India's new CDS, Gen Anil Chauhan has a daunting task ahead!

Brigadier Niladri Shankar Mukherjee, SM, VSM(Retd)


The India government finally announced the appointment of Lt Gen Anil Chauhan (Retd), a 1981 batch officer who retired in May 2021, as India's second Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) after a 10-month long delay. The first CDS, Gen Bipin Rawat died in a helicopter crash in December 2021. 

Because of the long delay, there was a general perception amongst both serving and retired armed forces fraternity that the government was having second thoughts about the concept of appointing a CDS. 

In June this year, the government suddenly amended the rules for appointing the CDS. As per the new rules, officers with the second highest rank in the military could be considered for the top job, superseding the three service chiefs. 

It was evident that the government would prefer to have a CDS who would not act as an independent or parallel authority. The CDS was expected to go along with decisions made by the government and ensure that the three service chiefs come around the decisions. 

Although the concept of structuring the Armed Forces headed by a CDS had been debated for nearly two decades, the need to have a CDS was felt because of three specific reasons.

First, the need for reducing a large number of headquarters at the level of Army/ Navy/ Air Commands and organising and creating four new unified commands: the integrated maritime theatre command, air defence command and two land-based commands for Pakistan and China. 

Second, The removal of the layers of administrative paraphernalia associated with the multiplicity of headquarters will help optimum utilisation of scarce resources.

Third, prioritised allocation of budgetary resources to the three services for procurement of fourth/fifth generation weapons and technology. The political administration could not clearly understand the requirements of the three services with each service lobbying for a bigger share of the pie. 

The CDS, with senior supporting staff officers from the three services under his direct command, would be in a position to identify and prioritise the procurement of weapons, air crafts and naval vessels. 

The creation of a new organization wouldn’t be an easy task. 

It might take a long time to create and integrate the theatre commands. A section of serving and retired officers of very senior rank feels that the previous structure of having a Joint Chief of Staff, where the senior most service Chief assumed the appointment, had functioned satisfactorily.

Inter-service rivalry is also a cause of serious concern. Although this aspect is not much discussed, rivalry prevents the synergy of doctrine and operations. All Armed Forces of the world fall prey to inter-services rivalry, and it has been found that structuring the Forces by having a CDS reduces this rivalry to a large extent. 

Now that a new CDS has been appointed, his main challenge will be to get the Air Chief to agree to the reorganisation of theatre commands. The Air Chief has often stated publicly that the resources of the Air Force are limited and they cannot and should not be allocated to the various theatre commands ab initio. 

His view is that by its very nature the Air Force assets can be swiftly moved from one theatre to another and the allocation of Air assets should be done as the war engagements dictate. He also has aired doubts about the concept of theatre commands. 

Lt Gen Anil Chauhan has a very impressive profile and is a thorough professional. His colleagues, peers and junior leaders look up to him. The political dispensation of the day trusts him and he has been continuing in government service, as an adviser to the NSA. 

Amongst all serving and retired officers of the rank of Lt Gens/ Admirals/ Air Marshals, he is most likely to take forward Gen Bipin Rawat’s vision and legacy. Incidentally, both are 11 GR Officers.

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