Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) –– Speculations Galore!

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 11 November 2003

We constantly scan the media to watch the progress the MOD had made on the Kargil Committee Report and the appointment of a CDS for command and control of the three services and to provide a single point armed forces’ contact with the Government. The proposed CDS in the Indian context is supposed to be merely a first amongst equals (his rank will be at par with the Service chiefs and not 5-star as is the practice in Western countries), and a spokesman for the three services. Additionally he would exercise command over the Strategic Forces (SF), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC). Without a CDS and system in place the SF, ANC and DIA could suffer –– as each service fights for its own turf, and now media reported that four missile batteries are to come up under the Army –– possibly with nuclear capability.

A CDS is direly required as the Chairman Chiefs of Staff may be too busy with his own service and vast tri-service ceremonial functions, to really do justice to the many functions that need to be performed by a CDS. The outgoing CIDS Lt Gen Pankaj Joshi alluded to these challenges just before he retired. In an interview with Janes and at other fora in the media he had said he was helpless, as each service vied for the defence cake in our system of equal Chiefs.

Lt Gen Joshi in the magazine ‘Force’ had also explained that the nomenclature of the CIDS had been changed to CISC –– ‘Chief of Integrated Staff to the Chiefs of Staff Committee’. This message must have gone across to the new CISC, VAdm Raman Puri. He is well known to assert his position with hard work, new thinking and unlike his predecessor he may not sit back and see the huge CIDS machinery hibernate, as it had been doing so far. A course correction on this very important matter therefore needs to be made if the Government is serious about implementing the Kargil Committee’s Report.

If the new CISC gets going in a spirit of harmonizing the three services it may well prove good for the three services. It is at this very juncture, that Asian Age has come up with a plausible speculative proposition that Lt Gen SS Mehta, a bright Armoured Corps Officer who was MA to COAS Gen K Sundarji as a young Lt Col and is presently the GOC in C Western Command, could well become the next Army Chief in Jan 2004, before he retires at 60 and simultaneously Army Chief Gen N C Vij could then take over as the CDS as he turns 62 only in early 2005.

The Indian Armed Forces have definitely become aged and there are too many Colonels and many are on study leave and there is shortage of junior officers. In fact media recently reported that the Lt Gen Bagga Committee report, which called for a leaner, meaner and younger Army had been shelved and we recently saw a 55 year old Admiral Sir Alan West the First Sea Lord of UK (CNS) visit India as guest of CNS Admiral Madhvendra Singh –– six years his elder. Most Armed Forces have younger Chiefs but India will have to live with this phenomenon as it has followed the bureaucracy, and such was the socialistic approach! It has also led to stagnation especially in the Army and Air Force and some disappointment, at higher levels.

The news item in Asian Age about a CDS is totally speculative but many things reported in the media tend to happen in India. Lt Gen SS Mehta, the second senior most Officer in the Army is an excellent deserving professional. He did a commendable job of inducting the T 90 tanks and has an excellent track record. If Lt Gen S S Mehta does become Chief of the Army, then Lt Gen JJ Singh GOC in C ARTRAC, who looked to be in line for the COAS in 2005 may still make it, if the Army Chief in 2005 takes over as CDS.

However the Government has made the CDS and CISC posts rotatory among the three services and the MOD recently insisted to rotate the incumbents for CISC and Andaman and Nicobar Command. In such a speculative scenario Vice Admiral Arun Prakash, who is tipped to be the next Navy Chief in 2004 may well be in line for the CDS job.

Interestingly Prakash is both an Air Force and Navy officer, as he flew Hunters in the IAF during the 1971 war and was awarded the Vir Chakra by the IAF. He is highly regarded and made a name for himself as the Commandant of the NDA. He has also commanded aircraft carrier INS Viraat, the Western Fleet and the Western Naval Command. He recently took over as the Vice Chief of Naval Staff in Delhi.

We now wait and watch if the Government does make a CDS before Army Day on 15th January or latest by 26th January or let things carry on the way they are and blame it all ‘no political consensus’ as the reason.

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