CDS; reliance on locally-made products — does Modi mean for national defence?

(Armed services chiefs meeting Modi at the Red Fort — Aug 15, 2019)

Sometimes Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes up with pleasant surprises. There was the announcement in his address from the Red Fort ramparts about the chief of defence Staff (CDS). And the other was an exhortation to trust in locally-made products village-level up. Presumably, this applies to the Indian armed services as well who have, over the years, loudly voiced the indigenization mantra but, in practice, reluctantly supported home-grown defence R&D projects and outright rejected the hardware (Tejas light combat aircraft, Arjuna main battle tank) that resulted from them in order to protect their import options.

A CDS system has been in the works for the better part of forty years with every passing flag rank officer in the three armed services expressing a need for it, but those from the Indian Air Force in particular also offering caveats and urging a go-slow. Why so? No great secret this, because IAF has always feared that as the senior service and the one most directly involved in border clashes and counter-insurgency operations and, therefore, more in the public eye than either of the other two Services, the Indian Army would end up monopolizing the CDS post. The IAF is a large enough force for its opposition to CDS to not be ignored by any government. The Indian Navy, on the other hand, is too small to matter and other than extolling the virtues of a CDS, tactfully, kept itself out of the fray. So the CDS issue got strung out over the differences between the army and air force.

Post- Kargil border conflict, a high-powered Committee chaired by the late K. Subrahmanyam stated in the clearest terms that the absence of a CDS led to the slow and sketchy reaction and build-up to action of the Indian military to the capture in Spring 1999 of the Kargil heights by the Pakistan Army’s Northern Light Infantry. Some years later, during the Vajpayee interregnum a committee with Subrahmanyam in it and chaired by former defence minister KC Pant was constituted to look at the Higher Defence Organization. It too recommended establishment of a CDS structure for singular military advice to the government of the day. Too often, Prime Ministers and Defence Ministers, seeking the military’s counsel in a crisis, usually got advice favouring the Service the current Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, was affiliated with. But because the Chairman was a rotational post and did not outrank his fellow chiefs, his advice to the government was as often disputed by the other Services chiefs, leaving the government in its normal state of confusion. In this system, naturally, not only was an optimized military solution or decision difficult to obtain, and if made it was by happenstance, but the spurned chief ensured his Service’s role in coordinating military actions was half-hearted, and left something to chance.

Deposing before the Pant Committee I referred to how military “unification” was achieved in the US chiefly by President Harry S. Truman imposing the integration plan drawn up inside of three weeks by, no not a committee, but by one man — a chap called Ferdinand, adviser to Truman’s confidante, friend and Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson. As a consequence, the Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff-system came into being.

There is an anecdote worth retailing here to emphasize just how a strong political leader can cow down an equally strong military leadership opposing his moves. This is important: Truman took ownership of the Ferdinand Plan and hearing murmurings of dissent against it in the senior Service, the US Navy, called a meeting of frontline admirals — Chester Nimitz, Arleigh Burke, et al, who at one end successfully prosecuted massive fleet actions in the Pacific theatre against the Imperial Japanese Navy, and at the other end fought off German submarine wolf-packs and mounted the famous Atlantic and Murmansk convoys conveying American war materiel to European Allies and to Soviet Russia. Striding into the big hall where the beribboned admirals were seated, Truman simply said that he had heard that his unification initiative had attracted opposition and, in the event, he said, those who were against it should step up and resign right there and then! Stunned naval brass headed by Nimitz said nothing, and Truman signed the unification order for implementation soon thereafter.

I suggested to the Pant Committee that the PM impose a CDS on the military because such radical structural change in the higher defence organization could not be realized by consensus, and that under no circumstances should the government ask the Services’ chiefs for their views. Alas, an over-cautious Pant and his Committee recommended just this, eventuating in a dissenting note from the then Chief of the Air Staff, whence the matter was once again consigned to the cellar.

It is a very good thing that the Prime Minister publicly announced his CDS decision — so there’s no chance of back-pedaling. As Modi spoke the TV camera panned to show the relief on the face of the CAS, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, because now the decision to veto the CDS decision was taken abruptly out of his hands. The IAF will have to lump it and Dhanoa will be spared incoming fire from his air force colleagues and predecessors who had derailed such moves in the past.

The question arises: What kind of CDS system does the PM have in mind? The CDS secretariat in-being has been in existence for over two decades now in the form of the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff. That’s a functioning body and not a problem. But how far will the process of integration go? Will the separate and purposely not co-located theatre commands of the three Services numbering some 19 Commands in all be pared drastically to a more manageable, say, ten military Commands, including the already (if inefficiently) integrated Andaman Command? These Commands could be Northern, Western, Central, Peninsular, Eastern, Space, Cyber, Special Forces, Transport and Logistics/Maintenance, with Northern, Western, Peninsular and Eastern being comprehensively-capable Theatre Commands and Space, Special Forces, Transport and Logistics supportive Commands. Common sense suggests that in such a scheme Peninsular, Cyber and Andaman Commands be headed by the navy, Space, Northern, Transport and Eastern Commands by the air force, and Western, Special Forces and Central Commands (the last also a reserve holding and hence numerically the largest Command able to deploy/switch its forces as required between theatres) by the army, and the Logistics/Maintenance Command with its chieftancy held in rotation. (Why such a distribution of Service responsibility will be discussed in another post, another time.)

The stickiest issue for Modi will be who to appoint the first five star Chief of Defence Staff in the rank of Field Marshal and equivalent — Marshal of the Air Force and Admiral of the Fleet (because the CDS will necessarily have to outrank the services chiefs of staff if the whole exercise is not to be reduced to an impractical mess). In this context, the selected CDS will have to be an officer who has shown foresight, displayed vision (which two attributes presume a certain level of intellect), and exhibited tact. US Chief of Army Staff General George C. Marshall when confronted with choosing the Supreme Commander Allied Forces, Europe, to lead the war effort against Nazi Germany advised President Franklin D. Roosevelt to appoint Dwight D. Eisenhower and not a “fighting General” like George Patton or Omar Bradley, because of his proven organizational skills — something Modi should keep in mind when nominating the CDS.

So, the trick question — who among the extant service chiefs or among all the three star-rank officers below them in the three Services has a professional record manifesting the skills to get the most out of diverse oganizations and will make the best CDS?

———–

Modi in his Red Fort address to the nation spoke about trusting in locally made products. Does he really believe this? If so, why hasn’t it been evident in his government’s major military procurement decisions all of which without exception have settled on or are inclined towards imported armaments and foreign military-use systems? The score card on this count is irrefutable: the French Rafale combat aircraft (and Swedish Gripen and American F-16 in the wings), the US Apache attack helicopter, Russian T-90 MBT, prospective Spanish, French, Russian, or German involvement in the Project 75i diesel submarine programme, etc.

To claim, as the armed Services do in their own defence, that no indigenously designed and developed weapon system meets their operational standards, is a lot of bull. Arjuna MBT has beaten the T-90 hollow in all test trials in different terrains and weather conditions. Tejas is a beautiful 4.5 generation fighting platform given short shrift by IAF when it could fill the IAF fleet and be the basis for future derivative combat aircraft of all kinds and meet the Service’s light, medium and heavy fighter-bomber requirements. Arihant-class “boomers” — nuclear powered longrange ballistic and cruise missile-firing submarines (SSBNs) are of indigenous design, developed and manufactured at home, and yet, if navy is to be believed, we need foreign design and technology for the technologically simpler and less demanding conventional submarine — when all that is needed are specific technologies, such as electro-optic masts, AIPS (Air Independent Propulsion System), and cavitation and other noise reduction. And why Apache when there’s the HAL’s attack helicopter and Kamov 226 utility helos when there’s Dhruv?

Once the armed services know they cannot opt for foreign hardware, they’ll perforce commit heart, mind, and resources to indigenous armament projects with enormous export potential to Africa, the immediate neighbourhood, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Latin America. These are military products with a ready market. From having the shameful tag as the world’s largest arms importer, India could become a very consequential exporter of arms.

Modi is supreme leader with no rival on the horizon within his party or elsewhere in the Indian polity and can do anything he wishes. He made the decision for CDS. Following on his reference to indigenization he should now declare that his government will not anymore permit armament imports, that’s it, khalas, no foreign military goods. This decision will unleash precisely the “änimal spirits” he says he wants to see driving the Indian economy, generating new technologies, and jobs by the millions in Medium and Small Scale Enterprises — India’s mittelstand — at the cutting edge of this national effort.

And, oh, yes, he will also need to get HAL, Mazgaon Dockyard Ltd and other “white elephant” defense public sector units, who have dragged the Indian defence industry into the mud, out of the frontline of defence industry and get the more productive and efficient Larsen & Toubro, Godrej Aerospace, Mahindra Aviation, Bharat Forge, and even Reliance Defence centrally into the game. Private sector companies driven by the profit motive are the future and answer to India’s defence problems.

As a Gujrati with “business in my blood” as Modi put it, the Prime Minister should see clear to doing these above things. He has wasted five years on his romance with the bureaucracy and the public sector. Time to wake up, Mr Modi, and do what’s right for India because you politically can and because no matter how much time you think you will have in power, it could all change in a trice!

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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17 Responses to CDS; reliance on locally-made products — does Modi mean for national defence?

    • Nobody is going to give India jet engine making technology. Period.
      Russia declined the same to China which is still struggling with their own.
      Only few while nations have monopoly on this which is their bread n butter.

      making jet engine is the tough nut to crack.

      Country like India has no class to make on its own, neither will any nation deliver such technology to India in a silver plate.

      Just to give you the example of Japan which is perceived to be India friendly:

  1. Shekhar Sinha says:

    This is good advice to Govt Professor Bharat Karnad. Indigenisation is key to become a militarily powerful country. No country can reach the top of it has over 60% imports.

  2. Rupam says:

    I will not celebrate just yet, time and again I have seen that decision taken by the govt. has been either lip service or is bogged down somehow or the other in the future such that that decision is not implemented properly.

    As for opening up the defense sector for the domestic privates sector, well while there may be a sliver of a chance that Modi is forced to that step given that economy is slowing down and China is becoming more and more belligerent, I am still not going to get my hopes up.

    Last but not the least, Bharat Karnad ji could you suggest where one can start reading about defense, war, strategy etc. if one wants to learn more about these sectors and understand them.

  3. Indians have below average IQ.
    Look who Indians have elected.
    A person who lies frequently n brazenly.
    One who hides his degree.
    Keeps criminally charged as his cabinet ministers despite the option to induct honest men as promised by him in his slogan “na khata na khane deta”

    One who started anonymous political bonds for election donation even from abroad.
    No wonder nearly 20,000 dollar millionaires have left the Indian shores.

    Business is down and so is unemployment which is sky high at 7.5 as per “The Economist”
    This is 67 millions without jobs or when put into perspective the other way – its nearly 12 nations as Norway.

    Shame on such Indian indulgence.
    2060 (as projected by Japanese government) it is going to be the US and China at the top with 40 trillion economy, while India distant 3rd with 22 trillions and 1.6 billion mouths to feed.

    So no superpower status for India, neither a UNSC seat because the P-5 member dislike to dilute their veto strength.

    2 plus trillion dollar economy India is a a laughing stock of the world with millions of slums.
    They cant make a decent assault rifle of their own.
    India = All hat and no cattle.

  4. raja says:

    b.sir,
    club68 cannot go anywhere…….this is called gods punch……!!!
    by the grace of god……they must die…..will die soon…
    THOSE WHO ABUSE S RAJA WITH POWER WILL END UP LIKE THIS……..

    …….OBSERVED STRAINS…….WILL UNRAVEL SOON…..

    SIR, THAT INR1000 BET STILL STANDS…….THEY CANNOT WIN……..S RAJAS BET……ONLY HE WILL WIN……!!!!!

    WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THEY GOT LOCKED THEMSELVES SEVERELY……..AHAHAHHAHHAHHAHAHHAHAHA……

    PAKISTAN……..THE GREAT GENIE…….NO ONE CAN LIVE WITHOUT PAKISTAN……THIS IS FACT……..THEY COMMITTED BLUNDER IN ANALYSIS AND FAILED TO TAKE TIMELY CORRECTIVE ACTIONS…….HENCE THIS RESULT………

    NOW THE HISTORIC THING GOT PRECIPITATED DUE TO GLOBAL EVENTS….. FACT

    SITUATION ONLY WILL LEAD TO ……AN IMPASSE FOREVER……

    RAW ABUSES S RAJA…….NOW GOD WILL PUNISH RAW THROUGH THE GREAT GENIE……SAVUDA NORTH INDIAN RAW BASTARD.
    NEW COMBINATIONS……VERY INTERESTING………!!!!
    2035 END FOR RAW……..(1968-2035) RAW BASTARD DOG. THEVEDIAPAYYA WITH POWER ABUSING OTHERS..? DEATH TO YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES OF RAW BASTARDS. POWER ABUSING UNEDUCATED DOGS…….NOW FINDING ITS OWN END….!

    MORAL OF THE STORY : WE SHOULD NEVER ABUSE POWER.

  5. raja says:

    B.SIR,
    THEY FEAR ABNORMAL COMBINATIONS……….HAAAAAAAAHAAAHA…………THIS DOG CANNOT DO ANYTHING………….S RAJA…….THANKS GOD FOR SPEEDY JUSTICE….!

  6. raja says:

    AMBALA RAW PRAKASH BASTARD THEVEDIAMAVANE SAVUDA..DEATH TO YOU BASTARD RAW BASTARD DELHI BASTARD…..

    B.SIR,
    THIS PRAKASH CMS BASTARD CAN ONLY SURVEIL INSIDE……THEN TOO HE CANNOT SOLVE SCAMS……! SO MUCH EXPERTISE IN SURVEILLANCE…!…OUTSIDE SURVEILLANCE RESULTS ARE THERE FOR EVERYONE TO SEE………HAHAAHAHHAHHAHAHA………!

    THEY WILL BECOME PIECES…….SOON……VERY SOON……..

    INT AND EXT DYNAMICS PERFECTLY MATCHED TO BRING THE END..ON THEM……..!
    ALL SYSTEMS FAIL WHEN JUSTICE FAILS…….

  7. raja says:

    B.SIR,

    EARLIER THEY ABUSED THE BANKS………NOW ENTIRE ECONOMY IS FAILING…….YOU CANT PUMP PRIME THE ECONOMY SO EASILY WITH RECESSION INTERSECTING….

    THIS DOG ABUSED S RAJA NOT KNOWING ITS POSITION. NOW SLOWLY FAILED NOW.

    NO 95% ,100% SURE …..THEY CANNOT DO ANYTHING…….THOROUGHLY ANALYSED…..NO EXIT….

    THAT DOG MAY BE IN GOVT………BUT S RAJA PROFESSIONAL……..WITH DICTIONARY MEANING…

    DAI RAW ROADSIDE DOG……IF POSSIBLE SALVAGE THE SITUATION………OPEN CHALLENEGE…….YOU USE TRADE CONCESSIONS, ARMS, ANYTHING U USE……U CANT……….S RAJA FINAL.. ABUSING S RAJA…? WHO DID GOOD THINGS……….DELHIS .DIRTY DOG NOW GET READY FOR YOUR END………

  8. raja says:

    RAW DELHI ALREADY NOT VALUING MERIT…..HENCE FRACTURING IN THE MIDDLE………SOON YOU WILL IMPLODE ……..BEST WISHHES FOR RAW s SPEEDY DEMISE……!

    RAW WATCH VITALACHARYA MAGIC MOVIES……….ENJOY………S RAJA…. BORN ANALYST..!
    THE UNDISPUTED KING…..S RAJA….! WITH MY WIKI FRIENDS I WILL ALWAYS REIGN BECAUSE I THINK GOOD…….NEUTRAL MAN………NOT A NEUTERED MAN…….!!!

  9. raja says:

    B.SIR,
    THEY DONT HAVE ANY WARES TO SELL ANYWHERE…….!
    THEY SHOULD BECOME PIECES……ONLY THEN I WILL GET PEACE…..!
    IF POSSIBLE LET THEM USE THEIR POWER……ALAS .POOR DOG CANT SHOW THEIR POWER BECAUSE MORE PWRFUUL PEOPLE ARE THERE……..
    I LEARNT FROM THEM SIR, NOT TO HELP OTHERS…….WE SHOULD WATCH OTHERS DYING……..DOGS DEATH……NOW ENTERTAINING…….DEATH TO DELHI DOG, SAVUDA NAEY.
    NORTH INDIAN DOG……EXPLOITING SOUTH INDIANS.

  10. raja says:

    B.SIR,
    U WATCH NINJA HATTORI…..KIYOS LOVE STORY……VERY NICE……! HAHHAAHAHAHHHHAHAAHAHHA

  11. raja says:

    B.SIR,
    WE SHOULD DO ANALYSIS ON OUR OWN……IF RAW STEALS S RAJAS WORK……ALIBABA MOVIE , ALIBABAS BROTHERS END WILL HAPPEN…….!!!!!

  12. raja says:

    B.SIR,
    THIS IDIOT WAS MISLED BY THAT IDIOT…….AND NOW….THEY BOTH ARE SCOUTING FOR MORE IDIOTS..! THIS IS THE REAL TRUTH…..!

  13. Rahul says:

    Mr.Karnard, you have been spammed. See the rants above.

    I just read your article, “Time for magnanimity.“ It’s like you forecast everything ll go to plan if we follow what you prescribe. Don’t you think that’s a little too wishful ? I think trying to co-opt pakistan, especially at this time is difficult ,would become harder with time. It all sounds so good conceptually, but can it happen with pakistan under a huge Chinese debt and a so called strategic partnership? and what about the 100,000 or so jihadis? wont they go out of work overnight ,most come from jihadi schools,its a considerable ecosystem with mothers/kin of killed LeT jihadis getting compensation{christine fair mentions this in her book}.

    Lets consider it happens,how would it unfold? Would pakistan army concede its turf just like that? or somehow their politicians would get wise and rise in rebellion.Your premise is that pakistan’s army’s perceives India as an existential threat? Even if they do, how about the billions of dollars its generals have been making out of this perceived threat ,would this lobby just let go? Just as our strike corps wouldn’t.

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