There has been a great deal of talk about the need for a proper and effective Higher Defence Management system embracing the Armed Forces, MOD and the political leadership. However, nothing much has been done and our system has been found wanting as the experiences of all the wars fought by us so far have proved. Several committees have been appointed to look into this issue, but we are where we were. Once again a
Group of four Ministers of Home, Defence, Finance and External Affairs are looking into National Security. It is to be hoped that the need to have a single effective ‘Chief’ charged with the responsibility for overall Command and Control of the Armed Forces and the successful conduct of war will be discussed and implemented.

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From the experience of 1965 Indo-Pak war, it was Gen. Mucho Choudhuri who advocated the urgent need for a Chief of Defence Staff type of higher defence command system to direct the Indian Armed Forces during war and peace. He explained the raison d’etre in the USI centenary lecture in 1966, “ in my view the greatest fault of our present system in India today is that despite the titles of COAS, CNS and CAS, each of these incumbents actually combines two important functions in one. They are responsible as Chief of Staffs for tendering their advice individually and collectively to the Defence Minister --. In addition they function as C in C’s of their own arms. This dual role was workable when each service was much smaller and less technical, today it puts far too much burden – on the individual …. Very often the two functioning can be uncomfortable.” Gen Chaudhuri went on to explain in detail how busy he was in the 1965 war and said, “ Had there been a CDS at that time the burden would have been lighter --- some where the CDS would have taken on the advise and reassuring role for the Government, leaving the Army Chief to concentrate wholly on the logistics, operations and attention for planning for the future.”

The 1971 war was an exception. Gen (later Field Marshal) Sam F Manehshaw took on the mantle to act as the CDS and success followed. He could take inter service decisions as he had the full support of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He employed his professional acumen by getting Admiral S.M. Nanda the Navy Chief on his side. The duo tackled the cerebral Air Chief Marshal Pratap Lal in the Chiefs of Staff Committee meetings. Mrs. Gandhi however did realize the need for a CDS after the 1971 war and decided to make battle experienced Manehshaw, the CDS. It is on record that when Defense Secretary Mr. Lal informed Admiral S M Nanda then in Bombay over telephone, Nanda replied, “As long you don’t reduce any of my four stars, you can give any body any number”. This was his whole hearted support accepting what was good in national interest. When ACM Pratap Lal, Chief of Air Staff was informed he protested with emotion and tabled a note opposing the change. Air Forces world over fear their assets may be taken away by the Army and Navy. Lal has explained this in his memoirs, released by his wife.

World wide examination of successful models of the nations’ higher defence set ups, and lessons of the Gulf war where the concept was further extended to have a Intrernational CDS system, are pressing pointers to have a CDS for India to direct the three services in a combined manner. An effort was made by the Arun Singh Committee to bring about such a system. But the Air Chief’s dissent again came in the way. However, to pander to the wishes of the Armed Forces, the Government sanctioned a three star DG Defence Planning Staff in 1987, stating that the aims of collective planning and operations would be well met by this step. The DG DPS was the brain child of Admiral R H Tahilaini, then young 55 year old CNS and late Gen K Sundarji the COAS. Both harboured ambitions and both pitched for extensions, which did not come but inflicted DG DPS on the services. Few are aware that in 1987 the Government on their advice handed over the operational control of Operation Pawan India’s military foray into Sri Lanka to the DG DPS under the leadership of Lt Gen Nanda and Major General Ashok Mehta. For four days bedlam and confusion reigned in the command and control of the war like situation when the LTTE attacked Jaffna. The service headquarters immediately resumed control. Since then the DGDPS has acted as a uniformed think-tank and should well be amalgamated into a CDS or JIC framework.

The lessons of Kargil War of 1999 have once again highlighted the serious deficiencies in our higher defence and security control and co-ordination system. The Subrahmanyam Committee Report merely states in superb 250 pages of prose that the politico military system set up by Gen Ismay is outdated and needs change. On 5 April 2000 at the USI, the Committee on being questioned, admitted that one full ‘chapter five’ is under wraps being sensitive and deals with the period of impotency between 8 and 26 May 1999. (for details – see Analysis of Subrhamanyam Committee Reort).

In 1998 when the fighter and transport pilots pay fiasco took place none of the Chief’s led by the Air Chief who was facing a sort of mutiny at air stations dared to advise the Defence Minister. The Air Chief ultimately blamed the ministry for putting out wrong minutes of a meeting and the matter still breathes. The pay issue is still not resolved and it is a tri-service matter as there are pilots in all the three services. The chances in such cases are - the CDS will act a non partisan Chief Adviser to the Government with the national goal in mind not coloured by the single service’s vested interest that the three Chiefs are likely to render. Under the present COS system they leave it to the Defence Secretary and the Defence Minister to perform the task of CDS, for which the latter are ill equipped. This has been happening too often with blunders. Earlier on, the politicians did worry about coups if a CDS was powerful, but that apprehension does not hold water now that we are a mature democratic union of states. With the changes in security perceptions, acceleration in the speed of warfare and nuclearisation, the present higher defence organisational system of India is utterly inadequate. The lack of unity of thought over the CDS system among the three Services and the vested interest of the bureaucracy have been major hurdles in this matter and only political courage and statesmanship on the part of country’s leadership can bring about the much needed change. The Minister’s Committee has formed three sub-committees to go into the various critical issues raised by the Subrahmanyam Committee and one can hope that some concrete and effective changes all round will be brought about without any further loss of time.

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