CDS: Leadership in Transition

"Straddling two domains, both military and the bureaucracy, being made the Secretary, Military Affairs too, the new CDS had his task cut out."


CDS: Leadership in Transition

Heralding in the new year in 2020 the Armed Forces were elated at the Government acceding to the long-awaited appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The convenience of laterally moving the retiring Army Chief into this new appointment made infinite sense, providing the office of the CDS an experienced incumbent, well versed with the goings-on of the Services and the Government at the highest levels.

Straddling two domains, both military and the bureaucracy, being made the Secretary, Military Affairs too, the new CDS had his task cut out. As they say, he hit the ground running, and while setting up a new department with a difficult mix of civilians and military, it is to his credit that he did not allow inertia to overtake his intentions.

But, in all this, the Government specified the Rules of Business and prosecuting war was not in the ambit of the CDS, which remains with the Defence Secretary, through the Chiefs of the three services.

Given the existing spectrum of security challenges confronting India (and neither Covid nor the Chinese had raised their ugly heads then), there was renewed feeling for the need for restructuring the Armed Forces through a process of well-coordinated actions which included modernisation, optimising resources and harmonising the forces towards effective integrated functioning.

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Task cut out

Mandated in one of his tasks from the Government was the creation of Joint/Theatre Commands, similar to some of the other established systems elsewhere in the world. While it would be hoped that since establishing such Theatre Commands involved the operational domains, over which he did not exercise jurisdiction, he would proceed accordingly.

However, his decision to establish an Air Defence Command and a possible Peninsular Command was a foray into the operational realm. ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ as he called them, justifying his decision, belied the essential fact that such fruits need a support structure like the ‘trunk/branches’ or Logistics, Communication, networked environment, etc. Be that as it may, we respect his intentions to meet a goal set by the government.

"The CDS had said he would start with the Air Defence Command in 2021 and hopefully start the integration process for the Logistics and Peninsular Commands."
The onset of the pandemic caused by the Coronavirus early in the year and early in the CDS’ tenure paid post to the possible wheels set in motion by him; File Photo

But progress always encounters hurdles and obstructions. Crippling humanity with heavily restricted office attendance (among other things) and the constant fear of infection, notwithstanding the virtual platforms for seamless functioning, the limitations have been enormous. To add to the nation’s woes and especially the military, China reared its ugly head across the crests of the Himalayas in the northern sector.

With ‘all hands on deck’ to stem the encroachment, the government realised the folly of not paying adequate attention to the professionally crafted LTIPP provided by the armed forces and set about meeting some of the shortfalls for them to meet their operational commitments.

The CDS had said he would start with the Air Defence Command in 2021 and hopefully start the integration process for the Logistics and Peninsular Commands. However, it is strongly felt that in the given pandemic circumstances and security scenario, it may be wise to delay the transformation process and therefore the cultural change-over to the Integrated domain.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

CDS & the Challenges Ahead

In fact, in a recent article a highly respected, erstwhile Army Commander has written “It may be prudent to pause, take a deep breath and reassess these critical issues before diving off at the deep end”. This not only makes infinite sense but the pause allows for a more graded and progressive move into the new paradigm in (as close to) a seamless manner.

Be that as it may, the entire exercise, while attempting to overcome ‘turf’ issues, will put immense strain on the leaders and Commanders at all levels. The existing security scenario a year ago was already rife with the threat of hybrid warfare. The constant and relentless attacks on the Army have remained the pin-pricks they were intended to be.

The attack on the Pathankot airbase and the Army bases in J&K have exposed our capability to seal off our vulnerable assets. Leadership to maintain the morale of troops, retain their motivation and be ‘hands-on’ with them has become the need of the hour. The pandemic has raised the fear of its ability to rip through huge swathes of military troops housed in barracks/billets. Added is the fear of exposure for those going to public areas or on leave. It has proved a huge challenge to the leadership.

But perhaps the biggest leadership challenge will arise in the transition to the Integrated domain in the aftermath of the setbacks through the COVID and Chinese strife. The cultural reorientation in aligning the dynamics of each service provides a perspective wholly new in the operational environment, notwithstanding the successes achieved in joint operations in war.

The ability to identify the key areas of change and create the environment to allow for the transition will be a task cut out for the leaders. To absorb the other services, understand their ethos and culture and merge them into an integrated whole will be an exercise so complex that it must not be considered cheaply or taken casually.

In his dissertation on psychological aspects of joint manship and integration, Charles Mark Davis expostulated, “Jointness is that which enables members of different military services to overcome their cultural and experiential prejudices and operate interdependently”.

‘Enabling’ members is primarily a function of leadership and therefore it becomes exceedingly important for leaders to imbibe the need for a joint or integrated force for the conduct of effective operations. This has to stem from trust and understanding not only of one’s own service capabilities but those of the other services and the strength of the bonding which will provide results.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Looking ahead

Understanding and trust among leaders is a direct result of formalised education and training. While each service provides the requisite training for its personnel, the factor of acceptance of another culture and ethos to foster teamwork is a whole new paradigm and needs focused absorption and progression. Professional Military Education or PME as it is called, remains the backbone and a necessity, to inculcate the correct attitude and developmental process towards joint manship and integrated warfare.

PME must be structured to train individuals to move beyond the strongly instilled cultural beliefs of their respective service and adopt new values and beliefs. Leadership training must be aimed at softening service parochialism to not only avoid tension and acrimony but to go that extra mile to acceptance of other services’ values and ethics, thereby bringing about convergence of interests to create an effective atmosphere of jointness and integrated interdependence.

Thrusting a policy down and expecting to set up a major cultural change is unlikely to provide the desired results. The system has to develop the structure and progress, through education, into the desired domain. It would also be advisable to promote the development of integrated systems and operations of the non-combat support elements, like Cyber/Space/Communication/Intelligence/Logistics.

Then proceed onto structured training programs and all these must emanate from a well developed and focused Joint Doctrine. Leadership would find it easier to mould personnel to ‘thinking joint’ when they have been provided with an environment other than high-stress field operations.

The seamless transition will solely be the responsibility of the leadership and it would be in an area other than the operational domain, rather the psychology of the ‘man behind the machine’ to operate in an integrated environment, appreciate, respect and understand what inter-dependability actually delivers.

About the Author

An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Marshal Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction. He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command. This article was first published in 'Salute' and has been reproduced with due permission from the author. Views expressed are the author's own and do not neccesarily reflect the views of Mission Victory India

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