NEW DELHI: The government on Monday night finally declared that General
will take over as the country’s
first-ever Chief of Defence Staff
) or tri-Service chief, an announcement that came barely a few hours before he completes his three-year-tenure as the
on December 31.
The government said Gen Rawat, who turns 62 in March next year, will take over as the CDS “with effect from Tuesday until further orders and extension in service”, without specifying how long his tenure will be. As per the latest
amended military rules
, a CDS can serve till the age of 65, while the three Service chiefs will continue to have a tenure till 62 or for three years, whichever is earlier.
Sources said the government believes Gen Rawat – who will be the country’s
fourth four-star general
after the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs- fits the bill for the new CDS post because “he can push the boundaries to drive the desperately-needed integration among the three Services”.
“He was not a status-quoist as the Army chief. He pushed issues ranging from slashing non-operational flab to the proposed setting up of integrated battle groups for greater combat capability. As the CDS, permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee and head of the new department of military affairs (DMA) in the defence ministry, he will need to push the three Services even more to truly integrate in planning, procurements, logistics, doctrines and training to begin with,” said a source.
Gen Rawat, who was appointed Army chief by the NDA government after superseding two Lt-Generals in December 2016, will now have to work towards establishing tri-Service commands to handle the critical new warfare domains of space and cyberspace as well as theatre commands. “The government, in fact, wants the first new theatre command to come up in four to five years,” said the source.
Added a senior official, “The charter for the CDS, as approved by the Union Cabinet on December 24, is quite vast. If implemented properly, it can lead to genuine integration and synergy among the three Services, who often have bitter turf wars and fight for a bigger share of the limited budget. There will, of course, be teething problems and institutional/bureaucratic resistance.”
Another major problem will be that though the CDS will decide the inter-Service prioritization of arms procurements “based on the anticipated budget” and bring about reforms to augment combat capabilities, the actual capital acquisitions and the purse strings will still be controlled by the defence secretary.
The CDS, of course, will also provide “single-point military advice” to the government as well as function as the military advisor to the PM-led Nuclear Command Authority. Though the three Service chiefs will retain full operational control over their forces, the CDS will clearly be the “first among equals” in the hierarchy.
In that role, he must be the prime driver for India to have theatre commands, which will place all Army, Navy and IAF assets and manpower under one operational commander in each geographical region to build an integrated land-air-sea war-fighting machinery geared for the wars of the future. Such commands will also be more cost-effective, given that the 1.5-million armed forces are grappling with inadequate funds for modernization in the face of the ballooning pay and pension bills.
At present, India has as many as 17 single-Service commands (Army 7, IAF 7 and Navy 3), with each force reluctant to give up its fiefdoms. The Eastern Commands of Army, IAF and Navy, for instance, are headquartered separately at Kolkata, Shillong and Visakhapatnam. India’s only theatre command is the Andaman and Nicobar Command till now, with the other tri-Service one being the Strategic Forces Command to handle the nuclear arsenal.
The US, of course, has had unified combatant commands to handle different parts of the globe for long. In early-2016, even China re-organized its 2.3-million People’s Liberation Army into five theatre commands to boost offensive capabilities and establish better command-and-control structures.
China’s Western Theatre Command handles the entire Line of Actual Control with India, from eastern Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. India, in contrast, has four Army and three IAF commands for the “northern borders” with China.