India Appoints Integrated Defense Chief

 - January 7, 2020, 1:46 PM
The first AH-64E Apache Guardian for the Indian Air Force made its first flight in July 2018, and 16 are now in service. Whether the Army gets to fly the type as well is a question for India's new CDS to resolve. (Photo: Boeing)

Following a delay of nearly two decades, the restructuring of the Indian military services is finally underway with the appointment of the first (integrated) Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). Taking up his new post on December 31 was the former 27th Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat. He will head the newly created Department of Military Affairs in the Ministry of Defence. According to an MoD statement, the department will “ensure the facilitation of the restructuring of military commands for optimal utilization of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through the establishment of joint theater commands.” A proposal to create an Air Defense Command within the Indian Air Force (IAF) is to be submitted by June 30.

Inter-service synergy will now be carried out through the creation of common logistics support pools in stations where two or more services have their presence and through joint procurement. “My priority will be to bridge the gap between forces, look at joint procurement..until now my focus was only as the Chief of Army Staff,” said Rawat.

One area of inter-service contention is the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter, of which the IAF has ordered 22, with 16 already delivered. The Apache has also been a requirement of the Army, which had initially indicated a need for 39 for its three strategic commands. In the past, this has been an acrimonious issue between the two forces. Only six were cleared for the Army as part of the follow-on order options clause for 11. The clause has since expired.

Now in its eighth year, the row might be nearing its end. Early last year Rawat told AIN, “The major issue being addressed is who should finally control the helicopters. We feel in the Army that the Apache is a tank-killer and should support and be grouped with the strike/attack formation to provide support for tanks, infantry, and combat vehicles.” Now wearing his new CDS cap, he will have to readdress the issue.

A retired MoD official told AIN that the Army did not really need the Apaches. “There is no need for duplication. There will be a considerable saving in the training of pilots, maintenance, and operations if the Air Force handles the complete lot. The Army should stick to the Light Combat Helicopters from Hindustan Aeronautics.”

In 2012, then-Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne had stressed the integration model was in practice around the world: “We can’t have these little air forces growing and doing their own thing.”

An Army official remarked: “In years to come, the IAF will be ensconced in the strategic domain of airpower and heavy-lift, while the army will attend to the tactical needs of the environment…the domains are not in conflict but in concert.”

Chief of the Air Staff RKS Bhadauria said that the appointment of a CDS was a “very big and bold step,” while adding that it is the responsibility of the three services of the armed forces to support the CDS fully to make it successful.