The CDS Debate – Confronting Issues III

Before moving off the subject of the Services’ role in procrastinating over the CDS issue, perhaps it would be best to let Air Mshl Adi Gandhi (Retd) have the last word from his, as yet unpublished, paper “CDS  a Non-Starter”. It typically spells out the focus of the resistance of the smaller services, specifically the Air Force.

“One of the irritants that has created inter-services conflict is the lack of recognition of each services’ individual expertise in the element it operates in. This has caused a lot of heartburn within the armed forces. It is necessary to leave each service to operate in its own element and not create conflict situations by wanting to take over assets to keep them under command. Only one exception need be made here, and that is, the air power assets carried on board by the navy since they often operate beyond assistance from land. There is no reason why the army cannot provide all land based expertise to all the three services, the navy all sea based, and the air force all airborne expertise.”

As I understand it, originally, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) was meant to be a buffer and liaison between the military and the political system. The MOD dealt directly with the political establishment and the military was kept free of any political buffeting. Under our system, Service Chiefs were never a part of the Government’s decision making process – that was reserved for the political hierarchy and rightly so. However, gradually politicians seemed content keeping aloof from the military and were reluctant to interfere almost to the point of indifference – as can be seen during debates on the Defence Budget or defence related issues, where it is reportedly a problem collecting a quorum.

One of the reasons could have been as a  result of the backlash caused by too much tinkering and political interference during the events leading to the 1962 fiasco.  It was perhaps also the effect of events in 1971, when the late Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw stood his ground and rightly advised Indira Gandhi on matters of preparedness and timing. It could also be put down to ignorance and indifference as the military is not an electoral or vote garnering issue. Besides, the military have earned the reputation of being reliable doers who can undertake and deliver on any task given to them – this could range from maintaining law and order during disturbed times, helping out during national calamities, organising national events and even as recently as the Common Wealth Games, coming to the rescue and putting up an overbridge in record time when the main bridge collapsed! Though this may all be music to people in uniform, the fact is that since the Chiefs were out of the Government’s decision making machinery and with the politicians not keen to interfere, decisions gradually became the prerogative of the MOD and this in turn gradually turned the system of civilian control into one of bureaucratic control.

Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd) has in his paper “India’s Higher Defence Organisation: Implications for National Security and Jointness” published in the Journal of Defence Studies, August 1970, aptly summed the situation:

“….the three Service Headquarters (SHQ) could have, with time and further experience, become separate Departments of the MoD (like the Departments of Defence Production or Defence Finance). Alternatively, the three SHQs could have integrated themselves completely with the Department of Defence within the MoD.

However, not only did this not happen, but within a short period of its implementation, the senior civil servants of the time intervened to completely distort the concept of “civilian supremacy” to give it their own interpretation of “bureaucratic control” over the armed forces. This was done by the simple expedient of designating the three SHQs as “Attached Offices” of the Department of Defence, giving them (as per the GoI Rules of Business) a status exactly on par with organizations such as the Salt Commissioner, Commissioner for Handicrafts, CRPF, and CISF, etc.

The SHQs, in keeping with their status of Attached Offices, found that they were reduced to adjuncts of MoD, and also placed completely outside the Ministry, which they could approach only through the medium of files. Having submitted a case on file, all that the SHQ could do was to wait like a supplicant for the wheels of MoD to grind at their leisurely pace, while targets and deadlines slipped, steadily but surely.

The administrative effectiveness of the Service Chiefs steadily eroded, to the point where their recommendations to the Defence Minister began to be routinely sent for scrutiny and comment to the Director level, and would then slowly work their way upwards, open to comment (or even rejection) at every level of bureaucracy!”

The other problem with bureaucratic control is lack of expertise. The bureaucrat is a migratory bird, here to-day, gone to-morrow. There is no dedicated cadre and the bureaucracy is most allergic to having any military presence in the MOD. As others have pointed out, if the Home Ministry can have IPS officers posted to it why can’t the MOD have service representation? Where is the harm in having expertise available at your door step instead of having to pass files between the ministry and Service HQs over simple queries? Besides it is just not the MOD. When the MOD runs out of queries the matter is then passed on, in many cases, to the Finance. Then it yo – yos between the MOD, Fin Ministry and the three Services HQs. Loads of paper work bereft of any positive action.

An Integrated Hq would simplify so many other problems of logistics, procurement, transportation etc etc. For example, there is a lot of commonality in procurement by the three services. In each case there are separate files and an individual case shuttles between the Service HQs and the MOD. Mr Vinod Anand in his paper “Integrating the Indian Military:Retrospect and Prospect”  published in the Journal of Defence Studies, Winter 2008, has enumerated various examples of this duplication and additional expenditure:

“There seems to be a pattern in acquiring common systems independently; Oxygen-cum-Communication Mask worn below the helmet by the pilots of the Air Force and Army Aviation was procured independently by the two Services. The Army procured the Mask ex-import at four times the cost at which it was procured by the Air Force indigenously. Similarly, Sniper Rifle SVD for Special Forces was obtained by the Army and Air Force independently, which resulted in avoidable excess expenditure. In 2003, the Army took almost a year to evaluate Underwater Diving Equipment while the same had been acquired by the Navy much earlier in 1999. HQ IDS was expected to streamline the process and evolve JSQRs for common equipment but it has not been able to overcome the disconnection between the Services because of attitudinal and structural issues. However, it appears that in December 2006, HQ IDS had taken action to constitute an Inter Services Equipment Policy Committee (ISEPC) for procurement of systems and items common to the three Services. ISEPC would also look into the issues of developing JSQR.”

Many analysts and strategists have also made mention of the fact that the political hierarchy has this bee in its bonnet about a military take over being facilitated and being more probable with a CDS or higher  military authority. Even though everyone has debunked it and the Indian military has a well earned reputation of being scrupulously apolitical, it does not seem to have helped calm political nerves. Unfortunately, events in our immediate neighbourhood have merely helped to further spook the political psyche with adequate encouragement from ‘other’ sources. So while they may be content to let the military run itself operationally, the political leadership seems averse to creating any more power centers.

So while everyone accepts the necessity of changing India’s Higher Defense Organisation, the unwritten rule is to make haste slowly. One more committee is being instituted, the Naresh Chandra Committee, to go into the subject. This will in all probability be followed by deep examination of the recommendations and tossing of files between various concerned agencies, followed by another GOM being formed and we shall continue to plod on till its time for yet another committee. Mr Amit Mukherjee, in his very comprehensive paper “Failing to Deliver” quotes Ashley Tellis on the state of our existing system:

“…the weakness of this (civilian) control system are widely recognized in India, but being content with the protection afforded by the country’s great size and inherent strength relative to its adversaries, India’s security managers – historically- have constantly refrained from altering the structure of strict civilian security control no matter what benefits in increased military efficiency might accrue as a result.”

Admittedly, the reorganising process is not as simple as solving a few problems of turf wars, egos or the insecurities of those involved in the process. Just instituting a CDS or an Integrated Service HQ or the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) and a change of heart amongst political leaders will not complete the process. There are indeed many mountains to climb. Most service analysts talk of theatre commands, functionality issues, rank structure etc etc while the bureaucrats will say enough is done and raise more queries, the politician will have their own inhibitions to overcome as also decide on numerous conflicting stands from all the concerned players.

None can deny the enormity of the task, yet the attitude must change from treating each problem as insurmountable to treating it as a challenge that must and will be overcome. We need to move on from committees and their recommendations becoming a cause for more committees, to implementing the recommendations, not merely discussing them for ever and ever.

“Politicians enjoy power without any responsibility, bureaucrats wield power without any accountability, and the military assumes responsibility without any direction”
K Subrahmanyam

(Qouted from Amit Mukherjee’s, “Failing to Deliver”)

————————————————————————————————————-    1. Higher Defence Management of India: A Case For The Chief of Defence Staff
V.K. Shrivastava, Senior Fellow, IDSA
http://www.idsa-india.org/an-sept1-00.html

2. INDIA’S CHIEF OF DEFENCE STAFF: a perspective analysis
by Dr. Subhash Kapila
http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers3%5Cpaper250.html

3. The Chief of Defence Staff
S.K.Sinha
http://www.idsa.in/system/files/jds_1_1_sksinha.pdf

4. JOURNAL OF DEFENCE STUDIES
Integrating the Indian Military:Retrospect and Prospect

http://www.idsa.in/jds/2_2_2008_IntegratingtheIndianMilitary_VAnan

5. Management of Defence: Towards An Integrated And Joint Vision
Vinod Anand
http://www.idsa-india.org/an-feb-2-01.html

6. Challenges in Defence Planning
VS Shekhawat
http://www.idsa.in/strategicanalysis/ChallengesinDefencePlanning_vsshekhawat_1006

7. Journal of Defence Studies
India’s Higher Defence Organisation: Implications for National Security and Jointness
Adm Arun Prakash, Aug 2007
http://www.idsa.in/jds/1_1_2007_IndiasHigherDefenceOrganization_aprakash

8. Failing to Deliver: The Post Crises Defence Reforms in India
Anit Mukherjee
http://johnshopkins.academia.edu/AnitMukherjee/Papers/486430/Failing_to_Deliver_The_Post_Crises_Defence_Reforms_in_India

9. The Kargil Committee report
http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/India/KargilRCA.html

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4 Responses to The CDS Debate – Confronting Issues III

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    • Dara says:

      I wish I could say I understand what this means! Hopefully it will sort out over time or some kindly soul will enlighten me – because I have no idea. 🙂

  2. Air Mshl Adi Ghandhi says:

    Hi all,
    I shall just provide my short point of view since I am not aware whether you have read my article or not. I understand Daras problem since it is 16 pages long of putting it on the blog and unfortunately I have not got down to blogging yet, but here goes.

    I have one basic question to ask of all those who understand the present system of the services integration that has run for the last 4/5 decades (?) What is the new system under one person going to create that does not exist already, apart from placing all the decision making in the hands of a service head who may know nothing about running a war in a medium that he is not familiar with, have existing? Every department sought to be created is there but our crib is it does not work? We need to examine why it does not work and a simple answer always emerges, it is the individuals in the system who create the abberations and not the system. So how is this individual from a service going to resolve this conundrum? Especially so wothout expertise in any other medium. WE are doing exactly what the IAS does, create generalists who cannot be blamed for uncertain decision making at a critical time of war when it could be a single service head. Please for even one second do not tell me that having sailed on a ship for one tenure as an exchange officer I could suddenly become an experienced mariner and take decisions on deployment and use of the navy during a war.

    I believe that we need to find some system of making the 3 service heads agree more often than they do today. This can happen only if the old DCC ( Defence Committee of the Cabinet) is reconvened and an open discussion is held on all aspects ‘oprational’ and acquisition that are currently being procesed by the bureaucrats.
    Not only will this educate the RM,( and the PM who should attend every second or third meeting) , but will also ensure that the DefSec is held responsible for all delays in fil,es and answerable to both the minister and the service chiefs about what the status of defence preparedness is.

    The second and simpler solution to a lot of our delays in operational acquisitions should be the change over to single file for all communications. This will then hold the right level responsible for delays that occur. The Oz have a great defence attitude, ie, the nation can afford a good defence structure and the nation is responsible for providing it to the armed forces to protect it.

    Lastly a parting shot, do we realise how easy it will be for the bureaucrat and the politician to manipulte jst one person as against three??? Carrots are aplenty to get acceptances of political or bureaucratic views. Today a service chief can’t even go on an official trip abroad without the AA running around like Bl…as… fly till the last moment. Tell me which chief cancelled a visit because things did not happen in time? And there is much more to discuss but this is just for starters.
    Air Mshl AR Ghandhi

    • Dara says:

      Hopefully the Air Marshal’s remarks will generate more comments. Would just like to give my view which somehow happens to be different from some points mentioned here.

      “”Every department sought to be created is there but our crib is it does not work? We need to examine why it does not work and a simple answer always emerges, it is the individuals in the system who create the abberations and not the system.”

      It may well be true that individuals and not the system are often at fault. If in 64 years we have not been able to change the mindset of individuals then perhaps there is something very wrong in the way we bring up our individuals. We may never manage to do so in any meaningful way unless something changes, be it the system or the way we train ourselves.
      Similarly, with rapid changes in technology and operational environments, it is equally true that systems need to be upgraded also. Unfortunately, systems, because they are established systems, are more resistant and extremely difficult to adapt to change themselves. In my opinion. ACM Tipnis in his Safed Sagar report has actually made out a very good case for such a change. The issue of air support took almost two weeks to sort out – meetings of the COSC, at the Army Ops Room, at Naval HQ, with the RM and finally two meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security. Surely this begs for change?

      “So how is this individual from a service going to resolve this conundrum? Especially so without expertise in any other medium. WE are doing exactly what the IAS does, create generalists …..”

      As I understand it and see it, this one individual is not going to be operating in a vacuum. He will have, or should have, a fully integrated infrastructure to assist him, complete with required specialists and experienced personnel from all departments to advise him – unlike the Chairman COSC and his secretariat.

      As regards creating generalists, I think we need to look at our own functioning and not the bureaucratic way. As a Squadron Commander, Station Commander/AOC or AOC-in-C aren’t we operating in the same manner? One man, generally a flyer, is made responsible for everything under him be it, fighter, transport or helicopter operations, administration, security, provisioning, maintenance etc. etc. He may have no experience in many of these fields. Yet, to assist him we have experienced and suitably qualified personnel to undertake work and provide advice – C Eng O, C Ad O, SLO; SASO, SMSO etc etc. Similarly the individual, call him the CDS, for purpose of easy understanding, will have adequate experise available to him. It will not be one man deciding in isolation.

      “What is the new system under one person going to create that does not exist already, apart from placing all the decision making in the hands of a service head who may know nothing about running a war in a medium that he is not familiar with, have existing?”

      One of the things that needs to be created and made efficient, which is not there, is the Integrated HQ. Besides making available expertise and advice to the individual under one roof, this also has the benefit of cutting down on manpower.
      “Air Commodore Jasjit Singh has argued that ‘integration could cut down manpower at defence headquarters by 50 per cent or more, and bring about profound improvements in defence planning and decision making’.” (Management of Defence: Towards An Integrated And Joint Vision by Vinod Anand, http://www.idsa-india.org/an-feb-2-01.html)

      I may be wrong but in the models that are being looked at I do not think that the individual will be “running a war”. Again, as I understand it, the CDS will not actually have many forces under command. His primary job is not to conduct the war but to give a combined military perspective and view to the government. In the UK for example, while the CDS is the single point of contact to the Government the Service Chiefs also have direct access to the PM and Defense Secretary. This provides them an avenue to get across their points of view if they have drastic objections to the view of the CDS. The same applies to the US system of the CJCS. Even though they are subordinate to the CJCS the Service Chiefs have the right to provide dissenting voices to the Government in case of major dispute.

      Finally a point about one man being easier to manipulate than the group of three. Unfortunately, though the logic may be sound, it is an unfortunate and sad reflection on what we have allowed ourselves to become. There can be no systemic remedy for that unless and until an artificial spine comes into being!

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