IAF chief Vivek Ram Chaudhari became the senior-most commander in the Indian armed forces after General Manoj Mukund Naravane retired as army chief on April 30

New Delhi: Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari is expected to take over as the officiating chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) shortly, and in that capacity, he will be responsible for promoting synergy, cooperation and jointness among the three services in the absence of a chief of defence staff (CDS), officials familiar with the development said on Monday, asking not to be named.

Chaudhari became the senior-most commander in the Indian armed forces after General Manoj Mukund Naravane retired as army chief on April 30. Naravane took charge as the officiating chairman of COSC after India’s first CDS General Bipin Rawat was killed in a helicopter crash near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu on December 8, 2021.

The CDS’s post has been vacant for almost five months as the government is yet to name Rawat’s successor.

“The IAF chief will take over as officiating chairman of COSC in the coming days as he is the senior-most service chief. He will be responsible for synergy, cooperation and jointness among the three services till the government appoints the next CDS,” said one of the officials.

Before the government created the post of CDS and the department of military affairs (DMA) in December 2019, the senior-most service chief held the charge of chairman of COSC and was responsible for inter services cooperation.

The erstwhile structure for inter services cooperation was considered weak as the chairmanship of COSC kept rotating, and chiefs often headed the committee for barely a few months before their retirement.

As CDS, Rawat wore multiple hats.

He was the permanent chairman of COSC, headed DMA and was the single-point military adviser to the defence minister. The government expected Rawat, who took charge as CDS on January 1, 2020, to bring about jointness among the three services in a three-year time frame, by January 2023. One of the means to achieve jointness is the setting up of integrated theatre commands.

Chaudhari is set to take over as officiating chairman of COSC at a time when India is working on a road map for the military’s Theaterisation to best utilise the resources of the three services for future wars and operations. Rawat was spearheading the Theaterisation drive, and his demise was seen as a setback to the ongoing military reforms.

With General Naravane having retired, a new officiating chairman of COSC will now be appointed. In the absence of a CDS, this is an appropriate arrangement, but could further impact the military reform process that is the primary mandate of the CDS, said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (Retd).

“We do hope that the government takes a quick decision on the CDS so that restructuring proposals that are in the pipeline can be finalised,” Hooda said.

Days after taking over as air force chief, Chaudhari said in October 2021 that the air force was fully committed to tri-service integration to maximise the country’s combat capability, its concerns about the Theaterisation model had been factored into the planning process, and hoped that the new structures would cater for joint planning of operations at all levels.

The current Theaterisation model to enhance tri-service synergy seeks to set up four integrated commands --- two land-centric theatres, an air defence command and a maritime theatre command. The three services are expected to submit comprehensive reports on Theaterisation and joint structures shortly.

The armed forces currently have 17 single-service commands spread across the country. The Indian Army and the Indian Air Force have seven commands each, while the Indian Navy has three. Creating theatres would involve merging the existing commands, except the Udhampur-based Northern Command.

The Indian Army’s Northern Command is the only single-service command that will stay outside the scope of the military’s Theaterisation drive because of its critical role. It is responsible for guarding the country’s borders with Pakistan and China in the north, and is the nerve centre of counterterrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

The new army chief, General Manoj Pande, and the other two service chiefs are course mates from the National Defence Academy, and share a great equation, the officials said. Chaudhari, Pande and navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar are from the 61st NDA course.

Pande, who called on defence minister Rajnath Singh in his office on Monday, had earlier said he and the other two chiefs had grown up together in their formative years in NDA and it was “a good beginning of synergy, cooperation and jointmanship.”