Beyond Covid, Australia’s big stake in India’s military reorganisation

Covid-19 will no doubt have many long-term consequences for our region that we can now only begin to imagine. One consequence that is easy to imagine in the face of a distracted and internally focused United States will be Australia’s greater reliance on regional security partners, such as Japan and India. This includes an ever-greater stake in the effectiveness of the Indian military, and especially its Navy.

India has just started to reorganise its outdated and highly inefficient structures. There have been positive developments, but a lot of problems ahead. Rhetoric aside, Australia will need a sober understanding of India’s likely future abilities to act as a regional security provider across our shared oceanic space.

First the good news. Last December, after decades of inaction, the Modi government appointed General Bipin Rawat as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, theoretically bringing India’s three armed services under unified command for the first time. The CDS supposedly provides a single point of advisor to the government on military affairs. But Rawat will still only be regarded as the “first among equals” with the other service chiefs and the extent of his powers is not yet clear.

The CDS replaces an organisational model for India’s armed forces that was put in place as a temporary measure by the British in 1947. Importantly, this appointment is just the first step in what may become the most significant military reorganisation ever undertaken by India.

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