New Delhi: The absence of a chief of defence staff (CDS) is hampering India’s combat capabilities, according to intelligence officials, senior security officials and defence experts, nearly a year after India briefly considered the proposal before putting it in cold storage.

With a proxy war raging with Pakistan on India’s western front and a recent stand-off with China at Doklam on the East, security officials based in Kashmir said the lack of a single chain of command threatens to enfeeble India’s collective defence might.

“Each force is operating in a vacuum right now and cannot be perceived as formidable because they have no experience or habit of working together in any situation. They have rarely worked together and a unified chain of command is required to make the working of the three forces (army, navy and air force) seamless," said a senior security official, who did not wish to be named.

Defence experts said the main area where India was lagging behind was in the absence of a single point military adviser to the Indian government on matters of nuclear importance.

“In the absence of a single chain of command, synergized joint operations between all three forces are not possible. We could do much better in terms of our combat capabilities with a CDS. Our efficiency is currently at 40-50% and it needs to go up to 80-90%," said Gurmeet Kanwal, defence analyst at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), a Delhi-based strategic think tank.

Kanwal added that with each force perceiving threats differently, coordination rested in the hands of not the government, but a unified services chief. “Long-term integrated perspective plans are different for every force and they make their own plans, which have to be integrated. The perceived threats for the army, navy and the air force are different and the defence minister or secretary cannot unify them. It is for the CDS to act as that unifier," he added.

“Cyber attacks emanate from China and Pakistan. It takes one WhatsApp forward from Rawalpindi to stoke unrest in Kashmir. At this moment, India is light years behind both countries in dealing with such attacks. We have great ethical hackers and experts, but we lack the intent to do anything with that resource," said a senior intelligence official.

He added that India needed, under the aegis of the CDS, for the intelligence units of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to set up a group of cyber experts who could be given the infrastructure and freedom to identify and tackle incidents of cyber terrorism.

“The Islamic State (terror group) has been gaining momentum in India. Most of the cases of radicalization have happened on the internet. Messages of jihadism are rampantly spread online. We need a special force that will be set up to combat cyber warfare as well, under the command of the CDS. Because it is absent now, we are struggling with this aspect of warfare," the intelligence official added.

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