Indian media reported on 9th March that Lt Gen Kanwal Jeet Singh (KJS) Dhillon, former head of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, was appointed Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff for Intelligence or DCIDS (Int) in place of outgoing Lt Gen Amarjeet Singh Bedi who was at the helm for slightly over two years (since February 2018).
Dhillon carries with him two distinctions: his outspoken criticism of Pakistan and being the only serving 3-star Indian military officer to operate a verified Twitter handle, evidently used for amplifying the narrative of Indian Army on issues involving Indian-Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJ&K). It is unusual for any serving General in Pakistan or even India to target adversarial forces with such liberty. In India’s case, this ‘privilege’ is usually enjoyed by the Additional Director General of Public Information (ADGPI) in institutional capacity or the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) himself.
15 Corps (Chinar Corps) was not Dhillon’s only stint in IOJ&K; his service record includes two past appointments as Commander of the counter-insurgency force Rashtriya Rifles 7 Sector (Kupwara District) and Brigade General Staff (BGS) of the corps he later commanded (15 Corps).
As a Major General, he commanded the 36 Infantry Division RAPID (Re-organised Army Plains Infantry Divisions) or ‘Shahbaaz Division’ in Southern Command which was part of late General Krishnaswami Sundarji’s experiments to improve the efficiency of strike combat units (the famous Sundarji doctrine). In terms of swift mobilisation, RAPID divisions maintain an edge over contemporary counterparts.
Upon promotion to 3-star rank, Dhillon was appointed Director General of the Indian Army’s Perspective Planning Directorate (DG PP) which serves as the official think tank at Army Headquarters and oversees crucial sections involving Strategic Studies, Technology and CBRN, Operational Research and System Analysis and Plans to name a few. Externally, he overlooked research work being carried out at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) based in New Delhi.
From counter-insurgency to strategic studies and perception building on Twitter, Dhillon would serve as an experienced ‘Kashmir hand’ for India’s first and incumbent Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat. Until recently, the DCIDS (Int) was a Principal Staff Officer under the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chief of Defence Staff (CISC) who served equivalent to the vice chief of tri-services and reported to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (now defunct). While media reports claim Dhillon will report directly to Rawat in the nascent Department of Military Affairs (DMA), it is still unclear whether or not the role of CISC will be retained, transformed to VCDS or discontinued altogether.
From a career perspective, appointment as DCIDS is not exactly an elevation, since many speculated Dhillon would be elevated to lead Northern Command. With Lt Gen Yogendra Kumar Joshi’s appointment, perhaps General Bipin Rawat felt he could use his former DG PP at Army Headquarters at the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS).
The DIA is responsible for fusing the entire spectrum of intelligence from the defence services, essentially involving Military Intelligence, Air Intelligence and Naval Intelligence. The Directorate of Signals Intelligence, Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) and Defence Information Warfare Agency (DIWA) which operate within DIA provide a variety of electromagnetic and informational capabilities which can inform force posturing for tri-services. The designation-holder also liaises with the chief of India’s premier technical intelligence agency National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) to complement held intelligence. Moreover, the DIA is part of the Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), a consortium of agencies which monitor alleged infiltration of militants from Pakistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir.
The DIA has access to military satellites for real-time surveillance and reconnaissance of adversary ORBATs, troop movements etc. Although India is well behind China when it comes to military satellite technology, it retains an edge over Pakistan when it comes to application of military space technology fused with all-source intelligence. In this regard, Dhillon will work closely with his contemporary Lt Gen Taranjit Singh who was appointed DCIDS (Ops) in October 2019 and would effectively supervise functioning of the new tri-service Defence Cyber Agency, Defence Space Agency and Special Operations Division.
Interestingly, Taranjit and Dhillon have experience in commanding strike combat formations (1 Corps and 36 Infantry Division RAPID, respectively) and both served as DGs PP under Rawat. The underlying pattern thus far is that commanders with proven leadership skills in offensive formations but who also possess strategic planning capabilities are preferred for tri-service staff roles by the CDS. This also shows, however, that the land forces (Indian Army) hold two of the most crucial slots in IDS which would only add to the resentment of their less-recognised counterparts in the Air Force and Navy, particularly when Rawat has been tasked to ensure theaterisation of Indian Armed Forces during his tenure.
With Dhillon at the helm of Intelligence coordinating with Taranjit in Operations, Rawat has signalled that Pakistan remains his top intelligence-gathering priority, not China. For all its whims of attaining great power status, India’s CDS remains fixated with a comparatively weaker neighbour.
To defend core military interests, Pakistan must harness adequate capabilities to defend against hostile technical intelligence collection, particularly those enabled by outer space (IMINT/GEOINT) and the electromagnetic spectrum (SIGINT, ELINT, CYBERINT/OSINT/SOCMINT).