Chief defense staff – CDS must have a higher rank
Bureaucracy wins, at the expense of war-fighting efficiency. This is the net result of the decision to institute a chief of defence staff (CDS) without operational command. The whole point of having a CDS is to have unified command over the different service wings, which have to work in perfect unison in modern conditions of war.
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The Navy, the Army and the Air Force will continue to take orders from their respective chiefs, who will have a rank equal to the CDS. In the armed forces, rank commands respect. A lower-ranked officer listens to a higher-ranked officer. Brother officers of the same rank will apply their own judgement to a proposal — it cannot be an order — from a coequal, rather than carry out what has been proposed.
The 1980 US mission to rescue hostages held in the US embassy in Tehran failed badly, and one contributory factor was seen to be the US Navy’s reluctance to risk placing their aircraft carrier close to Iran, with the result that the rescue helicopters had to fly in from distant bases, resulting in fuel shortage and other problems.
Chief defense staff
Similar lack of proper coordination was seen among the services in the US invasion of tiny Grenada in 1983. This led to the Packard Commission and the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which created unified combat commands of all services under a combat commander, from whichever service, who reports directly to the political executive.
Therefore, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the US being of equal rank to the chiefs and merely having advisory powers does not prevent unified command of air, land, naval, space and cyber forces.
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That is no excuse for replicating such an advisory position in India. The point is to make our fighting forces work as one unified force that has capabilities in air, space and cyberspace, and on water and land, and can deploy these individually or in any combination as required, without chain of command rivalry or confusion.
As war-fighting capabilities evolve and strategies change, the structure of the fighting forces, too, must change, to create an agile, intelligent and effective force.