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What should role of Chief of Defence Staff be? Experts debate as India gears up for CDS

There is speculation that Modi govt will announce a CDS by the year-end. Experts say he should have financial powers and a role in ensuring jointness in the three services.

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Chandigarh: Greater power for crucial defence acquisitions, a presence in vital inter-ministerial bodies and achieving jointness among the three services. These were some of the points put forth Sunday by a panel of defence experts on the possible role of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) amid growing speculation that the Modi government will announce a name for the position by the end of this year.

The panel discussion was at a session on the “creation of the post of chief of defence staff” on the third and concluding day of the Chandigarh Military Literature Festival organised by the Punjab government.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day address this year had announced the creation of a CDS post. Following this, a committee headed by NSA Ajit Doval was formed to draw out the charter and modalities for the post.

Former defence secretary and Chhattisgarh Governor Shekhar Dutt said the biggest task before the CDS would be to ensure jointness between the three services and that he should be in a position to ensure that any external challenge can be tackled by the defence forces.

“This jointness is not for linguistic purposes. It is for operational purposes,” he said. Adding that while CDS is absolutely required, Dutt said there is a greater requirement for a full transformation of the defence structures, such as in formations, operations and remodeling of organisations.

“We ought to have certain integrated theatre commands….Nobody outside in the civil world will have any comprehension of what has to be done. It has to come from within (armed forces),” he said.

Highlighting the experience of the United States in terms of joint operation commands, Lt Gen. Sanjiv Langer (retd) said the desired approach for integrated theatre commands would need an integrated Ministry of Defence, professional staff at PMO and Presidents Secretariat and preparation of Integrated General Staff.

He said that uniformed men from the armed forces should be deputed permanently in the Ministry of Defence, and the CDS would play a role in fostering inter-services jointness in terms of budgeting, equipment purchases, training, joint doctrines and planning of military operations, an imperative of modern warfare.

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‘CDS should ensure strategic conventional military capabilities’

Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur said the CDS should ideally be given a one-line mandate of ensuring strategic conventional military capabilities.

He cited the statement of former Air Chief B.S Dhanoa who Friday said that someone has to be held responsible for delaying critical technology like multi role fighters to the services by continuing negotiations for 10 years.

“It can be the CDS,” he said.

Bahadur said the CDS should formulate synchronised joint plans leading to prioritisation of acquisition of capabilities required by the three services.

“With the CDS having the casting vote (on defence acquisitions) that’s where some sort of budgetary control comes in. He would have the overall picture…core competencies of each service will get its due,” he said.

He, however, cautioned that it can’t happen in isolation.

“CDS can propose but someone else is responsible for the money,” he said, adding that there is a requirement of specialist cadre in the defence ministry who would understand the needs of the services.

The CDS has to merge the capabilities the services require and the procedures which the ministry requires, Bahadur said.

He added that the CDS should be made a permanent members of all committees related to strategic policy group, nuclear command authority etc and should be made a part of all the inter-ministerial discussions that are related to matters of national security.

Stating the other factors which would contribute to a strong and effective CDS, he said there should be a revamp of the higher defence organisation and a greater military presence in defence ministry.

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‘CDS will fill a vital gap’

Lt Gen. Satish Dua, former chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee of the Indian Armed Forces, said that while India started jointness with the triservice National Defence Academy, somewhere down the line, jointness in services was lost.

“With the CDS, at least newer structures like cyber and space commands (agencies now) will start working together and not in silos,” he said.

“We need a better interface between the leadership, bureaucracy and armed forces and that is a gap, which the CDS may fill,” he said.

Also read: Kashmiri Muslims are moderate, ISIS unlikely to get into Valley, says former RAW chief


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  1. CDS as an institution is an important step on the road to putting flesh into defence ministry planning.
    The biggest drawback of Indian defence acquisition is compartmental defence procurement where each service raises it’s own requirements and lack of holistic view, cross leveraging and rectify deficiencies in make in India program . This has to be overhauled totally. This is where CDS has to come into picture to coordinate with defence ministry , drdo, and other services.
    I am listing few examples to show the bane of compartmental acquisition.

    1. Helicopters
    Each service has it’s own requirement for helicopters
    Kamov, chinook, nmh, Rudra, alh and apache etc..
    a)Do the readers know the per unit cost of assembled kamov is more than Russian supplied helicopter price?
    b) Then what is india gaining? Any body questioned make in India initiative the much trumpeted PM’s program.Is it only for creating employment and then after 20 years again assemble new platform? How many years it will take for India to export and earn revenue? Can India customize kamov without Russian assistance and export? These are the important questions
    the brain less babus who conceived make in India.
    c)India as well can create employment by setting up garment factories and export it for revenue.
    d) What india needs is not employment but technology absorption, setting up r&d institutions for designing next generation platforms, setting up lab facilities in engineering colleges as specialized subjects for indian students to gain knowledge and cross leveraging this technology to be used in other services platforms.
    I challenge any body thought about the above points.
    e) So the kamov program make in india program is brain less substance less which does no good to india.
    Can kamov assembly help alh and Rudra?
    Can kamov assembly help develop multirole helicopter?
    Can kamov assembly help design naval multirole helicopter?
    I dont’t say 100% should be helpful. Even 20 -30% cross leveraging is sufficient?
    Can CDS or defence ministry or drdo quantify how much India gaining?
    f)While china sttops to gain technology , india is is shame we can’t buy our way to get the technology through defence acquisition programs

    2) lowest bidding lc1
    Another flawed approach
    Do you prefer to get technology or save few bucks to award the cntract?
    india can afford banks swindled by business people. But our indian defence ministry with archiac mind set decided to award the contract based on
    lc bidding. Who knows this is rgged or not.

    3)A/c engine technology
    There are 3 routes local assembly, tot and indigeneous development.
    Our babus are good at sequential processing and not used to parallel procesing.
    How many years it will take to take decision?
    It appears defence ministry wants to have indian engine capability in 2050s.
    Why can’t the defence ministry synergise local assembly to start working with lcamk2 and amca, get tot and go tie up for indigenious deveopment hot engine technology.
    The joke is
    a)India works with GE engines for lca-mk2 and amca
    b)Which indigenous engines India will use in 2030s god only knows
    c)In case GE is not ready to part with technology why at all lca-mk2 uses their engines?
    d)You have pratt & whitney, safron and rolls royce to enquire about sharing of their technology? For this how many years of decision
    making is required? If it 1 or 2 billion dollars required then DRDO steps in to say we can provide with lesser money.
    But every body knows kaveri is notarious for slippages. I am not against indigenous capability but time factor our indian officials
    are very ignorant as if whole world is moving at snail’s pace.
    e) So look at our lca-mk2 program , amca they waste their resources porting ge engine and after 10 years have tie up with
    new engine manufacturer and again report with new engines.
    Does it not look silly and absurd?

    4)Russian Igla shoulder fired missiles Time frame to decide on weapon acquisition
    a) Look at shoulder fired portable missiles ordered from Russia (igla inferior to European)
    b)What is the criteria, Russia pressure ok fine
    c)If you buy Russian igll, are they parting with technology?
    Will Russians help set up r&d center to design next generation missiles ? No

    5)lack of good criteria to make India self reliant in defence acquisition
    a)it is a joke India take years to take decisions. This means they don’t have criteria for acquisition.
    Example is Russian igla. We talk about lc bidding fine. Then what India gets through this criteria?
    Screw driver assembly, few hundred jobs creation.
    I challenge other than this what India gains let the defence ministry list out.
    b)Defence ministry clearly frame work of criteria for defence acquisition not cost based , not make in india based but technology acquisition based even we get technology in other platforms is also ok.
    For example if we buy missiles then if we get tank technology is also ok. But India should get some defence technology
    c)There is no criteria for designing next generation systems with buyer. There is no criteria setting up r&d labs in the defence technologies. There is no criteria setting up curriculum in engineering colleges or supplying licensed version of softwares to r&d centers and colleges.

    So with so many loopholes and drawbacks god only knows how India will become self sufficient in defence technology.

    So the whole Indian system is rotten which the CDS should try to address.

  2. It will be something like its equivalent in Pakistan. One would not say, Ceremonial, but not the power and aura of Army Chief, for sure. A fifth star may be granted to keep the Josh high.

    • Pak don’t have any CDS. Are you this fool? They have CJCSC who is generally junior to their Army Chief. Their Army Chief is defacto CDS equivalent.

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