CDS Appointment: An Opportunity to Streamline Defence Acquisitions
Dr Kapil Patil, Associate Fellow, VIF

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day announcement from the ramparts of Red Fort to create Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) constitutes a major milestone in the history of India’s defence reforms1. The appointment of CDS was one of the key recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) and the Group of Ministers Report (GoM) along with a host of other measures to introduce structural reforms in the Indian defence2. Yet, for the past two decades, there has been much political and bureaucratic contestation around the appointment of CDS. With Prime Minister Modi taking a bold step and breaking the longstanding deadlock, it is important to draw attention to issues for reforming India’s higher defence organisation and to harness the instrument of military power in service of country’s long-term political and strategic objectives.

Since the Kargil War, many notable changes have been carried out in the areas of higher defence management, integrated planning, budgetary measures, acquisitions, intelligence coordination, border management, internal security and so on. Also, to promote jointness and to infuse greater synergy among the three services, new entities such as the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS), and tri-service bodies like the Andaman and Nicobar Command, the Strategic Forces Command, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), etc. have been created. Nevertheless, these measures have been long regarded as ad-hoc and piecemeal as the key decision to appoint the CDS has been kept in abeyance ostensibly for lack of political consensus within the country.

The absence of CDS has been long regarded as a missing piece in India’s ‘grand strategy’ puzzle, which hindered the pace of military modernisation dictated by India’s changing strategic environment4. Over time, India has witnessed a gradual worsening of the security environment due to Pak-sponsored terrorism, the spread of radical extremism, and the rise of militarily assertive China. Also, the changing nature of warfare requires the Indian military to transform itself into an agile force capable of launching short, swift and network-centric operations.

In the absence of CDS, however, much of the military planning and modernisation has remained silo-based and stymied the progress on issues like inter-services prioritisation, joint planning and acquisitions. For example, in the present structure, the service chiefs often seem to fervently guard their turf at the cost of promoting joint training, planning and operations. This has had a particularly deleterious impact on several key features of military preparedness ranging from acquisitions, development of indigenous systems, lack of interoperability, absence of joint training and the inability to deploy combined force in the eventuality of combat.

The lack of an integrated approach has strongly limited the ability of military services to leverage scarce military, financial and technological resources to achieve the higher military effect. Defence procurement is a peculiar case where the acquisition plans continue to be the wish-list of individual services and involve considerable overlap. The autonomy exercised by the individual services in drawing-up the acquisition plans frequently leads to duplication and wasteful expenditure of resources. The creation of the HQ IDS was expected to infuse greater synergy in the acquisitions by providing strategic guidance on inter-service planning. However, in the absence of a single point advisory authority, the duplication of requirements not only affects the overall cost-efficiency but also the scale advantages that can be secured from the aggregation of military demand. Also, the lack of clear signalling about the future technological requirements presents a major hurdle for the industry to make decisions on risky R&D projects and to ensure returns on their investments.

The CDS is thus expected to adjudicate on these matters by providing a dispassionate view on inter-service acquisitions and to improve the overall efficiency of procurement. In fact, in many countries, the idea of joint theatre commands was taken-up mainly out of fiscal considerations and the need to rationalise vast military expenditures. In the current context, where public exchequers call for exercising fiscal austerity, the single-service acquisition approach has clearly become unviable and needs to be replaced with joint procurement plans for ensuring substantive cost-savings to the exchequer.

Similarly, it is also hoped that the CDS will also hasten the long-pending acquisition plans for modern fighter aircraft, aircraft carriers, submarines, artillery units, and the modernisation of C4I2SR systems. Besides fast-tracking acquisitions, the joint procurement plans can also effectively serve the defence indigenisation objectives in the long-run. Over the past several decades, the separation of military end-users from the production entities i.e. the DRDO labs and Defence Production Units (DPSUs) has been a cause of much friction over unmet user requirements and the non-induction of indigenous defence hardware.

In the absence of strong user-producer linkages, imports have been the default option in the procurement of large capital goods and systems. Although the recent changes to the procurement procedures such as DPP (2013) and (2016) aims to accord highest preference to indigenously designed, developed and manufactured military systems over license-produced or off-the-shelf goods, the impact of these policy preferences has been marginal in enhancing the share of indigenous defence hardware, and India continues to figure in the list of largest defence importers in the world.

The office of CDS can play a vital role in bridging the user-producer gap and in bringing much-needed synergy between acquisition and production arms of the MoD. The commitment to indigenisation from the apex military office would certainly go a long way in minimising imports and in boosting the competitiveness of the domestic industry. For the aforesaid reasons, it is essential that the decision to appoint the CDS much be accompanied by complete reorganisation of the entire higher defence organization by creating operational theatre commands, integration of logistics, ordnance and supply infrastructure, common training facilities, and so on.

Without the fundamental structural rejig, the CDS appointment will amount yet another piecemeal change that would merely perpetuate the status quo and do great disservice India’s long-term strategic goals. As the duties and powers of the CDS will be worked out in due course, the task of promoting long-term indigenization of Indian defence must also be vested with the office of CDS. It is only then that the scientists and soldiers can meaningfully work together co-develop indigenous defence platforms and contribute to achieving long-term self-reliance in the indigenous defence production.

References:
  1. PM addressed the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 73rd Independence Day, PMO, August 15, 2019, URL: https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/pm-addressed-the-nation-from-the-ramparts-of-the-red-fort-on-the-73rd-independence-day/?comment=disable.
  2. Executive Summary: The Kargil Committee Report at: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/India/KargilRCA.html; and GoM Report on National Security, 2001 at: https://www.vifindia.org/sites/default/files/GoM%20Report%20on%20National%20Security.pdf.
  3. Mukherjee, A. (2011), “Failing to Deliver: Post-Crises Defence Reforms in India, 1998-2010”, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Occasional Paper No. 18, URL: https://idsa.in/system/files/OP_defencereform.pdf.
  4. Cohen, S. P., & Dasgupta, S. (2013). Arming without aiming: India's military

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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