rotational , fixed 2 year tenure and single point advisor to the minister with a process in place to reach acceptable solutions. he will have direct control of ANC, SFC and CISC. joint commands be attempted , starting with doable ones first , say training theater amalgamating training commands of three services administratively.then it may be relatively easier in southern theater. so , we can make haste slowly to evolve a model for ourselves, which may well be opposite of US system , where CDS provides trained manpower and material resources to operational commands. thats my view for what its worth

    • Dara says:

      The writer is Adm Om Bansal (Retd).

      “thats my view for what its worth”

      Many thanks for your informative and may I add, authoritative comment, much appreciated. Its worth a lot!

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