Going by recent media reports, the Narendra Modi government is set to establish a Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC COSC) — which has reportedly already been vetted by the cabinet secretary, national security advisor and defence minister. The prime minister will likely accord in-principle approval on 12 April during a presentation on higher defence reforms and future air-power planning. After this, the process of appointing the PC COSC will be moved for approval by the cabinet committee on security (CCS), with the entire exercise taking a “couple of months”.
The government envisages the PP COSC as having a two-year tenure and an equivalence in rank and protocol with the service chiefs.
The term “couple of months” perhaps coincides with the current Naval Chief completing his present tenure in February 2017 and according to the grapevine, he will be elevated as the first PC COSC, albeit the current Army Chief too retires in July 2017. As per reports, the PC COSC will be responsible for all military hardware acquisition processes, tri-service commands and for “jointmanship” within the forces for optimum utilisation of resources. This is no different from the current arrangement of having a rotational chairman of the COSC since raising of HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), other than that the rotational incumbent normally has a tenure of less than two years.
A single-point military advisor’s post in the form of Chief of Defence Staff was proposed by the Kargil Review Committee headed by K Subrahmanyam (father of present foreign secretary S Jaishankar), and endorsed by the follow-up group of ministers report. Pranab Mukherjee (now president), while holding the portfolio of defence minister, had stated during a presentation at HQ IDS in 2005 that the then government had actually chosen the person who would be CDS a few months prior, but there was no political consensus, adding in the same breath that “there are many things that are pushed through without political consensus”.
But seven years down the line, the Naresh Chandra Committee report of 2012 recommended a watered down version of the CDS and called it the PC COSC. A media report at the time quoted a senior government official as saying, “The whole idea behind appointing a PC COSC is to break down silos within armed forces and create synergy in the fighting force. The problem with the existing separate military headquarters is that there is a turf war between the three wings with each seeing things with its own perspective and requirement,” which is a big joke on the unsuspecting public.
How can a PC COSC bring synergy within the three services when he has no operational powers over the military?
As regards the talk about synergy, despite the best efforts of former defence minister George Fernades, under whom the HQ IDS was raised, the bureaucratic mafia did not permit the HQ IDS to merge with the Ministry of Defence which would have resolved the issue of military synergy.
The bureaucratic skulduggery is clear from the CCS note that sanctioned HQ IDS saying "as and when the CDS is established, he will have equal voting rights as the service chiefs, and where two service chiefs don't agree, the MoD will arbitrate". Now if a CDS is to be a “single point advisor”, where is the question of two chiefs not agreeing? Interestingly, Naresh Chandra was specifically briefed by the then NSA, to dump the CDS and introduce this hitherto-unheard term of PC COSC.
The cat was actually out of the bag with Manoj Joshi, himself a member of the Naresh Chandra Committee, disclosing that the MoD did not want the CDS because they thought that the defence secretary and his IAS colleagues would be “somehow diminished”. So that is what the consideration is: That a defence secretary who perhaps came from the ministry of agriculture or family welfare is enough not to appoint a CDS?
The defence of India be damned!
India is the only country with an MoD sans military professionals, with bureaucrats lacking a military background and knowledge ruling the roost, hiding their ineptitude and incompetence in their respective cocoons and without accountability, making money through scams and appeasing their political bosses. As a result, we lack a cohesive national security strategy; national security objectives remain undefined; higher defence organisations aren’t streamlined; there is little synergy within the military; the military-industrial complex remains in a pathetic state — the recent dumping of ‘Akash’ after crores and years wasted being just one example; military not integrated with MoD; military’s capability gap vis-à-vis widening exponentially; inaction post-discovery of permanent Chinese intrusions at Sirijap in 2007; major intrusion permitted in the Pangong Tso area including a 10-kilometre PLA road; a lid put by UPA II on Shyam Saran’s report of China having nibbled 654 square kilometres of our territory in Ladakh, in addition to 38,000 sq kms of Aksai Chin; post-April 2013 PLA intrusion in Depsang, the Army forced to dismantle surveillance cameras at Chumar; the Indo-Tibetan Border Police in sensitive areas of Depsang and Chumar remains under the MHA flouting the Kargil Review Committee report; the Army’s limit of patrolling restricted even along the border with Myanmar, to cite few issues.
Members of the US contingent who came to attend the first India-US Defence Planning Group meeting in New Delhi after the 11 September, 2001 attacks were aghast to learn that our MoD has no military officers on permanent absorption or deputation. The bureaucracy has ensured that this integration doesn’t take place. General VK Singh (now minister of state, Ministry of External Affairs) had revealed in his book the corruption trail going right up to the Prime Minister's Office.
Obviously, the defence minister presides over the rot and there is little wonder that despite scores of scandals in defence procurement, no bureaucrat has ever been indicted or punished. Is the public aware that the defence secretary, not defence minister, is charged with the defence of India and the Army, Navy and Air Force HQ continue to be attached offices, as under British rule?
During his address to the Combined Commanders Conference on 17 October, 2014, Modi had said, “We should remember that what matters is the capability of the force. When we speak of Digital India, we would also like to see a ‘Digital Armed Force'.”
So what about the Digital Armed Force?
Which political authority gives directions for this and follows it up at the at the apex and what is its progress, because for the bureaucracy, it matters naught beyond the prime minister’s statement and the HQ IDS has little power without a CDS. What is the status of the digitisation of the MoD, Services HQ, intra-service and inter-service linkages, digitisation processes to integrate procedures between the MoD and services through HQ IDs, procurement processing, digital links with IFAs and the like.
Close scrutiny will tell you that snails are crawling at the same pace.
Giving a two-year permanency to the existing rotational chairman of COSC in vogue since the establishment of HQ IDS, without operational powers over the military means little. The mafia has scored again and it will be “business as usual” replete with continuing scams, corruption and civilian control continuing as bureaucratic control instead of correcting it to be one of political control. CDS was the need of the hour a decade back. The only difference that a PC COSC will make is ensuring the continued happiness of our adversaries.
During an international seminar in Beijing, a question was addressed to the Chinese chairperson of one session as to what China thinks of India’s nuclear forces. His response was “what to talk of nuclear forces, India does not even know how to utilise its conventional forces”. Make in India is only one small part of defence, but so far the government does not appear to be thinking beyond that.
Shifting the Defexpo from Delhi to Goa or meeting Ashton Carter onboard INS Vikramaditya don’t go beyond gimmickry.
The author is veteran of the Special Forces of the Indian Army