The ‘big bang’ announcement has finally been made from the ramparts of the Red Fort by none other than the Indian Prime Minister on the Republic’s 73rd Independence Day. The need for a CDS and greater synergy among the armed forces has been brought out by several high-level committees in the past. The findings of these committees, in the words of the Prime Minister, had “unnees bees ka farak” or were hardly any different from each other. In other words, all said the same thing – get real about improving synergy. Finally, the Indian Armed Forces will have a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Not surprisingly, tongues have started wagging. These wagging tongues have spilled over to social media and various reactions are pouring in. Not only are many of these reactions ill-informed, some are outrightly vicious and divisive.
A brief lesson for the uninitiated will be in order. The armed forces exist, not to fight war but to preserve peace. If you have strong armed forces, the deterrence they provide is likely to avoid conflict. Should deterrence fail, the armed forces must fight and win convincingly. The three armed forces, namely, the Army, Navy and Air Force have their core strengths and capabilities. They also have their limitations. Whatever these may be, together they are required to deliver results for the people of India across the spectrum of conflict – from humanitarian relief at one end to high-end armed conflict at the other. Individually, each service may not be able to achieve this but jointly, they most definitely can. The synergy to achieve this is what one means by ‘jointness’, a term that is not very clearly comprehended across much of civil society.
The colour of jointness is ‘Purple’. Not by any wild stretch of imagination but created out of a combination of red (Army), navy blue (Navy) and sky blue (Air Force) that come together to reveal an unique shade of purple. Therefore, the credo of an effectively joint force should be ‘Think Purple, Talk Purple, Act Purple’. Converted to layman terms, this would mean joint planning, a joint lexicon (and hence a joint understanding) and joint execution of operations. Would this be achieved by appointing a CDS? Not just yet. It may be just the first big step to usher in an organisational transformation that will enable its achievement within a reasonable time-frame. The CDS, from whichever service he may be, will be a ‘Purpleman’ and hopefully will have the vision and focus to drive this transformation in a transparent and non-partisan manner. We have no reason to think otherwise.
Synergy of effort in equipment procurement and core warfare areas that easily lend themselves to ‘jointness’ have already been set into motion with the Integrated Defence Staff coordinating all capital procurements and the setting up of three separate agencies dealing with Space, Cyber and Special Operations. There are also positive moves towards joint logistics and training. The CDS will now oversee all these aspects and that itself will provide more muscle in taking these initiatives forward. The Andaman and Nicobar Command is already joint and the CDS will have his task cut out to obtain assets from all three services to augment force levels there in order to enhance its effectiveness as our eastern-most Command, at the mouth of the Malacca Strait. Being the first among equals, he will also have adequate authority to move and shake all other matters from a ‘joint perspective’. The opportunities for jointness are enormous, ranging from operations, capability planning, acquisitions, technology development, testing and so much more, with the potential of significant savings in effort and cost. As the transformation unfolds, it remains to be seen how the roles of the CDS and the individual Service Chiefs change in execution of India’s military strategy.
Several opinions that paint the issue in an adversarial light between the armed forces and the bureaucracy may be read in this backdrop. I am sure that we have the maturity and foresight not to allow petty considerations derail the larger vision. That said, there is also the need for sanity to prevail while effecting this transformation. It will require among other things, downsizing in some areas, giving up turfs in others, thinking through the concept of Integrated Theatre Commands and how best these can be organised in the Indian context. There are several examples available world-wide but developing an India-centric model that will serve our national interests best will be a fine balance of several components to create an integrated whole. It will be akin to conducting a symphonic orchestra ensemble, which we hope will play in perfect harmony.
The conductor has raised his baton – let the music begin…