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Tri-service military command takes a step forward

India does not yet have a tri-service military organisation that can effectively coordinate between the army, navy and air force in equipping, manning and planning for battle. But it will soon have a building for one.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley on Friday laid the foundation stone for the Headquarters of the Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS), which has functioned since 2001 as a rump organisation without real powers. This after two high-power bodies – the Kargil Review Committee and a Group of Ministers (GoM) – recommended the appointment of a powerful chief of defence staff (CDS), who would be the top commander over all three services.

This five-star ranked CDS was to oversee the four-star ranked chiefs of the army, navy and air force. He would be a single point of advice to the government on military matters.

With political and bureaucratic opposition to such a powerful post mounting, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government quickly backtracked. Citing the need for “political consultations”, which has been echoed over the last 10 years by the United Progressive Alliance, the government set up HQ IDS in October 2001, headed by a three-star officer who is junior to the chiefs of the army, navy and air force. With no power to implement joint service decisions, the IDS has remained a relative backwater to which vocal and inconvenient officers can be sidelined.

Meanwhile, the job of tri-service chief – termed the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, or COSC – is carried out by the senior-most serving chief. He is expected to play this role in addition to commanding his own service.

The BJP manifesto has undertaken to address the issue of higher military command. So far, however, a permanent defence minister is still awaited.

Speaking at the inauguration, Jaitley declared that in future almost all operations, be they inland or overseas, were invariably going to be tri-service operations. Developing synergy among the services to achieve optimum force application therefore attains utmost importance, he remarked.


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