The Naresh Chandra Task Force, constituted to undertake a reappraisal of India's current and future security threats, submitted its report to the Prime Minister more than a month ago. Bits and pieces of the as yet secret report have appeared in the media but the government is yet to release it officially.
We do not know if the recommendations of the task force will ever be made public.
Nevertheless, from whatever little source-based information is available three recommendations stand out and are certainly worth implementing forthwith.
- Appointment of a Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC)
- Integrate Service HQ and Ministry of Defence by allowing more cross-postings
- Shift focus of India's national security strategy from Pakistan to China
While the shift in focus from Pakistan to China has been talked about and is being implemented in fits and starts for the past four or five years, the first two recommendations are worth deliberating in little more detail.
It is worth noting that the Task Force has NOT recommended a five star Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) since discussion on the creation of the post has created a lot of acrimony among the three forces ever since it was made exactly a decade ago.
While the Army has favoured the appointment of a CDS, envisaged as a single-point military adviser, the Navy has been ambivalent on the issue but it is the Air Force which has vehemently opposed the post. Former Air Chief, ACM PV Naik, in his last interview before demitting office last August had told me that the IAF opposes CDS in its 'present form.'
Aware of these inter-services dynamics, the Naresh Chandra Task Force has found a way around it by recommending creation of the post of Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, a four star officer, who will be in charge of the two existing tri-services commands-the Strategic Command Force (SFC) and the Andaman Nicobar Command (ANC).
The three service Chiefs will continue command and lead their respective services, the Task Force said.
The Permanent Chairman CoSC, according to the recommendation of the Naresh Chandra Task Force, will have a fixed tenure of two years and will be rotated among the three services. This officer will be assisted by the existing Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), headed by a three star officer from any of the three services.
Over the past decade, the IDS has evolved in a barely workable tri-services structure with over 300 officers drawn from the three services trying to function as a cohesive unit tasked with evolving "jointness." On ground however, jointness or inter-operability has remained at best patchy. The Air Force in particular has resisted creation of a CDS fiercely, fearing that would be reduced to a supporting role.
The new recommendation seeks to overcome these differences. The Naresh Chandra Task Force has also recommended the creation of a separate Special Operations Command on the lines of the US structure since asymmetric threats are seen as the main challenge to India's national security in coming decades.
The Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, as recommended by the Task Force is thus supposed to command the two existing tri-services commands and also lead the Special Operations Command whenever it comes into existence.
The new post, the Task Force is hoping, will also bring in synergy in major acquisitions for all the three forces. Often, the three services have worked independently in procuring same set of equipment, duplicating work and creating separate infrastructure when synergy would have saved hundreds of crores of rupees.
Linked to this is the recommendation that more cross-postings of bureaucrats in service headquarters and service officials in the Ministry of Defence should take place starting from director level upwards and should go right up to the additional secretary level gradually. This, the Task Force felt, would help greater integration and faster decision making since technical and domain knowledge from both the civil and military side will be instantly available whenever necessary instead of putting every query on file thereby adding to delays.
Having mulled over some of these proposals, a thought comes to mind. Why not create two more tri-services commands and give some more work to the proposed Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee?
Given the frequency of cyber-attacks on India's IT infrastructure, creation of a cyber-command is only a matter of time. Then again, an aerospace command has been discussed at the highest levels for some years now but inter-services rivalry has prevented it from taking off. Along with the creation of the proposed Special Operations Command, why not create these two additional tri-service commands? And let the Army, Air Force and Navy be the lead service for a particular command?
The proposed Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee can remain the head of these three commands with each of them being led by an Army Commander level officer. Given the experience and expertise available with the Army, it can take charge of the Special Operations Command, the IAF, with its domain knowledge, can take over the aerospace command and the Navy can lead the cyber command. The heads of these commands can have their second rung manned by two-star officers from each of the services so that they continue to have the benefit of expert advice from across the services but the overall responsibility must remain with the designated service.
Given that the existing tri-services commands go through painful changes each time their Commanders-in-Chief get rotated, making each of the service responsible for the proposed new commands will make their the working smoother and more efficient.
The new arrangement proposed by the Naresh Chandra Task Force, incomplete in itself can perhaps be better utilised in this manner.
Food for thought or a fanciful idea of an ill-informed hack?