India's first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat explains why he will be the armed forces officer to watch as he drives reform in the defence ministry

From creating theatre commands-a single geographical command integrating assets of two or more services-to working within budgetary constraints, India's first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat explains why he will be the armed forces officer to watch as he drives reform in the defence ministry. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Sandeep Unnithan:

On Creating New Integrated Tri-Services Theatre Commands: We will have theatre commands by 2021-22. Whether you have only western commands or two western commands or two China commands or one China command, will depend on various factors. We are carrying out a complete analysis of these areas and, then, we will see what resources are needed.

On How Indian Air Force (IAF) Fighter Planes Will Be Distributed In Theatre Commands: In the army, a division has a smaller artillery brigade, but when it goes in to attack, it gets multiple artillery units from elsewhere. This is one model to look at. Some resources (fighter aircraft) are available with a theatre command for training and familiarisation. The rest are with the air chief as reserves. If a theatre becomes the fulcrum of operations, then the air force chief deploys his reserves into it. All theatre commanders will initially report to the service chiefs. In the long run, when the forces are fully integrated, they will report to a CDS who has served in naval and air force billets.

On Joint Training: Today, we are doing joint training at staff course level (Majors and equivalent) and at National Defence College level (Brigadiers and equivalent), but not at the higher command level (Colonels and equivalent). This is where we need to start training together to start understanding all the services well. I didn't know the capabilities of a Sukhoi till I became an army commander. I learned of the capabilities of a P-8I aircraft only when the navy offered it for a mission during Doklam (the standoff). We need to understand each other's platforms and capabilities. For instance, an AWACS is not just an eye in the sky, it also has ears and can locate an armoured division.

On Consulting The Three Service Chiefs About Theatre Commands: I have begun discussions with them but we are yet to have a formal sit down. In my mind, I'm very clear about what I want but I want to discuss it with them before I speak. They might have better ideas than me. If not, then what I have in mind will be what goes. The decision has to be taken by someone. As of now, we are reorganising the Department of Military Affairs.

On The Need To Prioritise Modernisation With Existing Budgets: Budget is more of a management issue than a funds issue. In the past three years, the army had deficiencies in modern equipment, ammunition and Married Accommodation Projects (MAPs). We gave weapons and ammunition higher priority. Now if we gave MAPs a higher priority, we would be in trouble. Buying whatever is available with the money you have in hand is not the way. You have to be serious about what you want, focus on it and then spend.

On Managing The Pension Burden: Jawans are being retired at the age of 37 and 38. After a hard life in service, they are left high and dry. We are considering increasing the retirement age to 58 in certain services-like giving them priority for reemployment in Defence Service Corps (static duties). One-third of the army can be retired at 58 years. We are presently giving them 30 years of pension for 17 years of service. Why not reverse it to 20 years of pension for 38 years of service? All services have been asked to submit their proposals to me by year-end.