Visiting Fellow, VIF
The high-powered Naresh Chandra Task Force, appointed by the government last year, submitted its detailed report to the Prime Minister a couple of months ago but so far there is no indication that the report will be made public soon. We do not even know if within the government deliberations have begun on the recommendations given by the Task Force.
All that is available in public domain so far is a glimpse of some key recommendations made by the task force that too through media reports obviously based on conversations with some members of the task force. For instance, the task force has apparently recommended:
- Appointment of a Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC)
- Integration of Service HQ and Ministry of Defence by allowing more cross-postings
- Shifting focus of India's national security strategy from Pakistan to China
- Better Intelligence Coordination between all agencies
- Creation of dedicated financial Institution for access to energy, rare earths and raw materials from across the world
From some of the occasional interaction that this author has had with a few members of the Task Force, before and after the submission of the report, one aspect is very clear: There was no consensus on the creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), leading to, what one believes, a half-hearted recommendation to appoint another four-star officer as permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC).
According to the Task Force, this officer will be in charge of the two existing tri-services commands-the Strategic Command Force (SFC) and the Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC)-- while the three service Chiefs will continue command and lead their respective services, the Task Force said.
The Permanent Chairman CoSC, according to the recommendation of the Naresh Chandra Task Force, will have a fixed tenure of two years and will be rotated among the three services. This officer will be assisted by the existing Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), headed by a three star officer from any of the three services.
Over the past decade, the IDS has evolved in a barely workable tri-services structure with over 300 officers drawn from the three services trying to function as a cohesive unit tasked with evolving "jointness." On ground however, jointness or inter-operability has remained at best patchy.
The new recommendation seeks to overcome these differences. The Naresh Chandra Task Force has also recommended the creation of a separate Special Operations Command on the lines of the US structure since asymmetric threats are seen as the main challenge to India's national security in coming decades.
The new post, the Task Force is hoping, will also bring in synergy in major acquisitions for all the three forces. Often, the three services have worked independently in procuring same set of equipment, duplicating work and creating separate infrastructure when synergy would have saved hundreds of crores of rupees.
However, critics of the new system say the recommendation to appoint Chairman CoSC is nothing but old wine in new bottle. It is a 'no go' because the Chairman will remain ever dependent on each of the services Army, Navy & IAF for its personnel requirements. Personnel of each service will be 'lobbyists' of respective Chiefs. Yet another opportunity, they say, to reform has been lost. National Security System does not have to depend on seeking Least Common Multiple (LCM)-solutions. It does not have to seek to appease lobbies and turfs.
The solution, some in service officers say, lies in divesting the three Chiefs of operational command of forces. Let them be Chiefs of respective Staff - 'resource providers to joint operational/ strategic commands' - content with recruiting, training of personnel; holding and maintaining equipment; and executing related administrative functions.
Appointment of CDS is however the prerogative of the apex political authority, namely the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). It can choose from panel of names forwarded by the three Services. There should be no rotation to appease services. Choice of apex political authority has to be final.
In absence of a common meeting ground on deciding to appoint a CDS, the Naresh Chandra Task Force recommendation can however be utilised in the interim in creating more cohesion among the services. For instance, the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, who will have a fixed two year tenure can be made in charge of making net assessment about the strengths and weaknesses of India’s adversaries—China and Pakistan—in a holistic manner, taking into consideration inputs from all the three services and cross-referencing those inputs with other agencies like the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and RAW. Currently, the three services send their individual assessments just to complete formalities to the IDS where it remains buried in files that never see the light of the day.
Moreover, if the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee is going to lead the proposed Special Operations Command why not create two more tri-services commands and give him some more work?
Given the frequency of cyber-attacks on India's IT infrastructure, creation of a cyber-command is only a matter of time. An aerospace command is inevitable sooner than later. Along with the creation of the proposed Special Operations Command, why not create these two additional tri-service commands? And let the Army, Air Force and Navy be the lead service for a particular command? And let the Army, Air Force and Navy be the lead service for a particular command?
The proposed Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee can remain the head of these three commands with each of them being led by an Army Commander level officer. Given the experience and expertise available with the Army, it can take charge of the Special Operations Command, the IAF, with its domain knowledge, can take over the aerospace command and the Navy can lead the cyber command. The heads of these commands can have their second rung manned by two-star officers from each of the services so that they continue to have the benefit of expert advice from across the services but the overall responsibility must remain with the designated service.
Given that the existing tri-services commands go through painful changes each time their Commanders-in-Chief get rotated, making each of the service responsible for the proposed new commands will make their the working smoother and more efficient.
Over a decade after a CDS was recommended by the Group of Ministers (GoM) in the wake of the Kargil conflict, there is no unanimity on that issue yet. Given the strong differences within the services as well as in the political class, could this be the best arrangement for now? Or is it too impractical?
To find the right answers the government perhaps owes it to the people of India to make the Naresh Chandra Task Force report public and let a healthy debate ensue.