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How the govt can reform the defence set-up

Last updated on: August 04, 2009 15:51 IST
In the first part of his column, M P Anil Kumar wrote about the need for an agenda for India's defence forces. In the second part, he highlights what needs to be done to convert the armed forces into a modern fighting force.

As the roots of our democracy are extending firmly, as the Indian armed forces have inherited and evolved with apolitical genes, the politicians need not fear military transgression. In a jocular vein, the bureaucrats need not get uptight either, for, though the services would be the ultimate beneficiary, they can count on the top brass to dig their boots in and voice the fiercest opposition to the creation of a Chief of Defence Staff!

Paradoxically, in public, every general, admiral and air marshal acknowledge the desirability of jointmanship, but in private, self-preservational urge, service affiliation and prejudices prevail over reason, and these gentlefolk obstruct it tooth and nail! Like the civilian bureaucracy, the military bureaucracy too resists change and prefers status quo. Yes, the three services defend their little empires with the same belligerence as they would the national cause!

Let us diagnose the services' bipolar behaviour. In spite of looking stuck in a cleft stick (on the one hand, the IAF claims the CDS is suitable for expeditionary forces only, on the other hand it aspires to be one!), the IAF has always been the most vehement and strident in opposing the institution of the CDS.

It fears the army and navy usurping its roles and assets, with reason. The army and navy, after initially dallying with the CDS idea, have developed second thoughts since. For instance, if the present 17 commands were to give way to theatre commands, lots of backyards will face delimitation, diminution or destruction, and a fistful of the upper echelons will lose their raison d'etre.

Policy traditionalists argue that the Americans need it because of its globally dispersed forces. The standard refutation is that an integrated command structure has little to do with the scale of logistics; it is about efficiency and efficacy.

They also often cite the examples of 1971 war, Operation Cactus (Maldives, November 3, 1988) and tsunami relief operations as success stories of the existing regime -- the COSC triumvirate -- rising to the occasion to vanquish all challenges. Here are some counterpoints:

  • The demands of interoperability can only be met through jointmanship.
  • The nuclearised environment and the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs can only be dealt with through an integrated approach.
  • The new generation battlegrounds will be dominated by electronic, cyber and information warfare; the age-old tripartite command structure will cave in under the onslaught of the new martial forces.
  • Besides land, sea and air, space and cyberspace have emerged as the fourth and fifth medium respectively to fight future wars. Not only do we have to contend with astropolitics and cyber invasions, not only do we have to prime ourselves up to protect our spatial assets and cyber networks, we also have to acquire offensive capabilities to deter attacks from space and cyberspace. Our triphibious warfare doctrines have become museum pieces, and we need to enshrine futuristic doctrines to manage 21st-century conflicts. Only collaborative efforts can achieve it.
  • Like infantrymen, submariners and pilots, we need specialists to fight wars in space, cyberspace and the nuclear realm. The CDS system will fulfil this.
  • In military terms, the tooth-to-tail ratio refers to the number of combatants to the number of non-combatants. The ideal tooth-to-tail ratio is argued to be 65 per cent, that is, 65 soldiers in the fighting arms bolstered by 100 soldiers from the supporting arms. Integration and restructuring will reduce the Indian tooth-to-tail ratio, thereby quickening our reaction time.

Antony's moment of truth

The CDS is no elixir that will cure all the ills and revivify the armed forces. However, it will aid in plugging many chinks in our present force structure, planning and operations, and downstream, the synergised action will neatly pack a punch far more lethal than the sum total of individual biffs.

If Defence Minister A K Antony plumps for the CDS, he may like to chew over the following unsolicited points:

  • Presently there are 17 commands under the army, navy and air force. These need to be shrunk to about seven theatre commands (including Andaman & Nicobar Command) plus three training commands. Apart from the present Strategic Forces Command, there is a need to create two more special commands -- National Space Command and National Cyberspace Command (responsible, inter alia, for network-centric warfare). All three special commands to function under the CDS.
  • Without jointmanship, network-centric warfare will be a non-starter.
  • Strategic assessment, doctrinal development, budgeting, procurement, force modernisation, capacity building and the Special Forces must be the babies of the CDS.
  • Training, logistics and maintenance be the slices of territory apportioned to the service chiefs.
  • The operational sphere must be delegated to the theatre commanders.
  • While doing so, four areas need articulation and demarcation: The inter se relationship between
  • The political executive and the CDS;
  • The CDS and the three service chiefs;
  • The CDS and the theatre commanders;
  • The CDS and the bureaucratic interface.
  • The domains must be clearly defined, especially the overlapping grey areas.
  • The Cabinet Committee on Security, the apex executive body on national security, must have the NSA and CDS as advisers. Similarly, the National Security Advisory Board functioning under the NSA must have the CDS and the service chiefs as permanent members.
  • The Ministry of Defence needs to be restructured with IFS officers and professionals replacing the generalist IAS cadre; the (Principal) Defence Secretary be assigned to look after defence-related R&D, production, finance and accounts.
  • The integration through the CDS should be carried out without trampling on the identity and ethos of the three services.

Admiral Arun Prakash hit the nail hard on the head when he remarked that no service chief would preside over his own divestment, and therefore it is unrealistic to expect a favourable recommendation for the CDS system from the services. Given the prevalent trichotomy, like the Goldwater-Nichols law coerced the US military into jointness, the CDS system too will have to be imposed on our defence ministry and the armed forces.

In sum, Antony finds himself at a fork: He can opt between strolling down the beaten path and marching on a course seldom travelled (by transmuting into an assertive, single-minded taskmaster to boldly found the CDS system in supreme national interest, come hell or high water). Will Antony summon up his courage of convictions to grasp the nettle and railroad the installation of CDS through?

It is said of the Bourbons who ruled France that they forgot not and learned nought! Psst, Indian history is replete with iterations of this streak of the Bourbons! Will only a Kargil-like bombshell goad the languid government into reforming the defence set-up?

As for Antony, only the calm calculus of reason should guide him. To set his set-up in order, here's wishing him good luck, gumption, savoir faire and oodles of dynamism.

M P Anil Kumar served the Indian Air Force as a fighter pilot.

M P Anil Kumar