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Higher Defence Organisation Part III

(In the first part of this, we had examined the Higher Defence Organisation in India, identified the deliverables desired from such an organisation, and had also taken a look at the manner in which some other countries have organised command structures. In the second part, we looked at some peculiarities of the Indian context necessitating a tailormade organisation rather than emulation of other successful systems. In this concluding part, we come forth with our recommendations, including the environmental changes needed for making an effective higher defence organisation.) 

The underlying framework of Higher Defence Organisation is designed on some basic decisions. First amongst them is whether the operational command is centralised at the Service / Joint Headquarters, or delegated to the theatre commander under direct political control. In the case of US, the latter is followed, while in the UK, there is a via media in the form of a separate Joint Operational Headquarters, the PJHQ. In Israel, the operational and policy control are unified in the office of the CGS, as is the case with the present Indian system.

Geopolitical peculiarities of India were discussed in the previous issue, in the second part of this article. Joining the dots from thereon, the framework that would suit India, in our opinion, would have to be a hybrid of these command structures. It would be advisable to design a system that allows for decentralisation in single theatre or single service operations, while having the wherewithal to be able to control and coordinate operations spanning across theatres or having multi service participation.
In an article in ‘Mail Today’ dated 23 Dec 2009, Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd), Director CLAWS, has suggested one configuration in which the CDS is appointed at the earliest and is assisted by the staff at IDS . The CDS assumes operational command in an evolutionary manner as the system matures. Theatre commanders, as per Brig Kanwal’s model, are to be from the service having primacy of role in that particular theatre, with the theatres themselves being loosely organised around existing commands of the three services. The model suggested is pragmatic and has as good a chance of working as any other. But irrespective of the contours of the system ultimately chosen, workability and efficacy would depend on some other vital ingredients, which would be common.

The primary ingredient is a true culture of ‘jointmanship’ amongst the services, which sadly remains restricted today within the precincts of selected joint services institutions such as the Defence Services Staff College. The CDS should be able to shed the affiliations of the colour of his uniform and take decisions towards larger organisational or national goals, irrespective of the impact on the single service’s turf. And it is our argument that such a joint service attitude needs to be fostered over the entire service, not awakened one fine morning on appointment as the CDS. Some of the ways to boost inter-services exposure and cooperation, thereby nurturing such attitudes are:-

• Strengthen existing inter-services structures such as NDA, DSSC, CDM, NDC in further nurturing better understanding of other services.
• Create additional structures and institutions by combining functions wherever feasible, even at the marginal cost of single service interests. Some examples are:-
o Combined services training institutions for similar activities and / or cross training of personnel in other service institutions. For example, communications / telecom subjects can be taught at a combined institution for all the three services. This could included combined courses for basic subjects followed by specific coverage of individual service requirements such as particular equipment or procedures. This should also work towards better interoperability between services.
o Combining of logistics and maintenance functions wherever feasible. The medical services are already functioning in this manner to a limited extent. The supply, procurements, maintenance and transport services offer themselves to optimisation towards providing matching facilities on an inter-service basis. Such a pooling of resources would also have a spin off benefit of freeing up some manpower that can be deployed elsewhere.
• Enhanced cross service postings on staff functions. A start has been made in selected branches in service HQs, which could be expanded to subordinate HQs also.
• Enlarge the scope of existing practice of cross affiliation between units, ships and squadrons by cross attachments / postings, participation in training activities and ceremonials.

So, while a beginning can be made by the appointment of CDS in the prevailing environment, the process can be made more meaningful and functionally effective in a truly joint services environment progressively. The CDS must be mandated to continuously work on modifying and evolving the structures based on experiences gained. Ideally, the initial structure could be reviewed at the end of five years to make suitable changes. A decision on transferring of operational command from individual service chiefs to the CDS could also be taken in this timeframe.

The framework discussed so far covers amalgamation of existing structures in creating the new command setup. In addition to these, there are a number of additional organisations that are either being set up, or need to be and probably will be shortly, to cater for emerging domains such as Information / Cyber Warfare and Aerospace / Satellite systems. These nascent organisations provide ideal opportunity to be built around functional efficiency ab initio rather than being organised and staffed based on individual service interests. These would require a high degree of technical specialisation as well as clear understanding of specific service requirements and limitations. This apparently contradictory requirement could lead to compromises being made biased toward either end, which would be inimical to long term interests. Ideally, therefore, such organisations must be placed directly under the CDS, and staffed based on suitability and qualification of personnel rather than being tied down by need to provide proportional representation and maintaining a balance between the services, as has been the norm with other joint services organisations so far. To that end, there is a requirement to allow domain specific talent to grow within these organisations, maintaining a balance between external exposure to gain insight into service requirements and optimal employment within, at the same time protecting their career interests to keep them at par with the mainstream. The forces must not fight shy of utilising external talent wherever required – specialists can be taken on board on fulltime or contractual basis to augment in-house expertise.

To summarize, it is abundantly clear that the appointment of CDS is a need of the hour that cannot be postponed any further, either due to political dithering or inter-services manoeuvrings. The command setup needs to be based on the peculiar geopolitical realities of India, and this is more likely to be arrived at in an evolutionary process, beginning with creation of a CDS within existing framework with appropriate tweaking. Simultaneously, there have to be a significant shift in the perception and attitudes of individual services towards creating genuine joint services organisations and environment, for the purpose behind such an appointment to be truly served.


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