Indian PM Modi announces chief of defense staff post to improve military integration

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspects the honour guard during Independence Day celebrations at the historic Red Fort in Delhi, India, August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Thursday the establishment of the post of chief of defense staff for better coordination between the army, air force and navy along the lines of Western military forces.

Defense experts have long called for such a post. A government committee recommended such a position in 1999, after India came close to war with Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir, to ensure the three defense arms operate together.

“Our forces are India’s pride. To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision ... India will have a chief of defense staff,” Modi said in an Independence Day address.

India had organized its military into three different services, each led by its own chief, since independence from Britain in 1947. Such an arrangement was thought necessary to ensure too much power was not concentrated in the hands of a single commander.

However, with military operations now involving close integration, many countries have moved to a single chief of defense staff who directs the military and often reports directly to the political executive for faster decision-making.

Former army lieutenant general H.P. Panag said there was too much squabbling in the previous structure.

“Each service has its own ethos and considers itself as the prima donna of war,” Panag said. “The chiefs feel that under a CDS they will become virtual non-entities. The small services fear that they will be subsumed.”

Modi said the establishment of a chief of defense staff was an important step towards military reform. The new chief would also have control over funding for the military, which is struggling to modernise its Soviet-era equipment.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist ruling group has long promoted national security as a top priority to face the challenge from Pakistan and China, with which it shares disputed borders.

Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Paul Tait