In an interview with The Indian Express on the issue of the ongoing controversy of One Rank One Pension (Orop) and the measures the Modi government will take to improve the overall civil-military relations in the country, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said that a concrete proposal on creating the post of a single-point military advisor (to the government) will be taken. He said the decision will be taken after studying the report on ‘Combat Enhancement of Armed Forces’ by the expert committee headed by Lt General (retd) DB Shekatkar.
“Whether we call it CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) or a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (PCCOSC) is merely a matter of detail. The model is clear in our minds, but the final decision has to be made by the Cabinet. I hope to have a proposal ready soon,” Parrikar had said.
The 11-member committee led by Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (retd), which included several other top military officers as well as civilian experts, had submitted the report last month. The committe was set up in May this year to chalk out an action plan to enhance the combat capabilities of the over 13-lakh-strong armed forces and "re-balance" the overall defence expenditure in view of the escalating salary and pension bills. The basic idea was that utilisation of the resources and the manpower in a judicious manner would not only save money but also sharpen the capabilities.
It may be noted that Shekatkar committee report is not the first of its kind to suggest reforms in the Higher Defence Management (HDM) of the country. We have had the report of the task force led by former MoS Defence Arun Singh (2000) and the report of Naresh Chandra (former Cabinet Secretary) national task force (2012) on similar themes in a more detailed manner. The basic problem has been the fact that while there are no two opinions on the need of an integrated Ministry of Defence (MoD), there is no consensus on how to implement the idea. And here, the three armed services have also not been very constructive. They all agree on an integrated ministry so as to be at par with their civilian counterparts, but differ when the question of integration of the services themselves arises.
As things stand today, there are seven major participating groups dealing with India’s defence, with each one, to quote Vice Admiral Verghese Koithara, “jealously guarding its turf and mistrustful of the other six” . These seven groups are — three military services, and the non-military four concerned with overall direction, finance, research and development(R&D), and (defence) production. But these seven are inside the MoD; there are three others outside the domain having considerable influence on the defence matters - the Ministry of Finance (controlling the defence spending), the Cabinet Secretariat (policy matters that have implications for other ministries) and the Prime Minister’s Office (which can always intervene or arbiter selectively). However, we will focus here only on the MoD, particularly on the integration of the military services with the non-military ones.
The three services do have a point when they say that though their chiefs sit in the South Block office of the MoD, their offices are designated as “Attached Offices of the Department of Defence”. And what is worse, as Admiral Arun Prakash rightly points out, the three Chiefs have been accorded “no locus standi in the structure of the GoI, so much so, that the Secretary of Department of Defence is deemed to represent the three Services in most forums”.
According to the “Government of India Allocation of Business Rules” (AoB Rules) and the “Government of India Transaction of Business Rules” (ToB Rules), the Secretary of DoD (a IAS officer) is allocated the responsibilities of “(a) Defence of India and every part thereof including preparation for defence and all such acts as may be conducive in times of war to its prosecution and after its termination to effective Demobilisation; (b) The Armed Forces of the Union, namely, Army, Navy and Air Force; (c) Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence comprising of Army Headquarters, Naval Headquarters, Air Headquarters and Defence Staff Headquarters”.
In contrast, in equivalent democracies of the United Kingdom and United States, service officers are very much part of the MoD, occupying important positions. Under the amended rules brought out by the then British Defence Minister (Secretary of State for Defence) Michael Heseltine in 1985, in the integrated Ministry of Defence, the Secretary has two principal advisers – one is the Chief of Defence (CDS) representing the armed forces and the other is the Permanent Under Secretary (PUS) representing the civilian side – with neither being subordinate to the other. Then there are the Vice-Chief of Defence Staff (VCDS), Chief Scientific Adviser and the Chief of Defence Procurement. Under this scheme, individual Service Chiefs in UK have only a limited role to play in policy formulation, even though they have been allowed the privilege of direct access to the Prime Minister. As regards the composition of the below, there is a mix of military and civilian officers. Here, a military official reports to a civilian official, who, in turn, reports to a defence official in the hierarchy and the vice versa.
Similarly in the United States, Pentagon is manned by both the military and civilian officials. The Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff (JCS), is the principal military adviser to the President and Defence Secretary according to the 'Goldwater-Nicholas Department of Defense Reorganisation Act' of 1986. Under this Act, the military chain of command in the US runs from the president through the defense secretary directly to “the Unified Combatant Commanders” in various parts of the world and thus bypasses the service chiefs, who, though have the role of advising the president and the defence secretary, are principally concerned with training and equipping personnel for their respective forces for the unified combatant commands.
In India, we have the Andaman and Nicobar Command, which is the only tri-service theater command of the Indian Armed Forces, based at Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar. This was established in 2001 as per the suggestion of Arun Singh committee-report. But this committee’s main recommendation for creating a CDS could not be carried out; what was done instead was the formation in 2001 of the post of the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). But the problem with the COSC system is that the chairman here is the senior-most service chief (in terms of years served), who is the first and foremost chief of his own service. Therefore, he has the little time for the job of COSC. Secondly, there are often quick successions in this post as the senior most service chief retires (upon attaining the age of superannuation) within months of assuming the position. So there is hardly any time for him to develop his vision.
That is why the Arun Singh committee strongly recommended for a separate post of the CDS. The Naresh Chandra committee talked of a different designation, “Permanent Chairman COSC” (This committee had also talked of deputation of officers from services up to director’s level in the MoD). The idea is that irrespective of the designation, this office, like its counterparts in the UK and USA, will be able to undertake perspective planning, including force structures and defence expenditure, to the Defence Minister.
In fact, Stephen P Cohen, one of the foremost experts in the world on the Indian military has written in his classic, The Indian Army: Its contribution to the development of a nation, how from time to time various army chiefs have been in favour of a CDS (KM Cariappa in 1949, J N Chaudhuri in 1965, Krishna Rao in 1982), but the idea was strongly resented by both the civilians and other services. Initially, the political leadership was afraid that a CDS would be too powerful at a time when newly liberated countries were witnessing military coups. Subsequently, the bureaucrats suggested that a CDS would naturally empower the Army at the cost of the Navy and Air Force; in fact they encouraged the inter- services rivalry. So much so that when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, impressed as she was with the leadership of then Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw during the 1971 War, suggested to appoint him as the first CDS of independent India, this was vehemently opposed by the then Naval Chief, Admiral S M Nanda and then Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal P C Lal.
The latest one heard in this regard was when the then Air Chief P V Naik openly reacted against Naresh Mohan committee’s recommendation of a Permanent COSC by arguing that whereas integration of services under such an officer is relevant for countries like the United States that fights wars outside the country, in India’s case it is not so as operations are only “confined to our shores”. Be that as it may, the idea of a CDS/Permanent COSC generates fears among the services under the notion that he will be partial in favour of his own service and neglect the other two. They are not convinced by the counter-arguments that such will not be the case as the number two to CDS/Permanent COSC will be from other services and that he will operate through the Integrated Defence Staff that consists of personnel from all three services, apart from the senior civilian officers.
In other words, there is a big factor of inter-services rivalry that is a stumbling block on the path of an integrated MoD in the ideal sense of the term. They may all agree on their fight against the civilians for pay and ranks, but when it comes to “promoting jointness” in military matters, the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy have different ideas. There is an intense rivalry amongst them.
In my considered view, inter-service rivalry should not be confused with inter-service competition. The latter is not necessarily an unhealthy phenomenon. Being proud of one’s own service, its uniform, doctrine or culture is a normal matter. It is fine if the naval officers are proud of the fact that the Navy all over the world has produced great strategic thinkers. One should not grudge if the Air Force officers think that they are not ordinary fighters and that they have a more sophisticated and technologically oriented managerial mindset than their sister services. The Army people do have a point when they say that no war is complete until and unless their soldiers have the physical control over the enemy territory or interests. Similarly, honest differences of perspective are not unethical and can promote service morale, technological innovation, and adaptation of improved strategy or doctrine.
The problem arises when this competition turns into rivalry affecting jointness or coordination among the three services. The Army, Navy and Air Force may have their respective “core values” to help members focus on professional performance. Yet, all of them must have joint solidarity and responsibility in carrying out national missions. Any lack on this score makes the country weak. The services cannot, therefore, afford promote a sense of what is called “divided allegiance.”