The next CDS — Admiral Karambir Singh!

[Admiral Karambir Singh]

The Narendra Modi government, having looked at all options, including “deep selection”, have apparently determined that the former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Karambir Singh, who retired end-November 2021, is the best person to succeed the late General Bipin Rawat as Chief of the Defence Staff and Secretary, Department of Miltary Affairs. The announcement is likely to be made soon.

Unlike Rawat whose Pauri-Garhwal connections helped, Karambir is being brought in after considerable thought expended on his selection in the PMO and elsewhere, whence he will, in some respects, enjoy even greater backing in the inevitable bureaucratic turf battles and in fights over critical decisions.

When advocating Karambir’s appointment as CDS in a Dec 14, 2021 post on this Blog (https://bharatkarnad.com/2021/12/14/indias-next-chief-of-defence-staff-and-his-remit/), I had alluded to the “democratic” precedent of the US President, John F Kennedy, in 1961 installing a retired US Army Chief of Staff, General Maxwell Taylor, as his Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. By way of Admiral Karambir’s qualifications, I had said that, as a naval helicopter pilot he had professional skills and the experience to empathize with, and to win the respect of, the air force and of the helicopter-equipped army aviation wing and hence of the army — “the sort of background” few chiefs of staff have possessed, and which Rawat plainly lacked (leading to such boo-boos as his dismissal of the IAF as a “supporting arm”). And the Admiral will have to root out from the CDS secretariat his predecessor’s antipathy to expeditiously and extensively establishing military bases on the Indian Ocean littoral and in archepelagic island nations (Maldives, Mauritius, northern Mozambique coast, etc) and to carving out a ready-use expeditionary element in the Indian armed forces to counter China’s fast-growing footprint, and effectively handling crises, in the region.

His naval helicopter background is pertinent. Unlike aviator naval chiefs in the past — mostly carrier-borne fighter pilots (Arun Prakash, Sureesh Mehta) who flew combat aircraft off decks (VSTOL Harriers and, in Prakash’s case, also Hunter, as part of an IAF squadron during the 1971 War, in which stint he won the Vir Chakra), and with an attitude more akin to that of the “Fly-boys” in the air force, the no-nonsense Karambir flew Kamovs and, as CNS, wore his phlegmatism on his sleeve. It is a trait that will stand him in good stead as CDS when he will be required to juggle the demands of the three armed services and of the Coast Guard, and to alight on inter se priorities where expenditure programmes are concerned, on the one hand and, on the other hand, to deal with the sometimes difficult political leaders (Modi, defence minister Rajnath Singh) and the civilian MOD bureaucracy, withut rubbing anyone too much the wrong way. What may have impressed the powers that-be is also the Admiral’s reputation as a “straight arrow” which, incidentally, will deter these other parties from pushing him on issues.

It will be interesting to see if as CDS, the Admiral stays with the Rawat plan for the consolidation of resources and “theaterization” of the numerous military commands, or tweaks it to make it more practicable. Many military stalwarts who have headed the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), such as the former CNS, Admiral Arun Prakash, believe that an excellent working model for integrating command and control as well as the fighting and other military assets already exists in the Port Blair-headquartered ANC. What needs to be done, they claim, is for it to be upscaled. Several such operationally integrated commands, they feel, would ease the movement towards a genuinely integrated Indian military, one in which the constituent services operate seamlessly.

The trouble with the ANC, however, is that all the good it does in fosterig a genuine “joint” mindset and habit of working is frittered away as soon as officers on rotation in the Command revert to posts in their original service on the mainland when they have to buckle on the same old mental and attitudinal straitjackets. Even minimal loyalty to jointness is prevented from getting cemented by the extant career reward structure — the Confidential Reports that count of the senior staff officers are written annually not by the Commander-in-Chief, ANC, but by the chiefs of the services they belong to. Thus, promising careers have been cut short because senior officers were perceived by their chiefs as being too wedded to the concept of jointness or too supportive of the integrated setup than was deemed good for the parent service!

This aspect of the ANC offers a peek into the promotion system that’s in desperate need of overhaul which, hopefully, the new CDS will undertake, pronto! This is an absolute imperative if an integrated military is ever to bcome reality. Indeed, Karambir Singh should consider incorporating a scheme for awarding additional points to officers for pulling time in joint units/organizations, and to define minimum thresholds of “jointness points” beyond senior-Major or equivalent level as prerequisite for promotion to the next higher rank. Institutionalizing such promotion schema will provide just the incentive necessary for the officer corps in the three armed services to become more military jointness- and integration-minded.

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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37 Responses to The next CDS — Admiral Karambir Singh!

  1. Captain Harinder Singh Retd says:

    Admiral Karambir , of my memory serves me right, is from Kamovs not Seaking helicopters.

  2. CDR S PANDA says:

    General Narwane is apt choice for present multi boarder defence scenario. Ocean defence is in right hands of CNS and CDS can have coordinated output.

    • DEBANJAN BANERJEE says:

      @Gaurav Tyagi,

      Not only Indo-Pak peace chances but the whole Baloch liberation struggle narrative went up in smoke. It just shows that the scular-nationalist BLA has now become a puppet to the nihilist forces like the ISIS and TTP. Overwhelming majority of Pakistanis support giving more education and health facilities to the Baloch and that is why this lady got an opportunity to study in Pakistan’s premier university in Karachi. This lady because of her actions has jeopardized the whole future of millions of Baloch youth who were getting free education in posh Pakistani universities and ultimately for what ! I believe the conservative Baloch elder sardars will now be very reluctant to let their daughters become educated since they may get radicalized this way.

      • Gaurav Tyagi says:

        Don’t forget that BLA is also supported by Indian Intelligence Agencies in terms of finances and logistics.

  3. Shreesh Kumar says:

    A well written article no doubt. But to award more suitability points to Adm Karambir vis-a-vis Adm Prakash and Adm Sureesh Mehta because the latter had a ‘flyboy’ attitude is to trivialize the topic and diminish their persona. While flying fighter missions, whether from sea, shore or hinterland, the accompanying swagger is part and parcel of the trade and personality of the flyer, and deservedly so. But while in the saddle as Chiefs or as very senior officers, I am sure each one of them carried a vision and did have a multi dimensional perspective of strategic matters. As probable candidates for CDS in their own time co-ordinates, each one of the three would have been a good fit for the post with their hardcore experience and sagacity👍🙏🇮🇳

    • Fly-boy swagger apart, agree entirely that Admirals Prakash and Mehta would have made great CDSs.

      • Milind says:

        Overriding consideration for apex level appts, esp armed forces & key policing agencies is political reliability and alignment of strategic vision.
        I still feel Gen Naravane will be the next CDS because structural reform of the 12 Lakh strong behemoth outweighs other imperatives.

  4. Mantosh Saha ( Monty ) says:

    Gen MM Narwane seems to be the correct choice for next CDS seeing land threat perceptions to be more pronounced than the sea fronts. However in case of rotational role for CDS is concerned then suitable justifications can be arrived at.

  5. Major General Dev Sehgal (V) says:

    I am not biased, but am of considered view that General Naravane would be more judicious and professionally a competent choice. With potential adversaries on Indian land borders, Naval or Airforce officer as the CDS shall fall short of professionalism and competence.Indian adversarial narratives are land war oriented, and sea faring and Air wars shall more be as support based, except battle on high seas can be well managed by Naval Chief with Army and Airforce in support.

  6. Sundar S V says:

    Gen Naravane would have been a better choice.

  7. Col Sudhir Kumar Rana (Retd) says:

    I am pleasantly surprised. After Gen Rawat, hopeI sure it will be a change for the better. Problems of marine traffic and Chinese aggression in our area of influence needs a more pragmatic and foreward looking approach. Division of meagre airforce resources into theater commands would have been suicidal. I hope and pray that new CDS will act as a chief of 3 services and not as a infantory battalion commander. Hope and pray that he should not pander to political whims.

  8. Commodore SK Patel says:

    More than anything else, KB Singh is a absolute honest incorruptible and man of originality – Best Wishes, Commodore SK Patel, KB’s ex colleague in the Western Fleet

  9. The CDS should always be from Army.It is not that being from Army I am being partial.We are not like USA where the goals,resources and the reality is that they have never fought a war on their territory.We are not on the same platter.In our case we are surrounded by hostile neighbours and in our case battles are primarily going to be ground oriented.The Army is most suited to take control and take punitive measures.The AF and Navy need to help out to the extent possible.Lastly our Armed Forces are Army predominant.

  10. Ash says:

    Rawat made a mess of things and the environment. If KB Singh is appointed CDS, I hope he brings his own ropesoles !

  11. Kumbhaj says:

    Is this your suggestion or this decision has been taken?

    • This from top pol/mil circles.

      • Ansh Sawant says:

        The decision seems to be absolutely appropriate as Admiral Karambir Singh is definitely very capable and competent to fulfil the needs and requirements of the post of CDS, yet why hasn’t the announcement been made till now, any ideas or suggestions as to when shall the decision be announced?

  12. Amit says:

    Professor,
    Given the short tenure to impact such a large military organization, I am not sure if one person can make such a big difference. Maybe the three years will be more fruitful than others, but the kind of changes the Indian Military needs requires sustained leadership across many CDSs and Service Chiefs/Defense Ministers/NSAs/PMs.

  13. Col Vinod Kumar Dhir (Retd) says:

    No doubt..it would be a tight rope walk for the new CDS..balancing act and decisiveness to achieve maximum potential of all the three forces in the seamless strategic planning and execution in the national interest without interference from unwarranted quarters will be most desired.

  14. Col VDS Mehra says:

    This would also ensure that someone from other than Army takes the charge and bring in new angularities .

  15. A good practical,feasible and most importantly,a must reform in promotion/deputation policy,in all three services.Also,a serious review of pay,perks,NFU,pension policies etc,whic are frequently being changed,or tampered with,should be undertaken .Besides,selection in Armed forces is now being treated as an employment avenue with many civil restrictions,reservations etc This requires a serious review to prevent inefficiency and attrition.

  16. Deepak says:

    Anguish against the previous CDS, indicating Pauri gharwal connection and designating PM, and Def Minister as difficult leader.. Tarnish the narrative of articles, seems more like a political read then military affairs.

    • Padmakar Naik says:

      I have served at Defence HQ & also with Inter Service organisation.
      A Naval Chief will have an Oceanic Vision. Further, A Naval Officer being a Pilot has a Wide perspective of life, service & command communication…over the Horizon..
      What’s most intriguing is how well Will he be able to handle the concept of “ Strategic Autonomy “”? Interesting times ahead for the Defence Ministry/ National Defence..
      Padmakar Naik

  17. Ex Hon LT JAI NARAYAN SINGH RAJPUT says:

    Admiral Karambir Singh, ex Chief of the Naval Staff is the right choice as CDS. Just wait and watch the rulling Government appointment order. There should not be a any argument or comment that who will be the next CDS from Army,Airforce and Navy, question is that which personality can be better options to handle all the three armed forces and better relationships with neighbouring countries. I know very well Admiral Karambir Singh since 2005. When he was commanding INS Rana, he looked after INS Rana as a small baby, I hope you all are understand, what my means to say. Means how we handle our baby, he will handle the three Armed forces. Admiral Karambir Singh is a great zeal and enthusiasm dimond officer. If he becomes CDS, than only all will release that Government decesion was very good. He is a very clean heart officer and he always ahead of several months planning. I wish him and Government all the best for new CDS. I request Government to select Admiral Karambir Singh as next CDS.
    JAI HIND, SHANO VARUNA

  18. Veteran Commodore Neil Tamhane says:

    Bharat Karnad’s suggestion is probably based on his inputs from political and beaurocratic contacts. Unfortunately requirements of CDS to succeed ought to be overall military merits rather than his acceptability in political and beaurocratic circuits though of course his political acceptability will always be an overriding criteria.Prospective CDS’ Operations attributes ,leadership qualities and scholasstic temperament must be overiding merits needs no explanation to a strategic thinker!

  19. Ravi Katari says:

    From all accounts the Admiral is very clear headed and a patriot with a vision for a united india. I hope he can steer past the political obstacles in his path and restore the pride of professional functioning to all the armed forces.

  20. Wg. Cdr. Raghunath says:

    Good to see a very capable heli pilot (non fighter) being recommended to CDS post. It is time professionalism rather than stereotyped entitled branch only being considered for command position is being done away with. Time of command positions being the exclusive preserve of one branch such as fighter pilots in Air force and similar entitlements to some branches in other two services, is coming to an end. Hope in present environment of strategic thinking and excellence in performance is common to all branches and the best amongst them should head the service and occupy CDS position.

  21. WG CDR AAC DHAWAN ( RETD). says:

    I AM WG CDR AAC DHAWAN( RETD). I BELIEVE IN BETTER INTER-SERVICES COOPERATION AS WELL AS COORDINATION . UNFORTUNATELY , DURING OUR TIMES (1963-1986) THAT I WAS IN SERVICE OR SUBSEQUENTLY TOO , THE INTER-SERVICES COOPERATION HAS BEEN AT LOW KEY DUE VARIOUS REASONS. THE WORST PREJUDICE WAS COLOUR OF THE UNIFORM. WITHIN THE SERVICE , IT WAS BRANCH .
    THE COORDINATION SOMEHOW WAS POSITIVE DURING WAR IN 1965 AND 1971 . IT MEANS PEOPLE REACT BETTER UNDER PRESSURE .
    THE CHOICE OF CDS SEEMS GOOD TO ME.

  22. Lt Gen Surender Verma says:

    Every officer who rises to become Chief of his service, will have many achievements to his credit, but he may not have enough experience to deal with the other two services
    Navy is a tiny arm as compared to army,more so army is required to operate in different terrain,so diverse,deserts,mountains,high altitude and civil insurgencies.
    Recalling an officer after six months of retirement needs reconsideration.

  23. Ayush says:

    The idea of “theatre commands” for India has been shambolic from the very beginning.TCs are used by countries that have vast excess of mil power(US) and global imperialist ambitions. “Vishwaguru” India’s third rate military cannot even defend its own borders which are by the way the strongest natural barrier in the world.With the appointment of a navyman karambir Singh the countdown of a repeat of op desert storm at LAC has begun.Our pol/mil circles have been joking about the performance of Russian weapons in UKR and think that it will seriously make the Chinese question their war fighting capabilities.They are so wrong.The current PLA western theatre commander Lt Gen Wang haijiang may end up being the next Noman Schwarzkopf.Mark this comment.

  24. ss108 says:

    Bharat, surprised you are not covering the far more serious issue of Chinese build-up near several boundary locations . It looks like the Chinese are mobilizing for war.

    • In my posts from Nov 2021 onwards I have periodically flagged the likelihood of renewal of hostilities by PLA in the Himalayan campaign season — late Spring, Summer and Autumn. Presumably, the Indian army is not unaware of the preparations on the Chinese side and has firmed up its presence accordingly — which the press has reported. So unless there’s war what’s there more to say?

  25. Pingback: What the 4-Month Delay in Appointing a New CDS Says In regards to the Modi Govt - IND News World

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