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Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The CDS was supposed to be drawn from India’s armed forces and hold a rank above that of the three service chiefs. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The CDS was supposed to be drawn from India’s armed forces and hold a rank above that of the three service chiefs. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Will India have a chief of defence staff post?

Plans to create the post seem to have been put in cold storage following government decision to set up Defence Planning Committee

New Delhi: The setting up of the Defence Planning Committee (DPC) by the Narendra Modi government seems to have put plans for the creation of the post of chief of defence staff (CDS)—seen as a key part of higher defence reforms—in cold storage, say analysts, whose reactions to the newly created structure ranged from a cautious thumbs-up to dismissive.

The CDS was supposed to be drawn from India’s armed forces and hold a rank above that of the three service chiefs. The position was supposed to be a one-point reference for India’s Prime Minister in all security matters.

Almost all the tasks ascribed to the DPC that is to be headed by national security adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval—driving the country’s military and security strategy, drafting capability development plans and accelerating defence equipment acquisitions—were among those to be performed by the CDS, say analysts.

“It is something new and it has the potential to be something innovative, let us see how it goes," said Manoj Joshi, a fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank.

The creation of the new structure was reported by Hindustan Times and The Indian Express on Thursday. According to the reports, the DPC will be a permanent body chaired by the NSA and comprise the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, the three service chiefs, and the defence, expenditure and foreign secretaries. It will prepare draft reports on national security strategy, international defence engagement strategy, draw up plans to build a defence manufacturing ecosystem and boost exports.

C. U. Bhaskar, director of the New Delhi-based Society for Policy Studies think tank, was of the view that the new structure, which is to submit all its reports to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, was unlikely to make any significant difference.

Analysts point out that India already has structures like the National Security Advisory Board to draw up plans, strategies and doctrines. It has a cabinet committee on security to take crucial security-related decisions. Against this backdrop, “I am sceptical about how this (DPC) will work," Bhaskar said.

According to Arun Prakash, former chief of naval staff and the first to head the Andamans tri-service command: “The objectives are noble but the timing of the creation of the DPC is bad given that this government has a year to go in office. I hope this will be acceptable to the next government too."

The tri-service command created in 2001 by then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was seen as a defence management restructuring process—by integrating the higher echelons of the armed forces to increase effectiveness in operations.

Among the major changes undertaken during the Vajpayee years was creation of the Defence Intelligence Agency that was aimed to integrate intelligence gathering by military sources. “In India, we are reactive rather than proactive," said Kamal Davar, a former lieutenant general in the Indian Army and the first chief of the defence intelligence agency.

“Coordination is not our forte. As an emerging power, we must have excellent and seamless coordination and long term synergistic planning" which a CDS would have done better, he said.

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