In the absence of a chief of defence staff (CDS), Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari is expected to take over as the officiating chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) soon. In that capacity, he will be responsible for promoting synergy, cooperation, and jointness among the three services, officials familiar with the development said on Monday.
After General Manoj Mukund Naravane departed as army chief on April 30, Chaudhari became the most senior leader in the Indian armed forces. After India’s first CDS General Bipin Rawat was killed in a helicopter crash in Coonoor in Tamil Nadu on December 8, 2021, Naravane became the officiating chairman of COSC.
The job of CDS has been vacant for almost five months because Rawat’s successor has yet to be named by the government.
“As the senior-most service chief, the IAF chief would take over as officiating chairman of COSC in the coming days.” “Until the government picks the new CDS, he will be responsible for synergy, cooperation, and jointness among the three services,” one of the officials said.
The senior-most service leader held the role of chairman of COSC and was responsible for interservices collaboration before the government formed the post of CDS and the department of military affairs (DMA) in December 2019.
The previous arrangement for interservices cooperation was criticised since the presidency of COSC rotated, and chiefs were often only in charge for a few months before retiring.
Rawat, as CDS, donned many hats.
He was the permanent chairman of COSC, the head of DMA, and the defence minister’s single-point military adviser. Rawat, who took over as CDS on January 1, 2020, was expected to bring the three services together in a three-year time period by January 2023, according to the government. The establishment of integrated theatre commands is one way to attain jointness.
Chaudhari will take over as COSC’s officiating chairman at a time when India is developing a roadmap for the military’s theaterization in order to better utilise the three services’ capabilities for future wars and operations. Rawat was in charge of theaterisation, and his death was considered as a setback to the military’s continuing reforms.
With General Naravane’s retirement, COSC will pick a new officiating chairman. This is an adequate structure in the absence of a CDS, but it could exacerbate the military reform process, which is the CDS’ principal responsibility, according to former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).
“We hope the government makes a swift decision on the CDS so that the restructuring proposals in the works may be completed,” Hooda said.
Days after taking over as air force chief, Chaudhari stated in October 2021 that the air force was fully committed to tri-service integration in order to maximise the country’s combat capability, that the air force’s concerns about the theaterization model had been factored into the planning process, and that the new structures would allow for joint planning of operations at all levels.
To improve tri-service synergy, the present theaterisation model proposes establishing four integrated commands: two land-centric theatres, an air defence command, and a sea theatre command. The three services are scheduled to deliver complete theaterization and joint structures reports in the near future.
There are currently 17 single-service commands dispersed across the country in the armed forces. Each of the Indian Army’s and Air Force’s commands has seven subordinate commands, while the Indian Navy has three. Except for the Northern Command, which is situated in Udhampur, creating theatres would entail merging the existing commands.
Because of its essential significance, the Indian Army’s Northern Command is the only single-service command that will remain beyond the purview of the military’s theaterisation effort. It is in charge of guarding the country’s northern borders with Pakistan and China, as well as counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir.
General Manoj Pande, the new army commander, and the other two service chiefs are National Defence Academy classmates who share a wonderful relationship, according to officials. The 61st NDA course produced Chaudhari, Pande, and Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar.
Pande had earlier claimed that he and the other two leaders had grown up together in the NDA during their formative years and that it was “a good beginning of synergy, cooperation, and jointmanship” when he visited defence minister Rajnath Singh in his office on Monday.