A permanent Chairman COSC will require organisational restructuring to be effective
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Dec 13
The government’s readiness to appoint a four-star general as India’s first tri-service military chief, reported in this paper on Monday (“Government poised to appoint tri-service chief”, Dec 2), will be widely welcomed. For decades, India’s strategic community has urged the creation of a single-point military advisor to the government, who would also oversee matters that relate to all three services.
Yet, it would be insufficient to merely appoint army chief, General Bikram Singh, as the first permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (Chairman COSC), and bump up Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Anil Chait as army chief. If these appointments are not accompanied by structural reform, they might seem no more than cynical ploys with an eye on the coming elections.
It must be remembered that the Naresh Chandra Task Force (NCTF) last year recommended the appointment of a permanent Chairman COSC as a “half-way house”. This was after the ministry of defence (MoD) had shrunk from appointing an empowered five-star officer as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), which the Kargil Review Committee had recommended in 1999 and a Group of Ministers (GoM) subsequently endorsed in 2001. An earlier compromise involved the setting up of an Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), commanded by a three-star officer, which has not succeeded in taking on many functions from an army, navy and air force that guard their turf zealously. Without structural empowerment of the new Chairman COSC, he might turn out to be no more than an IDS chief with one additional star.
“The approach recommended by the Naresh Chandra Task Force is to create an organisation around an appointment rather than create an organisation and then consider appointments best suited for the system,” says Rajneesh Singh of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
The first structural issue that must be addressed, say analysts like Dr Anit Mukherjee, is the absence of integration between the MoD and the three service headquarters. Instead of manning MoD departments with a mix of bureaucrats and military personnel who function jointly, there is a bizarre two-stage system in which the military proposes and the MoD rejects. Army, navy and air force headquarters, which are categorised as “attached offices” to the MoD, submit proposals and recommendations to the MoD for sanction. The MoD, with every crucial decision-making position manned by non-specialised civilians, seldom accepts these proposals. Usually these are sent back with queries, with this back and forth delaying action endlessly.
The mere appointment of a permanent Chairman COSC will do little to resolve this issue. The new appointment must be charged with ensuring substantive integration between the MoD and the three services, in coordination with the defence secretary. The COSC headquarters must have an even mix of military officers and bureaucrats, with cross-posting being extended to the MoD and the service headquarters.
A second identified problem is the unhealthy concentration of power within the three military headquarters. The service chiefs function as chiefs of staff and also commanders-in-chief, managing the gamut of operations, policy planning, human resources, training and equipping. With operations understandably enjoying precedence, there is little emphasis on long range force structuring, equipment planning and human resource development.
One solution is to charge theatre commanders with responsibility for operations, while army, navy and air force headquarters could handle policy planning, force structuring and administration. The COSC’s integrated headquarters could handle inter-service coordination, with the Chairman COSC the government’s go-to person for military matters.
Creating the structures for this separation must be a specified task of the new Chairman COSC. One option is the creation of US-style integrated theatre commands, with regional commanders allocated army, navy and air force units for their operational tasks. For example, the currently separate southern commands of the army, navy and air force could be integrated into a single tri-service command that could optimally harness the combat power of all three services.
Modern western militaries follow one of two distinct models. The US, with its global responsibilities, has independent theatre commands, such as the Pacific Command, Central Command, etc. Each of these are equipped with land, air and sea units, bureaucrats and political departments needed for independent campaigns. The theatre commander, a four-star general or admiral, reports directly to the US president, through the secretary for defense. In Washington, there is a centralized Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC), headed by a five-star chairman. The army, navy, air force and marine corps chiefs plan, train and develop human resources, leaving the theatre commanders free to handle operations independently.
The smaller British, French, Canadian and Australian militaries place their army, navy, air force and marine units directly under their respective four-star service chiefs. These service chiefs answer to a five-star Chief of Defence Staff, who could be from any service. The CDS reports to the minister in charge of defence.