Following the Defence Ministry’s request last week for the personal profiles of all military leaders and commander-in-chiefs from the three services since January 1, 2020, the appointment of a new Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is a heated topic of discussion among top brass. General Bipin Rawat, who died in an IAF helicopter mishap in Coonor, Nilgiris district, on December 8, 2021, would be succeeded by the next CDS.
Although talk about who will be the next CDS fills the hallways of military headquarters, the Defence Ministry looks to be taking its time and would prefer a deep-down candidate selection for the appointment of the second CDS. There are also no plans to split the CDS position by removing the Secretary (Department of Military Affairs) department and relegating the position of main military counsellor to the government to a largely ceremonial one.
Last week, the Defence Ministry requested that the three-service headquarters provide a list of personal information for the current Chief and existing commander-in-chiefs, as well as information for all Chiefs and C-in-Cs who retired after January 1, 2020. While the Defence Ministry desired to update the data bank, the military interpreted this as an indication that the Modi government intended to pick the next CDS shortly. This has been a hot topic in the South Block, with retired chiefs and C-in-Cs actively advocating for a meeting with ruling party politicians.
While the next CDS will most likely be from the Indian Army, the largest force, the Modi government will conduct all necessary background checks to ensure that the next CDS is a capable successor to Gen Rawat and believes in military transformation. The administration is clear that the next CDS should have the authority to break down silos within the armed forces and operationally synergize them through planned military theatre commands. The issue inside the military is that none of the chiefs want their enormous powers diluted in favour of proposed theatre commanders and their military assets divided across multiple theatre commands to make the Indian military more responsive and formidable.
If Gen Rawat had lived, he would have announced and operationalized theatre commands in the 75th year of independence.
Despite the fact that the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) was established as a tri-service command in 2001, the three services are fiercely protective of their domains and prefer to operate in silos. The ANC was supposed to be a test case for a theatre command, but despite its location and massive military leverage in the Indo-Pacific, it has yet to live up to expectations. Gen Rawat and national security planners hoped to turn the ANC into a spearhead command with refuelling facilities for all ships travelling via the Malacca Strait to the South China Sea and North Asia.
Rather of appointing a retired chief or a retired C-in-C as a CDS, the government would prefer to wait until they can identify a three or four star commander capable of dealing with military pressure from both the northern and western fronts.
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