BOTTOMLINE | Pravin Sawhney

A Case for CDS
The government needs to push for this for its own sake
Pravin Sawhney

We know that of the three defence services, the Indian Air Force, for reasons never elaborated, has consistently opposed the creation of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) post. On 11 May 2001, Group of Ministers’ (GoM) report headed by the deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani not only approved the CDS but had said that the institution should be the first step towards the needed structural reforms.
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The IAF’s unexplained opposition to the CDS led to unease in the Parliament Committee on Defence, and the Vajpayee government decided on a step-by-step approach. First, the post of Vice Chief of Defence Staff (VCDS) was created, which in September 2001 was renamed as Chief of Integrated Staff to Chairman (CISC), because without the CDS, there could not be the VCDS. The CISC was to report to the Chairman of the COSC, the institution that the GoM report noted ‘had failed to fulfil its mandate’. After a full decade of guessing, the cat was finally out of the bag, when the outgoing Air Force Chief and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik at his farewell media interaction on 26 July 2011 patiently answered my queries on the subject. To my question whether he favoured the CDS, to be replied in a yes or a no, he said an emphatic no.

Why so?
“I would favour the CDS if it was held after a national debate, and the CDS is appointed as the single point military advisor to the defence minister,” was his explanation. He added, that, “To my mind, the CDS is five to 10 years away as we require the requisite technology like Integrated Command, Control and Computer System (ICCCS) before we have the CDS. As the defence services today are meant for territorial defence, the CDS is not needed.”
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  This intriguing response led to my next question as to what technology had to do with creating the CDS office. He sagely said that, “Once we have networked fully and shortened the sensor to shooter loop, the CDS may be needed for controlling the overall operations.” His incredible reply spurred me to ask my last question.

If there was a formalised system for the COSC to meet the Prime Minister, and how many times in his two-year tenure as the air force chief, had he met the Prime Minister? He said that the COSC meets with the defence minister only. Meeting the Prime Minister is done with defence minister’s clearance.
Paraphrased, this is the IAF’s wisdom: The CDS would be needed when the three defence services are fully networked, within themselves and with one another, for optimal response in out-of-area (strategic reach) operations. The CDS should then be the overall operational commander and also the single point military advisor to the defence minister. As the Chairman, COSC, ACM Naik did not see the need for regular one-on-one interactions with the Prime Minister.
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