New Delhi: Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat has been appointed India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and will now be the principal advisor to the government on defence issues while also being the Defence Advisor to India’s Nuclear Command Authority.
As CDS, Rawat will also focus on integration and jointness among the three Services — the Army, the Navy and the Air Force — and will steer defence procurement.
He will be working towards the ultimate goal of theatre commands as “facilitation of restructuring of Military Commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands”.
The CDS, who will be heading the Department of Military Affairs in the defence ministry as secretary, is likely to be at No. 12 in the warrant of precedence, with the three Service chiefs.
Gen. Rawat as the CDS will be regarded as the first among equals and will function from the South Block office that houses the Army and Navy headquarters besides the defence ministry.
The post of CDS, a creation of the biggest defence reform in Independent India, has been given an upper age limit of 65 years (with extension), which means that Rawat, who turns 62 in March 2020, will become the longest-serving military officer.
In a detailed interview to ThePrint in September, Rawat had spoken about his vision for the CDS, who will also be steering India’s defence diplomacy.
While welcoming the post, a four-star position, he had said one should not focus on stars or stripes. “Whoever becomes the CDS, he will have to be the first among equals,” he said. “Whichever service he belongs to, he will have to shed the inhibitions of that service. He will have to convince the other two that we need to work together.”
He said the CDS would work on bringing jointness among the three services at both the top and bottom levels, such as integrating training establishments and logistics.
While earlier there was a discussion on the CDS being given the operational command of the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) that looks after India’s nuclear arsenal, he will now be the Defence Advisor to India’s Nuclear Command Authority.
Sources explained that it was eventually decided that the operational as well as administrative control will remain as it is, that is with the prime minister through the national security advisor.
CDS to be principal advisor, not single-point advisor
The Service chiefs will have the operational command of their forces and will continue to have a direct line to the prime minister, but the CDS will be the “principal advisor”, sources said.
“While the CDS will be the first among the equals and will be the principal advisor, the three Service chiefs will continue to have a direct line with the Raksha Mantri and the Prime Minister’s Office as and when they deem fit or when the prime minister wants to have a direct talk,” a top government official told ThePrint.
It was earlier felt that the CDS will act as the single pointsman to the government on defence issues.
The CDS, apart from being the head of the DMA, will also be the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He will act as the Principal Military Adviser to the defence minister on all tri-Services matters.
However, the government has clarified that the three Chiefs will continue to advise the defence minister on matters exclusively concerning their respective Services.
“CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three Service Chiefs, so as to be able to provide impartial advice to the political leadership,” the government said last week in a statement.
The CDS will also be the officer responsible for planning, coordinating and prioritising procurement based on inputs from the service headquarters besides, of course, fund availability, as reported by ThePrint on 15 August when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of the post that is a 20-year-old demand.
The focus of the CDS will be on how procurement can be interlinked between the Services.
Sources said new rules and procedures have been drawn out for the CDS to carry about his task.
Gen. Rawat, as CDS will be member of Defence Acquisition Council chaired by the defence minister and Defence Planning Committee chaired by the NSA.
CDS to be responsible for integration
The CDS is aimed at bringing integration, which PM Modi has stressed upon multiple times. Chairing the Combined Commanders Conference in 2015 onboard the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, Modi had rolled out his plan for the military, which he said should be agile, mobile and driven by technology, not just human valour.
“We should promote jointness across every level of our armed forces. We wear different colours, but we serve the same cause and bear the same flag. Jointness at the top is a need that is long overdue,” he had said.
Top sources told ThePrint that while theatre commands would be the ultimate aim, the focus of the CDS will be on the integration of the three services, both operationally and ethos wise.
Rawat will also have the key responsibility of shaping the three new joint Services structures to tackle emerging warfare threats in the next five years, top sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint.
The three structures — envisaged as the Space Command, Cyber Command and the Armed Forces Special Operations Command for meeting future warfare needs — are in the works as divisions, to begin with.
A top official in the government said that unlike other countries, such as the United States, where the CDS has a direct role in warfighting, the role of CDS in India, will be the reverse to begin with.
“This is because it will take some more time to bring jointness between the services,” the source said. “He will not have a direct role in warfighting, but will play a role in arming the services with the necessary equipment after consultation with the three services and arriving at a common ground on which purchase to prioritise.”
Rawat’s main task will be to bring about jointness in operation, logistics, transport, training, support services, communications, repairs and maintenance, etc of the three Services, within three years of the first CDS assuming office.
It is expected that this reform in the Higher Defence Management would enable the armed forces to implement coordinated defence doctrines and procedures that will lead to jointmanship among the three Services.
Currently, major countries such as the US, France, the UK and China all have a CDS.