General Bipin Rawat, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, VSM, ADC

Designation : Chief of Defence Staff

Author : Editorial Team

: January 25, 2021

Chief of Defence Staff has been a long cherished reform that the defence services have aspired for. With the creation of Department of Military Affairs and appointment of General Rawat as the first CDS, Government of India took the first step in this direction to achieve greater synergy and jointness amongst the three services. CDS also becomes a single point contact for the government on advice related to the three defence services. Acting as a Secretary to the Government of India, the CDS has acquired executive powers which is a major step towards ease of doing business.

During the first year of DMA’ss raising, a number of initiatives and proposals have been put forth which have accelerated the process of jointness through theatre commands. Indigenisation has been given a major fillip by DMA. Proposals are underway to manage and utilise resources effectively and efficiently. It is a daunting mandate and one year is too little a time to pass judgement. Nevertheless, as India continues to aspire for its rightful place under the sun, its military might must complement and support its policies; the CDS thus has an onerous task at hand as its top military commander.

It was indeed a pleasure and privilege to interview the CDS. As is his vaunt, he spoke candidly and took on a variety of questions during the two hour long interaction with Lt Gen Ata Hasnain and Col A K Sharma, Editor, South Asia Defence & Strategic Review. Excerpts from the interview:-

Defstrat: New equations have emerged during the past decade in the strategic Indo-Pacific region and South China Sea. Major regional realignments are afoot to our west in the Middle-East. India, as an influential regional power, has a role to play to safeguard its own interests as well as those of its friends and allies. How do you envision India’s military influence and presence and what are the priority areas which need attention in the near, mid and long term?

CDS: The concept of Indo-Pacific is not recent. It is the geographical area spanning the East Coast of Africa through the Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific. Geo-strategically India sits squarely astride the IOR. With major global supply chains passing through the region, the Indo-Pacific in general, and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in particular, remain vital for transit and world trade. India thus has a major stake in the Indo-Pacific.

Most of the countries in the region are seeking cooperative engagement to reap the economic dividend through improved maritime connectivity. Resident, as well as extra-regional powers have shown a renewed interest in developing maritime and overland infrastructure in the region. China has developed ports and their Belt & Road Initiative also points in this direction. Regional and sub-regional groupings have their own strategic concern. Such an important part of the globe however, lacks a comprehensive, rule-based security architecture, which often manifests as strategic turbulence, causing ripples world-wide.

India, as an emerging power, continues to face challenges of its own, not the least of which is the ongoing border confrontation in Ladakh. PLAN’s expanding forays have also been seen in the Indian Ocean. The strategy to deal with increasing Chinese footprints in the IOR and our neighborhood should entail a combination of astute diplomacy and rapid development of Comprehensive National Power (CNP). In the short term, we must secure our borders, yet avoid direct confrontation and focus on building our national capacity. This is not to state that we must not remain prepared for border skirmishes or conflict, if these are thrust upon us. In the long run, we must pursue a three-pronged strategy. First, ensure stability and economic growth by engagement, peaceful resolution of disputes and enhanced cooperation; Second, strengthen our developing and close relations with extra regional powers and Third, utilise soft power, adequately backed by hard power, to recalibrate the balance of power equation in India’s favour.

There are other regional issues that command our focus. Apart from unresolved borders on our Western and Northern periphery, terrorism and proxies in our neighbourhood are a cause for concern. Collusion of Pakistan and China is a reality that needs firm handling. Radical ideologies in the Middle East often disrupt peace and this needs constant evaluation for its impact on the region. As a member of QUAD, we are operating with other navies, expanding our reach further East. So in nutshell, we are always studying events and situations that impact us and the region.

India’s emergence on the world stage as a key player in several areas has begun to be noticed. Our soft power has helped us strengthen our relations in the Middle East and SE Asia.  Our ‘Act East’ policy continues to seek close relations with ASEAN Nations. Our armed forces have received support not only from our own countrymen, but also the international community for standing up to China for what we believe is our right – to defend our territorial integrity. Our engagement with several armed forces across the world in joint training and exercises bears testimony to the competence and expertise of our military. Notwithstanding the above, India recognises the rise of other economic and military powers around us in the firm belief that multipolarity lends to better strategic stability.  For then, there is adequate space for everyone to grow and pursue the path of development and progress.

Defstrat: In the ongoing process of defence reforms, the idea of formation of Integrated Theatre Commands to synergise the capabilities and combat potential of the three services during war and peace is very contemporary. At the same time challenges imposed by geographical constraints, limited resources and individual service ethos pose practical problems in the path of theatre commands. How far can you go ahead with this transformation and what are the challenges that you visualise as the CDS?

CDS: At the outset, we must recognise that the mandate of CDS is to conceptualise, identify and suggest a structure for Theatre Commands, for the purpose of integrated operational capability and optimisation of resources and effort. Optimum utilisation of resources and provision of synergised networks will form part of the roll out plan. Transformation in military affairs is an evolutionary process and must also cater to adequate checks and balances along the way.

With the changing character and nature of warfare in modern times, the concept of victory is getting blurred. A new scale of measure of decisiveness in achieving strategic success involves employing all facets of national power. Thus if we are certain that wars are not just fought between militaries but between nations, then there is no way in which the military can succeed in combat, without an integrated mechanism in place. We have to ensure that the sum total of the combat power of each service, when applied in a synergised manner, adds up exponentially, in increasing proportions.

The armed forces should therefore be structured in a manner that lends operational flexibility to pursue wider strategic objectives. Integrated approach to war fighting will give us the ability to amass combat power at a place and time of our choosing. This calls for tri-service synergy while maintaining fair degree of autonomy within each service.

The need is to transform operations from loosely linked, service-dominated operations into fully integrated, mutually supportive, joint operations wherein the full potential of combat power can be realised. We have long land borders with varied terrain configuration and a vast IOR. The system that we adopt has to be best suited for the optimum management of both external and internal security challenges. We are presently in advance stages of firming up the contours of the structures and processes required for the transformation. Theatres would have tailor-made components from the three services and could be based on geography, terrain, threat, envisaged role and resources.

We are moving towards integration of our Air Defence resources and structures, a Maritime Command and Integrated Theatre Commands. Decision making hierarchy of the Theatre Commands may be structured in consonance with demarcated lines of authority.  The CDS and the Theatre Commanders would conjointly provide ‘Unity of Command’ while the Service HQs and the Component Commanders, should provide ‘Unity of Effort’. Mid-course corrections will be necessitated as we bring about integration, because no solution can be perfect on inception, hence we will consider modifications, where necessitated. Flexibility during evolution will help us in coming up with solutions that are best suited to our environment.

IAF is primarily responsible for the Air Defence of the nation, even though each service has its own integral resources. The concept is to integrate the air defence resources of all the three services. We are also examining the feasibility of Joint Training. A study has been commissioned to suggest reorientation of important courses of instruction like the DSSC, Senior Command and Higher Command courses, which will essentially acquire a tri service orientation to promote jointness in right earnest. A Joint Logistics Command is also envisaged, which would, in addition to the competencies of our services, draw from the strengths of the existing civilian infrastructure.  Logistics nodes at certain key locations in the country are already taking shape to facilitate and accelerate the process of integrated logistics.

Defstrat: Limited resources have become the bane of all modern militaries. The situation has been accentuated further by COVID-19 pandemic. Saddled with some belligerent neighbours, however, the dilemma faced by the Indian Armed forces is a little different – the need to modernise versus the need to cut costs. In the given scenario some of the proposals to reduce revenue expenditure, particularly in the area of pay & pensions, have evoked a strong response. It is a tight rope walk! How do you meet both the aspirations of the serving and veteran soldiers and yet generate adequate funds within the given constraints?

CDS: In macroeconomics, the ‘guns versus butter model’ demonstrates the relationship between a nation’s investment in defence and in other important sectors.  Given that, we have to manage all our needs within the allotted defence budget.

The simple answer is that we have to do both – cut costs as well as modernise the armed forces. Induction of new warfighting technologies is a must for us to remain contemporary and a modern force. But it is my belief that those very technologies will help us in cutting costs as the lethality and range of new weapon systems increase; while simultaneously reducing the need for massed human resources.

Therefore, both modernisation and rationalisation of the three Services are being pursued to ensure resource optimisation and enhanced combat effectiveness. This will result in savings in personnel and budget for creation of new operational assets or entities.  Towards this, we are looking at improving the ‘teeth to tail ratios’ through rightsizing, reorganisation and restructuring in phases, starting with optimisation of military and defence civilian personnel.

Resource management in an integrated environment also mandates that we re- prioritise our capital acquisitions and revenue expenses to maintain inter-service and operational balance. Suitable directions have been given to ensure this aspect as also that our acquisition processes are sharpened to remain in conformity.

As far as military pensions are concerned, we are NOT looking at reducing pensions; but at better and more efficient utilisation of our skilled personnel. Selective extension of service is a necessity to ensure continuity and optimum utilisation of highly skilled personnel to cater for emerging technologies like AI, Big data analysis, Cyber, Space and Quantum computing. Simultaneously, we are also contemplating release of our personnel after serving for varying durations, that will enable a younger profile in our frontline units. The personnel who exit from service are disciplined, motivated and adequately skilled to be absorbed in other Government, private or entrepreneurial fields.

Defstrat: DRDO’s contributions in the field of strategic weapon systems has been noteworthy. However, their successes in developing conventional platforms and technologies have been limited. One of the major reasons is lack of continuity and coordination with the armed forces. With the creation of DMA, would it not be prudent to make DRDO’s Services Interaction Cell a part of the new set up, with its senior executive serving as CDS’ Scientific Advisor?

CDS: DRDO’s pursuit of self-reliance and successful indigenous development and production of strategic systems and platforms such as light combat aircraft, multi-barrel rocket launchers, air defence systems and a wide range of radars and electronic warfare systems etc;  have given a quantum jump to India’s military might, through indigenous research and development.

With the creation of DMA, there is greater coordination with DRDO. As far as Scientific Advisor is concerned, there is a DRDO Scientist at HQ IDS who advices CISC on relevant technology infusion and transformation issues and this serves the purpose of DMA as well. I would certainly encourage DRDO to work closely with the armed forces to develop technologies and platforms in order to reduce dependence on foreign imports, in sync with our mission of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.

Defstrat: Owing to a number of reasons, Indian Armed forces appear to have missed out on a couple of technology cycles. Trying to catch up with missed technologies, our R&D, DPSUs and the fledgling private sector are developing technologies which may be nearing obsolescence by the time they are introduced in service. What strategy do you have in place to avoid such a situation? 

CDS: One of the principal mandates of the CDS is to ensure a holistic and integrated approach to augmentation of capabilities which are aligned to the country’s security challenges and military objectives. To undertake this in a pragmatic manner, a formal process of Integrated Capability Development System (ICADS) has been evolved by DMA. ICADS will usher in mission-oriented capability development and force structuring with greater jointness, ensuring optimal utilisation of available resources. The ICADS process will deliver prioritised requirement of capabilities in the form of Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP) and the two year roll on Annual Acquisition Plan (AAP).

Future acquisitions would therefore be guided by a systematic framework of integrated capability planning process and this should resolve the issue of trying to catch up with technology. As I said earlier, we are aware of the need to constantly revise our acquisition plans and reprioritise the ‘acquisitions wish list’ as per prevailing operational situation and technological threshold.

Defstrat: There have been no major wars involving two opposing conventional militaries. However, lessons learnt from recent localised conflicts indicate a quiet technological revolution in modern warfare. It is reasonable to assume that modern and larger armies would employ similar weapons and a lot more in electromagnetic spectrum and space. Psy ops and media warfare are also scaling new dimensions. What mechanisms are being introduced in these areas to meet with new challenges on the battlefield?

CDS: The psychological dimension of a conflict is as important as its physical dimension. Psychological Operations (Psy Ops) have become even more relevant in this age of Information Wars, especially for a nation state where the threat in the socio-psychological domain is more pronounced. While combating the menace of terrorism, the psychological dimension assumes greater significance, as terrorists also use violence as a psychological weapon by terrorising the multitudes.

The changed dynamics of international relations following the end of the Cold War and changes in the South Asian strategic landscape post 9/11 have made Psy Ops more relevant for the region. In the age of Grey Zone Warfare, it is imperative to understand the complete dynamics of information manoeuvre, perception management and Information Wars. Hence, whole of Government approach in essential to deal with Psy Ops as a component of Information Operations. An integrated structure for addressing all these issues has been set in motion by the NSCS. Defence services will operate as a part of the overall organisation at the national level.

Defstrat. Atmanirbhar Bharat or self-reliance in defence is indeed a laudable objective and aspiration. This, however, requires close coordination and synergy between the armed forces and the Defence Industry. India has done well to encourage the private sector to come forward and participate in producing military hardware.  Hand holding by defence services can help achieve this better and faster.  Indigenisation cells have helped but more needs to be done. One suggestion can be to release non-empaneled officers to defence industry who can add tremendous value if allowed to get absorbed at relatively younger age. This will also offer more opportunities for lateral absorption of officers at mid-level. Your views please.

CDS: We are all aware that India’s Defence budget is the third largest in the world. However, we are the only net importer in this category and account for 9.2% of the global arms import. The combination of the size of our Armed Forces, standing at one million plus, juxtaposed with the huge inventory of simple to complex equipment provides for a very viable and attractive market with an opportunity for all to partake. The Government and the Indian Armed Forces have clearly demonstrated their resolve and commitment to the Make in India Defence initiative and become ‘Atmanirbhar’. Import embargo on 101 items in phased timelines will boost indigenisation of defence production. We are fully committed to winning India’s wars with Indian solutions. It now remains for all of us to translate this opportunity into tangible success on ground.

Regarding lateral absorption of our personnel, a large number of them are available within the system and must be seen as an asset to be used gainfully by the organization. Any person who has joined the services after evaluation of his capabilities by the SSB and completed basic military training has the potential which must be nurtured and utilized within the organisation. Release of officers and other personnel to defence manufacturing sectors is an ongoing process. As the civilian sector in defence manufacturing enlarges in scope, our personnel will find avenues for absorption, some even post retirement, because military personnel maintain a healthy life style and have the capacity to perform.

Defstrat. Achieving self-reliance in manufacturing military hardware is a painstaking and slow process. It involves R&D, acquisition and absorption of high end technologies, good manufacturing practices and sustenance through a reliable supply chain. As a robust ecosystem will take time to come up, the intervening lead time is critical as it can create voids in the inventory especially as import bans are put in place. How do you propose to balance op preparedness and indigenisation?

CDS: To maximise indigenisation of weapon platforms, systems, munitions and equipment, there is a plan to harmonise indigenisation initiatives with procurement plans of the defence services. This will provide a major fillip to the indigenous defence R&D both in public and the private sectors. The Draft DPP-2020 provides numerous avenues for participation of public and private sector including MSMEs and Start-ups in design, development and production of defence hardware through Make I/II/III, IDEX, Open Competition etc.

In the recent past we have also opened up our training and maintenance establishments to the private sector. The aim is to apprise them of our thought process, needs and maintenance issues to enable the private sector to understand our requirements, problem areas and thus work closely with the end user.  We wish to continue and increase our engagement with the private sector and help develop military platform integrators and a robust supply chain within the country.

I have also espoused the idea that our GSQRs should not be too rigid and should define acceptable parameters rather than be fixated on datum lines. This will provide the necessary flexibility to both the Indian industry and R&D. It will also obviate unnecessary delays on account of failures during trials due to rigid GSQRs. Where there is an assurance of high end technologies coming up in a reasonable time frame, for which we will obviously have ‘Intellectual property rights’, we can start producing systems with available technologies, to prevent delays and subsequently scale up to successive improved models, once the high-end technology is available. Developed counties with mature military technologies have reached this stage through this iterative process. PSQRs for indigenous development thus must lead to desirable GSQRs.

In order to arrive at holistic capability and realistic timelines for development, production and induction of indigenous equipment, DMA is coordinating with Dept of Defence Production and DRDO to build up a list of equipment and platforms for indigenous production, under various categories.

Defstrat: There is a view that our training methods are a bit archaic. Certain courses of instruction promote learning by rote method instead of encouraging innovative thought process which is so essential as future operations promise to be dominated by uncertainty and unpredictability. What improvements do you envision to bring about a change in our training methodologies?

CDS : The Indian Armed forces have to remain prepared for high intensity war fighting skills in order to deter and, if required, fight and win conflicts.  Training is an all-important facet of our job content which is evolutionary in the career span of our men and officers.

We are fully seized of the fact that success in future operations will depend on the ability to exploit and integrate new technologies. Information, Communication, Cyber, Quantum computing and Nano technologies offer exciting opportunities to improve training and is becoming a major learning medium in the Armed Forces. The Services have been harnessing technology in training extensively, making effective use of Computer Based Training since a long time in all our training institutes. Computer War Games and Tele Battles are conducted at War Centres at various locations and computer aided simulators have become integral part of our training which besides providing effective training help in conserving the life of in-Service equipment. The Armed Forces are also harnessing the country’s strong IT base to train and enhance capabilities in Information Warfare and Psychological Warfare. Training where appropriate, and required, is also being conducted through suitable interface with the academia, industry and civil institutions.

Joint training is precursor to joint planning and is a mandatory requirement for achieving convergence of minds. Towards the same, we are looking at conducting training capsules on jointmanship for mid and senior level officers and also additional posts for joint staff tenures for officers. This will enable officers to obtain a holistic view of the issues which promote jointness, and forge stronger ties between officers of the three Services. Establishment of the Indian Defence University (IDU) in near future will greatly facilitate jointness in training, not just within the military, but also develop better understanding and appreciation for civil-military interface.

Defstrat: With the advent of Internet of Things (IoT), Open Markets and E-commerce, job opportunities and their variety abounds. With young students getting lured with multiple career options, competition for a career in the Armed Forces appears to be on the  wane. Fading charm and the glamour of uniform too appears to be a contributory factor for not luring the youngsters. Given that the military needs to constantly attract youth, how do you propose to maintain the attraction?

CDS: A career in the Defence Forces as an officer has always had a place of dignity and respect amongst the youth. Notwithstanding the exponential growth in white collar jobs in the last two decades, the reason for not choosing the military as a career to a large extent remains lack of knowledge amongst the youth regarding the options available, service conditions and quality of life.

The Army has ensured that we follow strict standards of selection in our SSBs. This leads to many applicants not making the grade. A curious fact is that this rejection is more so in the case of male candidates. It is not that individuals are not coming forward to join the forces- it is just that we are not prepared to dilute our selection standards. This at times leads to some courses being undersubscribed, leading to shortages.  Vacancies for women officers are getting completely subscribed and a significant number of good quality candidates are not making the final merit list due to non-availability of sufficient vacancies.

Our endeavour is to make the Indian Youth understand that an officer in the Indian Armed Forces not only inherits glorious heritage and timeless traditions, blended perfectly with the latest technology in the fields of management, engineering and medical sciences, but also offers a golden opportunity to be a part of the world’s finest Armed Forces and get trained not only to be an Officer but also a Gentleman for life. Besides attractive salary, the Indian Armed Forces promise both professional and personal growth at every stage of the career. Opportunities to upgrade through various service courses are abundant. The adventure and extra-curricular activities in the Armed Forces ensure an all-round development essential in today’s world.