New Delhi, Oct. 20: A decorated naval officer today took over as the chief of integrated defence staff, the second officer to command it since the institution was created in 2001.
The post has passed from the army to the navy and the turn of the air force is next even as the government dithers over restructuring the top military command and settles only for temporary arrangements.
Vice-Admiral Raman Puri took over as the chief of integrated defence staff after Lt General Pankaj Joshi, his predecessor and the first to hold the post, retired earlier this month.
The vice-admiral is a sailor, a gunnery officer by training, who has commanded the now decommissioned aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, and has also been commandant of the Naval College of Warfare.
While Puri’s record as a military officer is exceptional, it is the credentials of the office he holds that is an indication of indecisiveness at the high- est level in the security establishment.
The office now held by Puri and earlier held by Lt General Joshi is a pro-tem arrangement pending a decision on the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
A group of ministers had, in a recommendation after the Kargil war, suggested the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff as a single-point military adviser to the government. The decision to rotate the post of chief of integrated defence staff, several rungs junior to the CDS, has been made against this background.
Likewise, offices of corresponding rank in the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command, that is touted to be in charge of the military’s nuclear assets, would also be rotated.
Despite its nomenclature, the integrated defence staff at defence headquarters is concerned primarily with land wars and interpretation of reports from military attaches overseas which is done by the Defence Intelligence Agency, a wing of the integrated defence staff.
Similarly, the Andaman and Nicobar establishment is primarily a maritime command but is now headed by an army officer, Lt General B.S. Thakur, who is from the armoured regiment and commanded the 2 (strike) Corps. It is difficult to assess the role of a “tankman” in an essentially maritime command.
The Strategic Forces Command is currently headed by the air force, by Air Marshal T.M. Asthana. The air force has been envisaged as the central point in the “triad” of nuclear weaponry that has been planned by strategic experts.
But just as in the integrated defence staff and in the Andaman and Nicobar command, its office will pass at one time to the hands of the army and the navy. It is doubted if the navy even has a nuclear weapons platform.
The concept of integrating defence staff was borrowed from the Americans. The US military establishment is concerned mostly with waging expeditionary wars (wars not fought on own soil) and its theatre commands (such as Pacific Command — for the Indian Ocean-Pacific Ocean theatre — and its Central Command — for Middle East) are fully integrated militaries. The Indian military, with its strategic focus on neighbouring countries with whom it shares long land borders, cannot have integrated military commands.