Endorsing the call for a single-point military adviser to the government, a Defence Ministry-appointed expert committee headed by Lt General D B Shekatkar (retd) has recommended that the new post be of four-star rank, equivalent in rank to the current chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
This is one of the 120 recommendations in the 561-page report submitted by the committee to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on December 21.
According to sources, the report argues that the four-star post, whether it is called the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (PC-COSC), is essential for smooth functioning of the armed forces in the prevailing security environment but it cannot be based on the US model. Seeking more discussion on the need for integrated theatre commands, the expert committee says that while the US is an expeditionary power, India has to fight its wars on its own soil. India’s armed forces have to defend the nation and stabilise the neighbourhood, and their main priority, the report argues, is “to degrade the combat endurance, combat capability, combat potential and combat capacity” of Pakistan.
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The top four-star military officer, members of the committee told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, is envisaged as a coordinator, a “Centre Point” which will not impinge on the three service chiefs in operational and administrative roles. This will have to be done as a part of the committee’s recommendation for full integration of service headquarters with the Defence Ministry.
The 11-member committee was established on Parrikar’s orders in May 2016, with a mandate for “Enhancing Combat Capability and Rebalancing Defence Expenditure”. This is the first instance of the ministry establishing an expert committee for higher defence reforms. All the earlier committees with a similar mandate, whether the Group of Ministers report under the previous NDA government or the Naresh Chandra Committee in the UPA-2 government, were formed by the orders of the Union Cabinet and submitted their reports to the Prime Minister. The GoM had recommended a five-star CDS while the Naresh Chandra Committee had proposed a PC-COSC but the governments have so far not acted on them.
The current government has, however, declared its intent to have a single-point military adviser, as confirmed by Parrikar to The Indian Express in November. Speaking to the media last week, he said that he had scanned the report but still has to go through it in detail. With Parrikar’s involvement in Goa elections next month, Defence Ministry sources said the process is likely to take a few months.
The Shekatkar committee has dismissed the idea of reducing the manpower of the 11.8 lakh-strong Army, stating that the Army’s task is in the mountains, both against China and against Pakistan. Asking the country to be prepared to fight “a two-and-a-half front war” — Pakistan, China and internal security — the report says that it has attempted to “refocus, reorient and realign” the armed forces. The report has asked for the threshold of the annual defence budget to be raised to 2.5-3 per cent of GDP from the current level of 1.7 per cent of GDP.
Asking for time-bound implementation of its recommendations, the panel has demanded that the recommendations be implemented in full. Once implemented, the report says, the government will save Rs 25,000 crore by 2021. The Defence Ministry refused to comment on the contents of the report.