Gen Chauhan (promoted from Lt Gen and reinstated from retirement) has been appointed as the second CDS. While many may contend that the appointment is political, the fact remains that the prerogative of appointing is solely that of the government in power, who select an individual whom they believe will push reforms they had conceived. Possibly his tenure as the military advisor to the NSCS (National Security Council Secretariat) convinced the government that he was the right individual for becoming the CDS. Gen Chauhan has vast operational experience, as also post his stint in the NSCS, he would have a clearer understanding of the nation’s security concerns, financial limitations and priorities.
Much water has flowed down the Ganges since the untimely demise of General Bipin Rawat. The army and the navy have completed their studies on theatre commands, as assigned to them, however these lie in cold storage. They would now be dusted and discussed. The navy is possibly rethinking on its maritime command as also building pressure for the approval of a third aircraft carrier, objected to by the air force, which believes that this could impact its own procurements. The air force has its own perspective on theatre commands.
The air chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, stated in a seminar in Delhi in Jul this year, ‘air defence and offensive air missions are interdependent and if executed in isolation, these would not only be disjointed but also ineffective in design or execution of the joint strategy,’ basically writing off the air defence command, which was amongst the first Bipin Rawat had planned to roll out. This is in addition to it questioning division of meagre airpower resources between theatre commands, mainly on grounds of current aircraft being multipurpose.
The air force and the army also have vastly different approaches to handling threats. While the army considers the future battlefield to be restricted in space with defending land as a priority, the air force feels constricted with this concept. They believe that future wars would demand employment of airpower for degrading strategic targets and logistics dumps, thus isolating the battlefield, thereby providing the army a favourable scenario to achieve success. Some airpower resources would however be available to the army in close support. In summary, the air force believes that the army desires it be subservient, while it believes that its role is strategic and could tilt the balance in India’s favour.
The air force has also repeatedly stated that it considers integration and joint ness in operations as the future however can never convincingly substantiate how it could be achieved without forces being under one commander with the power to employ them in an integrated manner. For the armed forces, the age-old worry of service chiefs losing their identity to theatre commanders remains a question mark.
The defence budget will not grow. It may either stagnate or even reduce in the event of a national calamity. The government hesitates to implement recommendations of multiple finance commissions on defence budgets. Hence, managing service requirements within it will pose a challenge. Each service has its own modernization plans, which only seem to grow. While the air fleet is aging and urgently needs replacements, the navy demands a third carrier in addition to submarines. The army is desperate to upgrade its warfighting capabilities to handle a two front war including inclusion of smart weapon systems.
Gen Chauhan, though senior in service to the current chiefs, is the first amongst equals, as per his appointment. This implies that all decisions on integration and theatre commands have to be unanimous. As was visible during the tenure of Bipin Rawat, objections of service chiefs were directly relayed to the defence minister leading to reassessments. General Chauhan hence will have to adopt an approach enabling him to win the trust of service chiefs.
The Government remains committed to creating theatre commands as has been announced on multiple occasions by the PM and the defence minister. If disagreements continue and the services cannot agree to a common concept, there is a strong possibility of it being bulldozed based on the perception of the Government guided by strategic thinkers. This was the model adopted by most nations, where the services disagreed on its creation.
Sadly, while each service has its own vision of their future force levels over the next two to three decades, there is no thought given for a similar vision for the Indian armed forces as a common entity. This should be a priority. All individual service visions should flow from here. Further, there is no common threat perception or strategy for handling future threats in an integrated manner. It is this which has resulted in individual services churning out their own roles in future conflicts.
Coming from the NSCS, General Chauhan would be aware of the Government’s intent. Also would be the need to set aside fears of redundancy of service chiefs with the introduction of theatre commands. Though not officially stated the government would desire that positive progress is visible prior to the 2024 elections enabling the government to draw political mileage.
Hence, I expect Gen Chauhan’s priorities to be firstly to regain control over the DMA (Department of Military Affairs). Secondly, win over service chiefs and work in unison to produce a common threat perception and vision for the armed forces. Thirdly, re-evaluate acceptable theatre command options and finally to push them through.
General Chauhan’s appointment is unlikely to be smooth sailing, especially when individual services have their own views. His diplomatic skills would be paramount as challenges are rising and disagreements, which were currently simmering, now out in the open. His advantage remains the spadework done by General Bipin Rawat. An added benefit is that he has the ears of the powers that matter and can push where needed. It is equally essential for individual services to get down from their high horses and work for a solution, rather than remain stumbling blocks. Changes will happen as has been witnessed in recent government directions. It is better they flow from consensus rather than by bulldozing.
The author is a Major General (Retd)
The new CDS takes his post