Challenges and Issues for the CDS

Sub Title : The major challenges and issues the CDS will face in taking forward Gen Rawat’s agenda

Issues Details : Vol 15 Issue 6 Jan – Feb 2022

Author : Lt Gen Satish Dua, PVSM, UYSM, SM, VSM (Retd)

Page No. : 38

Category : Military Affairs

: January 21, 2022

The Indian armed forces are in midst of a transition in the backdrop of new-age technologies changing the nature of warfare. In consonance, earnest efforts are on to transform the armed forces and integrate the services better. The article highlights the major challenges and issues that the CDS will face as he takes forward the agenda set by Gen Bipin Rawat

The untimely death of Gen Bipin Rawat, the first Chief of Defence Staff of India was a sad tragedy. His passing away in the saddle also brings into focus his unfinished agenda – of integration of the three Services. So, the next incumbent has his task cut out, and big boots to fill, owing to the enormity of the charter and difficulty of the task. This is an attempt to analyse only the major challenges and issues the new CDS faces.

Integration is much more than only theaterisation or creation of theatre commands because most discussions end there, perhaps because it is a contentious issue. In addition to integration between the structures and processes of the armed forces, at a macro level, it also involves synergy with other instruments of power and civil-military fusion, especially in MoD.

Preparing the military for next generation warfare, raising the technology threshold, and dealing with nuances of multi domain warfare are some of the challenges that the CDS will have to contend with.

In the operational realm, the biggest challenge will be aligning our operational preparedness to meet a two-front threat, which combined with the threat of proxy war, makes it a two and a half front war. When coupled with the advanced cyber and information warfare that China is capable of launching, layered with diplomatic and economic linkages, it becomes a multi-spectrum war that our armed forces have to be prepared for. In fact, the nation has to be prepared, as some of these threats cut across all boundaries, extending beyond the military domain.

Future wars are not likely to be purely kinetic. In fact, it is likely that kinetic may be the last resort. In this era of multi domain warfare, other elements like diplomacy, economy, intelligence, cyber, space, information, energy, water, environment and more are likely to be applied as relevant in a graded manner or simultaneously. Groupings and alliances with like-minded countries will also play a larger role in this increasingly interdependent world. Single point military advice by the CDS will be an essential contributory factor in deciding India’s stand on each case. More than one element of power will have a bearing on these groupings. Synergising with other instruments of power is, therefore, very essential in today’s environment.

To have clarity in the application of all these elements, it is prudent to have a national security strategy clearly spelt out. Different ministries and departments can then draw their mid and long term objectives from the NSS. For instance, the RM’s operational directive, which is based on reasonable assumptions today, will then be based on the National Security Strategy. It will then have the approval of the government, which will have the onus of allocating resources to enable the armed forces for its assigned role and tasks. It will dwell on the CDS to impress upon the leadership to articulate a National Security Strategy, and since it is security driven, be in the lead to assist the leadership to draft the said document, in concert with other elements of power.

Synergising different elements of power like defence, diplomacy, economy etc is a crying need of the hour in this era of multi-domain warfare. However, it needs institutional intervention. Presently, CCS is the only coordinating body between the instruments of power. There is no mechanism at a functional level. Defence Planning Committee established in 2018 did fulfil this role to some extent. A National Security Strategy will also assist greatly in this task.

Civil-military functional equations in the Ministry of Defence were redefined by amending the Transaction of Business Rules 1961 to establish the Department of Military Affairs. It is a welcome step that makes the Services a part of the Ministry rather than attached offices as they were earlier. However, the integration between the DMA and DoD needs to be enhanced with time and more cross postings at higher levels will go to great lengths in achieving the desired civil military fusion.

There is much advantage to be reaped out of this fusion and synergy not only with defence ministry, but also with elements of diplomacy and economy. Military diplomacy can be in a lead role in countries where military is in pre-eminent position. Military to military cooperation can assist in improving bilateral relations and add substantive content to grouping of nations and alliances. QUAD, SCO and other bilateral military exercises are some of the examples. These nuances must be used to our advantage


In accordance with the chosen Higher Defence Structures, Integrated Theatre Commands and Functional Commands are being formed out of existing resources for an optimized combat effectiveness in the Indian context. Integrated theatres will be organisational structure designed to control all military assets in a theatre of war to achieve the desired military effects. These would have specific units of the Indian Army, Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force (IAF) under a component commander who will be subordinate to and will function under the directions of the theatre commander.

The land borders of the country are likely to be secured by two Theatres: The Northern Theatre against China and the Western Theatre against Pakistan (Siachen to Sir Creek). The Air Space will be under one Theatre likely to be designated as Aerospace theatre. The Maritime/ Southern theatre will be responsible for maritime defence and power projection in the IOR.

Aerospace Theatre Command is likely be the first ITC to be raised, followed closely by the Maritime/Southern theatre. It will be the immediate challenge for the CDS to overcome the various hurdles and formulate consensus among all the stakeholders to arrive at a workable solution. He should not shy away from taking strong decisions, if unanimity is not achieved on some issues. These are likely to be pilot projects, and issues can be revisited based on our experience. It must be appreciated that the other theatre commands are arrayed against our two main adversaries, with whom we have unresolved borders. Our forces therefore cannot afford to be off balance at any stage. Smooth transition in these structural changes will be a major challenge.

Integrated Aerospace Defence Command

There are several challenges in Integration of Air Defence organization. Firstly, the existing AD setup is heavily biased towards air threats emanating from the aircraft, with a premise that such threats would always develop from outside our air space. This is no longer a reality. The threats develop from within as well outside our air space. Secondly, even threat platforms vary from stealth aircraft, drones to the ballistic/cruise missiles etc. Thirdly, after our indigenous development of BMD by DRDO and acquisition of S-400, our AD setup needs to be revamped.

There are locations and areas, where safety from enemy air action is a pre-requisite to pursue own service operations viz: in TBA or in the coastal areas. Individual services deploy their own AD weapons to engage airborne threats to their assets. This multiplicity of weapons besides wastage of resources, leads to instances of over kill along with enhanced chances for avoidable fratricide. Rather than having a piecemeal approach by each service, a holistic approach such as creation of an Integrated Aerospace Defence theatre is most appropriate.

Raising of integrated theatre commands is a major challenge that the CDS faces, but it is not insurmountable. In almost all countries which have gone down this path, it has not been easy.


Joint Logistics Command (JLC)

Future wars will be intense, sharp, and short and therefore logistics intensive. They will require seamless synchronization amongst logistics components of the three Defence Forces, in time and space to take care of the growing complexity of logistics operations. During war, the integration of logistics will not only be limited amongst the three Defence Forces, but also with civil logistics resources as also research and development departments of the country.

Joint Logistics Command (JLC) be formed to synergise common logistics resources of all three services under the aegis of the CDS/HQ IDS. The JLC would make optimum utilization of the existing organizations, infrastructure, materials and all other resources. It will also consider the integration of National Resources during real operations. All theatre Commands war fighting logistics capability should be conceived, organised and improved by the Logistics Command under the CDS.

The challenge for the CDS will be efficient logistics resource management and avoiding duplicity of effort. This can be carried out by streamlining the current policies and preparing a Joint Logistics Doctrine. A number of areas such as automation of common logistic processes, modes of transportation, central provisioning and procurement policies are some of areas that should be addressed by the doctrine. The challenge will be to identify the commonality in processes and practices to initiate the process of integration in the field of military logistics by the services.

Cyber Warfare

Cyber warfare coupled with information warfare will be the omnipresent surreptitious disruptor between adversaries, more in war, but fairly so in peace also. All major powers are investing heavily in cyber warfare capabilities. Our two adversaries, China and Pakistan pose major challenges in the cyberspace, though the cyber threat is all pervasive and can manifest from any source state and non state. China has set aside 90 billion US dollars for information war in the cyber domain . It is believed that the PLA’s strategic cyber command is an adjunct of the PLA’s General Staff Department. It has approximately 1,30,000 personnel on its rolls and pool of additional 2.5 million people who have the basic education and skills in cyber warfare, hacking, espionage, spying and sabotage.

The threat from Pakistan is also significant, though their technical prowess is less than China, the motivation levels against their ‘eternal enemy’ India may be much more. Pakistan has been defacing Indian websites through hacker groups like Pakistan Hackers Club, G-Force, etc in the past. There is a concerted effort by Pakistan for employment of social engineering in cyberspace with special reference to social media. Lone Wolf and nonstate actors also pose significant threats.

There is a need to evolve an all encompassing comprehensive national cyber strategy, which defines national objectives, and addresses the security concerns and threats to the nation and in particular the defence forces and operational preparedness and plans. This Strategy should dictate capability building and enhance existing capacities for an effective cyber defence of the armed forces. An effective cyber defence policy and organisation will have to function in concert with all other government departments and organizations under the overall policy framework. Defending the territorial integrity of India in land, sea and air and safeguarding the national interests and assets is the constitutional mandate of the Armed forces. As present and future security threats are multidimensional and multi domain including all critical cyberspace, the armed forces will have to ensure a secure cyberspace and exploit it as a tool for deterrence.

Defence Cyber Agency has been raised as a forerunner of Cyber Command. Two major challenges in this regard are to synergise the efforts of the three services and, and on the other hand, coordinating with all other stakeholders like six agencies at the apex level, which are dealing with cyber security management: National Information Board (NIB), National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), National Cyber Response Centre (NCRC), and National Technical Research Organization (NTRO).

Defence Space Agency and Armed Forces Special Operations Division that have been raised along with the Cyber Agency also do pose some challenges, but are comparatively minor in nature.

Capability Building and Modernisation of Forces

In order to make the armed forces future ready, one of the essential pre requisite is to modernise the military. We have to be ready for the next generation warfare. In any developing country there will always be competing demands on the economy from other sectors. India has to focus on health care, education, social development and more. But we also have two unresolved borders and host of other tensions with our two main adversaries.

This is all the more reason that we use our resources judiciously. Integration between Army, Navy and Air Force will bring about resource optimisation, inter alia. The CDS has to make an integrated capability development plan that balances between the need of the armed forces on one hand, and also ensures a capability overwatch to affect synchronised modernisation among the services. A national security strategy will be of great help in laying down the pathways to achieving security, thus assisting in inter services prioritization.

No country can hope to be a regional power by remaining majorly dependent on imports for is security needs. It is, therefore, essential that we attain atmanirbharta in ‘suraksha’ also. Two major steps are required for this. One, incentivising the entry of private sector in defence industry and second would be hand holding of the defence industry by respective service in trying to develop weapons and equipment. The services need to take ownership and get into a driving role.

Under ‘Strategic Partnership’ Indian manufacturers are encouraged to partner with foreign OEMs to bridge the technology gap as well as draw in foreign investments. On the other hand, the reorganisation of Ordnance Factory board into corporate entities augurs well from the viewpoint of production quality and accountability of the public sector. They will also require hand holding. There is a huge potential waiting to be unlocked. Working in silos is not an option anymore.

Indian Navy is already driving the ship building very well, having established a Design Bureau decades ago. Presently there are over 15 ships under construction in different Indian shipyards. The role of Indian Air Force in aircraft manufacture in HAL needs to be upgraded in responsibility and product improvement. The fledgling Army Design Bureau has started well. The role of all of these can be enhanced. The thrust given by the Services to innovation is heartening and must only increase. Subsequent to the drone swarming demonstration on the Army Day Parade on 15 January 2020, it was followed up with an order worth Rs 100 Cr within ten days.

These challenges appear to be daunting, but out of box thinking and bold execution is required if we have to attain the goal of an ‘Atmanirbhar Suraksit Bharat’.

To conclude

The Indian armed forces are in midst of a transition in the backdrop of new age technologies changing the nature of warfare. Non-contact warfare is gaining primacy and more lethality. China’s hurry to replace the US as the number one superpower is casting its shadow that has manifested in a continuing confrontation in Ladakh. It is in this backdrop that the transformation of the armed forces and the integration of the services must take place. It is a challenge that is a national imperative. The new CDS will perhaps have to imbibe the spirit of a reformer that Gen Bipin Rawat embodied, the one who did not hesitate to take unpopular decisions – for the larger good.