Theatre Commands, CDS and the debate around it

Last week, writing my regular weekly column I decided to look at the perpetual question that pops up every now and then (especially when a Service Chief is about to retire): Will the government appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS)? Will the Naresh Chandra Task Force recommendation of appointing a Permanent Chairman Chief of the Chiefs of staff Committee be implemented?

Since governments in India traditionally do not believe in open public debate (the Naresh Chandra Task Force report has not yet been made public), I thought of using my own imagination sprinkled with a bit of experience in interacting with the military and put down a proposal, aimed at generating the debate on the need for a CDS and more importantly, creating theatre commands integrating the three services in true sense. 

What I said here ( is neither novel not original; it has been proposed in various forms in the immediate and distant past;at least half a dozen officers claimed they had authored similar reports/proposals during different assignments they have held in the military; others wrote back their initial observations; some were skeptical; some were apoplectic (one retired three star in fact asked one of his deputies to tell me verbally that he was furious!). Clearly, this a subject that evokes extreme reaction and demonstrates how challenging it will be for any government to implement what, by all accounts, will be a paradigm-changing decision.

So, I intend to continue for some days this platform as a forum for different voices and opinions on the subject that I have received and hope to receive. So here are some initial reactions: 

From a serving two-star:

1.  First change Govt Business Rules which assigns responsibility of Def of India to Defence Secy. Change should be effected as under:-
A. Def of India should be responsibility of CCS through RM.
B. Def Secy to be principal Civ Advisor to the CDS.
C. Simiarly, there should be an Addl Secy each as Civ Advisor to three Service Chiefs (Secy Army, Secy Navy, Secy AF).
C. Besides service offrs on staff of Theatre Cdrs, there should be two Addl Secy level offrs on staff of each theatre cdr – IAS as civ affairs advisor and IFS as foreign affairs advisor.
D.  Foreign affairs advisors in theatre comds should be concurrently seconded to Ambassadors/ HCs in tespective countries of concern of each theatre comd. Similarly, DAs/ MAs on staff of embassies/ HCs should be concurrently seconded to respective theatre cdrs.
2. Next, MOD and IDS to be merged with each hierarchical layer being mix of civ & mil experts. Here civ experts must not automatically mean IAS. Job profile having been defined, these positions must be held by domain experts from amongst technocrats/ bureaucrats or retd mil men on contract. A separate Central Allied Service Cadre (on lines of IRS, IPS etc) could be ideal.
3. There should be NO ‘lead service’ for any theatre comd. Organisation structure and staffing to be purely commensurate with roles, tasks and composition of theatre force. As regards appt of Thestre Cdr, this too should be done from amongst candidates compiled by CDS, recommended by RM and appvd by CCS. Competing candidates must present themselves at the CCS Hearing and be grilled by CCS members and chosen members of NSAB on theatre strat scenarios, strat assessments, strat options, operational concepts etc. Further:-
A. Panel (from which theatre cdrs to be chosen) for Bi-Service Comds or Land-Air Comds should comprise of offrs from Army and AF. No rotation rule to be applied.
B. Similarly, for Tri-Service Comds or Maritime & Coastal Comds, the panel should comprise of offrs from all three Services.
4. Number of Theatre Comds. In principle and the concept of ‘theatre geometry’ requires that One Thratre must holistically addres one complete ‘competing/ threatening entity’ as well as its collaborator, if geographically contiguous. Hence, logically there should be only fwg:-
A. Unified Theatre Comds (5 only) : NW Comd (whole of Pak); Northern Comd (whole of China); Eastern Comd (Myanmar & Bangladesh); SE Comd (Eastern Seaboard incl Island territories, SriLanka, Eastern Rim countries of Indo-Pacific);  SW Comd (Western Seaboard, Island Territories, Western IOR Rim countries of Pak, Middle East & countries of African East Coast). ANC should remain a joint operational comd under the SE Thestre Comd. Each Theatre Cdr to be 4 star
B. Trg Comds should continue to be under respective services HQ. Cdrs of these to continue to be 3 star. However, the three War Colleges and NDC should be brought under INDU under overall control of HQ IDS/ CDS.
C. Integrated Functional Comd (1) : Unified Logistic Comd. To be commanded by 4 star.
D. Strategic Forces Comd (1) : As hithertofore. To be upgraded to 5 star. Staff control to be exercised by CDS but operational comd by CCS.
E. Jt Spl Ops Comds ( ) : Spl Forces Comd (NSG to be brought under it for all purposes including trg & equipping, to be placed under MHA when released for IS tasks); Cyber Comd; and Space Comd. These to be hesded by 3 star rks.
5. All above reforms to be preceded byestablishing a National Comd Auth headed by CCS as under:-
A. NSC with NSCS with spl secy of PMO as Secy NSC.
B. RM’s Security Policy Gp comprising CDS, Unified Theatre Cdrs and Unified Lgs Cdr. Others as invitees on as reqd basis.
D. Crisis Mgt Gp.
E. Members of NSAB as invitees on as reqd basis.

From a retired Chief: 

Just a few short personal comments & then the debate can follow later:
– CDS is an absolute must but not a Permanent Chairman, COSC. Many Chiefs have held the post for 2+ years in the past – seen any changes?
– Theatre Commands with the resources we have?
– Theatre Commands with two live & hostile borders?
– The Pakistan sector, willy-nilly, is one big Theatre of War…Land, Air & Sea!!!
– The only Theatre Command that is required is for our island territories – the A & N Command with adequate Air, Sea & Land resources including Expeditionary capabilities.

From a serving one-star: 

I am with you on this one, have been for a long time propounding something like this.

Well written! Hope the government takes into account this viable input of yours!

There are at least a dozen more such reactions which I hope to share in coming days. 

Please feel free to give feedback on: