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Chief of Defence Staff

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  • Published
    3rd Sep, 2019

Prime Minister announced the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff, in one of the biggest military reforms in decades that seeks to ensure coordination among the army, air force and navy on modernization and synergize efforts in joint operations, training and intelligence.



Prime Minister announced the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff, in one of the biggest military reforms in decades that seeks to ensure coordination among the army, air force and navy on modernization and synergize efforts in joint operations, training and intelligence.



  • The proposal for a CDS has been there for two decades. It was first made by the K. Subrahmanyam committee appointed after the Kargil conflict of 1999 to recommend higher military reforms.
  • However, lack of consensus and apprehensions among services meant it never moved forward.
  • In 2012, the Naresh Chandra committee recommended the appointment of a Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) as a midway to allay apprehensions over the CDS.
  • The CDS is also one of the 99 recommendations made by the Lt General D.B. Shekatkar (retd) Committee which submitted its report.


Who is a CDS?

  • The CDS is meant to be a single-point military advisor to the government, and to coordinate long-term planning, procurements, training and logistics of the three services.
  • As future wars become short, swift and network-centric, coordination among the three services is crucial. Also as the stress on resources increases and defence budgets remain flat, the way forward is optimisation of resources by joint planning and training.
  • The CDS, being above the three Service Chiefs, is expected to play this role by optimizing procurement, avoiding duplication among the services and streamlining the process.
  • India being a nuclear weapons state, the CDS will also act as the military advisor to the Prime Minister on nuclear issues.

Need for CDS

  • The fundamental reason for Integrated Commands is the imperative need for a single headquarters coordinating diverse elements in the same geographic space.
  • The underlying rationale for appointing a CDS is to separate management and command of the Armed Forces.

Current status

  • In the absence of a CDS, presently the senior most of the three Chiefs functions as the Chairman COSC.
  • It is an additional role and the tenures have been very short.

Expected Role of a CDS

  • The move that is aimed at creating a single point-of-contact in coordinating with the three armed services in day-to-day administrative functioning has been pending for two decades now.
  • “Implementation committee” comprising senior officials would be formed to examine the role and charter of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and the modalities for implementing the appointment.
  • The CDS is expected to be particularly empowered when it comes to decisions on prioritizing modernization of the three forces. While the three services chiefs will continue with their current tasks, the CDS would be the main point of advice for the defence ministry on procurement.
  • The scope of warfare is changing and is becoming technology driven; India should not have a “fragmented” approach.
  • The CDS will provide an effective leadership to the three forces at the top level.
  • Major task of the CDS will be to conceptualize and implement the transformation of the forces into theatre commands.
  • CDS presents us with the opportunity to optimize defence economics and make expenditure more effective.
  • Another big task for the CDS is to ask if the Armed Forces are making the best use of the national resources allocated to them.
  • The appointment of the CDS will certainly change the civil-military balance, Thus, will address some of the grievances of the Armed Forces pertaining to their status vis-a-vis the civil services
  • CDS can act as an arbitrator when the Chiefs of Staff express divergent views on an issue, such as the use of military resources in the battlefield.
  • He can act as a link between the Strategic Forces Command that manages India’s nuclear arsenal and the political leadership.
  • He will be the representative of the forces in security-related committees, such as Defence Planning Committee or the Strategic Policy Group. There’s no doubt that communication would become smooth with this arrangement.

Limitations of the proposed CDS Model

  • It will depend on how government will implement it.
  • The person appointed to the post will have significant impact on the future course and how CDS will be able to mitigate the inter-service differences.
  • Also which service officer (Army, Navy or Air Force) will head CDS and his ranking/experience vis-a-vis other Service Chiefs will greatly decide the inter-service coordination.
  • As and when the CDS is established, he will have equal voting rights as the service chiefs, and where two service chiefs don't agree. Now if a CDS is to be a “single point advisor”, where is the question of two chiefs not agreeing?

How do other countries work?

  • All major countries, especially the nuclear weapon states, have a CDS. The U.K. from which the Indian armed forces and the Defence Ministry are modelled on has a Permanent Secretary, equivalent to the Defence Secretary, and also a CDS.
  • The U.K. Government guidelines state that the CDS is the professional head of the British armed forces and, as military strategic commander, is responsible for how operations are carried out. He is also the most senior military adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister.
  • The Permanent Secretary is the government's principal civilian adviser on Defence, has primary responsibility for policy, finance and planning, and is also the Departmental Accounting Officer.

Way forward

  • The appointment of a CDS, if successful, may lead to the development of theater commands in the future. Theaterisation has its advantages but the debate among the services on the need for such a move is far from over.
  • The success of the CDS will depend on the kind of powers the person appointed to the post enjoys. For the CDS to be effective, he would need to have control on the decision-making apparatus.
  • If the Ministry of Defence has the power to overrule the CDS, especially in the case of procurement of equipment for the three services, the move may yield low dividends.
  • The positives that this move may have can’t be ascertained until the government reveals the nuts and bolts of its plan.

Question: Examine how important is the post of CDS to increase the synchronization between all the defence forces.

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