[Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat]
Heart sank when soon after his appointment as the first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat talked of the CDS in India working to a different tune than its counterparts elsewhere especially with his hint that he would adopt a collegial mode of decisionmaking with the Services’ Chiefs of Staff. This suggested a familiar mode of operations where the Service Chiefs would exercise their veto whenever their service interest was “compromized”.
So, it was a pleasant surprise to find General Rawat, moving very fast to embed the CDS system in the system of systems, announce three seminal developments. That these are three issues I have elaborated and analyzed at length, and fiercely advocated over the years, most recently in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), is particularly gratifying and indicates how ideas, through a process of osmosis, get injected into policy deliberations and get to the implementation stage.
Firstly, is the imperative of inter se prioritization; Rawat has made it the CDS’ prerogative. Deciding between the three Services’ expenditure priorities was always icky business given that the Defence Ministry shied away from its responsibility for choosing the programmes to fund from among competing demands and military requirements. Interestingly, Rawat has by way of curtain raiser selected, correctly, to emphasize the Indian Navy’s sea denial mission, i.e., submarines, over the sea control role performed by the aircraft carrier. And he has nixed the third carrier in favour of the Project 75i submarine and the nuclear powered hunter-killer subs, which together will cost the country a pretty penny. And this is in the face of an aviator, Admiral Karambir Singh, heading the navy. It speaks as much for the CNS’ foresight as Rawat’s long view and both need to be commended. The real test of Rawat’s design for an integrated military will be if he successfully pushes for the rationalization of the armoured-mechanized component of the land forces to obtain a single composite strike corps supported by several independent armoured brigades with the surplus manpower and war materiel from the demobilized two strike corps shifted to outfitting two additional offensive mountain corps for a total of three such formations for the China front.
Second, Rawat’s (and presumably Modi government’s) expressed need is for external bases. Such bases in the extended Indian Ocean region are absolutely necessary to ensure that China’s presence is always at India’s sufferance, meaning that India can keep out the Chinese Navy from “India’s lake” if that, at any time, serves its purposes. Have elaborated on the need for India to have forward presence in the oceanic proximal expanse — in North and South Agalega (in Mauritius), northern Mozambique (where India has a radar station), on Gan Island in the Maldives, Chahbahar in Iran, Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Na Thrang in central Vietnam, and to explore with Philippines basing options at Clark’s air force and Subic Bay, and to permanently deploy a naval flotilla in the South China Sea constantly patrolling those waters, rather than bulk up the Andaman Command. Further, Rawat also hinted at beefing up the military-use infrastructure in that area, like lengthening the tarmac in Campbell’s Bay to take Su-30MKIs which should be accorded priority. Because once the base infrastructure and prepositioned stores and fuel depots are up, rotating naval surface combatants and strike aircraft will be easy.
And finally he talked of a “Peninsular Command” as a theatre command headed by a naval C-in-C, realizing in the process the geography-dictated notion of a unitary military operational space that I have long advocated. This is to follow the air defence command he means to establish by 2021 and five other theatre commands that are to be set up by 2022. This will streamline military planning, operations and operational logistics and thin down the manpower now positioned in 19 odd top heavy commands.
It is a pity Rawat has not so far been persuaded by the larger national benefits accruing from compulsory military service for the youth segment. It will not only help tackle the impossibly difficult pensions problem — which will not be resolved by raising the retirement age for several categories of skilled personnel that he has argued for. What will, other than compulsory service, is the army reverting to 7 years colour service with no pension but a handy monetary reward (of rupees one crore or more). Compare this with the permanent drain on the exchequer owing to pensions for the lifetime of soldiers that may be for as many as 40 years after retiring from service. There’s, in the event, no escape from the deluge of military pensions other than by the means mentioned above. The sooner Rawat gets down to accepting it the better it will be for the country. It will essentially require our shortsighted politicians to not look on the armed services, the army in particular (and, even more, the para-military forces) , as easy employment generators.