Late CDS Bipin Rawat, Army Chief MM Naravane, Lt Gen YK Joshi and Air Marshal BR Krishna

New Delhi: The untimely demise of the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat in the IAF helicopter crash on Wednesday, with one year remaining in his tenure, has created a vacuum at the top level of the military hierarchy.

The newly reorganised Higher Defence Organisation of the nation, which underwent a paradigm shift with the creation of the CDS and DMA, now faces a new and unprecedented challenge of appointing a successor.

The appointment of the next CDS will be finalised by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which met on Wednesday after the news of the IAF chopper crash.

Who Is Likely To Be Appointed CDS Rawat's Successor

As per the current rules, officers who are eligible to become the CDS must hold a four-star General rank in the Indian Army or equivalent rank in the Indian Air Force (Air Chief Marshal) and the Indian Navy (Admiral).

The person can also be a three-star officer in the Indian Army, Indian Air Force or Indian Navy but eligible to become a four-star officer in the respective services. So all three Service Chiefs and the Commanders-in-Chief of Army, IAF and Navy Commands are eligible.

Since there is no precedence in appointing the Chief of Defence Staff as General Bipin Rawat was the first occupant of the post, the government will have to consider certain points before making the key appointment.

However, the Modi government has been known for its tendency to ignore precedence and in fact, Gen Rawat himself became the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in a break of precedence when he superseded two officers senior to him. Therefore, it is likely that the ability to helm the ground breaking changes initiated by General Rawat will be more important than issues of inter se seniority.

The armed services have only recently seen a change of the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) and the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), which makes the current COAS Gen MM Naravane the senior most serving service chief by a margin and a natural frontrunner for the post.

As per sources, he would have already taken over responsibility as the Chairman of the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) — one of the three important billets held by General Rawat.

In such a case of a possible ascension of Gen MM Naravane to the CDS post will impact the Indian Army hierarchy as a new COAS will have to be nominated to take his place.

Alternatively, a suitable name may be considered from among the senior most Commanders-in-Chief of the three Services as Gen Naravane himself is due for retirement in the near future (though the service extension for the CDS appointment makes this issue redundant).

Senior Generals such as Lieutenant General YK Joshi of the Northern Command and others in similar billets can be considered in such a case.

The organisation of Headquarter Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS), headed by the CDS, and the DMA, headed by the Secretary, DMA also has redundancy in their organisation with available deputies, thereby providing the Modi government with a readily available arrangement to keep the ship steady while the decision is made.

The current deputy in HQ IDS is Air Marshal BR Krishna AVSM, SC, the current Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman, COSC (CISC) and the experienced officer can be expected to be in charge of things till the new appointment.

Who Is CDS & Why Is The Post Important?

A long-standing demand of the armed forces community and a recommendation of several Defence Reform Committees, the post of the CDS was realised by the Modi Govt at the beginning of its second term. General Rawat, who was due to retire at the end of the year, was appointed as the first CDS of the country in January 2020.

As expected the appointment was dual-hatted and included the responsibilities of the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC)- the council of elders of the Armed Forces which comprised of the three Service Chiefs and now, the CDS.

However, the unexpected change was the creation of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the appointment of the CDS as the Secretary of the DMA.

For the Armed Forces, which were till now an attached office to the MoD, the appointment of uniformed officers at the apex bureaucratic level of the government was an unprecedented revolution in military affairs within the nation.

The CDS, therefore, held three critical posts at the same time. The government also amended its rules and created provisions for extending the CDS upper age limit to 65 years.