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CDS Gen Anil Chauhan has a lot to do. But first, fast track what Gen Bipin Rawat started

The fact that the Narendra Modi government waited nine months to appoint Gen Anil Chauhan as the second CDS shows that it has complete faith and trust in him.

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Lieutenant General Anil Chauhan Friday took over as the second Chief of Defence Staff, succeeding General Bipin Rawat who died in a helicopter crash in December last year.

Gen Chauhan set the ball rolling on Thursday, a day after the Narendra Modi government announced his appointment, by meeting top officers in the defence hierarchy.

Having retired as the Eastern Army Commander in May last year, Chauhan was working as the military advisor to the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), which has enabled him to get a hawk-eye view of the entire security and defence spectrum.

This is because, unlike in the Army, his tenure in the NSCS, headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, ensured that he was always part of the big picture on security issues and knows exactly what the government is thinking, both in short term and in long term.

And this is why his appointment is extremely crucial. He is 61 years old and will retire as the CDS at 65. This means that he will work with at least 6 service chiefs including the current three.

Also read: Centre appoints ‘China expert’ Lt Gen Anil Chauhan as new CDS

Trusted by govt, military 

The fact that the Modi government waited nine months to appoint the second CDS shows that it has complete faith and trust in him.

Gen Chauhan is the first three-star military officer in India’s history to be brought back into active service after retirement, that too at a four-star position.

His appointment comes at a time when the Indian military is undergoing several changes in its Order of Battle (ORBAT). When Gen Rawat took over as the CDS on 1 January 2020, China was not seen as an adversary, at least not in public.

The public and the government saw Pakistan as the main adversary and the Army was oriented more towards anti-terror and counter-insurgency operations along the Line of Control (LoC) and in the hinterland.

However, things changed dramatically since May 2020 when tensions between India and China began.

And hence Chauhan’s appointment is more crucial because he assumes three roles — CDS, Permanent Chairman of Chief of Staff Committee; Secretary, Department of Military Affairs (DMA). 

Chauhan will be responsible for almost all military matters. He will look after all procurement exclusive to the three Services — barring capital acquisitions, according to prevalent rules and procedures, besides the Territorial Army and various functions relating to the Services. 

His mandate includes promoting ‘jointness’ in procurement, training and staffing for the Services through joint planning and integration of their requirements.

He is also responsible for facilitation of “restructuring of military commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint/theatre commands” besides promoting use of indigenous equipment by the Services. 

And hence, Gen Chauhan’s main task would be to fast track the initiatives rolled out by Gen Rawat.

Also read: Here’s how India’s political and military class can see eye to eye on tri-Service integration

Gen Chauhan’s priorities 

To begin with, the number one priority for him would be to bring back momentum to the theaterisation process, something that the government is very keen on. Of course, the Services have still not been able to resolve their differences and this is where Gen Chauhan’s deft hands will come into play. 

People who know him say that unlike his predecessor, Chauhan does not speak much but is very sharp and firm. He will have to use every trick up his sleeve—and then some more—to ensure that the three Services are on board and the theaterisation process moves forward with proper planning and thinking. 

He will have to forgo his original uniform and mindset, and think from a tri-Service point of view, something that his tenure at the NSCS would have already helped him. 

He will have to ensure that some of the bitterness that had crept in among the Services during Gen Rawat’s tenure is taken care of even as he remains firm and not let the Service headquarters run amok. 

He has to ensure that any future war is fought jointly by the three Services with a common operational plan.

Another priority for Gen Chauhan would be the issue of rationalising the budgetary requirement of each Service and moving on to joint acquisition and planning. 

He will have to take into perspective India’s future wars and make a list of priorities for acquisition accordingly, many of which will be tri-Service ones. 

Bigger calls will have to be taken on acquisitions like whether India should go in for a third aircraft carrier or not, whether more gunship helicopters are needed in an era of cheap but deadly shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, and whether India needs more squadrons of Rafale among many such questions. 

He will have to prune down the wish list of each Service that thinks in silos. I have written before how acquiring the same equipment in silos turns out to be more expensive.

Finally, while he does the bidding as the military chief on behalf of the government, he would also have to ensure that the red line between the two remains.

Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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