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Retiring army chief Bipin Rawat to be India’s first tri-service chief

Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, who was due to retire on Tuesday after serving three years as Chief of Army Staff (COAS), will now assume charge on Wednesday as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
On Monday evening, the day before Rawat’s retirement, it was announced: “The government has decided to appoint General Bipin Rawat, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, VSM, ADC as the chief of defence staff with effect from 31.12.2019 and until further orders and extension in service of General Bipin Rawat.”

Last Tuesday, the government had approved the post of CDS “in the rank of a four-star general with salary and perquisites equivalent to a service chief”. On Saturday, the government had amended the Army Rules, 1954, allowing “extension of service to the Chief of Defence Staff… subject to maximum age of 65 years”.

In the normal course, Rawat was due to retire on March 31, upon reaching the age of 62 years. Saturday’s notification will allow him to serve as CDS for three years and three months, until he turns 65 in March 2023.

Having already completed three years as army chief, Rawat’s elevation to CDS for another three years will make him India’s longest-serving four-star commander, with the most opportunity to transform the military into a high-tech, modern force.

Over the past two years, Rawat has already initiated reforms within the army directed towards reducing manpower in order to save money for equipment modernisation. As CDS, his ambit will expand to include restructuring the army’s, navy’s and air force’s 17 single-service command headquarters into a smaller number of integrated, tri-service commands.

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As CDS, Rawat will wear two hats: He will head the military hierarchy as “Permanent Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee” (PC-COSC). The COSC includes the chiefs of the three services — army, navy and air force. As permanent chairman, the CDS will be the first among this body of equals – primus inter pares.

Rawat’s second and more consequential role will be in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), where he will head the newly created department of military affairs (DMA), with the rank of a secretary.

The MoD already has five secretaries — heading the departments of defence (DoD), defence procurement (DDP), defence research and development (Defence R&D), ex-servicemen’s welfare (DESW) and defence finance (DDF). While the heads of each of these departments carries a secretary rank, the defence secretary, as head of the DoD, has traditionally been the primus inter pares.

Creating a DMA will require the MoD to restructure responsibilities within the ministry, transferring from the DoD to the DMA matters dealing with the army, navy, air force, territorial army and the integrated defence staff (IDS) headquarters.

The DMA will also be responsible for procurement from the revenue budget, while procurement from the capital budget remains under the DoD. However, the CDS would control inter-service prioritisation of procurement from his perch as PC-COSC.

Implementing these changes will require substantial modifications to the Allocation of Business Rules, says a senior retired MoD official.

While a mix of military officers and civil bureaucrats would probably man the DMA, it remains unclear whether military officers would also be inducted into the DoD to imbue it with greater military expertise.

The government has stated the “CDS will not exercise any military command, including over the three service chiefs”, but a former defence secretary believes that, the DMA oversight and control of the military’s promotions, postings and foreign assignments and travel, will give the CDS – as secretary of DMA – enormous clout over the military.

The CDS will also have a significant role in higher defence planning and operational aspects of India’s nuclear arsenal.

“CDS will be member of Defence Acquisition Council, chaired by RM, and Defence Planning Committee, chaired by National Security Advisor. [He will also] function as the Military Advisor to the Nuclear Command Authority,” stated the notification.

Source: Business Standard